Another year, another round of books leaving copyright! Check out the list here.
Most notable (to me) is Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence. I wrote an eight-part review series on it a while ago. I’d like to think Ned would be pleased it’s now more widely accessible; hopefully more people will learn from its lessons.
Another one that caught my attention is The Land of Mist by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the last book in his Professor Challenger series—and a most disappointing end, I would add, since it abandons sci-fi for spiritualism, which was Doyle’s fascination in later life. I can’t recommend it, but it’s certainly a memorable read.
Thirdly, Franz Kafka’s The Castle. I regret it’s one of his more famous novels, since it was my least favorite, a book I had to force myself to finish. As it is, I do not know if there was a 1926 English translation, so it may be that only German readers will be able to get it in public domain for a while.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Winnie the Pooh, which headlines most articles about this year’s public domain releases. I suspect Pooh Bear is still a trademarked character …ah yes, it is possible to have trademarked characters within public domain books.
The character of Sherlock Holmes has been interesting in this way. Trademarked for years, he was finally ruled public domain in 2014 (a fact I actually only learned today), yet Doyle’s estate continues to file lawsuits about his portrayals. I have my own thoughts on authors’ estates/legacies, but all I can say is… if you’re a fan fiction author with a view to publish, you’d best err on the side of asking permission. Frankly, I’m just looking forward to next year, which is when The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes is due to be public domain the US, and then perhaps I can finally get a nice box set of the collections in individual volumes (a girl can dream).
To be honest…this was a somewhat disappointing year for classic literature, which is probably my fault. I set my Goodreads challenge lower than last year (only 30 books as opposed to last year’s 40). I also read far more nonfiction than fiction, making the odds of reading a superb novel quite low (and I read several superb novels in 2018).
Still, there were some great reading experiences this year, so perhaps it all turned out for the best. Here’s the highlights:
Learning Cool and Scary stuff in AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order. My first book of the year was by far one of the best. The title is dreadfully sensational, but it was actually a well-written book, covering everything from technology to history and cultural differences. It was also my introduction to the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI). (More on that below…)
Hanging out in the Rocky Mountains with Isabella Bird. I’m so glad I stumbled across this book at the thrift store! She was a gutsy and entertaining lady, and I got a picture of the Wild West era I’d never seen before. Really fun book.
Encountering local history and hard questions in the novel No-No Boy. This book about a young Japanese-American haunted by his citizenship was unforgettable…it might join my list of Axes, even though it really wasn’t a “great” novel. I realize that doesn’t make much sense—I guess what I’m saying is, the unique subject matter makes this a very important book in spite of its flaws.
Discussing feminism past and present for Ruth’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Readalong. Between the nuance of the book and the diversity of opinions, this was a fascinating and valuable experience!
Unexpectedly zipping through 12 Rules for Life. I wasn’t expecting this tome to be such a page-turner. I had my issues with it, but overall it was definitely an interesting book.
FINALLY reading Nostromo! This book was every bit as difficult and ultimately rewarding as I thought it would be. The story is undoubtedly a masterpiece by any standards; unfortunately, Conrad’s style here was just really, really dense. Either way, I’m so glad I read it, at long last.
Contemplating love and relationships with Cleo’s C. S. Lewis and Erich Fromm readalongs. And not just love, but also political science and philosophy! I really enjoyed analyzing both authors’ thoughts, comparing them with each other and with my own experiences.
Considering the future of jobs with Andrew Yang. So…as much as I enjoy the topic, I try to avoid politics on this blog, since it involves so much unpleasantness. (I consider myself a right-leaning independent with libertarian sympathies, if that matters to anyone.) That said, I have to admit I’ve been following Andrew Yang’s campaign this year with enormous interest. I’ve watched hours of interviews and commentary on his policies, as well as read both his books: The War on Normal People (2019) and Smart People Should Build Things (2014). Regardless of how you feel about his economic proposal of UBI, it’s his illustration of the automation crisis, backed up by examples and data, that is so sobering and the reality check we desperately need to hear. I highly recommend both of these books (especially The War), and they pair well with Kai-Fu Lee’s AI Superpowers.
Learningeven more Scary stuff with Edward Snowden. I read Permanent Record, and my brother and I listened to the Joe Rogan interview together (yep, all 3 hours of it…though not in one sitting 🙂 ). If I had to pick one “book of the year,” it would probably be this one. It’s not merely an autobiography; it’s a portrait of an entire era and generation, those of us who spent our childhoods in a (seemingly) more innocent time and came of age post-911, and who remember a world without ubiquitous computers and tracking mechanisms. He speaks for many, which made this a phenomenal read.
Last but not least, I’m currently reading Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, which so far is proving to be an excellent bookend (pardon the pun) to 2019’s reading.