What BookMachine writers read in 2012

For all that BookMachine is emphatically not a site about the merits of individual books, it hopefully doesn’t come as a shock to any regular visitors that we’re all readers nonetheless, and that, as readers, we enjoy some books more than others. For my last post of the year, then – and, to be honest, mainly so I seemed less onanistic than if I had done this alone – I asked my fellow contributors to the site to pitch in on the best things we read this year. Stick two fingers up to the Mayans and join us when we return in January.


Felice Howden

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Laura Austin

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Gavin Summers

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This year I’ve mostly been reading up on how to improve memory, and how our memories are being destroyed.

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer delves into the sub-culture of memory ‘athletes’, who compete against each other worldwide to prove their mettle. It’s also a detailed look at the science of memory and how it makes us who we are, and gives a few techniques for remembering the shopping list.

Meanwhile, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr was either a terrifying look at how the internet is turning us into a race of permanently distracted stupid people, or a life affirming tale of how we have successfully transitioned from requiring a 300 page tome in order to grasp an idea, to become experts in quickly scanning vast amounts of information, with memory outsourced to our smartphones. Hmm.

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Chris Ward

Long-time readers of the site may remember that at the start of this year, we put up a post about the books we got for Christmas, in which I vowed that this would be the year in which I finally read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Well, kind of. I should really probably have started reading it then and there if I wanted to finish it before 2013, because having started some time in June, I finally decided to take a break from it at some point in October. I was a third of the way through. This thing is huge. Not just in volume – although 981 densely-packed pages of ten-point type plus another 98 of even smaller-print footnotes is up there for a single novel – but in scope, range, virtuosity. It’s exhausting and overwhelming and enervating and deliriously exhilarating – like one of those journeys down an internet rabbit hole you take accidentally then look up and realise three hours have passed. It demands extended periods of time and concentration to absorb fully, neither of which I was able to give it in the amounts required. I will go back and finish it. Next year.

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As you might expect, that didn’t leave me as much time as I’d like to catch up on books that were actually published this year, but I will put in a shout for Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s How Music Works as a lucid primer on every aspect of music, from composition and live performance to recording and making money from it, illustrated with enlightening examples from his own storied career, and for the wonderful Edinburgh Book Festival-commissioned four volume boxset of short stories Elsewhere, which found the likes of Alasdair Gray, Roddy Doyle, Ali Smith and A L Kennedy expounding upon the titular notion to great effect.

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