pretending to understand books

rating every book i’ve read this year solely on the vibes of their goodreads reviews

Some of my mutuals think I read a lot of books and that fact freaks me out a bit. Unsurprisingly for the longest while I read fuck all – my attention span felt fried from spending all day on the internet and I was too preoccupied with listening to the same three albums to branch out and pay attention to other forms of media. Because of this it feels like I’m always compensating when it comes to literature, getting through all the texts that I probably should have gotten around to ages ago and growing an insane reading list as a result. This reading list is logged on Goodreads, a website that’s essentially just RateYourMusic for people who pretend to understand Proust. Whenever I pretend to myself that I’ll get around to an interesting-seeming book I find myself visiting the Goodreads page, leafing through reviews in the hopes of giving me the motivation to actually sit through the thing. I find these reviews morbidly interesting, in some cases they just end up telling you more about the reviewer’s life or the era than whatever Marxist text they utterly despised. Because of this I thought it’d be fun to go through the books that I’ve sat through this year and rank them based off whatever vibes the Goodreads reviews emanate, arguably the only way to objectively review something. I’d end this paragraph with some witty meta-gag but my friend Lee got mad at someone for using the word meta the other day and I thought it’d be funny to include this sentence to annoy him.

1. Karl Marx – The Communist Manifesto

It feels oddly symmetrical that this was the first book that I got around to this year, I guess it gives us a lot of material to start this blog post with (if your idea of material is just random Americans who thought that they single handedly saw the flaws in socialism at some point in the mid-to-late 2000s). One of the best things about Goodreads is that it peaked two decades ago and as a result of this the pages for “larger” texts such as this are chock full of random reviews from the noughties that have not aged well at all. Unsurprisingly half the reviews on here aren’t actually about the text but instead about the ideology – it seems as if the “Ronald Reagan did nothing wrong” brigade came out in full force to review this book, constantly reminding us that the USSR was bad in the process. One of the most interesting reviews of this book came from Blake Nelson, who gave the book five stars and claimed that he was “using this [book] as the model for a YA book I am writing”. I have no idea what a Marx-inspired YA novel would look like and perhaps I should keep it that way.

Summary of the Vibe: Boring secondary school debating club quibbling about the Iraq war.

Rating: 2/10

2. Walter Benjamin – The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

I decided to read this book because there was a quote about alienation in it that I thought was poignant – it turned out that the quote was the final point made in the book and wasn’t expanded on much further. This work is slightly more niche and as a result the reviews are slightly less combative, as opposed to fourteen year olds who just discovered Christopher Hitchens we’re instead exposed to pretentious fourty year old philosophy professors who just discovered it’s generally frowned upon to hit on their students. The top review of this book mentions listening to hours of new age string music and I feel that captures the vibe of this demographic perfectly – this Goodreads page would sell hash at Other Voices in Dingle and that’s perfectly acceptable. Something I found oddly funny about this book is that it was inspired by the ways that printing and photography changed art – I’d like to imagine that Walter Benjamin would have his brain melted by the internet, even if I barely understand half of what he goes on about.

Summary of the Vibe: People who pay too much for weed.

Rating: 8/10

3. Douglas Rushkoff – Cyberia: Life In The Trenches of Hyperspace

This book apparently inspired ‘Serial Experiments Lain’, one of the few animes that I can watch without feeling physical embarrassment. With this book Rushkoff jumps head first into the weird world of the Bay Area cyber-utopians of the early 90s, offering the current reader with a bunch of people to make fun of while the internet gradually melts the planet. This book’s purpose has fundamentally shifted over the years – what was initially an exciting glimpse of a future world and the subculture that looked forward to it is now a humorous look back at an era where people actually looked forward to some form of future and/or the idea of receiving email. This unsurprisingly sets the tone for the reviews – every single person tricked into thinking that living in California was a good idea has seemingly read this book and they’re all scarily nostalgic for it. Someone described this book as “utter brainsex” and I feel like that warrants docking two points from my ranking. This is the kind of book that a Nick Land stan would find exciting – take from that what you will.

Summary of the Vibe: A congregation of former ravers who are now arsehole landlords.

Rating: 6/10

4. Yesenia Barragan – Selling Our Death Masks: Cash-For-Gold in the Age of Austerity

There was a really good tweet I saw a while back where someone joked about how if you looked at the Google Street View pictures of any Irish town from before and after the 2008 economic collapse you’d see the rise of the Cash-For-Gold empire (and the death of any small business) in real-time – that basically summarizes this book. This book has no reviews, hence why this paragraph is scarily small – there’s feck all to say and it’s half five in the morning already. Boring!

Summary of the Vibe: n/a

Rating: n/a

5. Brian Hanley – The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party

This is a book that nearly melted my brain – it took me nearly a full month to get through all 658 pages of this text and as a result half of my conversations with friends somehow linked back to it. The history of the Workers’ Party is interesting to me due to how utterly chaotic it seems – their (former) ideological heavyweight is now a right-wing Sunday Independent columnist, their (former) household names are now all known for being establishment lackeys, and their (former) members seemingly didn’t realize their party was linked to a (supposedly dormant) armed paramilitary. While I actually have a chance to talk about this book for once in my life I think it’s fair that I include one of my favourite quotes from it (and arguably all of literature) – “On the day of the vote for Taoiseach the three SFWP TDs found themselves locked out of the Dáil chamber, and had to be given access by Fianna Fáil to the press gallery, from which they clambered into the distinguished visitors area and then actually jumped into the chamber before casting their votes. Labour leader Michael O’Leary acidly commented that their ‘method of entry was somewhat unorthodox. But their eagerness cannot be in doubt’. In the Irish Times Dick Walsh commented that the manner of their arrival was nothing compared to the ideological ‘hoops that they must have jumped through’ in order to vote for Haughey”. Truly brutal stuff.

Summary of the Vibe: The three young people left in the Workers’ Party giving you a lecture.

Rating: 7/10

6. Alan Bissett – Boyracers

I read this book in the hopes of temporarily shedding myself of boring texts that mentioned capitalism being bad and jumping into a self-insert power fantasy where I talked to people and sat in cars more often. This novel is based around growing up in Falkirk and unsurprisingly is based around a bunch of cultural experiences and pop-culture references that I’m probably underequipped to write about. I feel as if this post idea was an error because half these reviews are just people saying that this book is good and pointing that out doesn’t make interesting sentences (or blog posts) – perhaps we’ll miss the logic dudebros who reviewed ‘The Communist Manifesto’ by book twenty-five, assuming I even finish this stupid draft. Half of these reviews mention the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, giving these reviews an oddly haunted feeling.

Summary of the Vibe: The entire Yes Scotland campaign giving you a lecture (that you can only understand because you watched ‘Limmy’s Show’ on Netflix)

Rating: 5/10

7. Ronald Purser – McMindfulness: How Mindfulness became the New Capitalist Spirituality

I thought that I’d love this book because I listened to Purser go on like three podcasts and presumed that this would be the exact topic I would annoy friends by talking about. The book turned out to be grand, but took forever to get through (mainly due to me being extremely lazy). The top (one-star) review for this book starts with the words “this fellow” and I feel as if that gives you an idea of what we’re dealing with. Another review complains about the author’s “emotional attitude”, take from that what you will. Books on “spirituality” always seem to lead to all four New Atheists still left on the planet coming out of the woodworks to be snarky, docking a fair few points off this book. Bleak!

Summary of the Vibe: The mod queue for /r/athiesm and /r/latestagecapitalism

Rating: 3/10

8. Eoin Ó Broin – Home

Eoin Ó Broin is a Sinn Fein TD and spokesperson on housing, hence this book on the history of Irish housing policy – a topic which I presume that my audience will find boring and will gloss over in the hopes of finishing this blog post. None of these reviews are particularly interesting and mostly just get mad about the lack of proper costing in the book.

Summary of the Vibe: People who vote for the Social Democrats

Rating: Who Cares/10

9. Vladimir Lenin – The State and Revolution

And now back to the fun reviews. Or at least I thought so until I realized that all the socialism dislikers wasted all their energy making reviews of ‘The Communist Manifesto’. If you’ve ever had the joys of sitting in on a reading group on Bolsheviks in 2002’s Ohio you’ve basically read these reviews, just imagine if the conflict was between Marxists and social democrats as opposed to different niche Trotskyist factions. When I started this blog post I thought there’d be more to talk about in regards to funny reviews but it turns out that everything is just various shades of mundane.

Summary of the Vibe: Heated Reading Group Debate

Rating: 5/10

10. Aaron Swartz – Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

I think it was unfair for me to mark this text as a book on Goodreads considering how short it is. Most of the reviews for this relate to Swartz’s tragic passing so it feels odd to crack jokes about them, hence why this paragraph is short.

Summary of the Vibe: Abolish JSTOR

Rating: This is in bad taste/10

11. Matt Colquhoun – Egress: On Mourning, Melancholy, and Mark Fisher

I think I was one of the first people to finish this book and because of that, there’s feck all in terms of reviews to riff on. This book is really good in the sense that it gave me a lot of edgy screenshots to put beside my weekly 5×5 charts, presumably intimidating my Twitter followers.

Summary of the Vibe: n/a

Rating: n/a

12. Alan Woods – Lenin and Trotsky: What They Really Stood For

For some reason, Goodreads has the cover for this set to an upside-down picture of the Arabic translation. I’d fix it but it seems cooler – since nobody reviewed this book it doesn’t matter either way really.

Summary of the Vibe: n/a

Rating: n/a

13. Peter Hadden – Common History, Common Struggle

I bought this book the night that it came out on Kindle (mainly in the hopes of ripping the EPUB and sharing it with others), only to find out that I paid for a converted PDF file. I’d complain about this but another friend bought a physical copy of the book only to find out that it was missing half the chapters, which is probably a good thing considering how the book makes some horrific conclusions despite being quite informative. This unsurprisingly has no reviews, perhaps reading a lot about Ireland makes me look like a hipster.

Summary of the Vibe: n/a

Rating: n/a

14. Paddy Hoey – Shinners, Dissos, and Dissenters: Irish Republican Media Activism Since the Good Friday Agreement

I’m the only person who has rated this book on Goodreads, does this make me cool?

Summary of the Vibe: n/a

Rating: n/a

15. Plato – Symposium

‘Symposium’ is just a glorified podcast for people who want to bring the word eromenos back, meaning that these reviews are actually fun for once. Highlights include a lad writing a screenplay where Oprah talks to Jesus and Socrates (for some reason), college students getting mad about being forced to read this thing, and a review that starts with the oddly pathetic sentence of “I want to be an educated person”. One person remarked that “this is what they make you read when you take the wrong elective courses in college” and I feel like that sentence would do more to describe the vibe of these reviews than anything I could put together.

Summary of the Vibe: People who either genuinely use the term “dark academia” without a hint of irony or utterly despise it.

Rating: 7/10

16. Slavoj Zizek – Pandemic!: Covid-19 Shakes The World

In the spirit of Slavoj Zizek, I’m now going to paste in an irrelevant paragraph about the book I wrote a month ago. snorting acne meds to gabber14/04/2020 in the spirit of slavoj zizek im going to copy paste my goodreads review “this book is actually pretty decent if: (a) you imagine it as a collection of blog posts (b) you’re reading it more to look at how Zizek reacted to the outbreak as opposed to some deeper analysis (c) you already hold an interest in Zizek’s work (d) you didn’t pay full price for it (or found it on libgen)”

Summary of the Vibe: People mad about paying for this book.

Rating: Learn how to pirate ebooks/10

17. Rob Sewell – Germany 1918-1933: Socialism or Barbarism

This is unsurprisingly one of the most depressing books I’ve gotten through this year, to the point where I sat through the Zizek book as a break from reading about how screwed we all are. Everyone who reviewed this book is probably somehow linked to the IMT, meaning there’s slightly less material to make fun of. When I was reading this book I finally got burnt out on Trotskyist theory and made the following bingo card which got a total of two laugh reacts on Discord, making this book worth reading I guess.

Summary of the Vibe: The kind of people who would enter a Ted Grant fuck a fan contest.

Rating: Fuck Peter Taaffe/10

18. Nick Srnicek – Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

After sitting through god knows how many pieces of Trotskyist literature I thought I needed to give myself a break by spending some time with the crazies, leading me to left-accelerationism, an ideology that totally exists outside of the internet. In all seriousness this book is quite informative, mainly dealing with the folk-political tendencies inherent to the way the left organizes. Half the reviews on this book are from leftist academic types and the other half are from wannable leftist academic types, take from that what you will.

Summary of the Vibe: College students who discovered jungle way too late.

Rating: These people are more similar to me than I want to admit/10

19. Sappho – Come Close

When I posted about finishing this book someone asked what gender I was due to how feminine my taste in books seemed. Can’t tell whether that was meant to be an insult or not.

Summary of the Vibe: People I followed on Tumblr in 2018.

Rating: 7/10

20. Robin Mackay – #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader

The people who reviewed this book are the exact kind of people who get mad at me when I joke about how much Nick Land wanted to shove his dick into a Bloomberg terminal.

Summary of the Vibe: People who pretend to understand philosophy.

Rating: 6/10

21. Gavin Butt – Post-Punk Then and Now

Someone complained about this book resorting to using “Marxist explanations at every turn” and I felt bad for them. I feel like it’d be too easy to just copy/paste the same vibe definitions from ‘#Accelerate’ and ‘Inventing the Future’ but that’d probably make this article seem even more low-effort. Not my fault that I read the same type of book over and over!

Summary of the Vibe: People who read Marx to seem like less of a boomer.

Rating: Can I Just Finish This Piece/10

22. William S. Burroughs – Queer

Burroughs is the ultimate author in the sense that he’s essentially a litmus test for English teachers – every teacher who references him is trying way too hard to seem cool. This was my first Burroughs book (apparently not a great start), but I found this book oddly comfy. The reviews are essentially just people pretending that this book is actually way deeper than it actually is or getting mad at the fact that Burroughs exists. When I started this piece I thought I’d be able to find some funny material without much work but at the moment I feel extremely burnt out on writing and just want to put this thing out there and move on.

Summary of the Vibe: English teachers.

Rating: 3/10

23. Ryder Carroll – The Bullet Journal Method: Track Your Past, Order Your Present, Plan Your Future

I was actually scared to look at the Goodreads page for this book. I picked it up in the hopes of getting my shit together slightly more but was genuinely surprised by how far this book falls into the same repeated tropes of self-help (something I should have expected before in hindsight) – this is a book for the kind of person who needs to plan out their holidays to Hawaii while working at their executive job at Amy Klobuchar’s campaign and I (thankfully) fall out of that demographic. The Bullet Journal system is useful if utilized correctly, but it’s not going to make things magically better unless you’re somehow loaded.

Summary of the Vibe: Small business owners

Rating: Byung-Chul-Han would cry/10

24. Brian Friel – Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Plays are cool in theory until you meet the kind of people who performatively talk about them. I was texting one of my mutuals while they were drunk and they pointed fun at me for referencing a Beckett play and I’ve been self-conscious about referencing plays ever since. I referenced this play in my last Thursday post, so perhaps I’m not self-conscious enough. These reviews are mainly from assorted crusties – which is either a really good or bad thing depending on who you’re talking to. I feel horrific burnout.

Summary of the Vibe: Other Voices in Dingle

Rating: eh/10

25. Tao Lin – Taipei

Bro I’m actually extremely deep for (dis)liking a novel where a bunch of Brooklynites refresh Gawker over and over on their Macbooks you just don’t understand literature!

Summary of the Vibe: The queue for the iPhone 4S

Rating: Just kill me now/10

When I started this piece I thought I’d have some form of funny ending/observation to tie this all together and make it seem like one of those Vice UK articles I’d read back in the day – but that’s not the case and we’re here at this current moment. I’ve been pushing myself to write two things a week, not as a conscious goal but more just because I did so once and wanted to keep the streak going. My productivity has always been sporadic (or just non existent), as Fiteclub showed I can go months without doing anything in a state of complete burnout. This article is probably a bit shite and I feel horrific as I write this article but I’m happy that I’m here at the last paragraph, still pushing to put something out even if my brain is prone to melting and/or giving up halfway through a draft.