Friday, 9 October 2020

The Books You Liked Best, 2000-2020

You know what? Let's cheer ourselves up. What are your favourite 20 books of the last 20 years? Not by date of publication - I mean the book you liked best from those you read in each of the last 20 years. This does not have to be, and probably cannot be, accurate. Just do your best - try to remember what you were reading in 2000, and what your favourite book of that year was. Then go from there. The point is to try to build a picture of what your tastes were like 20 years ago, what they are like now, and how they have changed. But it is also an enjoyable exercise in itself to try to remember in what year you read a particular book, what you were doing at the time, and why the book mattered to you.

I have tried to do this by year. This will not be entirely accurate, but I think it mostly is:

2000 - It is very hard to remember what one was reading 20 years ago, but I do remember that I read Viriconium, by M. John Harrison, in omnibus form, in the first year I was at university - which would have put it in either 1999 or 2000. Assuming it was 2000, it was almost certainly my favourite book that year, as it would probably have been in almost any year you care to name.

2001 - Yes, I am going to have A Game of Thrones in this list, and I am going to say it was 2001 that I read it, although again I may be late by a year or two. GRRM has disappointed us all on so many occasions. He may well never finish ASoIaF. But I will have no truck with people who pooh-pooh A Game of Thrones. It is an absolutely bravura performance which revolutionised the way we think of fantasy book series. Having got used to reading bog-standard fantasy fare for so long, I couldn't believe how high the bar had been raised when I first read it. 

2002 - I was introduced by my father to Raymond Carver when I was in my late teens, but I don't think I read Elephant until I was in my early 20s. It's my favourite collection of his - one in which you can see him really begin to hit his stride before his untimely death. For a time, it made me want to be a short story writer in precisely his mould. You won't get much discussion of how to 'Carverise' your OSR games out there in the blogosphere; indeed, this may be the first and last time his name ever gets a mention in an OSR blog, so I claim that mantle. 

2003 - High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I know this was in 2003, for sure, because I read it practically in one sitting shortly after new year, before leaving the UK for foreign climes for what I felt was for good. This is very much one of those books that you have to read at the right time, and, what can I say? It was the right time (I was 21, sensitive, romantic, indecisive in matters of the heart, very much into music and books, not sure what to do with my life), and I read it. 

2004 - I read Shogun, by James Clavell, when living in Japan, and I was riveted by it, despite being horribly let down - as anyone must be - by the ending, in which Clavell gives every impression of simply having become bored by his complex plot and wraps everything up in the space of about 10 pages. I don't make a point of re-reading books and I'm glad I've not re-read this one, because I suspect now I would find it cringeworthy; I loved Clavell's Noble House, but I've tried some of his other books more recently and I find them almost literally unreadable. 

2005 - Mieville is a frustrating writer: he has phenomenal imaginative and creative gifts and is a master storyteller, but I find I just don't really like any of his characters. Iron Council has stood the test of time, in that it feels as though he was really trying to stretch his craft while writing it; I think it's the only book he's written in which he seems to be trying to create beautiful prose. This makes a difference. I remember reading this on work breaks in a tiny staff room, not much bigger than a cupboard, in 10 minute bursts between lessons at the school where I was working, like a smoker getting his hit to last him through the next hour. 

2006 - The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. I have now read a large number of WWI histories which criticise The Guns of August for its apparent inaccuracies and looseness with the truth, and I've since read Max Hastings' Catastrophe, which has a much superior breadth and depth. But this remains one of the best books to have been written about war, and one of the most breathlessly entertaining non-fiction works that I have read. I loved it. 

2007 - Funnily enough, you could probably say the same about Guns, Germs and Steel as you could about The Guns of August. Perhaps it has an oversimplistic narrative that is now thought of as outmoded, and it has become something of a cliche because of its popularity and influence, but I find it hard to think of a more thought-provoking book that I have read. I am fairly sure I read this one in 2007, as I was back in the UK that summer and have memories of paging through it, ensconsed on my father's sofa on lazy days with nothing much else to do forever for all that I cared.

2008 - For all of his naffness and mainstream appeal, Bill Bryson's works have been a guilty pleasure of mine going back to The Lost Continent, which I read on a family holiday in Portugal when I was about 14 and which I still sometimes re-read as a literary equivalent of comfort food; I can still vividly remember lying on the beach with that book and almost weeping with laughter at some scene while my parents and older sister watched me with concern on their part, disgust on hers. A Short History of Nearly Everything is his best book.

2009 - The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes. This I definitely read in 2009, and I know that, because I wrote a blog post about it. Not one of my finest efforts, I'll admit, but I was still relatively knew to it. (It's amazing to think that Yoon-Suin was actually a thing then; I was writing that damn book 11 years ago.) 

2010 - Economic Sophisms & 'What is Seen and What is Not Seen', Volume II in the Complete Works of Frederic Bastiat. I read this on a Kindle when I first got one, and that would have been late in 2010. It made a lasting impression on me; that Frenchman from the early 19th century spoke to me in ways that very few political theorists have before or since. 

2011 - Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. An underrated film, and a fabulously funny, moving and insightful book, with quotable lines on almost every page. (One remains a favourite: "There is nothing more embarrassing than to have earned the disfavour of a perceptive animal.") Again, here I am clear on the dates, because I had almost literally just finished reading this book on one of the worst days of my life, March 11th, 2011 - one of those before/after events that come along from nowhere and just change your and your loved ones' lives irrevocably, and without giving you the tiniest say in the matter. 

2012 - Dark Companions by Ramsay Campbell. I can't say that this is a great work of literature, but what I can say is that it scared the bejeezus out of me and also really bummed me out with its spectacularly bleak approach to the horror genre; these stories don't just have unhappy endings - they have terribly sad, nasty, unredemptive endings which leave you with the certain impression that nothing will ever be well again, and that takes some serious doing.

2013 - TH White's The Once and Future King; I had read the first volume as a child, but not the others, until that year, and if you were forcing me to pick one of those, it would have to be The Ill-Made Knight, whose moment of apotheosis may be my favourite passage in all of English literature. 

2014 - Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. It is possible I read this in 2015, but I really can't now remember; what I can remember is how good it is - beautiful and epic, but also moving in the way that great literature can be, but fantasy so rarely is. 

2015 - This would probably be My Dark Places by James Ellroy, a book that confirms him in my view as one of the greatest living prose stylists, and which provides a slice of 1950s low-life so real you can practically smell it. 

[We enter now the 'Goodreads era', when I started cataloguing the books I read and have much more certain records of when I read what.]

2016 - I read a huge number of stellar books in 2016. How do you pick one from The Neverending Story, Meadowland, Cutter and Bone, The Goshawk, Lavondyss, and American Tabloid, to name but a few? I suppose really it has to be The Neverending Story, which blew me away - one of those books that you can't believe you have never read, that you can't fathom that nobody has ever sat you down and forced you to read because of how good it is. But because it is less well-known, let's go for Cutter and Bone. A haunting and wonderfully-written book, and possibly the finest mystery story I've ever read. 

2017 - This, on the other hand, was a bad year for books, if I recall, and I spent much of it re-reading Tolkien, which feels like cheating. It probably has to be Bix's Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, which is big, important and fascinating, although lacking I think the narrative verve that a truly riveting non-fiction book needs.

2018 - Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary. I read some fabulous books in 2018, looking back at my Goodreads bookshelf - Everybody Loves Our Town, Soldier of the Mist, Soldier of Arete, Trial By Battle... But The Master and His Emissary may be the most important book to have been written in the past 50 years; I can't put any book I read that year, or most years, above it. 

2019 - Jack Vance's The Dirdir, the third volume in his 'Planet of Adventure' series. Beautiful, funny, sad and moving - it showcases Vance at the absolute pinnacle of his talent, combining sardonic wit with emotional heft and demonstrating an unrivalled imaginative palette. 

2020 - It will almost certainly be Master of the Senate, the third volume of Robert Caro's epic biography of Lyndon Johnson. I have small misgivings about it - it is not quite up to the standard of the first two volumes - but it is still a phenomenal work of literature, not to mention history or biography. It is very hard for me to imagine reading anything better this year, that's for sure, and I am hoping beyond hope that Caro doesn't 'pull a GRRM' and leave this series unfinished. 


  1. My grandfather gave me a copy of Lavondyss (the sequel to Mythago Wood) when I was 10 and it both blew my mind and was way over my head. Very much loved going back to it after I'd grown up a bit.

    1. I liked Lavondyss but it blew my mind and was way over my head at age 36...

  2. I'll play! I actually have journal records going back that far, which made this both easy and fun:

    2000: The Guermantes Way - Marcel Proust
    2001: The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad
    2002: The Stars, My Destination - Alfred Bester
    2003: The Quiet American - Graham Greene
    2004: Les liaisons dangereuses - Choderlos de Laclos
    2005: For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway
    2006: The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
    2007: Time Regained - Marcel Proust
    2008: The Charwoman's Shadow - Lord Dunsany
    2009: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Susannah Clarke
    2010: Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry
    2011: David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
    2012: Ubik - Philip K. Dick
    2013: All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy
    2014: The Master & Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
    2015: The Crossing - Cormac McCarthy
    2016: Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes
    2017: Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson
    2018: The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
    2019: The Sagas of Icelanders
    2020: Ulysses - James Joyce

    I clearly prefer fiction to non-fiction.

    1. A few very close runners-up (that would’ve been the #1 in just about any other year) worth mentioning:

      2008: The Histories - Herodotus
      2010: Light in August - William Faulkner
      2013: Madouc - Jack Vance

    2. I can't believe you put Lord Dunsany ahead of Herodotus!

    3. To be honest I don’t really but I overlooked it when I was making the list and only after the fact was like “hey, what year did I read Herodotus and how did I not put it on the list?” If I could’ve edited the original list i probably would’ve just silently switched it out.

    4. Very tough contest between those two for me too

  3. "High Fidelity" and "Once and Future King" are probably on my list, too.

  4. I'll keep to fiction this time.

    2000: Robots and empire - Isaac Asimov
    2001: Tales of the Black Widowers - Isaac Asimov

    Many people prefer the foundation cycle, I think the robots' cycle is superior by far.
    2002: A canticle for Leibowitz - Walter Miller
    2003: I, Claudius - Robert graves
    2004: A game of thrones - Georgee R.R. Martin
    I don't care much for Asoiaf now, but I was very much a fan back then.

    2005: Dr Bloodmoney - Philip K. Dick
    2006: Niebelungen - ?
    2007: Three Kingdoms - Luo Guanzhong, translated by Moss Roberts
    The Iliad is small change compared to this chinese epic-drama saga. Seriously.

    2008: Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
    2009: Night Watch - Sergei Lukyanenko
    Russian cynicism with magic.

    2010: The gangs of New York - Herbert Asbury
    Modern mythology. Must read.

    2011: Blindsight - Peter Watts
    A glorious sf mess.

    2012: Le comte de Monte-Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
    My younger son's name is Edmond!

    2013: The sheep look up - John Brunner
    2014: The Warriors - Sol Yurick
    Poor Sol thought that people would take is book as a sociological study...

    2015: City of Saints and Madmen - Jeff Vandermeer
    Too many extras but the core is incredible.

    2016: The Night - Philippe Druillet
    Heavy, heavy stuff.
    2017: The black company - Glen Cook
    Bad book. But also excellent.

    2018: Viriconium - M. John Harrison
    2019: Dark Eden - Chris Beckett
    2020: The king in Yellow - Robert W. Chambers
    Thought it would be proto-Lovecraft. It is not.

    That's my list!

    My personal cultural world is very much Anglo, even if I'm French-Canadian. Is that sad? Can't say.

    1. Yeah, The King in Yellow is nothing like Lovecraft really. Chambers was a real writer.

  5. 2000- Neverending Story by Michael Ende (read it earlier but for the next decade I didn’t find anything to outclass it, based more on my poor reading habits than anything else)
    2011 – The Aethiopica of Heliodorus (translated by Moses Hadas)
    2012 – The Arabian Nightmare by Robert Irwin. Read the Fahfrd and Gray Mouser stories and Adept’s Gambit was my favorite and then Lean Times in Lankhmar.
    2013 – The Manuscript Found at Saragossa by Jan Potocki (translated by Ian MacLean). The proverbial take-to-a-desert-island book that has everything: adventure, romance, horror, fantasy, history, and exotic locations.
    2014 – I discovered Rider Haggard and my favorites were Child of the Storm, Allan and the Holy Flower (the origin of the multiracial adventuring party where each member is of a different class), The Ancient Allan, The Wanderer’s Necklace, Little Flower, The Wizard, Allan’s Wife, The Ivory Child, Pearl-Maiden.
    2015 – I can’t say it’s a great book but I enjoyed Birds of Prey by Wilbur Smith
    2016 - Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
    2017 – Fleurs Du Mal by Charles Baudelaire. I discovered Clark Ashton Smith around this time enjoyed The Enchantress of Sylaire, The Venus of Azombeii, The Root of Ampoi, and The Holiness of Azederac. Shambleau by CL Moore fits into these stories as well.
    2018 - Mhudi by Sol Plaatje
    2020 – A Grave for a Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Paranjo

    1. The Manuscript Found at Saragossa is very high on my “to read” list. The movie version (from the 60s) is one of my all-time favorites!

    2. I have also read Birds of Prey by Wilbur Smith and enjoyed it. Wilbur Smith is underrated. He's no poet, but he's streets ahead of most 'popular' thriller writers.

    3. The Saragossa Manuscript is a wonderful film, but The Manuscript found at Saragossa as a novel is even better! I think in the book-medium it manages to do more. The novel not only show us wild vistas from Andalucía to Tenochtitlan to Classical Alexandria, but also show us many different approaches to the world with its characters- from naïve wonderment, mysticism, hedonism, to nihilism. You don't know if the author is at one point bragging about being part of some Enlightenment-era freemason society or pillorying them in the next story.

      Birds of Prey was fun and also gave us a lot of vistas, while managing to make each one vividly realized. Cape Town in this Birds of Prey and its sequel was a place of mystery and danger, when the action shifts to Lamu in the sequel I had trouble finishing as he was writing about a different Lamu than the one I visited. Smith's narrative voice is amoral and passionate and can definitely rub people the wrong way.

    4. Forgot an entry for 2019- The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz

  6. There's no way I have the memory or records to make this list. I'll just say that I read Mythago Wood and Lavondyss early on - early enough that the central kingdom in my homebrew has been Larenyss since at least 1990. (OK, it was published in 1988, and I think I read Lavondyss first, so that works.)

    Many good books in these lists.

    1. I would like to license Mythago Wood for an RPG some day.

  7. Have you read JA Baker's The Peregrine? If you liked Meadowland and The Goshawk, I'm confident you'd enjoy it.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, but yes, I have read it, and loved it. It would have been my book of the year for 2019, probably, but in the end I just enjoyed The Dirdir more.

  8. >but I find I just don't really like any of his characters. Iron Council has stood the test of time
    Funnily enough, I only came to love the Iron Council closer to finishing it, precisely because of the characters. The first two books in the trilogy had clearly outlined protagonists that I could relate to. Here, you could read about the third of the novel, tracking the characters' perilous journey across the continent, with next to no idea who these people actually are, what their personalities and motivations are like.

    1. I think that may be why I like it. I don't normally like Mieville characters, and Iron Council almost feels like it's not really about the characters at all! ;)

  9. Going through my Goodreads registers:

    2011: As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
    2012: 2666 - Roberto Bolaño (a punch in the guts is the only way I can describe this, highly recommended)
    2013: The Dark Tower series - Stephen King
    2014: Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
    2015: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
    2016: Dune - Frank Herbert
    2017: The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
    2018: The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
    2019: The Third Reich series - Richard J. Evens (great books. Not about the war per se, but how was life in Germany during the Reich in all aspects)
    2020: The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro

    Being Brazilian, I still have a lot to read from the great American and English authors, whom you probably read in school

    1. Which books are Brazilian children forced to read in school?

    2. Most of these books we read while in high school, not as children.

      Mainly authors from the mid 1800s onwards (the "national" phase of Brazilian literature, in contrast to Portuguese authors writing about Brazil). Machado de Assis is probably our most famous author from the 19th century.

      But I'd say the greater focus is on modern and post-modern authors (1920s to 1960s), like Jorge Amado, Guimarães Rosa and Graciliano Ramos, whom absorbed European stylistic influence while writing about our social problems and regional issues and customs.

      Books like Grande Sertão: Veredas (The Devil to Pay in the Backlands) or Vidas Secas (Barren Lives) are ones of the greatest books ever, in my opinion.

    3. I've been meaning to get a copy of Jorge Amado's Tent of Miracles ever since I read excerpts of it on googlebooks. I found the interweaving of Afro-Brazilian/Yoruba mythology into the text fascinating.

    4. Great question and response! Very interesting.

    5. @Swazi: You should really read it. Amado's books offer a unique view on the Brazilian state of Bahia: its people, customs, smells, food, religion and problems. Being home to the first Brazilian capital (Salvador), Bahia is a one of a kind mix between European and African cultures.

      His most famous book is probably Capitães da Areia (Captains of the Sands), a blunt account of some of that state's social issues.

    6. Thanks for the recommendation Daniel- I might have a candidate for best-liked book of 2021!

  10. Well, this is a tough challenge. I actually have a list of everything I have read from 2015 onwards, as well as some scattered notes from a few preceding years, but that's it. And while I generally have a good memory of events themselves, it's hard for me to remember their chronology.

    2005 - "The Hitchjiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams;
    2006 - "Gone with the Woman" by Erlend Loe;
    2007 - Vladimir Sorokin's "Ice Trilogy", a frightening masterpiece;
    2008 - "Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets" by J. K. Rowling;
    (while 2007-2008 were booked-packed years that I remember relatiively well, with strong competition, 2009-2010 are a lapse in my memory);
    2011 - "Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens" by G. K. Chesterton;
    (I read a lot of Chesterton then, mostly his essays, and the choice is almost arbitrary as there are many memorable gems scattered across various collections; 2011 was also the year when I purchased my first Kindle, which lead to an increase in reading);
    2012 - "The Man Who Was Thursday" by G. K. Chesterton / tied with "Gods of Pegana" by Lord Dunsany;
    (another Chesterton-heavy year, but with more novels; I also embarked on a still-not-quite-finished quest to read everything that could be suspected to belong to Gygax's Appendix N);
    2013 - "Kolyma Stories" by Varlam Shalamov;
    2014 - "All Quiet on Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque;
    2015 - "The King of Elfland's Daughter" by Lord Dunsany / tied with "The Hobbit" by J.R.R.T;
    (a year dominated by my resumed Appendix N quest, at least in the domain of fiction);
    2016 - "The Unwomanly Face of War" by Svetlana Alexievich (and probably, her next two books as well);
    2017 - “Three Hearts and Three Lions” by Paul Anderson;
    (this was the year I started teaching and the lowest point in my reader's carrier, with a dozen novels and maybe a couple of non-fiction titles that were not work-related; still, it's really hard to choose between Anderson, Vance, Mieville, and VanderMeer);
    2018 - "The Idiot" by Dostoevsky, probably tied with Luo Guanzhong's "Romance of the Three Kingdoms";
    (yes, I know that Russians are supposed to have read the former at half this age);
    2019 - “The Shadow of the Torturer” by Gene Wolfe;
    (close runners-up are "Under the Shelter of Beeches", a collection of short stories by Roman Shmarakov, a wonderful Russian post-modernist writer and a colleague of mine (we teach at the same department) and "The Rack and the Whip: Political Intelligence and Russian Society in the 18th Century" by Evgeny Anisimov, a detailed historical treatise that shows how the much-lauded age of Russian history was a grand rehearsal for Stalin's purges, in spirit if not in scale);
    2020 - "Bury Me Behind the Skirting Board" by Pavel Sanaev;
    (basically, the author's account of his early childhood spent together with over-protective and mentally unstable grandmother; scarier than any Lovecraftian seafood).

    Now that I look back at it, all this "Best of the Year" list doesn't seem particularly revealing or representative. But still.

    1. Do Russian children have to read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc. in school like we have to read Shakespeare and Dickens?

    2. Yesm they have. I am not sure about the exact list, but "War and Peace" and "Crime and Punishment" are definitely there. There have been proposals, both from statesmen and from within the academia, to remove them from the program as too complex to be appreciated by teenagers, but so far these have been generally mocked. And loyalist media made some fuzz about Ukraine removing Tolstoy and Dostoevsky from their school program in 2017.

      I remember having to read a lot of classic texts throughout my last years at school. Great as they were, the sheer pace at which one had to go through them ruined most of the fun.

    3. Oh, and the removal of Russian classics from Ukraine schools was fake news, btw.

  11. I have no idea when I read most of this and it will be strongly tilted towards the present as neither my memory nor my records go back that far. Also these are in no particular order. And also some of these are comics and one is an audiobook.

    - The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison
    Loved it so much I did a podcast about it.

    - BLAME! byt Tsutomu Nihei
    Piranesi plus terrifying infinite transfuturism plus sisyphean quest plus what the fuck even happened at the end I have no idea who cares anyway. Almost pure lonlieness condensed into art.

    - The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
    Kicks the fuck out of Winnie the Poo if you ask me.

    - The Scar by China Mieville
    First Mieville book I read, way before the intro to D&D culture which inspired most of it. This is one of the old ones, I specifically remember reading this in Lancaster town centre not long after 911.

    - Conspiracy: Peter Theil, Hulk Hogan, gawker and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday
    In many ways a trash book HOWEVER,, utterly fascinating in the events it relates and almost a petri-dish or proto-sample of the developing culture wars in the 2010'. The freakish symmetry between Thiel and his nemesis they guy behind Gawker is fascinating.

    - Riders of the Dead by Dan Abnett
    One of few books I have consistently re-read and I loved it each time. Two cavalrymen get seperated during a disasterous battle against chaos, one ends up becoming a steppe nomad/winged hussar and the other is slowly sucked into the worship of Tzeetch. (If we went for a 2nd Dan Abnett book I would say 'Double Eagle' which is fucking great).

    - The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
    70s adolescent magic-and-hormones book where a girl has to save her little brother from a soul-devouring predator. Short, sweet, also a study in alienation and intergenerational guilt.

    - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

    - Herbie Archives by Shane O'Shea
    - Alan Moores favourite comic and perhaps the only glimmer of joy remaining in his THC-wracked body is for this surprsingly anticommunist deranged absurdist sort of her story about a boy who seems to have powers alike unto those of a god and who uses them to help his dads maniacal career problems and to assist local hoboes.

    - The Master and his Emissary by Ian McGilchrist
    I READ IT FIRST DAVID!! Back when Bookslut existed and Jessa Crispin wa still someone I could stand listening to, she banged on and on about this book. I got it and it altered the way I thought. Bascially an alternate version of 'The Bicemeral Mind' except the other way round and not paranoid conspirital trash.

    - Memory in Oral Traditions by Rubin
    BALLADS! The basic structure of human memory and recollection in a non-literate world still form the basis of much of our culture, invisible due to its ubiquity and unthnking centrality to our minds but somone came up with all this stuff and this book is a little shard of light shone into one small part of that process.

    (I had to make this multiple comments due to length)

    1. I've been wanting to read that 'Conspiracy' book. Peter Thiel is a very interesting man.

  12. (PART TWO of three!)

    - Fire on the Rim by Stephen Pyne
    A man runs around fighting fire in a place which really wants to be on fire. I have distinct memories of the cultural conlict between the anarchist firefighters and hierarchal and bureaucratic Park Rangers. Also an early entry in the currently popular series "America Really Wants to Be On Fire" and the "Have We Fucked Up?" trilogy. The experiences in this book provoked Pyne to become a fire expert.

    The Earth, an Intimate History by Richard Fortey
    - Another book which both provoked and assisited me in making a book. TIME? HOW BIG IS IT? Well we can never really get it but have a look at some rocks and think about this book. Time - there is way too much, don't have a meltdown.

    - Beseark by Kentaro Miura
    Someone advised me to read this ages ago and I only picked up the first Tankubon where it still looked just like a standard fight comic so I wasn't interested. THEN I saw the 90s anime adaptation of the Golden Age arc and was hooked. Am now working my way through the fancy expensive leatherbacked versions as they are slowly released, there will be 20? 40? of these eventually where am I going to put them?? Yes, another Manga about a dark haired man who fights, the last one (BLAME!) had a gun, while this guy has a sword, so they are different. Also Nihei doesn't really have much emotional range while Miuras characters have DEPTH and his even-more epic tale pulses with not only horror but also the more tender emotions of some people trying to find meaning in a reality where the only gods are dark. Griffith you fuck! (David doesn't read comics so will never know about any of this).

    - Playing at the World by Jon Peterson
    HUMAN EXISTANCE? DOES IT HAVE MEANING? Well we are trying. Strange to say that this is a bit like a book I didn't mention by Stephen Pyne called 'The Ice' which in a different way is about humanity facing absolute NOTHING and trying to give it meaning with the power of life and intelligence. Playing at the World is initially like being raped with an encyclopedia, and it goes in dry, but after enough of this the reader transcends and achieved galaxy brain status, realising that its actually about the human constcution of meaning over time. Jon Peterson said mine was his favourite review of this book which pleased me.

    - Parrot and Oliver in America by Peter Carey
    Another old one and a rare normie literature book for me. An english painter on the run visits American with a Pseudo Marquis De Tourqueville (or the real one, I don't remember which). We generally read about the actions of the two men from the others point of view. They do not undertand each other.

  13. (ok hopefully this is part three of three)

    - Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas about the Mind.
    You brain, more like a wax slate or a COMPUTER? Well it turns out that every time we fiddle with a new tech ou understanding of it feeds back into our conceptions and metahphors of our own mind which prompts difference conceptions of our minds and therefore different theories and experiments thereto. Brain makes technology, technology illuminates (or warps) brain, its a feedback loop boys we gotta shut 'er down afore she blows!

    - The Full Facts book of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland
    No cold reading is NOT just about being vague, SHUT UP. This is honestly the most illuminating book on rhetoric and political and cultural persuasion I have ever read though its not really about that

    - The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs
    Just.. honestly a nice, odd book about a strange friendship between two old wizards trying to fight something super-evil through a fantasy landscape which isn't quite fairytale and definietly not tolkien but almost proto-D&D in some ways but not. Just a charming book. The Name of the Rose is better and deeper but I hated the main character by the end and also this is shorter so Bellairs gets the place. Its 'favourite' not 'best', unless it wasn't and I have forgotten but I am not going back now to check.

    - The Blue Estuaries by Louise Bogan
    This is my favourite poetry book, by my favourite poet. I do not understand why though I am usually pretty ok and slowly working out why something is good. Still processing this one I guess. Stay tuned for my last words as I may croak out a pretty good review of Louise Bogan!

    1. I read The Face in the Frost sometime around 2002, when I was filling in the gaps of "Appendix N" stuff I had overlooked as a kid. I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time and have it queued up for a re-read sooner or later (which is to say when I moved a few months ago I kept it in the house instead of packing it away in storage).

  14. ==Yes, I am going to have A Game of Thrones in this list.


  15. Insomniac blog-surfing, I can't pass by the opportunity to comment on this. I struggle to remember yesterday afternoon, so 20 years is a stretch. I have Goodreads for 2012, and for 2018 onwards, although even there I no longer agree with myself. Some indubitable highlights:

    Exquisite Corpse by Robert Irwin. In fact, every one of Irwin's fictions, but this was the first one I read, circa 2001 - a recommendation from the M John Harrison Empty Space Message Board that I told you about. In it, a very unreliable English surrealist gives a history of English surrealism. His description of how the Blitz, with its waterfalls of bricks and horses appearing through doorways to nowhere, made surrealism obsolete is one of my favourite pieces of writing ever.

    Speaking of Mike Harrison, he's not published many novels this millennium, but they're all on there.

    Second-hand Time, by Svetlana Alexeivitch, an oral history of the end of Communism in Russia. The most terrifying thing I have ever read. I tried to write a review of it, but only managed quotes and a sense of dread:

    The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The decline and fall of the Sicilian aristocracy. I seem to like books about things falling apart. The ending gives me goosebumps.

    The KLF: Chaos, Magic & the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds, by John Higgs. I had zero interest in the KLF before reading this book. It blew my mind wide open, and reconfigured my reality tunnel. And led me to read everything that Higgs has written, most of which is similarly brilliant and surprising. I will also never not be amused that über-rationalist Ben Goldacre listed this book about magic as his book of the year. I wrote a bit about it here:

    All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills. A book in which virtually nothing happens, and yet the way in which it doesn't happen is so ominous that I expected disaster on every fresh page. I introduced it to the reading group at my local library, and the old women found it completely unbelievable, "nobody could be as spineless and easily manipulated as the main character". I didn't have the courage to tell them how much I'd identified with him.

    The Emperor's Tomb by Joseph Roth. Another depressing obituary, this time for the Austria-Hungarian Empire.

    Against Nature (À Rebours), by Joris-Karl Huysmans. Just how much mileage can you squeeze out of a man who has basically walled himself inside his own house? A surprising amount, it turns out.

    it turns out I can only post 4,096 characters in this box, so... to be continued.

  16. Shit, I copied all of my original comment, and now I can't remember where I cut it off to fit it in. Apologies if any of this repeats...

    Against Nature (À Rebours), by Joris-Karl Huysmans. Just how much mileage can you squeeze out of a man who has basically walled himself inside his own house? A surprising amount, it turns out.

    Pastoralia by George Saunders. Just the best fucking short stories I have ever read. Hilarious, and more true than truth itself. The 19th century had Gogol, the 20th Kafka, and we've got George.

    Antwerp by Nicholas Royle. A highly intelligent thriller, and the first time I'd encountered second-person fiction (used sparingly and to excellent effect).

    The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. Riddley Walker set in 1066. Reading this story of a tragic
    and deluded English insurgent raging over foreign invaders made events of a thousand years ago seem quite contemporary. Plus, unlike most people, I love a good invented language.

    Speaking of which: Riddley Walker. Obvs.

    Also The Prose Merlin. Which I'm only putting here to show off about the fact that I read a 400 page book in middle English. Which of course would be nothing to Patrick Stuart. But the payoff is mighty, in the form of a scene where King Arthur fights a cat, which I'm pretty sure must have inspired the vorpal bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

    Reality by Peter Kingsley. Analyses a fragment of Greek poetry from 600BC and demonstrates, very convincingly, that everyone since Aristotle has misunderstood it, and hence that Western rationalism is built on sand. This is a fucking freaky book, with astonishing crystal clear prose.

    Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe, by Norman Davies. I will never tire of telling people that the country of Burgundy migrated over 1,000 years from the Baltic to the South of France.

    Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. There's some pretty deep shit going on in the world that exists at the edge of our perception. A phrase that sticks in my mind is the "aeons-old dance of moss and stone".

    One Day The Shadow Passed by Jonathan Reggio. A fictionalised version of an encounter with the Japanese inventor of a new way of farming. Since reading this book, all I've wanted to do is keep chickens and grow fruit trees. I'm perilously close to achieving that dream.

    Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden. It's ok to include books by friends, right? This is like no other book I've ever read. It's funny and deep and light-hearted and important. "I know a lot of dead people now".

    The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Solving the Mystery of Life, by Paul Davies. I didn't understand 80% of this book, about the cutting edge of physics and biology, but what I understood amazed me, and has often been in my mind ever since

    I've lost count, and most of these are from recent years. It also feels like there ought to be more non-fiction here, as that's over 50% of what I read.

    Oh yeah, it would be dishonest of me not to include Deep Carbon Observatory. Changed my understanding of what an RPG can do.