My Year in Reading
I read 24 books in 2023, a total of just over 8,000 pages. It was an uncommonly productive year for me, not driven by any particular goal but rather a general interest in a few choice authors and compelling works. Here are some of the highlights.
I read four different books by Haruki Murakami this year, starting with What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and following up with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Men Without Women, and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
This Murakami binge all started from a friend's recommendation. Before 2023 I was totally unacquainted with Murakami's work, although nowadays I the ever-growing Murakami section in my local bookstore has me wondering how I missed it. Beginning with a memoir (What I Talk About) is perhaps a strange way to meet a new author, offering insights into the mind behind books that I've not yet encountered. At least with Murakami's memoir the subject stays focused on his running and life philosophy, it doesn't delve far into the subject matter of his stories.
Something about the tone of What I Talk About caught me right away: a relatively simple form of prose packed with emotion and relatability. This feeling translates into all of Muarakami's writing and is probably the core reason I find his work so engaging. I struggle to put into words my reasons for recommending his work to others, other than I think people should try it and find for themselves whether it holds any meaning in their lives.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland strikes me as one of his tighter novels, at least in terms of a plot through-line and characters that grow together with the protagonist. It's an interesting take on a dual narrative, two parallel worlds representing the "Hard Boiled" detective side and the "End of the World" dream side. Although I didn't care much for the characters themselves, the themes and existential explorations were fun to explore.
Men Without Women is a short story collection that I purposefully read before watching the movie Drive My Car, which itself is based on several of the stories in the book. The stories are interesting, engaging, and dreamy. Unlike a full-length novel, a short story doesn't need to work double-time to justify the existence and evolution of its characters. The constraints of a short story work in concert with Muarakami's style and I think offer a more enjoyable reading experience. This is probably the best place to start for new Murakami readers.
The final Murakami novel that I read was The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, which I had described to me as his magnum opus. Although I finished it more than two months ago I am still trying to sort out my feelings towards it. It has stuck in the back of my mind in a way that few novels ever have, and I find myself dwelling on certain scenes and characters to connect their meaning to events in my own life. It's a bizarre book that I can't necessarily recommend, even though I find it endlessly fascinating.
John Romero released an autobiography this year, Doom Guy: Life in First Person, which despite its title (I mean, come on, really?) manages to be an engaging glimpse into his life and one of the most important periods in video game history.
There are now two books (that I know of) covering the saga of id Software: Masters of Doom, probably one of the most famous books written about video games, and Romero's autobiography. I would not recommend Romero's Doom Guy over Masters of Doom, as the latter does a much better job developing the behind-the-scenes drama and pacing itself as a proper story. However, Doom Guy is still a worthy read for Doom-heads like me, as it provides lots of additional insight into Romero's evolution as a game designer.
Doom is still going strong, 2023 marking its 30 year anniversary. Following Doom Guy I went down a pretty deep modding rabbit hole, exploring some of the incredible stuff that people are making for this game. MyHouse.wad in particular is an astounding achievement that is worth checking out, at the very least in Youtube form. Romero himself is still churning out new levels in the form of Sigil.
The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin is quickly becoming one of my favorite Sci-fi authors. Last year The Dispossessed gripped me with its prose, use of metaphor, and occasional Taoist reference; I wrote a little bit about my reading experience here. The Left Hand of Darkness is a very different story that encompasses many of the things I enjoyed about The Dispossessed, but also delivers such complexity in its alien culture that it's unbelievable to me that it's only 400 pages. The world-building is so sincere and empathetic it's hard to believe that Le Guin didn't travel to these planets and interview her characters personally.
While writing this post I've also finished Under the Lathe of Heaven, which to me reads more like Philip K. Dick than Le Guin. The reason I bring up this point is to contrast The Left Hand of Darkness, which I think delivers a style so personal and unique to Le Guin that I can't help believing it will be my favorite work of hers for a long time.
I can't say enough good things about this book!
The percentage of non-fiction that I read is much smaller than fiction, both because I think fiction is more important to read from a learning and development standpoint (a view that I think differs from the norm) and because fiction is more interesting. When I read non-fiction it's almost always a book about programming, something directly related to my career and skill development.
Readers of this blog may have guessed, and I confirm, that my Emacs obsession has likewise hijacked my non-fiction life. Emacs, it seems, is the gateway drug to an obsession with parentheses, one that inevitably leads down the Common Lisp rabbit hole, into a place where programmers are trapped in the 80s but at least have lots of free and venerable literature to choose from.
One of such books is Paul Graham's On Lisp, a Common Lisp book that focuses on bottom-up programming and the power of macros. It's the first Common Lisp book that I've worked through that isn't exclusively about the language (like Practical Common Lisp, also excellent) but factors in higher-level ideas. On Lisp is widely regarded as the "macro explainer" because it does an excellent job demonstrating the power of Lisp macros during the early periods of application architecture. I can likewise agree that On Lisp has given me a greater appreciation for macros and metaprogramming, as well as a great respect for the parentheses that rule Lisp-like languages.