Everybody’s compiling their best books of 2015, or best hate reads of 2015, or reading list of the Prime Minister, or explanations for why they’re not putting together book lists, so I thought I’d join in the fun.
People are always asking me: ‘Mark, how can I become a great and wonderful person like you?’ And I always answer: ‘Read better books.’
If you read nothing else this year, read Frank Bongiorno’s The Eighties. Not only does the hardcopy have a picture of Frank in 1984 (which is the most adorable photograph you will see all year), the book is a joy to read. It’s lucid and enthralling; the dusty political stories you know extremely well are brought vividly back to life alongside tales of lesser known material. Grab it. Sit on a beach. Get sunburnt from being too absorbed in the book to reapply sunscreen.
Speaking of bringing stories vividly back to life, Alexandra Bracken retold the original Star Wars: A New Hope in The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy. I frequently complain that adaptations completely miss the mark. When you turn a novel into a movie, the point isn’t to play out each part of the book scene by scene. Instead, we want the film makers to understand the core meaning of the novel and recreate that in a movie. Bracken more than succeeds at that task when writing a novelisation of the film. It adds the depth of text and it’s masterful.
We keep repeating the freeze peach debate in Australia. It’s getting boring. The loudest people (on both sides) are the least interesting — a hollow drum sounds the loudest. So every Australian should be forced to read Jeremy Waldron’s The Harm in Hate Speech. Waldron’s jurisprudence is historically and philosophically informed, building the case for why that which Australians would call ‘a chilling effect’ is actually a good thing for the rest of society.
I was in Abbey’s bookshop in Sydney a few times this year (it is the best; never close) and, for some inexplicable reason, they had a copy of Zines’ The High Court and the Constitution by James Stellios. Team this bad boy up with the new edition of Quick & Garran’s Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, and you are in for a pumping party at your place. Although I love the fact that public debate hasn’t made a fetish of the Constitution like it has in the United States, I still wish Australians got more joy from learning its odd little quirks. Zines is beautifully written and is easily accessible to non-legal audiences.
The book that influenced me the most this year was Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy. This was intellectually challenging and difficult to read. It is epic in length, and it’s demanding. Drift off for a moment to think about what you’re reading, and you’re lost by the next paragraph. It’s strength is being able to put in words that which most clever people intuit: What do I mean when I use the word ‘strategy’? What could I mean when I use the word ‘strategy’? How do I really act when I think that I am acting strategically? The fact that it didn’t help me win many matches of WebDiplomacy is completely besides the point. It is also a great introduction to other thinkers on the subject of strategy.
The book that I still haven’t read but want to read is The Art of Veiled Speech edited by Han Baltussen and Peter Davis. It is always surprising how diverse classical scholars can be and how important the classics are as a voice speaking to contemporary generations.
The other book I recommend to everybody with ears to hear is Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism edited by Miranda Kiraly and Meagan Tyler. I wrote a review of it which you should also read.
‘But, Mark!’ I hear you complain, ‘I am jumping on a plane to go back to my folks’ place and I cannot fit all of these wonderful books in my luggage. Can’t you recommend books that are easier to carry around?’
I sure can, fictional interlocutor. I sure can.
Penguin released a series of ‘Little Black Classics‘, and the collection is rather good. Pretty much all of them are online for free, true, but they cost like $2 so who cares?