Stuff to Read (Or Whatever) in 2017 (Or Whenever) that We Read in 2016
By David Wolinsky and the Extended Don’t Die Family
I hate year-end lists. They’re feeble attempts to pad editorial calendars when everyone at those outlets really just want to bolt and disconnect from their jobs for a few weeks. They’re also insincere assertions that 365 days — the totality of everything everyone has done — can be dissected and be delivered a tidy autopsy conveniently delivered in the form of a shopping list. They also are an obedient adherence to the similarly false notion that turning one year to another carries some grand significance beyond the symbolic. The truth is, hopefully, we are always learning, branching out. Ideally, we’re not just trying to do so near the end of December, moments before we try to find out whether they’re still making new Far Side calendars.
However, pooling information is an objectively good thing.
This list was not originally intended for public broadcast: In mid-December 2016, I emailed the sizable universe of people I’ve come into orbit with via Don’t Die to ask for book recommendations. A dozen minutes later, I had an overwhelming amount of selections. The list continued to grow in the coming weeks, and eventually a few people asked if I would share the master list. What follows are the suggestions of people I’ve interviewed, people who have helped me facilitate interviews, and also the books I read as research to aid the project on the whole. Some of these were meant just for me, but I’m sharing these — with permission — with you all.
From: Pippin Barr
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 9:32 AM
Ummmm. Hm. How about:
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov
It’s a great book — such a weird and fun format (a long poem followed by footnotes)… so clever, manages to cross between kind of ethereal poetry and very real-feeling moment to moment life. Hmm.
From: Bakari Kitwana
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 9:42 AM
Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media: The Return of the Nigger Breakers by Ishmael Reed
Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting by Vijay Prashad
Representations of the Intellectual by Edward Said
Christianity Before Christ by John Jackson.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
Jubilee by Margaret Walker
From: Brett Douville
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 10:22 AM
I read mostly fiction, and I feel like we’ve talked about that you don’t. So bear that in mind. But here are a couple.
H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald. It’s both a grief memoir and a discussion of falconry/birding. Terrific writing.
The Lonely City; Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
Version Control by Dexter Palmer (fiction). Fantastic science fiction novel, very clever.
The Nix by Nathan Hill. First novel, deeply satisfying and comic in lots of good ways. Maybe a little too overstuffed, but a good read.
From: Travis Shrodes
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 10:08 AM
If you want a better understanding of the economies of scale and how they apply to the larger industry as a whole, I recommend Synthetic Worlds by Edward Castronova. While almost a decade old now, the book stands as a staple of games as academia, realizing that we are no longer talking about something abstract or virtual, economically speaking, the virtual IS the real. Even 10 years later I see it quoted and referenced and in the book section at GDC. Really interesting.
From: Laralyn McWilliams
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 11:30 AM
Have you ever read Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin? If not, it’s awesome and beautiful. :-)
From: Per Strömbäck
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 11:37 AM
Great to hear from you. I recommend Douglas Coupland’s Jpod, which is a surprisingly good (and absurd!) account of life inside a games studio (EA Vancouver except it’s never articulated).
From: amanda brennan
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 12:12 PM
It may not be your speed, but I read the entire Throne of Glass series this fall and it was SO GOOD. Twists and turns and a badass heroine. It’s a YA fantasy series, but I don’t typically read fantasy and loved it.
I’m also very into How to Get Away With Murder. The storytelling is ridiculously good and weaves future time on top of current time. And the end of this season had one of the most HEARTBREAKING moments.
And for a triple threat! if you’re into Buffy, Buffering the Vampire Slayer is my #1 favorite podcast right now.
From: Martin Greip
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 2:09 PM
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, depicting a libertarian future version of USA where city states have taken over and the only place to meet freely is the WWW.
Otherwise I’d recommend the Lankhmar books by Fritz Leiber, witty, satirical, dark, human and shakesperean sword and sorcery, precursor to Pratchett.
From: Shy Den
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 4:19 PM
Of course I always recc my fave book, Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal. It’s about the positive impact of video games, and reading it always makes me feel positively inspired and energized. Of course, ymmv, and there might be a chance you’ve already read it.
If you have, then I guess you could always go down the opposite road and watch Black Mirror, a series that I’ve been gushing over for a while now, but people can finally get an easier shot at watching now that we’ve got it stateside on Netflix.
All the best this holiday season, and every season,
From: Carol Benovic-Bradley
Date: Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 4:36 PM
i fell in love with alberto moravia’s writing this year. it’s depressing, but feels unmanufactured.
try boredom or contempt.
and even more depressing is my love of emile zola.
if you enjoy anything about france, you’ll love his writing.
germinal and l’assommoir are the absolute best.
ok, more contemporary:
between the world and me
black flags of isis
i only watch horrible things on tv (sports, wwe, and kitchen nightmares)
insidious 3 (probably one of the worst prequels ever)
From: Adam Saltsman
Date: Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 8:15 AM
heyo! the last book i read that really sucked me in was The Emperor of Scent
hope that helps!
Date: Sat, Dec 17, 2016 at 1:34 AM
Well, there’s always BEYOND AUKFONTEIN if you’re bored. I know you’ve already got a copy.
Otherwise, there’s so many books, films and TV shows to recommend, this is an almost impossible request.
But maybe… ROADSIDE PICNIC by the Strugatsky brothers? It’s a Russian book, and was the inspiration for the STALKER games. Apart from being an excellent, semi-post apocalyptic book, it’s filled with inventive writing. I also read it specifically because I liked the STALKER games, and I ended up regarding it as one of my all time favourite fiction books.
It’s a nice example of how games can encourage people to seek out good, classical fiction. It was written in the 1970s, but it’s aged quite wonderfully.
Regarding the books, you can use my recommendation for Roadside Picnic, since it’s a nice example of games encouraging people to seek out and read books. I never gave you a reason for why you should read Beyond Aukfontein, so if you’re OK with printing an author’s self-indulgent recommendation for their own book, how about the following:
Beyond Aukfontein is a post-apocalyptic fiction novel unlike others in the genre, since it eschews the chaotic power fantasies of the immediate aftermath of Armageddon, and instead focuses on how governments, society, culture, and technology might evolve a century later. The world portrayed is fantastical, exoticising all aspects of humanity, as Zulu skyhunters, Thai gladiators, Hellenic ronin, Eritrean war ministers, Shaolin kraalords, Deutsch fire hermits, the Rossiskaya Imperiya, and genetic mutants jostle amidst a world reborn; a world where old economies, religions, and languages have been reforged. It is a Styxian opera of katana and muskets, a ballet of Yi Hé Quán damnation. Our antihero Mik embarks on an Orphic quest to rescue his lover Kimberly, but his naivety provides a conduit for the reader as both experience this world for the first time. Join him and marvel as you both ride the Libyan Gravity Train, grimace as you are taken prisoner aboard a floating city of galleons off the Portuguese coast, feel triumph as you soar above the shores of Chittagong. On his quest Mik is helped by Doc, his lifelong friend and mechanic from Mahajanga; Seras, former adviser to the Ottoman Empire; the beautiful Catalina of the noble House Corelli, as formidable with a rapier as she is with pistols; and from the Rossiskaya Imperiya he meets Sergei, a morose pilot with a strong sense of honour. Together these comrades form a pentagonal framework representing atheism, agnosticism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The world has changed a lot since The Fall; due to the chaos which followed, no one knows precisely when The Fall of humanity occurred. Dare you travel BEYOND AUKFONTEIN?
From: Frank Lantz
Date: Sun, Dec 18, 2016 at 10:56 PM https://www.amazon.com/Ernest-Gellner-Intellectual-John-Hall/dp/1844677583/ref=pd_sim_14_3?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=1844677583&pd_rd_r=NFRE55JWVNGR0XW4WFJC&pd_rd_w=LnNJq&pd_rd_wg=3VIGI&psc=1&refRID=NFRE55JWVNGR0XW4WFJC
I love Gellner. I find his thinking immensely inspiring. He’s one of the few people I’ve come across that seems to be able to say something cogent about the big questions, about the underlying forces that motivate the vast sweep of history. For someone like me, struggling to understand what it means to be a humanist, a liberal, an optimist, to care about the human project in terms of the modern values of enlightenment thinking — individual freedom, truth, pleasure, knowledge — Gellner is unparalleled and vastly under-appreciated.
From: Gavin Craig
Date: Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 2:40 PM
Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper by Nicholson Baker (nonfiction)
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (novel)
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (nonfiction, highly recommended)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (fiction)
Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker (fiction, crazy, highly recommended)
The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (nonfiction)
The Wicked and the Divine, vols 1–4 by by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (graphic novels/collections, highly recommended)
Mockingbird Vol. 1: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk (graphic novels/collections, highly recommended)
From: Graham Jenkins
Date: Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 5:09 PM
I know it’s old hat but Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail really helped me make sense of this election
I really enjoyed 2312 as well; now I’m going back and reading the Mars trilogy for the first time
If anyone’s into this sort of thing, Strategy in the Missile Age is old but a classic; a great, accessible primer on nuclear thinking
also A Burglar’s Guide to the City is great, as are all things Geoff Manaugh
From: David Weinberger
Date: Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 5:13 PM
The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu. I’m reading it now. It’s a history of modern communications told from the point of view of who is buying our attention.
From: Jack Ward
Date: Sat, Jan 7, 2017 at 3:30 AM
Honestly, 2016 was the year I discovered HowDunit Books.
For someone like me who loves mysteries but doesn’t naturally know all the elements, this is a must have library.
From: Paul Galloway
Date: Sat, Jan 7, 2017 at 8:42 AM
Beard’s incisive book is the best I’ve found in a long time at illuminating the world of Rome beyond just the normal examinations of the emperors. It’s a wonderful and heartbreaking look at how a (sort of) democracy dies and what comes after.
Also, it’s filled with great tidbits about the lives of commoners in the empire. Ever wanted to know what kind of jokes bar patrons liked in Rome? Hilariously intellectual poop jokes, of course!
From: Andrea Ayres
Date: Sat, Jan 7, 2017 at 12:28 PM
The Columbia Journalism Review series on Why We Trust sticks out to me as one of the best things I read in 2016. It is an absolute treasure trove of information and provides vital explanations for how trust in media forms, how it erodes, and offers vital insight into some of the challenges media has moving forward. http://www.cjr.org/special_report/why_we_trust_and_why_thats_changing_online.php
Related to the CJR series is the Reuters Institute report on media brands and trust. The report offers a more qualitative look at how people define trust from various regions around the world. The report rightfully notes that trust in the media does not simply stem from confidence in reportage but is part of a larger set of beliefs individuals have regarding their institutions. fhttp://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Brand%20and%20trust%20in%20a%20fragmented%20news%20environment.pdf
From: Mark Riechers
Date: Sat, Jan 7, 2017 at 3:23 PM
Lo and Behold
Hatecrimes in Cyberspace
From: Reid McCarter
Date: Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 11:04 AM
I read a lot of older books last year and have a few 2016 ones I haven’t gotten to yet, but Teddy Wayne’s Loner was disturbing in a way I think might be valuable. That one stuck out a lot. Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is also worth checking out. I think it’s a bit repetitive and would’ve been a better novella than novel, but it’s got a lot to say about our culture at this exact moment (kind of like Loner does, too, but in a much broader way). I can get back to you once I read some of the other 2016 stuff I haven’t gotten around to reading yet if you want.
From: Mike Rugnetta
Date: Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 3:56 PM
For books, over the last year this is some of what I’ve read which have been great
- Strangers in Their Own Land
- Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
- The Dark Tower Series
- Between The World and Me
From: Joe Bond
Date: Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 5:17 PM
I know you had asked about good books. I just started Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. I can’t say if it’s good or not yet, but I can appreciate the premise. When you have too many choices it can actually paralyze your ability to make a decision. I’m sitting here watching Shameless on Netflix. I have a DVR full of shit to watch. I want to continue watching Man in the High Castle and Mr. Robot on Amazon. There are so many wrestling shows on WWE Network I want to watch. I still have games on Steam I haven’t started. The thing is, I can’t enjoy binge watching stuff because I stress about the other crap I want to watch. How “first-world problems” is that? Pitiful.
From: David Wolinsky
From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner
Forked: A New Standard for American Dining by Saru Jayaraman
Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap by Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar
Geeks by Jon Katz
A Girl’s Life Online by Katherine Tarbox
The Cluetrain Manifesto by Levine, Locke, Searls, Weinberger
Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan
Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers Into Collaborators by Clay Shirky
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
One-Punch Man by One
Innovation Hub by NPR
Code Switch by NPR
KCRW’s The Business
On Being with Krista Tippett
You Must Remember This by Karina Longworth / Panoply
Raw Material by SFMOMA
David Wolinsky is the creator and moderator of Don’t Die, an oral history intended to paint the videogame culture and industry around it onto a broader canvas. Support his Patreon and follow him on Twitter @davidwolinsky.