It's been a good year for reading. Here, in no order, are a few books I enjoyed:
(1) My Struggle (vol. 1), Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Breathtaking. There's a good chance you've read glowing reviews elsewhere by now, so here are a few reactions that are more personal: Among other things the book is a work of applied epistemology, and is masterful in this respect. I enjoyed the discussions of Western culture, and how things like masculinity get expressed in that culture, that are not as heavily influenced by American culture as most of what I read. The book is structured remarkably well: it's easy to judge novels by the quality of their set pieces or most interesting passages, and Knausgaard scores very well on such metrics, but the book is also wonderfully composed on a macro level.
(2) The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz.
Informative, insightful, and fun. It reads like an unevenly polished brain dump, which I don't mean as a criticism. I'll pay for as many of these as Ben Horowitz wants to dump and unevenly polish. It's a constant stream of good advice presented plainly and clearly.
Horowitz made the interesting choice to address the reader as a CEO--that is, to make a startup CEO the formal audience of the book. Surely the vast majority of the book's readers are not CEOs. Of course, the information is useful for anyone, and especially anyone at a startup, but perhaps the reader learns the book better after assuming the CEO role for the sake of the narrative. The line between fiction and nonfiction sometimes blurs.
(3) The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri.
It's funny; I agree with almost every criticism I've ever heard of Lahiri (William Deresiewicz's comments are the best of the Lahiri-bashing genre), but I still read her with engagement and interest. This book was no different; its Boston setting probably helped.
(4) Addiction by Design, Natasha Dow Schüll.
It's a book about slot machines, discussing the relevant psychology, history, economics, and much more in great detail. It's thorough and well-researched, but always interesting. Schüll should be commended for never letting fact-recitation distract her from the book's big questions: What makes people play slot machines? How does it feel to play one, and to play one as an addict? (And how different is the addict's experience)? And so on.