THE ANNUAL GOOD BOOKS LIST 2022
4 MIN READ
I’m writing this list in Fall because Fall reminds me of living in rural Northwest Ohio. The weather would start to get brisk around this time of year and there would be a steep change in sunset times. In Bowling Green, Ohio, the small college town I lived in, there was a coffeeshop/bookstore in the quaint downtown called Grounds for Thought. I remember the musty smell of the books mixed with the fall air and over-roasted coffee. The chairs weren’t comfortable but it was the best spot to study at. You might gather there with a few friends to hang out or you might find a new book and read through half of it in an afternoon aided by endless mugs of cheap coffee.
Most of these books weren’t written in 2022 rather they’re the best ones I read in 2022.
Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
I read Bourdain’s most famous book Kitchen Confidential years ago and enjoyed it. Reckless, punk rock, anarchist, yet with a drive for excellence. In Medium Raw Bourdain assumes a slightly (not much) more serious tone as he details three things he’s trying to come to grips with: his perfectionism, his success, and becoming a father. I’ve been dealing with all of these things recently so it was nice to have some camaraderie there.
Perfectionism is a bitch because it does produce a lot of great external results albeit at a cost. Few people understand this unless they’ve lived it. There are mostly two camps of people - those that sit on the sidelines, extol the virtues of a “stress free”, “authentic” life, and never realize their God given potential. On the other side are the hardasses that tout workaholism and insomnia as signs of a life well lived. I still fail to see the usefulness of the former viewpoint but I see that the latter isn’t the whole answer. In the book, Bourdain acknowledges that his perfectionism got him to where he was but that he was working towards dialing it down to a more sustainable level.
Just as one grows out of Dark Side of the Moon and begins to prefer Meddle as an adult, there is a stage in life where Medium Raw hits harder than Kitchen Confidential.
The Myth of Normal by Gabor Maté
Finally in 2022 it seems like most people admit that society is not collectively well, mentally speaking. Maté points out that we are worshipping fake gods. Most of the highest held values in culture are detrimental and often times responses to trauma. Furthermore, the link between these common yet maladaptive behaviors often causes chronic disease. I was extremely skeptical of this last claim, but after reading The Body Keeps the Score and digging into the research cited in Maté’s book, I see that there is incontrovertible evidence that this the clearest understanding of how things are. The link between trauma response is so strong that in some studies psychological assessments of individuals can reliably predict whether or not someone will get cancer later in life.
VALIS by Phillip K. Dick
It’s hard to say what the plot of VALIS is. It’s sci-fi. It’s semi-autobiographical (Dick’s self-insert character is named Horselover Fat). Perhaps most importantly it outlines Dick’s understanding of God. The book is sort of a pink cloud that permeates you and intersects your mind with Fat’s way of being and experiencing while you read it. It’ll hang around you for a while after you finish reading it.
PKD is such a compelling author to me because he had a mental health affliction, likely schizophrenia, but he didn’t “struggle” with it. He just kind of lived in his own way and that worked out for him. Embracing that neurodivergence instead of trying to fit into a box is what being an artist used to be about (now it’s almost entirely about box fitting, the boxes just come in a lot more shapes and colors than they used to).
Anyone who’s mentally “different” will appreciate this and probably identify with a lot of it - or at least be familiar with the paths that Horselover Fat’s mind has walked down, I sure did.
The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul
This is an extremely difficult read. Ellul’s writing style does not dumb down the content at all, nor is it puffery. The language is necessarily as complex as it needs to be to represent the ideas being delicately handled. In an age of people that write like idiots, the composition alone is refreshing.
The ideas discussed are not necessarily about technology despite the title but about what Ellul calls “technique”. Technique, in Ellul’s definition, is a way of doing a process to achieve a result. Broadly speaking, this could be the way a corporation is structured or the way a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is made. Usually efficiency is key in this drive which is something I am trying to unlearn. If you are partial to McLuhanesque thinking, Ellul is writing about the raw essence of that line of inquiry and the implications it has for our modes of existing in industrial society and its future.
These are my picks for 2022. In 2023 I would like to read more fiction so please send your (well considered) recommendations my way.