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.Continue reading “Top Books of 2021”
In his book The Better Angels of our Nature, linguist and polymath Steven Pinker discusses the extraordinary power of book reading.Continue reading “Reading as a Technology of Compassion”
I’ve spent the past few months writing a series on reading challenging books, all of which you can find listed at the end of this post. In my fervor to make the point, I’ve come to realize that something essential was under-emphasized in my previous posts.Continue reading “Everyone Needs a Safe Word”
I’ve gotten some interesting criticisms of my recent series of blog posts on the importance of reading challenging and problematic literature. The most common is along these lines: “you can get information that is just as good from non-problematic sources, so why not just do that?”Continue reading “Books Aren’t Search Engines”
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.Continue reading “How Reading Sci-fi and Fantasy Gives Me Hope”
I’m the middle of a fascinating book called Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds. Author Joseph Laycock explores, with great detail and insight, the parallel worlds of role-playing games and religion. For three decades, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons were at the center of a moral panic involving everything from fears of cults, satanists, to a lost generation of super predators. His thesis is that role-playing games were threatening to the religious right because, if communities could create such intricate, imagined, and meaning-making worlds through games, does that mean that religion itself is a sort of game? But beneath this initial thesis lie some profound insights for people like me who still greatly value religion, even as I doubt the existence of a personal God.
Last week, I wrote that the future of the world depends in no small part upon how we – the normal, everyday people who populate this globe, practice our capacity for presence and focus. We live in uncertain times, but we are not helpless. As I argued in my previous post, we begin changing the world by putting our own houses in order.
This was a year of hermitage. It was a year of letting many of the social, creative, and interactive plates I was spinning come crashing to the ground. I needed to retreat to focus on more important things: my mental health, and my work. My involvement in gay activism all but vanished, and my previous blog, which had seen some mild and enjoyable success, collected cyber dust and eventually expired.