thoughts January 01, 2019

2018 in review & 2019 #newyearsresolutions 

It's somewhat later than usual (thanks to some post-Christmas house cleaning), but I'm finally sitting down to record some thoughts on the year just passed, take a look at how I did at last year's resolutions, and set down a handful of goals for the coming year.

2018 was a weird mixture of changes in outlook at home and at work. On the personal ambition front, I pretty much repeated 2017's abject failure to write beyond mid-March, and with that failure came to [what I hope will be] the conclusive decision to give up on writing fiction, at least for now. Instead, I spent six months doing nothing much beyond playing video games, until mid-October when I decided that some side projects were necessary to maintain my sanity and re-kickstarted the personal finance app idea I've been kicking around in some form for the best part of a decade. I also have some game ideas I want to work on, which means time spent learning Unity, another fun distraction, and have vowed to pick up my guitar more than once in a blue moon.

At work, I taught myself React and built a new CMS using it, which was fun, and 2019 looks like it's going to offer plenty of opportunities to stretch my design and development muscles. Speaking of which...

2019 resolutions

Last year's solitary resolution, to "cut down on depressing social media", went reasonably well; I avoided Twitter, Facebook and Instagram completely between March and September, and since returning have not felt nearly the same level of anxiety arising from being on those platforms.

For this year, I really want to focus on developing the skills and knowledge that one might assume I already have in spades after seventeen years working in web design: graphic and UI design. As an uneducated college drop-out who has always felt more comfortable nearer the development end of the web-dev spectrum, I constantly have to battle hardcore Imposter Syndrome whenever I go anywhere near Dribbble or Behance, so spending time educating myself about the principles of graphic design and practicing their execution (as well as updating my HTML and CSS knowledge) is long overdue.

I also, after vacillating between far too many potential side projects last year, want to actually finish something. I realised that it's not possible to work on three or four things at once, especially when they involve learning new skills, so in 2019 I'm only going to work on one project at a time ... but do that until it's finished.

music December 31, 2018

What I listened to in 2018 

New Year's Eve blog post tradition, part the second – this time it's all about the music, powered by the sacred union of Spotify and Last.fm. Let's jump in, shall we?

Top 10 artists listened to in 2018

  1. Screaming Females
  2. Iglooghost
  3. tUnE-yArDs
  4. The Go! Team
  5. Janelle Monáe
  6. Iron Maiden
  7. Neil Diamond
  8. Zeal & Ardor
  9. Andrew Lloyd Webber
  10. We Are Scientists

After 2017's dalliance with ambient electronica, my tastes swung firmly back towards rock and roll in 2018 – as well as the artists listed above, I also listened to a lot of Shame, Tiny Moving Parts, Mastersystem, The Beths, and Black Foxxes this year. Of the top 10, the first five (plus #8 and #10) all released cracking new albums this year (or a double EP, in the case of Iglooghost), and we even got to see We Are Scientists play an amazing gig in a tiny venue in October.

Also, I suspect Iron Maiden only made it so high up my chart because I made myself a specific "their good albums in the right order" playlist to accompany coding sessions this year...

Top 10 albums listened to in 2018

  1. Screaming Females — All At Once
  2. tUnE-yArDs — I can feel you creep into my private life
  3. Zeal & Ardor — Stranger Fruit
  4. The Go! Team — SEMICIRCLE
  5. Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer
  6. Moby — Play
  7. Let's Eat Grandma — I'm All Ears
  8. Soccer Mommy — Clean
  9. MGMT — Little Dark Age
  10. Juliana Hatfield — Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John

Again, all new releases this year apart from Moby's 1999 album which I revisited a couple of times, mostly because Zeal & Ardor's metal-meets-negro-spirituals aesthetic reminded me of Moby's similar repurposing of African-American folk music almost twenty years earlier.

The top three were all new discoveries to me in 2018, but I instantly fell in love with Screaming Females' Sleater-Kinney-esque combo of strong female vocals and counterpoint guitar. The Go! Team were familiar from their Mercury-nominated debut way back in 2004, but I'd always found them a little annoying until this album, their fifth. And Janelle Monáe's gorgeous, Prince-tinged Dirty Computer was my favourite pop album since Beyonce's Lemonade in 2016.

Track of the year

Without a doubt my ear-worm of 2018 (and most played track of the year to boot) has been I'll Make You Sorry, the third single taken from Screaming Females' brilliant All At Once:

reading December 31, 2018

What I was reading in 2018 

Routines bring me pleasure, and one of my favourites is this annual pair of blog posts covering what I have read and listened to over the previous twelve months. First, as always, is the reading list, powered by the awesome Goodreads.

Last year's total book count was forty, but in 2018 – largely thanks to a change in work schedule that doubled the amount of time I spend either hanging around airports or sitting on planes – I smashed through that target with a fairly respectable total of forty-seven.

Fiction (33)

  • Triplanetary (E.E. "Doc” Smith)
  • The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
  • Puzzles of the Black Widowers (Isaac Asimov)
  • The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux)
  • Heart of Darkness ( Joseph Conrad)
  • Rise of the Horde (Christie Golden)
  • Banquets of the Black Widowers (Isaac Asimov)
  • Tender Is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner)
  • Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)
  • In the Unlikely Event (Judy Blume)
  • The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
  • Empire of the Sun (J.G. Ballard)
  • Ask the Dust (John Fante)
  • Neuromancer (William Gibson)
  • Hemingway's Chair (Michael Palin)
  • Titus Groan (Mervyn Peake)
  • The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  • The Odyssey (Homer)
  • My Name Is Lucy Barton (Elizabeth Strout)
  • Winter Holiday (Arthur Ransome)
  • Where Eagles Dare (Alistair MacLean)
  • The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
  • The Anubis Gates (Tim Powers)
  • Sphere (Michael Crichton)
  • It (Stephen King)
  • Night's Master (Tanith Lee)
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch)
  • The Dragon (Jane Gaskell)
  • Portnoy's Complaint (Philip Roth)
  • The Serpent (Jane Gaskell)
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Claire North)

I started the year off by picking up some second-hand fantasy recommendations from game designer Alexis Kennedy, whose writing I admire a lot, and then moved through the usual mixture of old favourites (Ransome, Peake, Auel) and unread classics (King, Dumas, Atwood, Gibson, Conrad et al). I usually manage a couple of doorstop-size books every year; in 2018 it was the turn of The Count of Monte Cristo and Homer's Odyssey, which was fantastic and I highly recommend to everyone that hasn't given epic Greek poetry a try before now.

Non-fiction (12)

  • You're Never Weird on the Internet (Felicia Day)
  • Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All (David M. Kelley, Tom Kelley)
  • Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years (Jared Diamond)
  • The Shape of Design (Frank Chimero)
  • Wish I Was There (Emily Lloyd)
  • Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988-1998 (Michael Palin)
  • Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Reni Eddo-Lodge)
  • The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Atul Gawande)
  • How I Escaped My Certain Fate (Stewart Lee)
  • The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a 50 Year Search (Martin Sixsmith)
  • An Askew View: The Films of Kevin Smith (John Kenneth Muir)
  • Design Systems: A practical guide to creating design languages for digital products (Alla Kholmatova)

More non-fiction than usual this year, which was a bit of a surprise to me when I came to count up the totals; a few more biography-style books too, including the third installment of the Palin diary series, which had been sitting on my bedside table for several years waiting for me to finally finish it off.

Comic/illustrated (2)

  • Patience (Daniel Clowes)
  • Everybody is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations (Peter Bagge)

Finally, two new(ish) books by comic authors I first read in the early 90s. Patience was a pretty good time-travel story; the Bagge book was more hit-and-miss (mostly miss, unfortunately).

Recommendations

I'd wholeheartedly recommend several of the books I read this year; The Kite Runner, Empire of the Sun, and The Underground Railroad were all excellent, as was Guns, Germs and Steel. But I think the two books that will stay with me the longest were also the longest in length and the oldest – The Count of Monte Cristo and Homer's The Odyssey both deserve their place on all of those 'best of all time' lists.

music October 19, 2018

Iglooghost: Clear Tamei & Steel Mogu 

Neō Wax Bloom, the 2017 debut album by Irish DJ and producer, Iglooghost, was my second favourite release of that year (behind Juana Molina's awesome Halo). The two follow-up EPs that came out this year, Clear Tamei and Steel Mogu, are more of the same; jagged bleepy electronica drum-and-bass with speeded-up rapping over the top – and yes, it is as good as it sounds.

quote September 29, 2018

Like so many men... 

Like so many men he had found that he had only one or two ideas—that his little collection of pamphlets [...] contained the germ of all he would ever think or know.

Tender Is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald

thoughts September 23, 2018

(Slight Return) 

At the start of March this year, I dropped off social media.

I stopped posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; blocked the sites on my browsers, deleted the apps from my phone. I didn't go as far as deleting the actual accounts, but I haven't been back since.

The main reason for leaving was the sheer volume of politics being shared by my social graph. As a left-leaning liberal SJW, my stream was a non-stop shit-show of Trump and Brexit outrage, and the constant reminder of how awful some segments of society can be to each other was causing me so much stress and anxiety that I decided my head would be better off buried in the sand for a few months.

Around the same time, I came to a decision that I would stop writing fiction. Although I've managed to write two novels and multiple short stories over the last five years, I've slowly come to the realisation that the future I thought I wanted was actually diametrically opposed to what makes me happy. So, I quit (and instead spent a pleasant few months doing little apart from playing video games and watching TV).

However, just recently I have realised that I miss having an outlet - somewhere to share random thoughts, opinions, and over-processed photos - so I am resurrecting Twitter and Instagram (not Facebook, which I now only use for messages) plus this blog, which has also been sorely neglected for more than a few years. While I don't intend to write any more fiction, I do pine for those early days of personal blogging, when I felt comfortable sharing a mere couple of sentences or a newly-discovered shortcut, and I'd love to recapture that feeling. We'll see.

One thing I will definitely be doing is ruthlessly culling my following list, in an attempt to avoid as many of those triggering political posts as possible. In fact, I'm half tempted to just delete everyone and start again...

article January 31, 2018

How I Get Things Done 

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Over the years, I've experimented with many different techniques for time- and task-management; I've read several books and far too many articles, experimented with virtually every app on the market, and at one stage even embarked on a project to build my own web application to manage my projects. (Sadly, like so many other side projects, it currently languishes in mockup hell, never to be seen again.)

Nowadays, I'm happily using Wunderlist, which does almost everything I need. In conjunction with a few regular routines and practices, right now I'm feeling more productive and organised than ever before. Here's how I do it, 2018 edition.

Lists and lists of lists

The core of my task-management process is taken from David Allen's canonical Getting Things Done book. In it, he advocates maintaining many folders, in which you store the things that need dealing with, including several 'special' folders for particular contexts. I use this same approach within Wunderlist. The special lists include:

  • @home for anything that I will be doing at home;
  • @work for any uncategorised tasks that relate to work (project-specific tasks go in project folders);
  • @chores for mundane tasks—fixing things around the house, mowing the lawn, washing the car, etc.;
  • @errands for anything that requires leaving the house or office—shopping, posting stuff, banking, that sort of thing.

In addition to these special groups, I also have a few repeating tasks that I keep separately in appropriately named groups:

  • @daily for those tasks I want to make sure I do every day—setting an agenda, writing in a journal, mindful meditation, even simple things like remembering to eat a piece of fruit every day;
  • @weekly tasks are a mixture of recurring appointments (meetings with my mentee and my manager) or maintenance of key documents (such as reviewing my personal goals list);
  • @monthly tasks are mostly boring things that I need to remember to do regularly—pay my credit card bills, submit my expenses, or reserve my car parking space.

Everything that doesn't fall into one of the categories above goes into its own task list. These tend to be divided into either work projects or personal projects, plus 'life topics' such as Fitness/Health, Finances, Car, Things To Learn and so on.

Capture everything

Another key technique I've taken from David Allen's book is to capture everything, no matter how insignificant, as soon as it occurs to you. Get it out of your head, and into a list! I do this for virtually everything, even the most mundane and boring tasks—for example, if I notice my nails are getting a little long, I'll add "Cut nails" to the @home list, since it means I can immediately forget about it, safe in the knowledge it is now on my to-do list! Relieving the mental pressure of remembering everything I want to do means I can free up brain cycles for the important stuff.

One aspect of 'classic GTD' I don't do is the idea of an 'Inbox' where all tasks are captured, and which you then "process" at regular intervals. Instead, I prefer to categorise the task at the moment I create it, since it's usually obvious where a task belongs.

However, I do try to stick to Allen's "Two minute rule": anything that will take you less than two minutes to complete should just be done there and then, rather than adding it to a list for the future.

Scheduling

I mentioned above that one of the daily tasks I perform is to create an agenda. Every day (weekdays and weekends), from the outstanding tasks that I have, I select those that I intend to deal with today, and schedule blocks of time for them in my calendar. Some are fixed (meetings, appointments, going for a run before it gets dark); others can be slotted in around them.

The amount of time allocated to each topic can vary depending on what type of work it involves. Project reviews or brainstorm sessions can be completed in an hour; a decent coding session may occupy four hours or more. I try to leave time for breaks, including a walk at lunch to get some exercise and fresh air away from my desk.

Brainstorms

Speaking of brainstorms, I'll frequently book myself a small meeting room for an hour or two (luckily my office has enough rooms that I don't feel as if I'm blocking other teams) to think through the next steps in a project or work through a UX issue. I find that in an open-plan office, it can be the only way to avoid interruptions or distractions.

I often start these sessions in a text document like TextEdit, where I'll list out the key bullet points; then I'll branch out from those into multiple levels of sub-list to form a kind of text-only mind-map. It's a technique that the Workflowy app has formalised; I tried using it at one point, but nowadays I prefer to just create dozens of plain text documents on my desktop.

The most important part of any brainstorm session is to come out of it with some actual next steps, so I always try to finish by identifying the next actions that I need to take ... and, of course, capturing them in the appropriate to-do list.

(It's worth mentioning that I work remotely from my colleagues, otherwise I would certainly recommend a more traditional team brainstorm process.)

Music (and other isolation techniques)

Of course, I can't spend all my time in meeting rooms. Those times when I need to get my head down and concentrate for an extended period on work, I rely on a decent pair of headphones, and Spotify. For true isolation, I also recommend switching off phone notifications (I have Workplace chat and Slack on my phone) as well as turning off email and/or Slack on your computer.

For maximum concentration I find that I can't listen to music with understandable lyrics, so I favour playlists like Spotify's Deep Focus, electronic music, or occasionally something in a foreign language (like my favourite album from last year, Juana Molina's Halo).

Reviews

Returning to the GTD side of things, I now combine the Weekly Review ritual (going through all of my lists to check if there is anything missing, or tasks that are no longer needed and can be removed) with a weekly personal OKRs check. This means that every Monday I spend some time going through both my outstanding tasks and my main areas of focus, and ensuring that the two are aligned.

Conclusion

This particular combination of habits, tools, and routines has served me well for a few years now. Knowing that everything I need or want to do is securely captured in a list somewhere helps me to focus on just the task at hand, and being able to access my task lists from anywhere (desktop, laptop, phone, or web) means I can rely on it completely.

For anyone who struggles with juggling multiple competing projects, I definitely recommend looking into GTD; it's a great way to introduce some structure into a busy life.

thoughts January 01, 2018

2017 #yearinreview // 2018 #newyearsresolutions 

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Welp, here we are again.

I'm not 100% sure how many years I've been doing this—I nuked my old blog a couple of years ago—but archive.org seems to suggest that since at least 2007 (with a few omissions) I have been posting a set of New Year resolutions on this site, along with a look back at what last year was like. So, in the spirit of change, let's do exactly the same thing this year...

My 2017 followed the same pattern as most years: lots of work, with a conference to provide a bit of a break and a holiday in the summer when the kids are not at school. This year, both the conference (UX Cambridge, a short walk from where I work) and the holiday (Edinburgh, for a rainy week in July) were at a smaller scale than previous years; this was somewhat balanced by working on larger scale projects at work, where I moved to a new area of the business where significant changes are afoot. It's challenging and pushing me outside my comfort zone, which everyone will tell you is a good thing yet somehow never feels like it when it's happening to you.

Fitness-wise, I gave up on daily exercise since it seemed to make zero difference to my health. Instead, I doubled down on running, going out twice a week (Sunday and Wednesday) throughout the year, barring illness or injury, with the result that I feel fitter than I have in a while.

When I look back at last year's resolutions, though, it's hard not to feel that I could have done much, much better:

  • Write 1,000 words per day was something that I had managed to stick to throughout much of 2016, and I entered 2017 feeling optimistic about maintaining the habit. That optimism lasted until the first week of February, by which time depression over missed targets had set in; a month later, in early March, I threw out my second completed novel, frustrated by poor character development, and started on a third; and then, in June, five years after deciding to focus on developing my writing, I called a complete halt. Anything that was making me that miserable and stressed, I reasoned, was clearly not the right path to take. The second half of the year, then, was mostly a creative wash-out. Grade: F
  • I said I wanted to share more. I admired those who could post paragraphs of insight on Facebook, while I barely managed a weak Twitter gag once a week. Yet I uploaded a scant two Instagram posts per month in 2017, and wrote only two actual blog posts (not counting the Dec 31/Jan 1 round-ups), both way back in January. Grade: F
  • Finally, be more awesome at work was such a vague aim that it's hardly surprising that I'm struggling to identify any indicators that might signal success or failure. I don't feel particularly awesome, though. Grade: F

So, in summary, a complete failure. There was a popular Twitter thread doing the rounds a while back that discussed the difficulty of producing creative work while the world spirals the drain, and I can certainly attest to the depressing effects of encountering the latest terrible Trump/Brexit/terrorist outrage every time I open Twitter or Facebook. It does tend to make whatever you might be doing seem terribly pointless.

2018 resolutions

With that said, it's pretty hard to pin down a handful of resolutions for the coming year. At work, I'm noodling with an idea for a conference talk, although I'm still not sure of the direction to take. And, in my spare time, I find myself open again to the idea of writing as well as coding side projects, but I don't particularly want to commit to any specific outcome or regime.

I think the one thing I definitely want to try to do this year is:

  • Cut down on depressing social media.

I tend to check Twitter first thing in the morning and in the evening, when it's generally an unmitigated stream of bad news (either from the overnight US, or the daytime UK). While I value being informed, it's a mostly passive consumption of events that I have zero power to influence, with the result that it's sometimes hard to stay positive.

Of course, I'll need to replace those periods of consumption with something else—perhaps more deliberate use of Medium or Blinkist, or some other source of uplifting or informative content. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment below.

music December 31, 2017

What I listened to in 2017 

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Along with a round-up of what I was reading last year, I also spent today rummaging through Last.fm's handy-dandy charts to prepare a run-down of my favourite music of the last twelve months.

Top 10 artists listened to in 2017

  1. Afghan Whigs
  2. Forest Swords
  3. The New Pornographers
  4. Juana Molina
  5. Cold War Kids
  6. Aimee Mann
  7. Run the Jewels
  8. Andrew Lloyd Webber
  9. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
  10. Spoon

Every artist on this list apart from Andrew Lloyd Webber are there because they released a new album this year, with almost all of them making the next list too. I also managed to see two of the top three (Afghan Whigs and The New Pornographers) live in 2017 as well, both in Amsterdam.

Top 10 albums listened to in 2017

  1. Forest Swords — Compassion
  2. Cold War Kids — La Divine
  3. Afghan Whigs — In Spades
  4. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes — Modern Ruin
  5. Aimee Mann — Mental Illness
  6. The New Pornographers — Whiteout Conditions
  7. Slowdive — Slowdive
  8. Juana Molina — Halo
  9. Run the Jewels — Run the Jewels 3
  10. Spoon — Hot Thoughts

My tastes seem to swing between genres year by year. Last year was all indie, the year before was more hip-hop; in 2017 I discovered a preference for experimental ambient electronica, with albums like Forest Swords' Compassion and Juana Molina's Halo (and others, such as Iglooghost's Neo Wax Bloom) getting a lot of play while I worked. I found that the lyric-free (or, in the case of Halo, entirely Spanish lyrics) allowed for easier concentration and better focus.

The new Afghan Whigs album, In Spades, was head-and-shoulders above its predecessor (2014's underwhelming Do To The Beast), and nearly as good as their original 90s releases. Another 90s throwback, Slowdive, were not even on my radar during their initial stint in the spotlight, but their reunion album was excellent.

I've compiled a playlist of selected tracks from these (plus a few other) albums on Spotify—you can listen to it here.

Track of the year

It doesn't feature on any of my top 10 lists, probably because I've mostly listened to it via YouTube rather than Spotify, but one track I came back to again and again was Gift of Gab's Freedom Form Flowing, mainly for A-F-R-O's guest spot. He's been consistently incredible since he burst onto the scene as a teenager just a few years ago; here's hoping for an album from him in the new year:

reading December 31, 2017

What I was reading in 2017 

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Every December 31st, I sit down to write out and look back over the books that I read during the last twelve months. In 2016 I only managed a risible twenty-five books in total, and was then also called-out by a friend over the lack of women and non-white writers in my end-of-year list. I set out to address both these shortcomings in 2017.

Fiction (30)

  • A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin)
  • The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula Le Guin)
  • The Farthest Shore (Ursula Le Guin)
  • Dawn (Octavia Butler)
  • Adulthood Rites (Octavia Butler)
  • Eight Worlds Of C.M. Kornbluth (CM Kornbluth)
  • American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
  • The New York Trilogy (Paul Auster)
  • Imago (Octavia Butler)
  • City of Glass (Paul Auster)
  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Italo Calvino)
  • Room (Emma Donoghue)
  • The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
  • Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
  • Underworld (Don DeLillo)
  • The World According to Garp (John Irving)
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Becky Chambers)
  • Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  • Lake Wobegon Days (Garrison Keillor)
  • The Magicians (Lev Grossman)
  • The Magician King (Lev Grossman)
  • The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
  • A Closed and Common Orbit (Becky Chambers)
  • Deep Secret (Diana Wynne Jones)
  • Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
  • The Magician's Land (Lev Grossman)
  • Amsterdam (Ian McEwan)
  • Microserfs (Douglas Coupland)
  • Secret Water (Arthur Ransome)
  • Arrival (Ted Chiang)

Out of a total of thirty novels that I read this year, 43% were written by women, while six (20%) were written by non-white authors. Not too bad (and would have been higher if I hadn't re-read a few old favourites towards the end of the year), but I can definitely do better.

I also revisited the first two of Lev Grossman's The Magicians series because watching the TV adaptation had made me forget what actually happened in the books; and finally finished Don DeLillo's Underworld on about my fifth attempt.

Non-fiction (8)

  • Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (Michael J Sandel)
  • Walden (Henry David Thoreau)
  • Thinking with Type (Ellen Lupton)
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari)
  • Atomic Design (Brad Frost)
  • Far from the East End (Iris Jones Simantel)
  • Story Genius (Lisa Cron)
  • White Line Fever: The Autobiography (Lemmy Kilmister)

A couple of work-related books for once—I don't generally read much about UX these days, a habit I should probably change—some political philosophy, and a bit of Lemmy made for a nice mix. It never feels like I have been reading that much non-fiction during the year, so it's always a nice surprise to reach this point and realise that I actually managed to read a fair bit of it.

Comic/illustrated (2)

  • Batman vs. Superman: The Greatest Battles (Frank Miller)
  • Albion (Alan Moore)

I never buy comic books for myself, so these are usually Christmas presents. Albion was pretty bad, and that's speaking as a huge Alan Moore fan.

Recommendations

Looking back over these lists, it strikes me that I actually read quite a few putative 'classics' that I really didn't enjoy very much. Roth, Auster, Calvino, DeLillo, Morrison, Keillor, McEwan; all celebrated award-winning works that left me feeling that I must have missed something. Either that or my expectations were too high, perhaps.

The best books I read this year were the first two of Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and its sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit. Short, straightforward sci-fi with a conscience. I'm looking forward to whatever she produces next.