Top Books of 2021

2021 was a hard year, and once again I got through it by gorging myself on books. I completed just over 50 books, and the following are the standouts. A reminder: this is not a “best books” list. These are the most notable and interesting to me personally, including the best and the worst. Finally, a book only makes this list if I have something to say about it. A novel might blow my mind, but if I struggle to write a paragraph about it, it won’t make this list.

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Jordan Peterson on The Utility of Horror

I’ve spent a good portion of my online career bashing Jordan Peterson. I’ve often found him clownish and, at times, downright dangerous.

His new book Beyond Order, however, surprised me. The Peterson that emerged from its pages was a far more complicated and interesting figure than I had previously given him credit for. He lives with brutal addiction and depression, and yet doles out advice on how to lead a good life. He’s weird, eccentric, verbose, and surprisingly progressive and conservative at different turns. I found parts of his book genuinely helpful, and other parts frustrating and overly esoteric. None of this is to say that I’m a fan or that I agree with him on everything. It’s simply to say that I found his most recent book worth engaging.

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In Defense of Reading Controversial Books

I’ve been making noise on social media lately about how I deliberately read problematic books. By problematic, I mean that they are deemed, justly or unjustly, toxic or bad by people I usually agree with. I’ve noticed some palpable discomfort when I bring up the topic, so I thought I would take some time to explore why I think reading problematic literature is helpful. 

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Top Fifteen Books of 2020

I’m a slow reader, and at the end of each year I find myself mildly disappointed by my low book count. However, this was the year of COVID-19, political unrest, and existential uncertainty. All my previous forms of entertainment (news, social media, shows, gaming) became too stimulating in an already over-stressed existence. I retreated to books, and they sustained me through this dumpster fire of a year.

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Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds, and Why We Still Need Gay Activism

I’ve reduced my time on social media, and I’ve been experiencing some profound side effects of this detox: I’m more willing to engage people I would have previously dismissed, and my knee-jerk disgust response is down. This means that I am now engaging a great many more thinkers and writers who I would have previously dismissed as gross and/or anti-woke.

I recently picked up The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray, which attempts to argue how worthy minority and progressive causes have ripened into full blown mania and societal insanity. He sums this up with his description of “St George in Retirement Syndrome.”

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How Reading Sci-fi and Fantasy Gives Me Hope

Like everyone else during this plague, I’ve been struggling to find ways to survive and stay sane. I’m an essential worker, and life has been somewhat fraught with existential dread. Some days, I feel good – balanced, mostly happy, and relatively centered. Other days, the existential despair crushes me. I don’t know how we will get out of this, how we will create a better world, how we will survive intact.

Many of the previous avenues of leisure are closed to me, now. Podcasts are often too stressful. Youtube is too stressful. Social media is too stressful. I’m already maxed out trying to stay safe and responsible at the front lines of the food industry. My brain just doesn’t have as much capacity as it used to.

The only place I can go, then, are books, primarily sci-fi and fantasy. I’ve devoured a huge number of books since the beginning of the pandemic, as books feel like the only safe place I have left.

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