the books of 2012

Moving on from the films I saw last year: the books I read. The full list is at the bottom. Yes, I did read the McFly book. I enjoyed it quite a lot, actually: they’re all kinda adorkable.

Meanwhile (as you roll your eyes) some recommendations below.

the ones you should read
Reality Hunger – David Shields.
The Blind Giant – Nick Harkaway.
Theories of International Politics and Zombies – Dan Drezner.
This is your non-fiction triple bill. There’s a certain overlap, in that they’re all actually engaging in the world around them in an interesting way. The last is the most straightforward to describe: it outlines your major international political theories – by describing how they would play out in the case of a zombie apocalpyse. Which, it turns out, is actually the best way to understand international political theory.
The other two look at how we do reality – Shields talking about narrative and authenticity and Harkaway about digital culture (Blind Giant’s just coming out in paperback, by the way) – and both take a discursive approach. Reality Hunger might be the most thought provoking thing I’ve read all year, with it’s fragmentary structure and concern with the fuzzy boundary between fact and fiction.

Angelmaker – Nick Harkaway.
Part two of your Harkaway double bill for the year – this is his second novel. Two people told me I ought to read it, after I’d recommended his first to them, which just made me laugh. Who doesn’t want to read a cracking story with some great ideas? What’s wrong with you? There are bees, and codes, and a bit with a dog.

Reamde – Neal Stephenson.
I do love falling into a big fat book with it’s own world and getting to know everyone inside. And Reamde is a big fat book, with its own world – and its own world inside that. It’s riddled with big ideas, and I do enjoy the exploration of the way that the game facilitates huge amounts of social and criminal activity along with Stephenson’s usually joyous description of geek culture, plus a cantankerous lead, who colour coordinates his diary with even more ruthless efficiency than I do. It is, perhaps, not as good, in terms of its thought, as Anathem or bits of the Baroque Cycle, but it makes up for that with a cracking story – but the way that the is probably something MI6 are reading (or should be).
I also really enjoyed reading Alyssa Rosenberg’s book club on Reamde, which made me pull back from the rip-roaring yarn to think about the stuff going on inside.

Virtual Light / Idoru – William Gibson.
At last, I got around to reading these. All Tomorrow’s Parties was my first ever Gibson a few years ago, and I wasn’t hugely wowed at the time. It didn’t really click with 21-odd year old me. And then, as they say, I grew up and worked it out. Between his twitter presence and Spook Country I was won, and this year I finally picked up these two (and now, I need to go back to All Tomorrow’s Parties). I love his brain, and the clean, unfussiness of his writing. His Tokyo in Idoru captures the weird wonderland nature of the place – and somehow understands digital fandom before digital fandom happened.

Edwin Drood – Charles Dickens AKA, the unfinished one, which I read at a lick before the BBC showed their TV version this time last year. I have no real idea where it was going (I’m not a solve the mystery as it goes along girl) – but I don’t really mind that becase I enjoy Dickens’ characters and storytelling so much. In this case, John Jasper who is one of the most interestingly layered of his characters. Just read it for the atmosphere.

Telegraph Avenue – Michael Chabon
Jazz music, families, and racial politics in Berkley. Oh Michael Chabon, there is none so hipster. And yet very few so able to write so delightfully that it doesn’t feel horrendously right-on. He writes relationships so well, both the pain and the joy, the way that people miss each other and connect with each other all at the same time. I don’t love this in the way that I love The Yiddish Policemen’s Union or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but that’s at least partly because it doesn’t quite hit my interests in the same way.

the marmites ones
these two are oddities, which I like a lot, but which have major flaws (Embassytown) and don’t fit very tidily as the third in their trilogy (Boneland)
Boneland
Embassytown – China Mieville

The one I’m not sure about:
these are two that I have reservations about, and which I’m not as positive about as the marmite ones, but which might be worth a read, depending on your tastes.
The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling.
Boxer, Beetle – Ned Beauman.
A few voices I generally agree with on books spoke very highly of this one, and picking up the book and reading the blurb did make me want to read it – but when I did I found I couldn’t work out whether I actually enjoyed it or not. I think it’s good, but I think it’s quite brutal and ugly, and in way that I found unpleasant rather than interesting.

The one you could avoid:
The Magicians – Lev Grossman. As with Boxer, Beetle a few voices were talking about The Magicians in a way that made me want to read it. It’s the one time Alyssa Rosenberg has steered me wrong. I just found it terribly derivative, of Narnia more htan Potter, bizarrely anglophile without being anglophile and in a way that doesn’t engage, and basically everyone’s horrible. Straight off to the charity shop with it.

the full list
1. Toast – Nigel Slater 2. The Blind Giant – Nick Harkaway 3. Angelmaker – Nick Harkaway 4. Embassytown – China Mieville 5. Surprised by Hope – Tom Wright 6. Reamde – Neal Stephenson 7. Consumer Detox – Mark Powley 8. The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein 9. Doll’s House (Sandman, vol 2) – Neil Gaiman 10. Virtual Light – William Gibson 11. 1602 – Neil Gaiman 12. The Magicians – Lev Grossman 13. How to Leave Twitter – Grace Dent 14. The Mystery of Edwin Drood – Charles Dickens 15. Theories of International Relations and Zombies – Dan Drezhner 16. Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Rob Lowe 17. Surprised by Hope – Tom Wright 18. Bloodlines: The Golden Lily – Richelle Mead 19. The Decisive Moment – Jonah Lehrer 20. The Woman Who Died a Lot – Jasper Fforde 21. Reality Hunger – David Shields 22. The Liberating Truth – Danielle Strickland. 23. Boneland – Alan Garner 24. Walking Home – Simon Armitage 25. Telegraph Avenue – Michael Chabon 26. The Casual Vacancy – JK Rowling 27. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – Alan Garner 28. The Moon of Gomrath – Alan Garner 29. Boxer, Beetle – Ned Beauman 30. Idoru – William Gibson 31. Black Out – Connie Willis 32. McFly: Unsaid Things – McFly

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