This was an unusually hectic year, so this set of reviews will be briefer than usual. Flash reviews, if you will.
Perhaps the whole of the human experience is contained within this epic about a small-time farmer’s rise and fall, brimming with wit and tragedy.
The perfect novel about language and language contact, though it’s so much more than just that – one of the most inventive pieces of sci-fi I’ve ever read.
Wondrich’s meticulous research and engaging writing take what could be a dull subject – 19th-century cocktail recipes – and make it immensely satifying to read about.
Note: I’ve started a project to recreate each drink in the book, as close to the original recipe as possible, though I haven’t gotten very far yet.
I’m not sure if I am fully convinced of Graeber’s theory of debt preceding money and the constant realignment between the two, but this is a fascinating read regardless, with the earliest sections, on social currencies and “everyday communism”, being the most thought-provoking.
I’m a sucker for all things North Asia, so how could I resist Reid’s account of her travels in early 2000s Siberia in search of extant shamanic customs? The history aspect of it is definitely no match for Forsyth’s magisterial A History of the Peoples of Siberia, but the personal travelogue is an engaging read.
The anti-self-help self-help book, How to Do Nothing is a manifesto for regaining attention in an age of addictive technology, and manages to be both beautifully written and full of actionable ideas.
Part mythology, part poetic ethnography, part adventure story, part family lore, The Chukchi Bible is a mysterious and beautifully written ode to a fading culture.
I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to read this classic of science fiction, with an extraordinary portrayal of an anarchist “ambiguous utopia”. I just wish the whole thing didn’t unravel with an unsatisfying deus ex machina ending.
Without spoiling too much, I will say that this is a brilliantly written account of one man’s quixotic scientific journey and the lengths that he would go to to achieve his vision, interspersed with a touching personal memoir.
What Wondrich does for classic American cocktails, Berry does for tiki. Sippin’ Safari is a fun romp through the world of tropical drinks, but I found the structure of it to be a little unfocused, lacking a clear through-line.
A kaleidoscopic collection of 50 linked micro-stories, all set in a bizarre future of feudal states, human-animal hybrids and super-drugs. I have to give Sorokin credit for his profoundly imaginative world-building, but each chapter being told from a completely new perspective robs it of any sense of real narrative progression.
An expertly written work of sociolinguistics that crams centuries of history of usage of Scotland’s two autochtonous languages – Scots and Gaelic – into a slender tome, ultimately striking a critical yet hopeful tone about the prospect of preserving Scotland’s linguistic heritage.
Why read a 60s linguistics textbook? In part because Chao, a pioneer of Chinese linguistics, writes in beautifully fluid and conversational way, and in part because this book reflects his own interests more than anything else, and so features incredibly forward-thinking chapters on sociolinguistics, information theory, and even language technology.
Unfortunately the more Clojure-heavy parts of the book were lost on me (it’s been a while), but I particularly enjoyed the Names chapter, a deep and philosophically interesting exploration of naming in software.
This collection of previously-untranslated stories by Lem was hit-and-miss. Highlights: “Invasion from Aldebaran”, “The Friend”, “The Hammer”, “One Hundred and Thirty-Seven Seconds” (the latter particular timely in the age of GPT-3…) .
A page-turner of a historical mystery-thriller that somehow just doesn’t feel satisfying at the end.
Safran Foer’s trademark wit is still there, but it just didn’t hit me emotionally the way his first two novels did.
What it says on the tin. Part 1 is mostly theoretical essays about topics in language revitalization. Part 2, which I personally found more interestings, consists of myriad case studies from around the world.