Recommendations from 2009

Another year is almost gone, so I’d like to share some recommendations of stuff I loved throughout 2009.

Fiction Books

I should mention I now try to post my thoughts on all the books I read at LibraryThing; feel free to subscribe to my reviews feed or to friend me there. Anyway, it was a great year for books to me, although most of my favourites are not that recent (or not recent at all):

  • 2666, by Roberto Bolaño. This book is a horrible and beautiful monster, and Bolaño understood and explained Mexico, my home country, like nobody else but Ibargüengoitia, which brings me to…
  • Las Muertas (The Dead Girls), by Jorge Ibargüengoitia. An older, corrosive account of crime in Mexico’s underworld that manages to be brutal, entertaining, and insightful. A copy in English might be hard to get and I couldn’t vouch for its quality; Ibargüengoitia’s Spanish prose is a marvel that would be very difficult to translate.
  • Mañana en la Batalla Piensa en Mí (Tomorrow in the Battle Think of Me), by Javier Marías. The big news about Marías’ work this year is that his series “Your Face Tomorrow” is now fully available in English. I have a copy in Spanish queued up; haven’t read it in full yet. However I did read Mañana and loved it completely. Beautiful and intricate style for a haunting story.
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. I admit this is not a very original recommendation, but I hadn’t read Moby Dick before. Instead, as a child, I’d read an abridged version that led me to think it was simply an adventure story about some guys chasing a whale. It’s much more than that. Overwhelming and fantastic.

Non-fiction Books

  • Why We Disagree About Climate Change, by Mike Hulme. I posted a review of this book recently. I think it’s a must-read for people trying to understand the political, social, and psychological swamp that we need to wade into to address climate change.
  • Climate Cover-Up, by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore. While “Why We Disagree…” is an attempt to explain honest disagreements on climate change, “Climate Cover-Up” focuses on the darker side of the story. It addresses the dishonest, cynical, and quite successful campaign to disseminate doubt and inaction on climate policy. It’s a well researched and upsetting book. From the guys of the DeSmogBlog.
  • Against Method, by Paul Feyerabend. I’m grateful to Feyerabend and Lakatos for settling my years-long epistemological hesitation. Feyerabend’s arguments about scientific method dogma, in particular, were quite useful. Against Method tends to be provocative for provocativeness’ sake; but as long as you imagine Feyerabend chuckling as he writes you’ll get his point.
  • America, by Zoe Strauss. A book of photography on the topic of the United States’ underclass. It is beautiful and sad, and it’s one case where the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words certainly holds.


The majority opinion among boardgamers seems to be that 2009 was not a particularly original year; I still had plenty of fun playing the following, among others:

  • Dominion, by Donald X. Vaccarino. It has simple rules and a combinatorial explosion of possible set-ups that allow for constantly fresh variations. There are two expansions for Dominion already: Intrigue and Seaside. Both are very good.
  • Space Alert, by Vlaada Chvátil. A real-time cooperative game where the team’s goal is to keep their spaceship going for just ten minutes. It’s extremely fun and chaotic. The only problem is you need to play the soundtrack as you play, which is an inconvenience in some places.
  • Kakerlaken Poker (Cockroach Poker), by Jacques Zeimet. A bluffing game and an excellent filler. Games take about 10 minutes, including set-up, and since it’s only a deck of cards it’s very easy to carry around.
  • Roads & Boats, by Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga. Like most Splotter games this is a long and intense brain breaker. In Roads & Boats you build a civilization starting with some donkeys, geese, and wood planks —at its heart it is a game of logistic optimization. The solo puzzles are fun, too.
  • Go. I’ve been getting more and more into Go this year, and I’m constantly surprised by its elegance and depth. I’m still very much a beginner though. If you want to have a game or two let me know!

Other Stuff

Odds and ends that I also enjoyed this year:

  • In Treatment. An HBO series about a psychotherapist and his patients. Each half-hour episode is a therapy session. Sounds dull, but the script and the acting are both fantastic. Based on the Israeli series BeTipul.
  • The Hurt Locker. A powerful, no-nonsense Iraq war movie directed by Kathryn Bigelow. I would also strongly recommend District 9 but I think everyone has seen it by now.
  • Rock Band: The Beatles. These days we’re practically using our XBOX only for The Beatles and for Rock Band 2, which has a music store with a great selection of extra songs. The Beatles’ artwork is impressive.
  • The Hot Yam! If you live in Toronto and haven’t had lunch at the Yam! you don’t know what you’re missing. Vegan, mostly organic, mostly local, extremely cheap, lovingly cooked food. The group is anarchically run by volunteers. Most Thursdays at the University of Toronto’s International Student Centre, from noon to 2pm.
  • The Remarkable Bean. Delicious fresh-roasted coffee in the beautiful Beaches neighbourhood.
  • Biking in Toronto and the Bike Chain. Why did I wait until 2009 to bike in this city? It’s as if huge new areas around downtown suddenly opened up for exploration. It’s healthy and cheap (I saved over $200 in transit fares, although I spent about half that in equipment). Pairing that with the Bike Chain, a DIY bike workshop where you can learn from experts how to fix and tune up your bike is fantastic. The Bike Chain, like the Yam!, is at the International Student Centre.

That’s mostly it. I hope your 2009 was as good as mine, and I wish you a wonderful 2010. Thanks for reading!


About Jorge Aranda

I'm currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the SEGAL and CHISEL labs in the Department of Computer Science of the University of Victoria.
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8 Responses to Recommendations from 2009

  1. Neil says:

    Ibarg… is my favorite name of 2009. Thanks!

  2. George says:

    I made my own Star Wars themed Cockroach poker deck! I made it out of cards from a Star Wars CCG.

    As I have mentioned before, I would be interested in playing Go with you. I have a crappy board and stones in my office if we ever need one.

  3. Pingback: U of T grad students: please vote Yes for Bikechain! « Catenary

  4. Pingback: Recommendations from 2012 « Jorge Aranda's website

  5. Pingback: Recommendations from 2013 | Cuevano

  6. Pingback: Recommendations from 2014 | Cuevano

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