A list of texts I’ve pored over through the years and would recommend to others. I tried to provide a short description of each so that you may have one more perspective when figuring out what you can expect from them.
Italo Calvino - Le Cittá Invisibili
Remains as the most subliminally beautiful book I have ever laid eyes upon. It’s segmented into many small pieces, so I found it was best for me to let each one simmer a little bit before moving on, as they are only a small page or two in length, and mostly unrelated. Well, you’ll see why they might not be unrelated after all…
Edgar Allan Poe - Collected Works, the Raven Edition
Even though I knew what I was getting into, it took many months to chew through, and even then, it was a mixed bag. Aside from the pieces that are the most loved, there were a lot which left me scratching my head. Some are drawn out or have not aged well, so maybe a selection would make more sense to start with if you’re not adamant about reading every single story or poem of his.
Walter M. Miller Jr. - A Canticle for Leibowitz
Possibly the most interesting piece of post-apocalyptic fiction I have read, and although it felt slow, it flowed smoothly.
Jenny Odell - How to Do Nothing
A recent, and very relevant contemplation on attention, resistance, communications technology, bioregionalism, and birds. The thought process seemed sound (while somewhat ethereal), and my only critique of it is that the modern technological side isn’t woven into it in detail (as the author admits), even though it is definitely the substrate for many of the problems and questions it studies. It’s confounding because even if it avoids being caught up in the details of any particular software or hardware, remaining general and high-level, it does lose that extra edge of low-level tech understanding that shows that a lot of what plagues our communications today is mostly down to misaligned incentives, while the raw possibilities of hardware would permit us much greater freedom (even though it also leaves a lot to be desired). Aside from that, it was very interesting to read, and it made sense, yet felt unchained at the same time.
Terry Pratchett - Interesting Times
First of the Discworld novels for me. Humorous and imaginative, it was a lot of fun to read a great translation in my native tongue.
Guy Debord - The Society of the Spectacle
Somewhat non-euclidean critical theory which, in a highly abstract way, tries to describe the immaterial essence of how the ways we live together in societies of image projection dehumanizes and ultimately oppresses us. Add a sprinkle of Marxist thinking and some historical background on socialism, and you get something which remains horrifyingly accurate today in entirely new ways, even for a book written in 1967.
Jorge Luis Borges - Collected Ficciones
Irrealism, labyrinths, cities, gauchos, libraries, murders. I’ve found some of Borges’ books more interesting and beautiful than others, but they all retain a tone that is not lost in how his writing changed over the years. I would recommend the Garden of Forking Paths, The Aleph, and the Book of Sand the most readily. What could I say about them that has been left unsaid? They really are something else, existing in a fine fracture between reality and fiction.
James P. Carse - Finite and Infinite Games
Speaking in abstract terms about how play unfolds in society, culture, in factories, gardens; the writing of Carse is heavy with poetic flair and distance, and he seemingly remains impartial to any finite play within our world. In this book, he tries to separate play into two polar opposites: that which is played to reach an ending, and that which is played to never reach an ending. One of the weaker points of the book is that in many places, it desires this polar opposition so much that it simplifies things that are not polar opposites down into phrases for the sake of clever wordplay. Still, the writing mostly resonates with itself beautifully, and postulates a useful metatheory to serve as a magnifying and minifying lens on the play happening in our world.
Ursula K. Le Guin - The Dispossessed
The themes and leanings of the story struck a chord with multiple things that I couldn’t articulate before, even if I felt their influence. The principles of the anarchist society such as free association, right to self-determination, and mutual aid were all expressed and dissected in context equally well in a world that is never black or white. The language is austerely beautiful, just as the planet Anarres. Ursula wastes no paper in digging into all the malaise that different societies may breed, due to social calcification, tribalism, scarcity, or greed. The larger context and smaller, circumstantial details make its universe feel vast, yet rife with fractal-like detail. The atomic ideals of Odonianism resound with things I’m reminded of constantly: the means are the ends, there is only the process, vitality through complexity… and permanent revolution.
E. M. Forster - The Machine Stops
Simple, heavy, and bleak. The situation humanity is stuck in may be expressed a bit heavy-handedly, but rather than feeling out of place, it drives home how deeply The Machine has come to overshadow every aspect of human existence. The horror lies in how The Machine keeps growing not against the will of any of its subjects, but how it rolls forward with thunderous applause. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to become a living cell in a monolithic megastructure of our own creation, you may find this short story interesting. Also, it makes for a good satire of the information age, even though it was written in 1909.
Jenny Odell - Saving Time
Familiar images come to mind after the first book, How to Do Nothing. The title might lead one astray, but this book was born out of the author’s fascination with time, and how deeply woven it is into the fabric of everything around us. Through different forms of time reckoning, it touches on everything from natural and human exploitation to geological and human memories of time. Who and what is allowed to be in motion, who is frozen, who is granted a life within time and who is seen as existing outside of it. A good way to put the idea of time that forms here is a running joke that emerged in the author’s circle: “time is not money, time is beans.”
Stanislaw Lem - The Cyberiad
At first I was surprised by the playful, whimsical tone of the short stories in the earlier parts of the collection. Soon, however, the stories became more intricate and significant, touching on all sorts questions that may seem incongruent with the setting they play out in, at least at first. Instead, it feels like this style of storytelling was fertile ground that let the tales get right down to all kinds of chin-scratching, brow-furrowing, and surprisingly light-hearted contemplation. If that kind of humour bounces off you the right way, grab a cup of mulled electrolyte, and indulge in the heuristical, wholly mechanistical, and wonderfully nonlinear adventures of Trurl and Klapaucius.