Episode #54 All the Best of 2020: Books and Podcasts that will lift you into the new year – and beyond
An end-of-year round up of the best fiction and non-fiction books – and podcasts – of 2020.
All are my opinion and this is only a tiny selection of the really good stuff out there.
So here are some to choose from – all links to Blackwells:
From what is to what if by Rob Hopkins
The Trembling Warrior and others by Gill Coombs
The Best of Times, the Worst of Times by Paul Behrens
How to Be More Pirate by Alex Barker
Less is More by Jason Hickel
The Ocean is Alive by Glenn Edney
The Tao of Revolution by Chris Taylor
This is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall
Slough House by Mick Herron
Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré
Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow
Call Down the Haw by Maggie Stiefvater
The Timekeeper by Tara Sim
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow
The Left Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix.
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novak
Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso
Poison in Paris by Robert Wilton
The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor
The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
Upstream hosted by Della Duncan
The Hive hosted by Nathalie Nahai
The Sustainable Futures Report by Anthony Day
A New and Ancient Story by Charles Eisenstein
Your Undivided Attention by Tristan Harris
Regenerative Agriculture Podcast by John Kempf
Farm Gate hosted by Ffinlo Costain
Equiosity by Alex Kurland
Horses For Future by Alex Kurland
Drinking from the Toilet by Hannah Brannigan
Link to Dreaming the Year Awake
Manda: Hey, people, welcome to Accidental Gods, the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that together we can make it happen. I’m Manda Scott your host at this place on the net where art meets activism, politics meets philosophy and science meets spirituality, all in the service of Conscious Evolution. Usually we would step into a conversation now with someone who is making the world a different place. But it’s the festive season, we are near the turning point of the year as I record, and I wanted to bring you a very brief bonus episode of the things that I really enjoyed reading or listening to in the year.
Normally, I would send this out as a newsletter, but we have a podcast. So this is an experiment. If we enjoy it, we will do it again. And if we don’t, we won’t. That is the joy of making these things ourselves. So here we are, a brief, festive Review-cast of the things that I would be sharing with you if you and I were of a mind to give each other gifts. Not that I’m hugely in favour of increasing consumption at all. In fact, if you’ve been listening to any of the previous podcasts, you’ll know that not increasing consumption is really key to where we need to go. But ideas and experiences are still the stuff that life is made of, and books might be old technology, but there’s still a really, really good way of getting ideas across.
So here we go with a very small selection of things that are on my Kindle. (Yes, I’m sorry. I tend to read electronically). Or on my bookshelves or in my podcast app. First to the non-fiction books and top of the list are the ones from people who have been on the podcast. And yes, this might be cheating, but the reason I invited those people on the podcast was that their books blew me away. In no particular order we have From what is to what if’ by Rob Hopkins, who set up the Transition Town movement pretty much in Totnes and has gone on really to think very deeply about how we can make the changes that we need to make. His view that late stage capitalism is a imagination machine is profoundly moving and really changed the way that I thought his ability to show how the stress of modern life on a neurophysiological basis brings us more into sympathetic action and that we are less creative when we are stressed is a given. And the fact that this is perpetuated by a system that requires us not to have creative ways out of the system is one of those self-referential loops that once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. But then what Rob does is to provide examples of people who are thinking way outside the system from within it.n People like us are finding ways of being more creative and his book is so inspiring. So if you only read one thing, OK, I’m going to say that a lot, actually. If you only read one thing, make it one of the things on this list. But definitely Rob Hopkins, ‘From what is to what if’ has to be quite high on your list.
Next is Gill Coombs, who has written three books hearing our Calling, The Game and The Trembling Warrior. And all of these are available on her website. Jill Coomes Dakoda UK. Please do head there. She’s an amazing, extraordinary person. So Gill, if you want to listen to her, is on the podcast 37, 40, 45 and Rob Hopkins is number 43.
Next on our list is Paul Behrens, author of ‘The Best of Times, The Worst of Times’, which is one of those books about climate change that weighs things up evenly. He’s done dual chapters that lay out where we are – and where we are is not good – but the next chapter in each section lays out also where we are in terms of our creative abilities to change and the places where we have hope and the step changes that we can make that are already in place to make the shifts that we need to bring us away from the cliff edge of the climate catastrophe and the ecological emergency, both of which could easily tip us into extinction.
So Paul’s book was one of those. It’s not an easy read and we take that back. It is actually an easy read. He’s written it in a very fluent, fluid way. It’s challenging, but it is full of small factoids that will remain with me for the rest of my life, starting with every litre of fuel I burn in the car, melts one tonne of Arctic ice. Yeah. So it’s worth a read. And Paul is on episode 51.
And while we’re here, Episode 50 How to Be More Pirate with Alex Barker, which follows on from Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff. You probably could read both of those in order, but if you’re only going to read one, read the second one how to be more pirate hangout on their website and explore the ways that you can bring the concepts of piracy into your life. It’s inspiring, I promise. And then we have doughnut economics by Kate Worth. That’s a perennial on my list. Rob came to talk about the Doughnut Economics Action Lab way back in Episode 41. Doughnut Economics is one of the transformative texts of our time when you do not need to be an economist to read it. Promise you it’s about how the old studies of economics missed out so many important things and how the models that we live by, whether we know it or not, are based on things that are so broken and so wrong, ideas that are so conceptually idiotic that if we can collectively begin to think of things in a more holistic way, then we can make the change. Are you hearing this? We just need to know what we’re doing.
Following on from that is Jason Hickel’s ‘Less is More’, which is for me a natural sequel to Doughnut Economics. It again completely blew my mind. I really hadn’t got to grips with the nature of late stage capitalism or even early capitalism. I had no idea that the concept that the poor people should be made to starve in order to get them to work was actually one of the founding features of capitalism. Jason Hickel’s book is very well written. He wrote it during the early stages of lockdown. It’s very recent and as far as I can tell, he went for his hours, walk every day with his partner and talked each bit through and then came home and wrote it. And it has that feel of a really well honed argument with somebody super intelligent who’s gone. Yes, but but this and they’ve sorted all that out before. He committed to the page. It’s brilliant. And it not only lays out what the problem is, it lays out where we are in finding the answers. But in the end, it is essentially an action call for shamanic spirituality.
I’m not sure Jason necessarily intended it as that. But the only way we are going to get to where we need to be out of the wounds of the patriarchy of separation, scarcity and powerlessness that Miki Kashtan spoke of is if we begin to view everything, everybody, every note of consciousness as being an integral part of the whole. We need that sense of holism, and Jason really argues for it very powerfully to that.
Two, that I’m going to talk to early in the New Year, The Ocean Is Alive by Glenn Edney is a beautiful book that does for the oceans of the world what the Gaia hypothesis did for the globe as a whole, that they are living sentient agent filled entities. It’s beautifully written. And Glenn very obviously and very deeply loves the oceans. So I completely recommend that. And then Chris Taylor, the Tower of Revelation, which is a small and very beautiful book that pretty much does what it says on the tin. This is the how and the why of changing the world. And I am so looking forward to talking to Chris because he’s going to be able to unpick for us the steps that each of us can take to bring about change that we need in our own lives in ways that will work, which feels to me really what 2021 is for.
So that is the non-fiction.I have 30 books in the list that I just made of the fiction, so I’m not necessarily going to foist them all on you. I will pick a few of the really, really good ones. So on top of the list, largely because it just popped out of my Kindle. First, there’s a little little book called This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El Marda and Max Gladstone. And I loved this book. It’s epistolary. It’s clearly written from two perspectives. There are two authors I am imagining they took of you each. It’s far, far, far, far, far in the distant future. This is you would call it S.F., except you wouldn’t when you’d read it, because it moves throughout time. It’s a time travelling book. It’s a conceptual book. It’s a love story. I think it’s a lesbian love story. I’m not absolutely wholly sure about that because gender becomes very fluid quite early on in the book. But it’s gorgeous.
It’s one of the standouts of the year, along with the border keeper by Kirsten Hall that I read at roughly the same time, which is another very short book, much more literary. It’s I think you would call it magical realism. I went on, of course, a long time ago with Fay Weldon, one of these writing courses. We go away to somewhere in Norfolk in this particular instance, and spend a week in the company of somebody brilliant endeavouring to download their brain into yours.
And she said, ‘Magical realism is fantasy written by your friends’, which is what happens when fantasy is seen as a genre for 12 year old boys. I love fantasy. I think it’s some of the most exciting ideas in our current writing world are in the young adult fantasy fluid subgenres, mainly because people seem to become very stultified when they try and hit the major genres, or even worse, when they’re trying to be literary, which I find it quite hard to read. But a few things. The border keeper, definitely it’s almost impossible to describe what happens. And if I start describing what happens, it will be a spoiler. Just read it. It’s beautiful.
Easier than that is ‘Slough House’ by Mick Herron if you haven’t read it the ‘Slow Horses’ series, o back to the beginning and start with slow horses and be gobsmacked by max capacity to paint in fictional terms. Someone who is remarkably like Boris Johnson long before Boris Johnson got to where he is now. It’s both terrifying and fascinating and it’s not the point. His this is a spy series and the premise is that slow house is full of the slow horses. This is a sort of a pun on the basis that the secret intelligence agencies cannot ever sack anybody because they did that go off and write their memoirs and blow the lid on all kinds of stuff.
So instead they send them off to this stultifying, dull, dull place in London where they give them jobs that are mind bendingly dull to do in the hope that they will resign, because then that’s okay, apparently. And of course, the Slow Horses are full of the misfits and the dropouts and the people that nobody could work with. And the people who have made terrible mistakes or just trodden on the wrong toes in the kind of utterly lethal office warfare that is MI5. And it’s brilliant. Everybody says Mick Herron is the le Carré of his time. And they’re right. He’s also a really nice person. Slough House is the latest. but if you’re not used to the series, go back to Slow Horses and start at the beginning, you will not regret it. It’s not a series to be done backwards.
While we’re on spies, there’s Le Carré, who died recently. (RIP one of the best writers ever). ‘Agent Running in the Field’ is the most recently published. I sincerely hope that there’s one more in the can somewhere. But ‘Agent Running in the Field’ as his response to Brexit is just magnificent, unless you really like Brexit, which by the time you listen to this, I would find hard to believe even if you spent the last four years thinking it was a good idea. But do you read it. It’s le Carré actually at his best.
OK, Cory Doctorow, ‘Attack Surface’ set in a future five minutes from now – that’s his words, not mine – is essential reading. This is a guy who really knows his stuff and he’s writing about the impact of technology on our personal freedoms. He’s writing it in a way that is fictional as a way of introducing us to the ways that our freedoms have been curtailed. But we read it because if you just wrote this in a blog, then geeky, nerdy techie people like me would read it and nobody else would bother. Attack Surface is a brilliant thriller, really fantastically written it. Just the narrative arc is exceptional. It’s unexpected, it flows, the writing flows beautifully. And he quite clearly really knows his stuff in a way that isn’t,’Oh, look, I did this bit of research. Let me throw it out to you in the next three paragraphs to prove that I did’. Let’s not mention any names. He doesn’t do that. He just knows it inside out so that it imbues every sentence. So Attack Surface. Cory Doctorow, really, really read it.
Stuff that’s just fun, Maggie Stiefvater ‘Call Down the Hawk’. I love everything by Maggie Stiefvater. Again, if you haven’t met her, she’s a young adult writer, start with Scorpio Races. It’s just beautiful. It’s set in a fictional Ireland where the Scorpio Races are run on the sands once a year with the horses, the mythical beasts that come out of the sea that are sort of horse-like. But they eat people except on this one day of the year when they don’t. And of course, the two young children who are going to make their fortunes with the winning racehorse. It’s not an easy track, but it’s beautifully written.
Call Down the Hawk is also beautifully written, and she’s moved into the field of gay romance, which is nice, if you like that kind of thing, which I clearly do. So on the days when I feel I just want to top up my sense of identity, Maggie Stiefvater is a good one.
‘The Timekeeper’ by Tara Sim, is also another young gay love story. It’s an amazing premise. The premise is the clocks keep time. As in actually keep time running and if the clock breaks, dreadful things happen to time. So in this world, that’s kind of proto Victorian early estimate. The people who keep the clocks running are essential parts of society. It’s so clever and somebody is breaking the clocks. That’s that’s a given. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful young gay love story. I just adored it.
What else? Oh, yes. OK, this is a bit off the wall. ‘In Other Lands’ by Sarah Rees Brennan. Basic principle: some kids can see the wall. And some people just see a field. And the kids who can see the wall get to go over the wall into the world where there are elves and dwarves and mermaids and harpies. And everybody is training in the Borderlands to be the guardians of the wall that only some people in our world can see.
And if you take stuff from our world over there, like, say, your iPod, it might work, but it probably won’t. And Elliot Schaffer is one of the most fun lead characters I have ever read. He is utterly geeky. He is utterly uncompromising. He is totally bright. And he says exactly what he thinks. And it’s great. And it, too, is a love story. It’s a kind of a love triangle that keeps going around in circles. It’s just fun. It’s not big and heavy. Don’t expect that one to be big and heavy, but it’s good.
Big and heavy, but also beautiful. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alex Harrow. It’s lovely. Very literary. Again, another Magical Realism book you can tell. I like reading things that aren’t necessarily rooted in this reality. But this one starts off in the early years of the nineteenth century with a young girl who’s been adopted by a bloke who’s got more money than he knows what to do with. He kind of keeps her as a pet, but she can open doors into other places. It’s beautifully written. I totally recommend it. Utterly literary and utterly compelling.
On the other end of the not very literary scale, but with the best title of the year, ‘The Left handed Booksellers of London’ by Garth Nix. And yes, he’s an author. And yes, he did meet some left handed booksellers. And yes, he did write a book, but it’s clever. The left handed and right handed booksellers are all part of a kind of a cabal that not only sells books more or less in our time, but also are the managers of the gateways to the other worlds. This is another mythological fantasy. I read a lot of this, but again, it was clever. It was fast, it was sharp. It moved where it needed to go. I loved it.
OK, coming to the end of the fiction because, hey, I can’t throw too much at you. Naomi Novak. If you haven’t read Naomi Novak, please do. Spinning Silver came out a couple of years ago and was utterly one of the most amazing books ever. She has a whole series- I think the first things she wrote – which are Dragon Books, Dragons set in a kind of Hornblower-ish universe when Britain ruled the waves. Really clever, but Spinning Silver took it to a whole new level. And now A Deadly Education is what Harry Potter would have been if it had been written by somebody….OK, I’m going to be polite here. It’s What a Harry Potter could have been. I loved it. It’s very sharp and smart and intricate. And I think it’s probably a Marmite book. Certainly looking on the reviews on Amazon, some people hated it. Every book of Naomi Novak’s I’ve read since the first ones, I thought, ‘Oh gosh, this is not nearly as good as the last one. What is she doing?’… For about the first four chapters. And by the first chapter I am completely in there and it’s beautiful.
So last on the fiction list is a series by a writer called Laura Laakso. I think that’s how you say it, she’s Finnish Laakso, something it’s got two ‘A’s in the middle anyway. And the interesting thing about these, there’s a lot of interesting things about these. One is they’ve not been picked up by major publisher, which really surprises me because this is someone who actually gets the nature of magic in ways that not many people really do. Susan Cooper, maybe a few others anyway. It’s a kind of a crime series set in a kind of contemporary London Wilde Investigations: the first one is called ‘Fallible Justice’ then ‘Echo Murder’ then ‘Roots of Corruption’. And I think they’re really clever and worth a look.
So that’s me pretty much fiction. Books by people that I know and love that I think you should read ‘Poison in Paris’ by Robert Wilton. Gorgeous is just such a good writer. If you haven’t found Robert Wilson yet, then come the new Stage three lockdown to start at the beginning and read the lot, because his historical fiction is second to none in the capacity to create really deep feeling people in a political universe that makes total sense.Yeah, just go back, start at the beginning and you will love every word that he writes.
Similarly, Andrew Taylor, whose latest one is called ‘The Last Protector’, definitely have a go with that. And I don’t know Katherine Addison. Okay, this is last on my list of fiction. I absolutely promise you. ‘The Angel of the Crows’ is another Sherlockian book. There are loads of those. But in this case, Sherlock is an angel and not an angel who behaves in the ways that you would consider the angels generally should. And the good doctor ends up being entirely other than you expect. It’s got a totally platonic, very surprising love story at the heart of it, and it’s really clever. I rather wish Katherine Addison, the author, would write a sequel to the Goblin Emperor. I hope you listen to this, Katherine, but she hasn’t done. But the Angel of the Crows is another crime novel. That was my list of crime novels: ‘Poison in Paris’ by Robert Wilson, ‘The Last Protector’ by Andrew Taylor and ‘The Angel of the Crows’ by Katherine Addison.
OK, we’re nearly at the end. Podcasts that I think you might like if you like this one. Clearly UPSTREAM with Della Duncan and THE HIVE with Natalie Nahai. If you listened to our new Anniversary Tradition podcast, then you have heard both of them. They also have appeared on this podcast in the past year, and I have appeared on their podcasts once in a while. They are within the ecosystem that I think this podcast sits in and they’re really inspiring and beautiful and well worth listening to.
Kind of on the edge of the same ecosystem as THE SUSTAINABLE FUTURES REPORT by Anthony Day, which is pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s looking at what’s happening actually now in terms of the science and the news and the policy decisions, mostly in Britain, but also around the world. It’s beautifully dry. Anthony Day is just one of those really, really good blogs. It’s a really easy listen in terms of his podcasting style. It’s quite challenging in terms of the content. But then we do want to know what’s going on in our world. And it feels accurate in a world of truth being a pliable thing.
Also more or less in the same ecosystem is ‘A NEW AND ANCIENT STORY by Charles Eisenstein. Definitely a podcast worth listening to. He has some really, really interesting guests. And he’s always looking at things through a systemic lens and a lens of transformation. And it is Charles Eisenstein who spoke first of the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible.
So he’s a good guy. On the more Teche edge of the ecosystem that we inhabit is YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION by Tristan Harris, who used to be in Google’s ethics division until he decided it wasn’t ethical and he’s gone out and started out on his own. And ‘Your Undivided Attention’ is right in the same niche as the Netflix show ‘The Social Network’. In fact, Tristan Harris was in that show. So he’s talking again regularly to people who know what’s happening with the tech and. It may not be your thing, but I think you’ll enjoy it, and I think we all really do need to know what’s happening with our online lives.
At another border of our ecosystem is REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE PODCAST with John Kempf. It’s American, but it’s beautiful. Again, he talks to some really, really interesting people. And it’s one of those places where you can learn a lot just by listening. I love listening to people talking about how we could be making change. And agriculture is one of the big, big areas that is absolutely ripe for change. We just need to know how to do it. So the Regenerative Agriculture podcast is one of the best.
Also, FARM GATE in the U.K. feels like the kind of regenerative arm of the NFU, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth listening to. Again, it’s aimed at regenerative agriculture. It feels to me very functional.It feels to me extremely right wing. But that doesn’t stop it being good. I am endeavouring to remember that and live it in the new year of 2021. So Farm Gate also worth a listen.
If you’re into horses and behaviour, which is perfectly reasonable and understandable, and you might not be, but hey, it’s a good thing if you are EQUIOSITY and HORSES FOR FUTURE, both by my good friend Alex Kurland. (And full disclosure, I have been on both). But Equisoity is the Training nerd’s perfect horse podcast for understanding how the art and science of horse training come together to really enhance our relationships with the horses, which are amongst the most wonderful things on the planet.’Horses for Future’ is what it says on the tin. This is Alex working with a whole variety of people to find ways where horse people can be part of the solution. It’s a really inspiring podcast and there’s a page on Facebook that goes with it.
And while we’re in the world of animal behaviour, DRINKING FROM THE TOILET is the best titled podcast I have ever heard. It’s by Hannah Brannigan, who’s in the States, I’d like to say I want to think Canada, but I think not. I think Hannah’s in the States and it really is super techie, super nerdy and utterly brilliant if you’re interested in any kind of animal behaviour. I just listened to one of her podcast talking to a guy who trained circus people during the day, and the rest of the time he was training, as far as I can tell, reptiles and parrots. It was fascinating. So understanding how we tick is really important to how we change the world. The only way we’re going to shift is by shifting out of our tendency to veer into limbic tribalism into something bigger and broader. So I really enjoy the neurophysiology and therefore I think everybody else is going to enjoy neurophysiology. And animal behaviour is right at the cutting edge of applied neurophysiology. So go for it.
And that’s it. That’s my books. That’s my podcast’s. That’s the things that have really inspired me over the year. We are nearly at the end of the year, kind of at the start of a new season. But I think I’m going to call this a bonus podcast, so it won’t be exactly that. We have somebody else next week. We have, in fact, Navona, Gaill=agos, who is really, really interesting from New Mexico. That’ll be out on the 30th of December. And then we’re into the New Year. HOw did we get there?
We at Accidental Gods are planning an online gathering on Saturday, 2nd of January called DREAMING THE YEAR AWAKE, because I think we need somehow collectively, all of us – and this is not just for Accidental Gods people – this is for anybody and everybody Accidental Gods dreamers, people who just happened to wander past, anyone who’s been thinking about working with us for a while and doesn’t know what we really do. This might be a good time to come along.
Because it feels to me that 2021 is a kind of a gateway. I don’t know what. I don’t know how, I don’t know where it leads. But it feels as if transformation is in the air. And I may be projecting, but I hope not. But if that’s the case, then I want some time where I really spend time looking deep into the core of myself asking, ‘What is it that I want to be and to do? What is it that only I can be and can do and can bring to the world? How is it that I can bring the best of myself to 2021 in a way that leaves me feeling alive and inspired and connected and creative and confident that I am doing all that I can do for the things that matter to me?
So we’re going to have a whole day where we do just that: we’re going to do meditations and visualisations and break out into small groups so that we can talk it through and then come back together in whatever size of a group we end up with. It’s all on Zoom so you can do it anywhere in the world. It looks as if we have a number of people who may want to do it from the U.S., in which case we will hold a second one on the Sunday in the different time slot.
So at the moment, it’s 10 till 4:00 on Saturday, 2nd of January. If you’re interested and you want to come along, go to the Events page on the website. So that’s AccidentalGods.Life and then find the events page and there’s a join up there. It’s £65. If that is a problem for you, then get in touch. Just click the ‘contact us’ bit and we’ll change that, because the point is to get as many people as we can into a space where 2021 is transformative. So if you think you want to kick off the New Year, really having looked deep inside, then come along. If you know anybody else that wants to kick off the new year, having looked really deeply inside, then send them the link or at least tell them it’s happening.
So that’s it. That is us done for this year, more or less. Thanks to Caro C for the sound production. As always, thanks to Faith for the website and thanks to you for listening. Have a wonderful festive season. Come back to the New Year as a new you. We will be back on the 30th of December and then again weekly into 2021. And that’s it for now. Thank you and goodbye.
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