Monday, January 1

reading in 2017

Trying to remember: What did I actually read in the last year?

I know for sure that in February I read The War Against the Assholes, by Sam Munson, and Pansy, by Andrea Gibson, because I wrote about it here.

In April I started and failed to get anywhere with The Icon Thief, by Alec Nevala-Lee, whose blog writing on topics like golden age SF, filmmaking, and the craft of writing is consistently excellent (and sort of bogglingly prolific). The Icon Thief didn’t really grab me, but I should buy more of Nevala-Lee’s books anyway because he’s one of the best things in my feedreader most weeks. (And I’m really looking forward to his upcoming Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction.)

In May I bought a Kindle copy of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, by Zeynep Tufekci. I think I managed about 20%, not so much because it’s bad (it’s not, and Tufekci is a writer and thinker worth listening to) as because I spent so much time this year thinking about networks and network dysfunction that the whole topic had already become paralyzing and spiral-of-despair-inducing by the time I started the book.

Also in May I started gradually re-reading chunks of the Bible (mostly the New Testament and mostly in the NRSV).

I remember buying Dark Canyon, a middling Louis L'Amour novel about bankrobbers making good, at a truckstop on the way to a festival in June.

Some time after that, I found a copy of Split Image by Robert B. Parker at the laundromat and read it in a sitting or two. It’s a Jesse Stone novel, so it’s outside of the Spenser narrative (though I seem to remember it’s clearly set in the Spenser-verse). Thinking about it now, I feel like I might as well go back and read the rest of Parker’s other series. None of it’s up to the standard of the early Spenser material, and some of it is frankly pretty terrible, but whatever. There’s no shame in the comforts of familiar pulpy genre series intake.

I think I got John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at a yard sale in the summer, but it’s a clean enough trade paperback (the Penguin one with Gary Oldman’s face from the 2011ish movie on the cover) that I might have bought it new at a bookstore. I liked it more than I expected, and want to read more Le Carré. Something about the sort of weirdly restrained, jargon-laden procedural dryness of it was really appealing.

Ann Leckie’s Provenance, a book adjacent to (but not a direct sequel to) her Ancillary trilogy came out in September and I read it on a Kindle. I liked many of the same things about it that I liked about the earlier novels, though the scale felt smaller and less consequential.

Somewhere in the fall I got Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry, and made it something like a hundred pages in before losing the will to continue. The language was well-handled, and there were striking images, but the poetically vivid genocide and so forth weren’t something I really needed. Maybe it’s just that I’ve already read too much Cormac McCarthy and don’t really need any more of a certain mode of western.

I’ve had an old library copy of Nebraska Moments, by Donald R. Hickey, for years now, and finally started skimming through it. It’s a collection of historical sketches on topics like the Great Blizzard of 1888, the founding of Omaha, William Jennings Bryan, and so forth. Kind of dry, but it’s got a good level of detail for the kind of thing that it is, and the writing is clear. It’s good for the 10 or 15 minutes before sleep when I want something that feels educational without being so interesting that it keeps me awake.

I started a Ted Chiang collection in November.

In December I bought a paperback edition of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock at a thrift store. So far I haven’t made it much further than the introduction, and I begin to suspect I probably won’t. It feels like the kind of thing that works best as intellectual background radiation for a book like The Shockwave Rider.

All year I’ve been getting issues of High Country News, and sometimes I even read them. (It’s a good publication, doing good journalism. I just re-upped my subscription.)

What else? There must have been some programming books and random excursions into poetry or reference material. I know I’m forgetting a few things. But the above list is basically it, except for the internet.

Because really what I read in 2017, in most of the last several years, was the internet. Not even, in any real sense that registers, individual documents hosted on the network, or the work of authors I can clearly identify. Just the endless scroll.

The internet: A tide of incoherent technical documentation, error logs, seething sociopolitical rage, ideological agitation and condemnation (somewhere between authentic and engineered/rehearsed, on some spectrum it is no longer possible for me to easily parse), clickbait, reaction, comment vitriol, disinformation, machine-generated pseudojournalism, notification spam, marketing, infographical non-info, hot-take product, autoplaying video, and generalized memetic spew.

This is the year I lost hope for the web, probably for the network as a whole. It’s also the year I tried hardest to look away, found it most necessary for my own mental health to avoid what the internet has become, watched my friends and family experience the same. And with all that, it’s also the year the internet most thoroughly consumed my relationship to words.

It feels like that’s an index to something.