I thought 2018 was action-packed. It may have been, but unless I opened up my past post and read through it, I couldn’t tell you much of what happened last year, or why I read so few books. This year strikes me as having been busier than anything I had going on last year, but let me not bore you any longer with empty words filling up empty space—here is my year through the books I read.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
I know what the boys want, I’m not gonna play. I have to credit Ms. Del Ray for her literary references. Lolita is one; I Sing the Body Electric is another—Hemingway, I think. Anyway, the book is undoubtedly a classic and I do aim to work my way through as many of those as I can when I don’t feel like reading anything else. Shame I didn’t get to more Henry James this year, but oh well. We all need breaks from our loves every now and then.
Lolita, the story that makes you feel bad for feeling sympathy for a pedophile. Humbert Humbert, what a man. Cultured, dashing, manipulative, tragic hero, we weep for Mr. Humbert because he ends up without his spiteful nymphet. But we also root for Lolita for that same spitefulness and her eventual escape. I hear tell Mr. Nabokov is quite the accomplished writer. Considering he can make even pedophiles who rape little girls attractive as a character you can’t help but root for, I’d have to agree. So I’ll have to read more of him. Recommendations welcomed.
The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz
Thank you, the Joe Rogan Podcast, for interviewing someone who brought this book up. I’m not much for self-help books, or they’re maybe better described as inspirational, but I became more open to them thanks to The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (fiction) and 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson slightly cooled the little I had warmed up to the genre. The Four Agreements is more on the inspirational side of things, with encouraging words and modes of thinking that will have you pick yourself up of wherever you’re laying or sitting down, if only you felt so inclined. Imagine Y.O.L.O. told in a different way and you’ve got the text here.
The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America by James Wilson
I don’t like top ten lists, or any sort of ranking based on hierarchy. I much more prefer a compilation of greatest hits or a menagerie of comparable great works to lessen the subjectivity of the curator. Having said that, if I did force myself to rate these books, I’d put The Earth Shall Weep as among the best I read this year. We all know the Native Americans got screwed over (and continue to do so), so it’s important to take the next step into learning exactly how, and to what extent, they were, and are, screwed. The truth, if it’s good enough, should make you wish you never knew it.
The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd
Was it fire and fury? No, that was against North Korea, not Iran. Maybe it was a phrase about glowing sand? No, that was about the Middle East, generally, and sadly Ted Cruz is still relevant. Whatever it was, I read this book in the middle of the furor surrounding the latest Iranian provocations, and Trump’s reactions to them. The Ayatollah Begs to Differ had been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, so I embraced my love for history and politics to see how I might make some sense about how a once mighty, cosmopolitan Persian empire turned religious state and threat to the current superpower, despite seemingly not having anything with which to actually threaten the United States with. Reading books like these about other countries, written by people from those countries or with extensive contacts to those countries, is important for disentangling yourself from media narratives that either paint a foreign people as either clueless or actively antagonistic. Death to ignorance!
Annihilation: Book 1 of the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer
Some books are like best friends: They’ll stick by your side for an entire, very, very long trip, keep your attention, and make the time fly by with the content of their character. Annihilation is the rare book turned movie that’s actually good in both mediums. I think the reason for that is that the movie draws from the book’s universe, but it tells its own interesting story. Having watched the movie first, I expected to go through the same events and locations in the book. That didn’t happen, not in the first entry of the trilogy, anyway. Perhaps elements of the movie are drawn from the other two entries, but I’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully I don’t buy the third entry (again), thinking it’s the second book.
At this point in life, I was reading this in the airport while waiting for my flight to London. I think I finished it on the flight before arriving at my friend’s flat.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance
I picked this up in a Salvation Army, I believe, in London. What luck, I thought to myself, since I had wanted to read it since its release. I was curious to know how this man’s insights could explain Trump and Brexit beyond what we had already heard for the past two years. I was surprised to find that the book really was a memoir, not a political science novel. It seems silly, but I was waiting for analyses and breakdowns and, until I realized that that’s not what this book was about, I couldn’t enjoy it very much. Then I sat back, enjoyed the tales of hillbillies living in the holler, of a foul-mouthed grandmother who was the family’s keystone, and I thereafter acquainted myself with an American population that I didn’t know much about. Again, it’s important to detach yourself from media narratives of those you’ve never personally met.
At this point in life, I was reading this on the beach in Barcelona, enjoying a sunny day and waiving away the African vendors offering criminally weak mojitos.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Oh man, this takes me back to JFK International Airport in New York, where a younger Bruno had just returned from the UK and was frantically trying to figure out how to send his seat deposit to George Washington University Law School. Public Wi-Fi is no fun and I’m surprised all of my accounts weren’t hacked. If you like discussing books with others, this one is a must purchase. It takes you all the way from the agricultural revolution to the modern day, and it does so through fascinating anecdotes and thought-provoking observations. It gave me and the friends I was traveling around Ecuador with conversation topics. I highly recommend this read.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I started and finished the year with classics. Brave New World was on my list for a while but I was waiting for a sale so I could purchase/download it for cheap. The sale never materialized, but I’m glad I waited to read it anyway. Some books are better enjoyed when you can relate them to other things you’ve observed or experienced for yourself. I couldn’t help but tie this book to the political left’s inclination to avoid conflict, temper disagreement, and outright censor speech. As I say time and time again on my blog, the political right has its share of issues, some of which are exactly the same as the left’s, but the left seemingly has more cultural power because of its hold on popular media, so I focus on that side. I also happen to like the left, so it’s like disciplining your child.
That does it for my reading list of 2019. Once law school started, my free time was completely eviscerated and overtaken by cases and assignments. 2020 will no doubt have the same stifling impact on my reading list, but I’ll try to fit books in where I can. Or maybe I’ll list the cases that intrigued me the most and break down their ridiculous application to modern society. As a send-off, below I will also list the essays I wrote this year. All appear on this blog and they mark my (I’d consider) successful attempt to increase my writing output, as they relate to political and cultural matters. Taken as a whole, they outline my beliefs in ways that no casual conversation of mine can ever do justice. If the articles end up only for me, then that’s fine. I will have given myself a consistent voice.
- On the Art of Comparative Suffering: a more abstract piece inspired by those who base their happiness on others’ misery. (January 26).
- The M.A.I.N Question: inspired by Google’s god-awful music app. (February 3).
- Red-Faced Northam: inspired by the political scandal of its day—Virginia’s democratic governor in blackface. (February 10).
- Purity in Context: inspired by the nascent Democratic primary elections, and the danger of purity tests. (February 17).
- Peter Buttigieg for President: inspired by my attendance at Busboys & Poets, where he was invited to speak. (February 24).
- Medicine for the News: inspired by the constant doomsayer headlines coming out of the Trump administration and the media that report it. (March 2).
- On the Safe Space: inspired by my belief that, despite its intentions, we are no better off making everything into a safe space. (March 10).
- Expiring Labels: inspired by those who feel the need to tell us all how tired they are, or how unsurprised they are at being surprised, because they’re just so tired, ya’ll. (March 17).
- Play the Game (Everybody Play the Game): inspired by the Mueller report and politicking. (April 8).
- Conservative Identity Politics: inspired by Candace Owens’ appearance in a congressional hearing. (April 16).
- Jefferson, Abridged: inspired by my visit to the Jefferson memorial. (April 28).
- The Unsinkable Donald Trump: inspired by the Trump presidency’s incredible endurance in the face of never-ending scandals and embarrassment. (May 11).
- Machines and Workers: inspired by Andrew Yang and the Universal Basic Income (UBI). (May 14).
- Lest We Forget: Biden Cannot Be Our Candidate: inspired by Joe Biden’s formal entry into the race, and his concerning lead out of the gate. (May 25).
- On Trump, Brexit, and General Discontent: an abstract piece inspired by my reading of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens. (June 23).
- The Social Construct is a Social Construct: inspired by the contradictory importance given to social constructs. (July 15).
- Indefatigable: An Optimist Reads 1984 and Brave New World: inspired by my reading of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and its connection to leftist politics. (July 28).
- Animal Crossing Life Lessons: an abstract piece inspired by my never-ending love of Animal Crossing. (August 19).
- Sound the Alarm: inspired by the conservative’s landslide win in the UK. (December 23).
- Campfire Comfort