Books/literature

Contact (1985) by Carl Sagan: really liked it

This novel is a good read. It's a hard science-fiction novel that is accessible, imaginative and well-paced.

The drama and character-work can feel a bit superficial sometimes, and the book is not exactly subtle with its message. As a work of literary fiction, the book is somewhat mediocre. It never engages with clichés or tropes to an unbearable degree, but it does shy away from certain levels of emotional/literary complexity. 

 

Its true strength comes from its intellectual, philosophical and metaphysical propositions. The novel has some truly fascinating answers to age-old scientific, philosophic and even religious questions. It's an incredible mix of scientific scepticism and spiritual wonder. At all times, I believe it tackles these subjects with incredible sensitivity and empathy. Especially if you have seen the film, this book will floor you with how far it is willing to go to create a plausible, respectful and intellectually stimulating blend of scientific and spiritual worldviews. 

 

It's a book that might not move you that much, but will definitely stimulate your sense of scientific curiosity and spiritual wonder, if you are into that sort of thing. 

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire (2018) by Akala: really liked it

This is work is one of a kind. It's part memoir, part sociological and historical treatise, part political essay. It's greatly accessible and offers a comprehensive perspective on the realities of racism and the contemporary inheritances of colonialism. It's written with incredible fluency, clarity and intellectual rigour. It's persuasive without being preachy, personal without being self-centred, intellectually honest without being accusatory, self-aware without being apologetic.

 

I think this book is a must-read for any white people who want to learn about Black and Brown experiences with racism and how these things are rooted in history, classism and imperialism.

The Shock Doctrine (2007) by Naomi Klein:  really liked it

This work is an eye-opening exploration of Disaster Capitalism. It discusses the history of Friedmannite economics, its influence on politics and discourse, and its contribution to the development of Disaster Capitalism. This book offers invaluable insights on what a future dominated by its economic inheritors might look like. Furthermore, it elegantly illustrates the connections between the burgeoning techno-feudalism of our time, the climate catastrophe and the increasingly shameless exploitation of misery and calamity by finance and industry.

 

Moreover, its conclusion gives the reader a poignant summary of how communities might resist the parasitic privatisation of public resources that Disaster Capitalists impose whenever a crisis develops. Greatly recommended!

Station Eleven (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel: unambiguously adored it

This novel is beautifully written and masterfully composed. It transcends the often depressing and misanthropic trappings of the post-apocalypse genre to contemplate the fragility of civilization, the delicacy of art, memory and human connections. It’s elegant, sensitive and unabashedly grounded.

 

In the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the early waves of the climate crisis, it reads like an incredibly poignant warning of what is at stake; what we may lose if we take our privileges for granted. However, it veers away from nihilism or cynicism and ultimately reminds us of how cooperation built our civilisations and how it will always be instrumental for our survival, apocalypse or not.

 

I found it incredibly moving and hopeful and would recommend it to anyone, especially people who are suffering from corona fatigue and/or climate grief. Please read this novel if the world’s chaotic bleakness is overwhelming you.

 

The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (1997): unambiguously adored it

Audre Lorde is my new favourite poet. Her work is revolutionary, politically, spiritually, personally, stylistically, you name it. Her work is beautiful, raw, and seamlessly weaves together poetic sensibilities, personal perspective and political activism. So many of her poems contain vital political insights and enchanting poetical imagery and language. It's sublime.

If you want to know more about what insights (I believe) can be gained from her poetry. 

Check out this article I wrote: 

https://www.tuurverheyde.com/post/reading-audre-lorde-in-the-age-of-poetry-as-product

The Invisibles (1994-2000) by Grant Morrison: love, frustration and admiration

This is mind-fuck the comic: bold, convoluted, confusing and genius. Some parts are fantastic, others are puzzling, ridiculous or just too out there to label. If you’re a conservative, traditionalist or authoritarian then it’s not going to be for you. If you want your storytelling to be perfectly coherent and straightforward then it’s not going to be for you. If you’re someone who has a strong unshakeable opinion about what is real, what is moral, then you’ll probably find things to be offended by.

Some things in this book have aged less than ideally and some are deliberately mystifying or alienating. More than anything, I admire this book for its sheer ambition. Grant Morrison had a variety of experiences and read a myriad of theories that changed their perspective and they wanted to share those things.

 

On one level this book is a philosophical text on the nature of humanity and the universe that seeks to incorporate an astonishing amount of images and ideas from occultism, philosophy, theology, literary & art history, pop culture, music, conspiracy theories, science and science-fiction. This aspect of the comic has the overt intention of changing the reader's perception and thus changing the world.


On another level, it's a pop punk sci-fi adventure that wants to entertain, dazzle and engage you. I can’t say it all came together perfectly in the end. This is by no means a flawless work, but there are so many themes and images that end up being interconnected that the result to me is incredibly impressive, deeply meaningful and satisfying. More than anything, I am stunned by the effort and the passion on display. This book in the right hands could be the introduction to ideas or experiences that have the potential to shatter or at least considerably broaden one’s perspective (as was its purpose). If you go in with an open mind, then you should find plenty to intrigue and fascinate you. Perhaps even more.

It is strange, almost surreal to have read this during the second Lockdown (late 2020 - early 2021). This book wants to change you, wants to push you outside of yourself and towards going out there and living more freely and fluently. This does create a jarring experience when we are currently living in a world where going out there and living like that simply isn't possible. Moreover, the book's relentless optimism and focus on empathy and fluidity stands in strong contrast with the increasingly hopeless and polarised rigidity of our current times. Maybe these strange times will dull the potential effect of the book as a hypersigil designed to make more active in your life. Maybe its effects will spring forward successfully once the covid measures are lifted and will help people understand that in a post-covid world, going back to normal will not do, we have to try to make something better. Who knows, I guess only time will tell.

For now, the only thing I can say with certainty is that this is one hell of a book. It is by no means perfect, but it is incredibly engaging, interesting and has the serious potential to become something more to you than just another piece of media to consume. Give it a try. You never know.

The Stone Gods (2007) by Jeanette Winterson: unambiguously adored it

This novel is sublime. Ostensibly post-apocalyptic & science-fiction, this novel is the answer to anyone questioning the validity of Genre Fiction to be considered literary. This novel is poetic, deeply introspective and asks fundamental questions about humanity, love and loss. If you want a spoiler-filled discussion you can find a brief essay I wrote here:  https://www.tuurverheyde.com/post/jeanette-winterson-s-the-stone-gods-a-brief-discussion

I would highly recommend reading this novel without any foreknowledge. It is absolutely worth it.

Maus (1980) by Art Spiegelman: really liked it

This novel is a canonised for a reason. It is genuinely great. 

More of my thoughts here:

 https://www.tuurverheyde.com/post/art-spiegelman-s-maus-the-limitations-of-bearing-witness

Annihilation (2015)  by Jeff VanderMeer: really liked it

This is a great novel. Strange, unsettling, poetic and elusive. 

If you're the kind of person who wants concrete answers and and explanations, however, this might not be for you. 

More spoiler-filled thoughts here: https://www.tuurverheyde.com/post/jeff-vandermeer-s-annihilation-otherness-and-climate-change

The Road (2007) by Cormac McCarthy: really liked it 

This novel is a classic of the post-apocalyptic genre. Personally, I found it a bit too misanthropic and pessimistic to whole-heartedly adore it, but it is undoubtedly masterfully written and highly engaging. You can find more of my spoiler-filled thoughts here: 

https://www.tuurverheyde.com/post/the-last-of-us-and-cormac-mccarthy-s-the-road

https://www.tuurverheyde.com/post/cormac-mccarthy-s-the-road-survival-and-the-apocalypse

Solar (2010) by Ian McEwan: really liked it 

This novel is well-written, engaging and often really funny. However, if you think too much about how this novel reflects on the climate crisis in the real world and attitudes towards it, it can be really depressing. It often poignant and right on the money, but also steeped in a cynical and slightly misanthropic attitude. Do not read if you are paralysed by climate grief. 

More spoiler-filled thoughts here: 

https://www.tuurverheyde.com/post/ian-mcewan-s-solar-satire-climate-action

The Buddha in the Attic (2012) by Julie Otsuka: really liked it

This is a great work. Moving, unflinching and incredibly powerful. 

More spoiler-filled thoughts here: 

https://www.tuurverheyde.com/post/julie-otsuka-s-the-buddha-in-the-attic-silence-and-injustice

 

Jerusalem (2016) by Alan Moore : love, frustration and admiration

This work is one of a kind. Some people will love it, others detest it. Its sprawling scale, its complex narrative, its working class focus and ideology, its alienating and unsettling themes, its verbose and sometimes overly ornamental language, it's definitely not for everyone.

Some parts blew me away and will remain with me for many years, other parts just bored me to death. It reminds me on some level of the Russian videogame Pathologic; an unprecedented masterpiece on some levels, an exercise of frustration and tedium on others.

If you are someone who has no patience for (overly) verbose language, stylistic experimentation, extensive intertextuality and multifaceted and in some places deliberately obtuse and alienating storytelling, this work is not for you. If on the other hand, you are someone who likes to take literary risks, read experimental & long works, has a fascination with and a passion for language, history, metaphysics and the occult, then this might be the work that changes your life. 

Transformations  (1971) By Anne Sexton: unambiguously adored it

Sublime piece of poetry. The way Sexton's modern confessional pieces mix with the retelling of Grimm's fairy tales is mesmerising. Her poetic language and style is one of a kind; it's surprising, silly, absurd, dark, highly personal, sensitive and a dozen other things. People who are going into this with a 'give me the stories, give the plotbeats' approach might find themselves disappointed and possibly irritated. However, if you're up for a hypnotic rollercoaster of poetic language, strange yet palpable themes and very peculiar stories, strap yourselves in, cause this is one hell of a ride.

General recommendations: 

Mrs. Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf: unambiguously adored it 

Lord of the Rings (1954-55) by J.R.R. Tolkien: unambiguously adored it

Fictions (1944) by Jorge Luis Borges: unambiguously adored it

The Hours (1998) by Michael Cunningham: unambiguously adored it 

Alice in Wonderland (1865) & Through the Looking Glass (1871) by Lewis Carrol: unambiguously adored it

The Witcher Books (1986–2013): two short story collections & six novels by Andrzej Sapkowski: unambiguously adored it

Watchmen (1986-1987) by Alan Moore: unambiguously adored it

V for Vendetta (1982-1989) by Alan Moore: unambiguously adored it

The Handmaid's Tale (1985): unambiguously adored it

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Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison: unambiguously adored it

Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley: really liked it 

American Gods (2001) by Neil Gaiman: really liked it

Sandman (1988-1996): 10 paperbacks by Neil Gaiman: really liked it 

Norse Mythology (2017) by Neil Gaiman 

Death of A Hero (1929) by Richard Aldington: really liked it 

Across the Black Waters (1939) by Mulk Raj Anand:  really liked it

Cockroach (2008) by Rawi Hage: really liked it 

On the Road (1957) by Jack Kerouac: really liked it

Here (2014) by Richard McGuire: really liked it 

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Swing Time (2016) by Zadie Smith: liked it well enough 

Moon Palace (1989) by Paul Auster: liked it well enough 

Submergence (2011) by J.M. Ledgard: liked it well enough 

Everything I never Told You (2014) by Celeste Ng: liked it well enough

The Sisters Brothers (2011) by Patrick deWitt: liked it well enough

The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) by Junot Diaz: liked it well enough (though its reproduction of sexist tropes and toxic masculinity seriously hampers it sometimes)

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