Saturday, January 03, 2015

Reading in 2014

Books that I strongly recommend

Sense of Style – Steven Pinker

Books on language usage remind me of Heraclitus’s quote “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” How do you make lasting rules on a subject that is as dynamic as language? I think Pinker comes closest to distinguishing good usage from snobbery. My prediction is that Sense of Style will replace Strunk and White as the definitive writing guide for English.

My Struggle – Karl Ove Knausgård

In contrast to my first recommendation, this one eschews style to the point of being boring. Here’s a quote from the book that seems to justify that point of view “…everything has to submit to form. If any of literature’s other elements are stronger than form, such as style, plot, theme, if any of these overtake form, the result suffers. That is why writers with a strong style often write bad books.” I picked this book after a glowing endorsement in Marginal Revolution. Reading the book was a struggle, and at many points I felt like I was wasting my time. After I finished I felt relief and wondered how anybody could read another of those volumes – this is a six-part autobiographical novel, remember. So, why is this in my top recommendations for the year? I don’t think I have figured out a good reason but this passage in the book comes close to a possible answer “And what enriched me while reading Adorno, for example, lay not in what I read but in the perception of myself while I was reading.” The descriptions of mundane events in this book are exactly what banalities look like and there’s a certain comfort in accepting them as such. No pursuits of profundity. No unearthing of non-existent layers. Whatever the reason, nothing so boring has been so compelling. Guess what book I’m reading right now? My Struggle – part two!

Honorable mentions
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson: Covers everything from the Big Bang to the contintental drift to extinction of the dinosaurs. 
  • Waking up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris 
  • The Competent Authority by Shovon Chowdhury – Surprisingly funny political satire.
  • The Code Book by Simon Singh
  • The Sceptical Patriot by Sidin Vadukut: Badly needed reality check in an environment of hyper-patriotism.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • Theory of Relativity: Another failed attempt to understand Einstein’s theory.
And finally, these didn’t really make a lasting impression
  • Lying by Sam Harris
  • Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
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