Bests-and-Messes: Best Reading in 2009

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Best Books

I read ~100 books a year for pleasure. These are the best books I’ve read this year (not necessarily published in 2009).

Hugo Heclo, On Thinking Institutionally.
My favorite book of the year, Heclo articulated many things central to my world-view that I did not have a name for. The following quote illustrates the message of this little book.

“Today’s popular culture devotes vast amounts of attention and money to the star power of ephemeral personal success. The message is: become a celebrity or else be sidelined as just another drudging worker bee. In the same way, we are besieged by a consumer culture promoting a short-term self-preoccupation. This self is portrayed as being in a continuously needy condition, capable of affirming itself only by acquiring an ever-mounting array of material and symbolic goods.” […]

“The wisdom of daily experience tells us something different. The deeper satisfactions we crave come from strong bonds of mutual attachment to other people and larger causes outside ourselves. Then the mirrors become windows and doors into a wider world of loyalties. In that world a sense of well-being and happiness finds us rather than our frantically chasing it down. It is a place where a person has a chance to find the simple satisfaction that comes from doing a job the way it is supposed to be done. It is a place where enduring relationships can liberate us from self-preoccupation, where we gain by giving of ourselves. It is here, not in the glare of celebrity, that life gains an authentic sparkle. And while the popular culture might not notice or reward these larger loyalties, they are the kind of things you and I are likely to cherish when, from some terminus, we look back on the course our lives have taken.”

Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
A brilliant piece of work, this is a comic book about comic books as a genre of art and expression. It is a well-researched, scholarly book that could have been loaded with mul-ti-syl-la-ble words, but is instead fun, readable, and imaginativen. It is thoughtful and gentle, opening my eyes to what comics could do. This is the book that directly inspired me to draw again, so I could one day use the sequential arts to communicate.

John Bannon, Dear Mr. Fantasy
John Bannon is a lawyer, well known in the little circle of card magis for his sophisticated constructs. DMF had been out of print for many years, and I finally laid my hands on a copy… wicked, beautiful thinking. It is a poetry of perception and deceptions, and well deserves its reputation. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Bullets after Dark, the updated DVD treatment of the material in DMF.

There is much in common between the books, despite their genre. All three are thoughtful, clean, and written in clear language.^*

Favourite Essays

Essays are one of my favorite genre. Paul Graham is the favorite essayist I’ve came across this year. His writing is clean and intelligent, a modern day Francis Bacon. (That’s high praise from me – Francis Bacon, for all his personal shortcomings, is my favorite essayist.) See How to Do What You Love for one that particularly resonated with me. That said, Mr. Graham lives in a distinctly “Can Do” world, which may not work for those who have given hostage to fortune.

^* – for calibration, as examples of a book that I consider rambling on and on, see Against Happiness. As books that seem simplistic (to me), see A Whole New Mind. Pick any three theology/philosophy off the shelf and you are likely to have at least one specimen of more-garble-than-needed language.


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