2017 in Books

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For me 2017 was all about reading bit out of my comfort zone and expanding my genre horizons. Even though it was fun and I found some delightful books, I am looking forward to go back to my line-up of contemporary fiction in 2018.

The most remarkable fiction I read last year was definitely Paul Beatty’s The Sellout (the book that takes some of the most twisted racial prejudices to extreme consequences in a rather satirical manner – even though the author himself doesn’t like the book to be labelled as a satire). Apart from the fact that The Sellout will make you laugh and cry at the same time, this book is one of the best ways of making a point I have ever seen in any context. Another fiction book I liked, as disturbing as it is, is Han Kang’s Vegetarian (I wrote bit about it here).

I tried to get into sci-fi this year, and some classics like Dune took my breath away, some others, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, completely annoyed me by its blatant sexism (sure in 50 years the travel across the galaxy will be possible, but having a woman engineer would be absurd). The sci-fi book published in 2017 that I absolutely loved is John Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire, which is very political and seriously funny space opera with a cast of diverse super interesting characters. I am already looking forward to the follow-up to be published in 2019.

I also read number of biographies (I really wanted to mention Al Franken here, but well… I guess that the book itself is still interesting enough if you feel like reading it). I loved Trevor Noah and Tiffany Haddish books that are both super funny and inspiring.

The annoyed-me-the-most in 2017 is split between Yuval Noah Harari: Homo Deus and Brian Green’s Light Falls. Yuval Harari wrote a book about a species that Homo Sapiens will develop into due to the artificial intelligence revolution. While the book is making some good points and somehow landed on the reputable recommended reading lists, I was constantly annoyed by the over-simplification and superficiality of many of the arguments. To give Mr. Harari the benefit of the doubt, I think that often he plays the devil’s advocate on purpose (he likes to make a point that the problem with Capital not becoming reality is that the capitalists can read). So I guess that his argument that liberal values only make sense in the world where each member of the society is needed to contribute to GDP might be meant as a provocation of the similar type. Then again, it was a week of rage at the over-generalization that is a direct consequence of selectively picking certain claims about artifical intelligence and creating a false narrative.

When comes to Brian Green’s book, let me just say is it really okay in 2000something write stuff like: Einstein was stressed because Hilbert was closing in on him and he had to deal with angry outbursts of his wife while facing the pressure to marry his mistress. Really?

Let me finish with honorable mentions of other great books that I warmly recommend: Hope Jahren: Lab Girl (thoughtful and beautiful memoir of a biologist), Neil deGrasse Tyson: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (super cool popular science book), Andy Weir: The Martian (perfect nerdy sci-fi).

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