Technology

The Verge’s favorite books from 2023

There are podcasts, videos, games, live performances — and then there are books, one of the oldest and still most popular ways to learn something new or escape (at least temporarily) from today’s troubled world. We asked the staff of The Verge what their favorite reads were over the last year. Their answers ranged from science fiction novels to autobiographies to lessons on how to draw and an examination of the addiction of gambling.

Read on, and see if there’s anything here that you may want to check out during the holidays.

Thar She Blows: A Novel

$9

A woman and her adult son set out on separate quests of self-discovery.

This maybe-but-not-quite-fantasy centers on two people, a woman named Ann and her adult son Brian, who through the course of the story learn to trust their own inner strength. When Brian disappears overboard during a boat trip, Ann is assured by the authorities and her friends that her son is most certainly dead and that she should give him up. Faced with everyone’s misplaced sympathy, she almost does — until she learns to trust her own instincts and fight for what she believes in. Brian, meanwhile, sees himself as a loser with no ambitions until he slowly figures out how to survive and even thrive in a new and dangerous environment — the belly of a large whale (yes, think Pinocchio). This well-written, somewhat absurd, but incredibly touching novel was one that I remembered long after I finished it. — Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor

The MarigoldThe Marigold

$9

A dystopian novel about a variety of people navigating a bleak urban landscape.

Haunting, grotesque, and funny, The Marigold mines horror from the collision of old and new money in a near-future / alt-present Toronto. In Sullivan’s world, every skyscraper requires a secret sacrifice made in blood — and when a real estate tycoon fails to pay it while realizing his grand vision, he puts a fatal strain on a system already unbalanced by the encroachment of modernity into the dark corners of urban life. While in some ways the book is evidently ripped from the headlines (techno-utopian smart cities, unlivable super towers, and the gig economy play prominent roles), it’s far more than your average tech or finance satire. You’ll find a lyrically written series of character sketches with some distinctly eerie — and gooey — set pieces to boot. — Adi Robertson, senior tech & policy editor

Doom Guy: Life in First Person Doom Guy: Life in First Person

$12

A thoughtful chronicle of Romero’s role in decades of games industry history before and after the birth of the first-person shooter.

In the ‘90s and early ‘00s, Doom and Quake co-creator John Romero’s love of bombastic trash-talking, fast cars, and violent shooters gave him a reputation as a macho gaming rockstar, cemented in David Kushner’s dishy Masters of Doom. A couple of decades later, Romero is clearly aware of this. (There’s a good-natured callout awaiting anyone who skips straight to the chapter about his notorious flop Daikatana.) But he’s also very over it. Doom Guy is a thoughtful chronicle of Romero’s role in decades of games industry history before and after the birth of the first-person shooter, told in passionately nerdy detail and shot through with a poignant reevaluation of his successes and regrets. — Adi Robertson

Addition by DesignAddition by Design

$16

The cynical craft of building gambling machines and the people whose lives have been consumed by them.

Based on years of field research and published in 2012, Addiction by Design dissects the cynical craft of building gambling machines and profiles people whose lives have been consumed by them, to devastating effect. It’s brought up frequently as a comparison point to the modern tech industry; in a lot of commentators’ minds, you can just swap out “slots” with “smartphones” and understand Silicon Valley. But that does the book a disservice. Schüll’s work is the opposite of much hyperbolic, broad-brush tech criticism. It’s a painstaking, level-headed exploration of a technology’s most idiosyncratic elements and the complex dynamics of addiction to it — which makes the conclusion that it’s inherently damaging far more compelling. — Adi Robertson

Number Go UpNumber Go Up

$14

The personalities and hype that surrounded crypto, with a focus on the now-disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried.

This is a super good book about the crypto bubble. Faux does an excellent job digging into the personalities and hype that surrounded crypto, with a focus on the now-disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried. Faux gets some great access to Bankman-Fried, too — I was floored by his final interview shortly after the FTX empire came crumbling down.

A lot of things about crypto finally clicked into place for me after reading this book — well, as much as anything about the incomprehensible world of crypto can actually make sense. — Jay Peters, news writer

All Souls LostAll Souls Lost

$7

A fun supernatural detective story, with a touch of Big Tech thrown in.

It took me almost a month to get to All Souls Lost in my reading queue after it was released, and then I promptly tore through it in just a few days. It’s an incredibly fun supernatural detective story, with a touch of Big Tech thrown in. The pace is fast, the prose is entertaining, and the characters are rich.

You might recognize Dan Moren’s name from Six Colors, MacWorld, and a variety of podcasts, and he weaves his experience covering the tech space into All Souls Lost in a fun, entertaining way. — Dan Seifert, deputy editor

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and TomorrowTomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

$14

A fictional story of two friends who bond over video games as kids and later become game developers and collaborators.

This is a fictional story of two friends who bond over video games as kids and later become game developers and collaborators. It’s funny and sweet, and it’s also kind of about identity, relationships, and how we process trauma. It pays tribute to a lot of classic and newer games, with a lot of nods to Oregon Trail that my fellow elder millennials will appreciate. You don’t have to be a ‘90s kid or a gamer at all to appreciate this book, although I am both and I enjoyed the heck out of it. — Allison Johnson, reviewer

White Trash WarlockWhite Trash Warlock

$7

A young man plagued by the Sight hunts down a deadly Warlock and tries to quell an ancient, angry spirit that has possessed his brother’s wife.

Not everyone can see the magical world that exists parallel to the mundane one, but Adam Binder can. White Trash Warlock follows a young man plagued by the Sight, existing between the dangerous magical plane and the oblivious mortal world. His worlds come crashing together, however, as he hunts down a deadly Warlock and tries to quell an ancient, angry spirit that has possessed his brother’s wife. The first part of a wonderful series, this YA novel navigates what it means to live in poverty, balance volatile familial relationships, queer love, and, well, unpredictable yet charming elves.

This book had me hooked from the first chapter. The worldbuilding is impressive and vivid, and the characters are all incredibly compelling. White Trash Warlock is a refreshingly thoughtful yet adventurous read. — Kaitlin Hatton, senior audience manager

Video Game of the YearVideo Game of the Year

$10

Jordan Minor crowns one video game to represent each year from 1977 to 2022.

This book is a fun spin on “GOTY” lists, as Jordan Minor crowns one video game to represent each year from 1977 to 2022 in a way that’s more unusual than just saying they’re the “best.” He discusses each game’s cultural significance, sometimes choosing less-than-obvious titles or slightly controversial picks. But it amounts to a fun read down memory lane that isn’t just a trite play for nostalgia. It’s part of why I gave it a nod in our gaming and entertainment gift guide for this holiday season.

The other part is that there’s some great art and awesome guest blurbs by other notable game critics and writers. It’s a great read that goes well on a shelf next to books like either of Jason Schreier’s bestsellers or the excellent photo book The Game Console. I think it can make a great present to any video game obsessives in your life. — Antonio G. Di Benedetto, writer, commerce

Art can be an enviable skill. Back when I possessed far superior illustration skills than I currently do today, “I really wish I could draw like you” was often a phrase thrown at me (alongside pining, pouting, and puppy dog eyes) by my school peers as a means to guilt-trip me into taking free art requests. The logic being, I assume, that my creative competency was somehow an innate gift and not something that I had trained over years of being a passionately introverted nerd with a lot of sketchpads. 

I’m fairly out of practice these days, but hearing AI bros claim that generative AI apps like DALL-E and Midjourney have “democratized art” inspired me to go back to learning the basics again, the old-fashioned way. The How to Think When You Draw series by Lorenzo Etherington are some of the best instructional art books I’ve come across in recent years, especially if you have an interest in comic books and character design. These books don’t just show you how to draw things like draping fabric, head angles, dynamic poses, and immersive environments — they explain why things like texture, lighting, and perspective make what we draw look different.

They’re easy to follow and suitable for a wide range of experience levels, including readers who are just starting out with illustration. The subjects covered are also incredibly diverse so if you’re looking for a one-stop shop for drawing tutorials, I heartily recommend checking out these books (they are apparently out of print, but you may find them at a used book store), or take advantage of the free library of online tutorials that have helped to create them. — Jess Weatherbed, news writer



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