Books read in 2014

Halfway along life’s path (I turned 35 in June), I am increasingly conscious of all the books that I won’t read. What I do read must be either beautiful, useful or help to inspire conversation with people who have read the same things. The list below is typically desultory but I’d say at least half of them gave more pleasure than pain (recommended books are in bold).

  • A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
  • Life lessons from Nietzsche by John Armstrong
  • Echoes of the future by R. Klanten
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck
  • Kill your friends by John Niven
  • The Amateurs by John Niven
  • The Second Coming by John Niven
  • Straight White Male by John Niven
  • Just Enough Research by Erika Hall
  • The Quadruple Object by Graham Harman
  • Sass for Web Designers by Dan Cederholm
  • Daily Habits by Mason Currey
  • Smacss by Jonathan Snook
  • Service Design by Andy Polaine, Ben Reason and Lavrans Lovlie
  • The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters
  • Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes
  • Precarious Communism by Richard Gilman-Opalsky
  • Introducing Marx by Rius
  • Event by Slavoj Zizek
  • Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland
  • Ghosts of my Life by Mark Fisher
  • Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin
  • Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
  • UnAmerica by Momus
  • The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders
  • Yes: the radical case for Scottish independence by James Foley and Pete Ramand
  • Any other mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh
  • To rise again at a decent hour by Joshua Ferris
  • A new earth by Eckhart Tolle
  • Transcend by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman
  • My Work Is Not Yet Done by Thomas Ligotti
  • Ariel by Sylvia Plath
  • A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations by Mencius Moldbug
  • The Yoga of Eating by Charles Eisenstein
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  • The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker
  • 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary
  • Utopia or Bust by Benjamin Kunkel
  • Personal by Lee Child
  • The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein
  • Revolt She Said by Julia Kristeva
  • Revolution by Russell Brand
  • Definitely Maybe by Alex Niven
  • what purpose did i serve in your life? by Marie Calloway
  • Postsingular by Rudy Rucker
  • The Village Against The World by Dan Hancox
  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
  • What If? by Randall Munroe
  • What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
  • Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
  • Sandman vol.1 by Neil Gaiman
  • On Web Typography by Jason Santa Maria
  • A Pocket Guide to Interviewing for Research by Andrew Travers
  • Lyrics: 2001-2014 by David Shah
  • Decoded by Mai Jia
  • Responsible Responsive Design by Scott Jehl
  • The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
  • Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television by Adam Kotsko
  • Collected Poems by Philip Larkin
  • Adventures in Stationery by James Ward
  • Incognito by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  • What men live by and other tales by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Critique of Everyday Life by Henri Lefebvre
  • Maligned Velocities by Benjamin Noys
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


My top five books this year

Kill your friends by John Niven
It’s so rare to laugh out loud when reading, but this cruel Britpop novel had me crying with laughter.

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary
I read a lot of political books as part of my reading group, but few provoked more thought than Crary’s book on technology.

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
Recommended to me by Chris and Caspar, this self-conscious literary novel was deeply problematic but nonetheless compelling.

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
Few books have stayed with me as much as Mendelsund’s meditation on the reading experience. Above all, I feel it has certainly improved my attention to detail of place and character in fiction.

Adventures in Stationery by James Ward
An obsessive look at the history behind what lives in your pencil case. People talk a lot about paying attention to the world in a mindful way, but this book brought the world to life like few other non-fiction books.


My five least favourite books

Life lessons from Nietzsche by John Armstrong
Vulgar litany of quotes that barely indicate what Nietzsche had to say.

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland
Deeply unpleasant story that completely missed the nasty humour of John Niven.

A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations by Mencius Moldbug
Unreadable pompous advocate of the neoreactionary movement.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
Tedious space opera.

Revolt She Said by Julia Kristeva
Boring interview with no insights.



What is politics? For most of my life politics has been a spectacle of rich, white, middle-aged men exchanging petty insults in order that their interests might prevail. Platitudes about health, crime and education dominate debate, with economics being used as the only arbiter of success. Public participation is reduced to taking part in elections where most votes – under the first-past-the-post system – make no difference to the result. There may be change of government, but nothing really changes.

The debate on Scottish independence shows that politics could be much more. With intelligent, vigorous debate in every workplace, cafe, and pub – with social media being used to disseminate and criticize articles that come from outside the corporate mainstream (e.g. National Collective and Bella Caledonia) – politics now feels like something everyone can participate in.

For the first time in my life, I have experienced an active public sphere, one in which you can see how the aggregate of public debate helps make decisions. No longer should technocrats and wonks be allowed to determine the future direction of a country without regard to the people who have to endure their mistakes. We should have more referendums, more debate, more participation to avoid short-sighted policies like the privatisation of public services and the use of oil revenues to give tax breaks to the richest 1%. The debate hasn’t been bad-tempered or divisive, there has been no anti-Englishness or parochial nationalism. Instead, Scottish civic society has become better informed and more conscious of the needs and fears of others.

A yes vote on the 18th September will bring power closer to the people who live in Scotland. What we do with that power remains to be seen. No one knows if the country will be be more or less prosperous, but it will be more democratic.

The first few years will be disruptive and difficult, but I believe that it will be worth it in the long run. The Better Together campaign focuses on the security of being part of the larger union, but as Nassim Taleb shows in his book, Antifragile, the most robust countries are often those which devolve power to a local level rather than impose clumsy and inefficient top-down solutions. Small countries have better feedback mechanisms and are less likely to undertake hubristic schemes such as a neverending and counter-productive war on terror.

To the extent that you can impose a narrative on history, the 307 years that make up the British project consist of a spectacular rise and long, painful fall. Britain is haunted by having lost its empire. Look at the pride British politicians take in bestriding the world stage as a US deputy in illegal oil wars, in possessing costly nuclear bombs (Trident is estimated to cost £83bn over the next 50 years) and in being a member of the UN security council. Let’s take a stand against this madness, forget about a place at the top table, save the money and join the other 200+ countries in the world.

An independent Scotland could halt the narrative of British decline and flourish without the taint of empire. Scotland feels to me – an Englishman who has live here for ten years – like a different country with a different culture and different aspirations, it’s time to make that difference a reality. The debate over the last few months shows what happens when people are less alienated from the political process. Let’s embrace democracy and vote yes on Thursday.

Oxen Tests

Idi Probak is a traditional Basque sport where farmers test their oxen. The test consists of seeing how much they can walk up and down a village square in 30 minutes. We went to Rigoitia, a village outside Bilbao, to watch.

Sketches of Spain