Favorite Essays of 2013
If you’re like me, you probably have some time off over the next two weeks. Maybe you’re looking for something to read on a flight home for the holidays. Or maybe you just want to look at another end of the year list. In the spirit of all the above, I’ve put together a reading list of some of my favorite essays from 2013. These range from profiles on professors and musicians, essays on gentrification and urban development, to pieces on artificial intelligence and driverless cars. Think of it as a top ten list for essays. The list is fairly diverse so I’m sure you’ll find something of interest that you can spend reading over the holidays. Enjoy!
Four novels I want all my friends to read
2013 has shaped up to be my Year Of The Novel. Historically preferring nonfiction books, I’ve found myself reading more novels this year than previous years and my to-read pile is decidedly fiction lately, meaning the trend doesn’t appear to be ending soon.
Near the end of last year, I read Robin Sloan’s excellent debut novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore which set me on a search for more books like it. Since then, I’ve stumbled upon a few and I’ve loved each one in their own ways. These are decidedly modern stories—they are describing what it is like to live today, in 2013. They reference Google and Facebook and Apple. They are about working in technology but more importantly they are stories about the people behind that technology—they are people I relate to—people I know—working at start ups, living in New York and San Francisco, talking about typefaces, and growing up and falling in love.
These are four novels that have meant a lot to me in the last year. If we’ve talked in the last few months, there’s a good chance I’ve brought one of these up to you. They are stories that are familiar to me, that I can relate to in profound ways. I’m sharing them here because I think you’ll find them as engrossing and entertaining and thoughtful as I did.
The New Yorker Profiles
When I lived in New York, I was a regular subscriber and reader of The New Yorker and would get excited every Monday to see it in my mailbox. I’d read it cover-to-cover on the trains to and from work but the Profiles—the weekly feature on a notable individual’s life—were always my favorite.
I tend to get obsessed with certain people—usually creative polymaths, of sorts—and devour everything I can about them. I realized today, while reading this week’s profile on Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey, that when I become interested in someone, the first thing I do is see if The New Yorker has profiled them.
I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from over the years. I naturally bend towards the creative and business people, but hopefully you’ll see a nice variety here. The best profile, in my opinion, is the one that I can’t stop reading but as soon as I’ve finished, I’m inspired to get up and work on my own craft a little bit harder than I did before.
Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order:
A book is a book is a book
A book is words. But is it just words? No, it can’t be. It has to be more than words. If it’s just words then I’m making a book right now, with each word I sit here typing. Clickity clackety, type letter, type word, type letter, type word, book!
So a book has to be more than just words. Sometimes it’s pictures, I think. Sometimes, if you want to get really crazy, maybe it can have words AND pictures together! Woah. So can I put a video in my book? NO! Definitely not. Get videos out of our books, amiright? Sound? God, stop! That’s not even possible, silly. You can’t put videos and sounds on paper! And books are made of paper. With a spine and cover and pages you turn. Right?
Like a magazine! Pages. Spine. Words. Pictures. It has all the ingredients of what makes a book. Magazine, book. Book, magazine. A magazine must be a book. Huh? No! What are we saying, a magazine is most definitely not a book. Books don’t come in issues! What do you think we’re talking about comic..uhh…books? Wait. And what about Charles Dickens? His first books were published in monthly installments. Surely Charles Dickens wasn’t writing a book!
I read Alice and Wonderland on Project Gutenberg a few summers ago. A book, words, pages…made of HTML. Is that still a book? Can we get some HTML in our books? Is a website a book? The website I’ll publish this to has pages and words and pictures. Book?
And what about these e-books? Is an e-Pub file a book? E-pub can have video and sound. Is that still a book? Or is that an “e-book”? E-book is a silly term. We don’t call MP3s “e-music”; it’s just music. We don’t differentiate between formats. So what makes an e-book different from a book book? Why separate the formats? Is a book defined by its format or its content? The container or the substance? My head hurts.
Is a book a story? Does that exclude non-fiction? What if the story is five lines? Not-quite. Two pages? Too short? One hundred pages? Infinite Jest? How long does a story have to be to be a book? Is an essay a book? No, of course not. A collection of essays? Sure! Or is that a blog? Ugh. I don’t know what a book is anymore.
What is a book?