books of the year: stories of friendship and hope

I didn’t have a fantastic year in reading, to be honest – I think the Kindle threw me off and that my patterns of acquisition and consumption have yet to rebalance. Here are some books I read that I liked very much:



I guess it wasn’t such a terrible year in reading at that. There are two books, though, that I want to push into your hands in an overbearing yet adorkable bookseller-or-librarian-ish way: Constellation Games and Fair Play. Please read these books. They are very great.

It feels like cheating to recommend Leonard’s book when I have known and loved Leonard for ten years, but I must have read Constellation Games four times this year and gotten something more out of it each time. It’s a first contact novel and an existential love story and it did more than any other single argument to make me believe games are an important art form, but it’s also incredibly funny and moving and Curic the two-souled purple otter is my new favourite fictional character. For its part, Fair Play is about two seventysomething women living at opposite ends of an attic having conversations about pictures and books. Yes, Tove Jansson is the Moomin person. This book is based in part on her life with her wife.

Why these two? Because I am 41 years old. Because I love animals and nature and am living through a mass extinction I helped cause. Because I am a pacifist living in America, and a progressive anarchist who spent my teens as an evangelical Christian assuming I would die in a nuclear holocaust. Because for my first quarter-century I was much troubled by despair. It’s only in the last decade or two that I have had the luxury of time to tinker with my diet and my neurochemistry and my cognitive behavior to try to make a habit of hope and not horror. Because it’s the Northern winter solstice and that means all the festivals of lights, all the songs and candles in the long darkness, and what all the festivals mean is that physics is real: this will be the longest night of the year, and that tomorrow at dawn one shaft of sun will light up the corbel-vaulted room inside Newgrange [or insert your neolithic solar calendar of choice]. And then everything will start to feel a little bit better. It doesn’t stay dark. As Bill Bryson says, life wants to be. Life doesn’t want to be much. From time to time, life goes extinct. Life goes on.

Constellation Games and Fair Play are quite literally stories of friendship and hope, not in the movie trailer way that makes you wince but in a clear-eyed, fearless way that is able to talk about betrayal and jealousy and irreconcilable differences and the cold empty vastness of space. They are both, in fact, books about how to be a friend, and how to be hopeful. We are chimpanzees with doomsday weapons, adrift on a rock in an immense dark void. We have to take care of each other and we have to believe that things can change for the better. So, you know. RTFM.

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