21 Things I Read in 2015 (and 12 more)
The website where I originally shared these reading logs is beginning to phase out old posts, so I'm archiving them here! Below is the original post, written in December 2015, reflecting on everything I'd read and on the exercise of keeping a list.
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I’d always wanted to keep track of my reading habits, ever since I was a kid; 2015 was the first year I actually did it. The full list includes 62 books and story or essay collections; 3 plays; and 24 zines, standalone short stories, and other short works. Splitting them up into those categories was rough, so I’ll just go with the total of 89.
…Wow. I feel like recording what I read made me read more overall, and this was a fun experience, so I’ll be continuing the habit in 2016. I’m considering keeping track of articles and fanfiction next year, since that adds up to a significant amount of reading – like the Due South trilogy that would make the standard top 10 list of longest English works if it were published conventionally – but I’m not sure if I want to advertise those habits.
In selecting works for this list I tried to keep a balance between those absolute favorite, life changing books and the ones that aren’t well known and deserve a wider audience. The list below is part memories related to the books and part review, and is mostly sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction. At the end I’ve selected one work that I read in each month that didn’t appear elsewhere in the lists.
Against the Fall of Night & The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke
Clarke published versions of Against the Fall of Night in 1948 and 1953 and then completely rewrote it as The City and the Stars in 1956. They’re both short, enjoyable pieces of dystopian sci-fi with Clarke’s usual ponderings on humanity’s drives and potential evolutions, and make for a fun look at the writing process. I’d previously read Childhood’s End and the entire 2001 series so it was great to get more insights into how his ideas develop. On that note, this month I finally watched the 2001: A Space Odyssey film and I’m eager to reread the book and compare them.
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney
Dhalgren is hard to describe, and saying that it’s a stream of consciousness story about a guy with memory loss living in a newly anarchist city doesn’t quite catch the vibe. It’s worth a read if you want to immerse yourself in a spontaneously-created community and if you’re crusty or grungey in any way.
Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen)
This was a chance find at a library book sale that caught my eye because it had been covered in ridiculous 1970′s wrapping paper. I’m so glad I bought it, because Dinesen/Blixen’s style and tone are amazing. The stories have freaky twists that don’t feel out of place, the characters are actually interesting, and reading them makes you feel cold and isolated. I read her Winter’s Tales in November and they’re just as captivating. If you see any Dinesen at a used book store or sale, grab it.
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
This historical novel follows the lives of clergy, stonemasons, and minor lords and ladies while a priory struggles to construct a new cathedral. While not perfectly historically accurate, the book was still engaging, entertaining, and highly enjoyable. Perfect for when you want to curl up and devour something that’s long yet easy to read.
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
I feel like I hardly need to recommend The Dispossessed, since it’s already a favorite of so many anarchists, but I’ll add my voice to the deluge: read this. I read several of Le Guin’s novels and short story collections this year and this (along with the collection below) is one that I recommend most. My copy moved to college with my younger sibling later in the year, and was read twice for a class on anti-capitalism and post-colonialist literature, along with “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.
Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Part of Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle, this set of four novellas takes place on two planets with histories of slavery and colonialism, and explores how their cultures have changed after the revolution and emancipation of the slaves on the colony planet. The different viewpoints illuminate how factors such as status, age, gender, and sexuality interact within these societies. Besides the social and historical interest, the stories are deeply emotional and leave you feeling different afterwards.
Songs from the Seashell Archives Vol. 1-4 by Elizabeth Scarborough
My mom spotted these at a thrift store and remembered reading them in high school, and the price was right at less that $2, so of course we got them. I went into the first book expecting cheesy fantasy, and was completely satisfied on that front – they have pretty much every fantasy creature you can imagine – but I wasn’t expecting it to actually be well written and engaging. The main character, Maggie, is a great example of an author using fantasy tropes but then taking them in a different direction, or using them in interesting ways. And the love interest isn’t a total dick, for once. (The cover art doesn’t reflect this, but Maggie is described as having coppery skin and dark hair, for those of you who want more POC fantasy heroines! Please draw fanart, I would love that.)
Various “Jeeves” Stories by P.G. Wodehouse
I’m slightly ashamed that I only got around to reading some of the Jeeves stories this year: I’ve been a fan of the show since I was in middle school, and after rewatching it both last year and this year I’ve read an embarrassing amount of fanfiction for the series. The stories were everything I wanted.
Shin Sekai Yori / From the New World by Kishi Yusuke
I watched the anime adaptation of this novel and immediately sought out the book, only to find that it hasn’t been published in English. Luckily, there’s an ongoing fan translation that’s quite good and I’ve been chipping away at it periodically. The anime and the novel are fairly similar and excellent complements to each other, so take a look at one or both if you’re into sci-fi with telekinesis, eugenics, revolution, moral ambiguity, and canon queer relationships.
I enjoyed this zine while it lasted: it had a nice little selection of visual and written art on topics such as anti-capitalism, large dogs, and aprons. I was sad to see it end but happy that I caught it in time to get every issue.
Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici
I probably won’t finish Caliban and the Witch until I get a print copy, but it’s been illuminating so far. My sibling’s quarter program at TESC was named after this book and I managed to keep up with the assigned readings long-distance for a few weeks. This book fills in some of the gaps in previous writings about primitive accumulation by discussing the social lives and statuses of women within the context of the enclosure movement. It still has gaps that the above-mentioned class attempted to fill with content about trans and queer issues, the environment and the antropocene, objectivity, and colonialism. Do the same with your own reading of the book and you’ll develop some good, well-rounded ideas.
The Road to Either Or by Jimmy T. Hand
My sibling brought back a stack of zines from Olympia, and this was a highlight. The Road the Either Or is a novella about a complicated relationship at a time when the author was working with a forest defense group. Interesting if you’re invested in polyamory or antagonizing logging projects – or both. After reading this I discovered that I’d read another piece of short fiction by Hand, which came as a freebie with the no-longer-available Steamypunk zines I’d ordered from Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness back when I was in high school.
To Our Friends by the Invisible Committee
Like essays about insurrection and revolutionary possibilities in our world as it exists now, from the points of view of those in the middle of the struggles? Definitely read this.
Greek Folk Religion by Martin P. Nilsson
Greek Folk Religion was everything I wanted: Hellenic polytheism as practiced by actual people, written in an easily-digestible format. At this point I already knew most of what Nilsson discussed, but there were a few details I’m happy to have learned about and I can vouch that most of the information is good. A bonus: I got one of my partner’s relatives interested at a family gathering and he actually wrote down the title for later. Score!
No Gods. No Dungeon Masters. by Ion O'Clast & Rachel Dukes
A short, funny comic with thoughts about the intersections between geek and anti-capitalist subcultures. The illustrations are lovely, and this was a hit with my household: we’ve finally gotten our shit together enough to play D&D, rather than waiting around for someone more experienced to guide us. I used it as a holiday present for my whole household, along with the rest of an order from Pioneers Press.
Thinking in an Emergency by Elaine Scarry
This book discusses how different mutual aid societies (and even whole countries) have addressed the need for emergency preparedness, and has plenty of takeaway ideas and places to look for more information. It also reveals the dangerous lack thereof in the USA: read it and get pumped up to start your own community organization.
Rereads / Revisits
Lost Years of Merlin Series by T. A. Barron
I got these from my middle school’s library and read them all, but had completely forgotten about the series until my partner mentioned that they had copies at their mom’s house – we somehow jammed all five of them into our cramped luggage and I’m in love with the series again. These are so good. Read them if you have a thing for Merlin stories and well-written fantasy.
The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
I read The Sheep Look Up once in middle school and once in high school, so it was time for another reread. This is one of the 60′s books that’s had enough of its predictions come true that it’s scary. Super fucking depressing speculative fiction about an environmentally degraded future where everything is so bad that the people on a organic farming commune can barely survive. (Inspo for activists!) Also interesting are the outdated slang and pre-AIDS conceptions of how STIs might escalate.
Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia Butler
One of my absolute favorite sci-fi series: I finally bought a copy this year. For the fans of transhumanism, telepathy, interspecies love, and black woman protagonists.
A Handmade Life by William Coperthwaite
Beautiful essays and beautiful photos for philosophical DIYers. This book is more aesthetically approachable for a general audience than most zines, so if you’re wanting to open an already thoughtful person’s mind this is a good pick.
Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein & Ed Young
This picture book follows a cat named Wabi Sabi as he tries to discover the meaning behind his name. Haiku are found throughout in both English and Japanese and the back has a brief introduction to Japanese poetry. The collages in the book incorporate worn paper and natural objects and really get the wabi-sabi aesthetic down. Excellent for both kids and artistic adults.
Top Monthly Picks, excluding the above:
- Jan: People & Permaculture by Looby Macnamara
- Feb: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
- Mar: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
- Apr: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
- May: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
- Jun: The Hours by Michael Cunningham
- July: Hyperion by Dan Simmons
- Aug: The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
- Sept: “The Day Before the Revolution” by Ursula K. Le Guin
- Oct: Exit the King by Eugène Ionesco
- Nov: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Dec: I Sing the Body Electric by Ray Bradbury