1. Children of the New World* – Alexander Weinstein
  2. Set the Boy Free** – Johnny Marr
  3. Substance: Inside New Order* – Peter Hook
  4. Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome – Joy Degruy
  5. We Gon’ Be Alright – Jeff Chang
  6. Tau Zero* – Poul Anderson
  7. Finks – Joel Whitney
  8. The Truth About Trump* – Michael D’Antonio
  9. The Wasp Factory* – Iain Banks
  10. The Gunslinger – Stephen King
  11. Blessed – Kate Bowler
  12. Move Fast and Break Things** – Jonathan Taplin
  13. Underground Airlines – Ben Winters
  14. Chapter and Verse – Bernard Sumner
  15. Chance in Hell – Gilbert Hernandez
  16. October** – China Mieville
  17. Artemis – Andy Weir
  18. Logicomix – Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou
  19. New People** – Danzy Senna

I’m disappointed to see and say that I haven’t really followed through on my ongoing commitment to read a more inclusive and diverse set of authors, particularly gender-wise. There were several books I started but didn’t finish this past year that might have shifted that a bit, but still, 2017 I really just allowed myself to follow my whim, which might include some level of unconscious bias (something to look at more in 2018). I had a lot going on last year, though, so I kind of feel like it’s about the best I could do. All in all, my full narrative book total (what I call the books I read that aren’t trade paperback collections of comics) is only 19. Which is wild considering I was read 50+ books a year only a few years back…My graphic novel//TPB collection number was also fairly low: 28.

But here are the standouts for the year (both full books and graphic novels/TPBs):


  • Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein – I have to be honest; I think I picked this book up either shortly before leaving for Europe, or while there. That trip was a whirlwind in a few different ways, so I don’t remember many specifics around this book, but it definitely made an impression on me. It’s a set of somewhat speculative fiction stories in a sort of George Saunders-lite style (not as dark or as experimental).
  • Set the Boy Free by Johnny Marr – this memoir from the guitarist from the Smiths who continues to create engaging music was a wonderful read. Unlike Morrissey’s book, which seems to lack any genuine vulnerability or reasonable self-awareness once you get past his youth, and which really goes off the rails around the Smiths’ royalty lawsuit, Marr’s book is very generous, the story of a kid from Manchester who truly feels blessed to have found his life’s passion and to be able to continue doing it with a deep level of satisfaction after insanely early success (he was 19 when the Smiths started, 25 when they broke up). The Smiths were and are important (at least to me, and yes, I know, Morrissey is kind of an dick, and his solo work’s quality has declined over the years), but for him, that band was 5 years out of what is now a career spanning over 35 years, and even more importantly, a lifetime full of friends, family, love and music. As significant as those years were to making him who he is now, he keeps them in prospective, and never wavers from the sense that he doesn’t feel defined solely by that body of work, however proud he is of it. He doesn’t shy away from his struggle around alcohol during his 20s, but he also chronicles how his wife, Angie — whom he’s been married to for over 30 years — his children, an impulsive choice to take up running and of course, ongoing opportunities to create have carried him through. Marr’s memoir really sold me on the notion that independent of who he is in terms of music culture, he’d be a lovely person just to know.
  • Substance by Peter Hook — another music memoir, the second one by Peter Hook I’ve read. His first one, Unknown Pleasures, captured his years growing up and in Joy DIvision, while this book examines his years in New Order, and a few afterward, after his acrimonious split with the band in 2017. Funnily enough, while this book makes me never want to be buddies with Hook — he lays out some really awful, loutish behavior he engaged in during his drug and alcohol days, as well as frequent womanizing — it’s precisely that willingness to put all of himself out there that makes this memoir endearing to me. Hook knows he’s a flawed person, and for someone so relentlessly masculine, he’s surprisingly vulnerable and intimate around his regrets. I resonate much more with his version of the New Order story that with that of Bernard Sumner, who presents his own narrative in Chapter and Verse, another book I read this year, partially because Sumner is either too afraid or simply incapable of emotional availability in his book; it’s like you get glimpses of things — a difficult, abusive childhood; a first failed marriage that is literally mentioned as a parenthetical; the aftermath of Ian Curtis’ suicide and the struggles between Hook and Sumner — but Sumner refuses to let you past the weird emotional barrier he’s set up. Even within his bitterness, Hook remains at least a bit charitable towards Sumner as a guitarist, claiming he is better than Johnny Marr at one point. It’s like Hook has decided he has nothing to lose, while Sumner is still afraid of losing it all if he’s too open, too honest…but I digress. Another intriguing piece of this book is Hook’s discussion of the technology New Order used and developed over the course of their career. It’s easy these days to consider all this stuff standard, but he really helps you understand how new and challenging it all really was, and by extension, how New Order was part of a contingent of musicians pushing to redefine music in the 1980s.
  • The Truth About Trump by Michael D’Antonio: I don’t really want to write much about this, other than to say, if you want to understand how Trump’s success as a businessman is built on a deep mythology and how many folks he’s scammed along the way, read this book. It makes the things he does less surprising and shocking, because you can see them as an extension of the same con game he’s run his entire life (which was partially taught to him by his father, the originator of some of Don’s shady and flashy business practices).
  • Move Fast and Break Things by Jonathan Taplin – This critical book examines different pieces of the shift from a creator-centric media and entertainment landscape to our current one, where platforms centered around user-generated content (Facebook, YouTube, etc.) dominate our understanding of how the world works, and how we’re all essentially selling ourselves and artists out through our use of them. Also, how the Internet was pushed away from its creators’ visions as a way of expanding and enabling access to knowledge for no real cost, to a massive commercial enterprise that expands the reach of capitalism into virtual space. Taplin isn’t a Luddite calling for these platforms’ shutdown, but makes a strong compelling and consistent argument throughout the book that there was nothing inevitable about how we ended up here. And that the dominance of corporate pirates is the result of a successful campaign by tech companies and politicians to get us all to increasingly believe in a narrative about the Internet as a libertarian paradise, a wide open place with no centralized power that is anything but reflective of how it actually works in our lives. Instead, Taplin points out how the intention of many of these companies is keep themselves as free from regulation as they simultaneously expand their ability to penetrate further and further into our lives, and mine our every action online for whatever they can sell it for. They justify this by claiming they are just giving their consumer what they want, while simultaneously doing everything they can to package their consumers into a product. This is a colonial mentality, with the focus on seizing as much control as possible before any sense of community consensus or regulation can take hold (thus, as the title quotes Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, “move fast and break things.”) to check what’s happening. Taplin argues that this redistribution of power (and wealth, as many of these companies find ways to avoid paying billions in taxes) doesn’t have to be irreversible, but we need to start seeing the problem for what it is, and pushing for a different balance and set of practices, which can better empower creators, and make tech platforms more accountable for ways in which they exploit creative content without compensating artists. There’s also great stuff such as Taplin’s laying out how the shift in advertising from print to online decimated newspapers. We may not be able to go backward, but if we want a less corporate-dominated future for music, art, creativity, and just in general, we need books like this to help us understand how things went wrong, so we can change them.
  • October by China Mieville – This incredible work of creative nonfiction by a well-known speculative fiction writer is simply amazing, laying out the 10 months in 1917 leading to the Bolshevik Revolution. Over the years, I heard the terms Bolshevik and Menshevik, and wondered what they really meant. This book dives deeply into those and so many other questions, into personalities, ideologies, and history, and ties it all up into a compelling story that leaves you pretty breathless, as you come to understand that what is history to us now was incredibly contingent back then (and thus, our future is itself contingent on what we do now.) I definitely had a few moments where I was having difficulty keeping track of names and allegiances sometimes, but at the end, this books provides a robust understanding of why 1917 happened, and also the understanding that it could have happened differently. One particularly fascinating thread is how popular the revolution (not necessarily a specific party, but the deep passion and commitment for radical change) was among everyday folks throughout Russia, but especially in St. Petersburg, where most of the major events occurred. It’s somewhat like a “history from the ground” up take on this critical moment in world history.
  • New People by Danzy Senna – this was an incredible novel, which touched upon race, desire, the tragedy at Jonestown, and making choices you know are bad for you, but which you make anyway. The main character is somewhat unlikeable, yet feels all too familiar, and she makes a mess of her life rather masterfully, the way we all do sometimes.
  • Saga Volume Seven by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples was absolutely wonderful and heartbreaking. If you aren’t reading this series, you better catch up; it’s one of the most entertaining, subversive stories in any genre.
  • Plutona by eff Lemire,  Emi Lenox, et al., was also pretty great.