Blake Bailey's Cheever: A Life was, in just about every way, a sobering read. Very rarely has a writer's life been so consistent, start to finish, and yet been so completely broken apart in the middle by success. Cheever's desire to write bestselling novels, rather than great short stories, did for him. That he chose alcohol to do the doing is incidental. The Ask by Sam Lipsyte - the novel I enjoyed most this year - is another great American decline and fall, but with more laughs. Thomas Metzinger is my kind of scientific reductionist, and The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self brings human beings ruthlessly down to our deluded primate neurochemistry. I didn't go looking for massive downers, it just seems to have turned out that way.