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a new new year
last year, i contemplated performing this ritual of reflection and introspection. i didn't do it. honoring the passage of time with each new year is an act that has long held significance for me, but at the time i was too spent from a whirlwind of a year, and i let it pass unmarked.
this phase of my twenties has been a strange time. the glittering novelty of working life faded into disillusionment and drudgery, and i was left adrift. i felt—not for the first time, but perhaps the first time that it really sank into my bones—the many ways in which our world fell short of the one in which i wanted to live, and it became difficult to operate in any mode but cynicism. i wrote of one manifestation of this feeling back in 2021:
surely, i thought, the pandemic will force some fundamental shift in our way of life, how our society is organized. then, surely, millions of people taking to the streets for weeks must change some part of this system that devalues black life, that places policing rather than care at its heart. we seemingly reached the cusp of real change, meaningful change—and then what? what happened?
the seemingly inexorable march of capitalism never stopped, and i had started to lose hope that it ever would.
there's a running joke (is joke the word?) on twitter that we're all still stuck in 2020, or that we're about to begin year eight of 2016. in my own life, at least, that has felt true. 2016 is the last year i can recall feeling deeply optimistic about what the new year would bring, for me and for the world at large. since then, the fragile hopes i bore for each new year have been flattened again and again into the formless sameness of a world where time means nothing and yet somehow everything manages to keep getting worse. the future began to feel less like an unbounded space of potentiality and more like a precious resource that kept diminishing, untouched. eight years is a long time. where did it all go? how did i get here? it's hard, living in such persistently unprecedented times, to know what is the natural process of aging and what's the specific peculiarity of aging in this time.
much of the existential struggle i developed across this period of time came to a head this past year. 2022 was a year of high highs and low lows. i learned more about who i am and what i believe, the sort of hard-won knowledge that you can only gain about yourself when you are tested. i learned, or maybe relearned, just how much i'm really capable of doing when i'm not constrained. i learned that part of growing up is unlearning the truths you've come to know as an adult.
unexpectedly, i relearned what it was like to care about work. labor had come to be synonymous with exploitation for me, and severing my emotional attachment to it and disentangling it from my identity had been my own rebellion against capitalism. perhaps that's too romantic a turn of phrase, when it felt like the only way i could keep surviving.
i thought, or hoped, that not caring would protect me, keep me invulnerable. but after a few years of studiously not caring, i was drained. i had believed that indifference would be easy. but caring is what gives color to life, and spending most of my waking hours performing labor that didn't matter to me trapped me in a persistent grayness.
all that changed in the past year. once in a while, you're in the right place, at the right time. and once in a while, all of the pieces just... fall into place. when that happens, it feels startlingly close to fate. when it happened to me, i was struck by it, even as it was still coalescing around me. everything in my life has been leading up to this moment, right now.
suddenly, all of my dreams, so long abandoned that they had withered with neglect, started to come true. i was doing work that mattered to me, with people i liked and respected deeply, outside of the traditional confines of the corporate world, and we were making enough money to support ourselves—and then some.
there are few triumphs in life like truly loving what you do. to wake every day and want to wring out every drop of yourself you can give, to be creating work that feels like a total culmination of yourself and everything you represent, out in the world. working for myself made me feel alive in a way i had not felt since my first job, back when i was still confusing the wants and needs of others for my own. it offered a concreteness and a simplicity that had been obscured and abstracted through the normal workings of employment under capitalism. i did what i did each day because i wanted to do it, and because there was no one else to do it if i didn't, and because the output of my work belonged to me.
of course, it couldn't last forever. stars don't stay for long in perfect alignment. for months, i struggled to come to terms with what i felt had slipped through my fingers. but life rarely deals in absolutes, all or nothing, and even what had constituted perfection for me had not, even at its peak, been perfect. that which you love is also that which binds you. i had come to know the dualities of feeling in my core that i was meant to do the work i was doing. i pushed my body to its limits, resentful of its need to sleep a few scant hours each night. i passed weeks without stepping through my front door and feeling the sun on my face. i spent precious time, time with people i loved, largely absent, the inner workings of my mind churning furiously through ideas and problems instead of immersing myself in the happenings of our lives.
i turn twenty-eight next week. yesterday, i came across this tweet, an excerpt from joan didion's seminal essay "goodbye to all that," a work that is forever inscribed into my mind:
i'm not twenty or twenty-one or twenty-three anymore. i am no longer convinced "that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before." and i find that i no longer believe that nothing is irrevocable and everything is within reach, that none of the mistakes count. when you’re (almost) twenty-eight, you’ve begun to accumulate enough choices, successes and missteps, that you can start to see the chain reaction, dots forming a trajectory of your life.
sometimes, looking back at an accounting of it all, i’m disappointed that it doesn’t add up to quite as much as i thought it would by now. it’s not a clean narrative. i had always believed that i was a certain kind of person: decisive, confident, brilliant, glamorous, empathetic. these days, battered by the reality of going up against the world, i’m more tired and less sure.
Shame is the opposite of art. When you live inside of your shame, everything you see is inadequate and embarrassing. A lifetime of traveling and having adventures and not being tethered to long-term commitments looks empty and pathetic and foolish, through the lens of shame. You haven’t found a partner. Your face is aging. Your body will only grow weaker. Your mind is less elastic. Your time is running out. Shame turns every emotion into the manifestation of some personality flaw, every casual choice into a giant mistake, every small blunder into a moral failure. Shame means that you’re damned and you’ve accomplished nothing and it’s all downhill from here.
I’ve had to step into the light myself lately. I’ve had to admit that I was building a new haunted house out of my imagination. But my mistakes and experiences and choices brought me to this moment. They might make me sad or embarrassed or regretful, but they’re precious because they give this day its unique mood. When I drag them into the light, I feel better. This is where I can begin. Today, I have countless chances to reinvent and rework and reorder myself and my experience. You do, too. I can figure out some way to make one true connection, to do one hard thing, to savor one moment. So can you.
when you’re no longer invincible and infinite, it all starts to matter. the cost—the iron law that there is a price to pay, for everything—is what imbues it with meaning. choices have meaning. it all counts, and there are no redos, and every day that we're alive is a gift, and a curse, and a privilege.
this year, i hope to come to trust myself more. i hope to know when i need to love my work deeply, and when i need to be able to set myself free. i hope to find more balance and more quiet—in the world around me, yes, but especially in the recesses of my mind. i hope to love people for exactly who they are, knowing that a person's strengths and their flaws are often two sides of the same coin. i hope to want more for myself—and not the kind of wants manufactured for me by brands on instagram or thought leaders on twitter or microtrendsetters on tiktok, but the ones for which my soul hungers, the ones that replenish and renew me. little wants and big wants, but my own wants. i hope to think less and do more. i hope to grow stranger. i hope to get better at hoping against hope.
there's so much more i want to say, but done is better than perfect, and i promised myself that i would let more unformed thoughts and ideas into the world this year, so here they are. may you get everything you need from your 2023.
staying up late drinking wine and watching bts music videos with friends at our hotel in new orleans. i decide that my bias is v. i've never stayed somewhere this nice before, never let myself indulge this way. it feels laden with significance. everything we want feels possible, within our grasp. every day of this trip has felt like a fantasy rendered into real life—one long sleepover with caviar and ball gowns and vampire stories and speakeasies and dreams of the future. we've been working together from a distance for so long, interactions mediated through screens, and to be able to pass time this way, sprawled across beds in silk pajamas with chips and champagne, carelessly tossing ideas back and forth, feels like an impossible indulgence. the world is an oyster nestled in our palm.
tilting my head up at a sky flooding with pink at the tycho sunrise set. somehow it makes me feel new all over again, no matter how many times i do it. this year of burning man has been a strange one, and for nearly everyone else, it's been unambiguously terrible. dust storms, fucked-up roads, blistering heat, rude strangers, water pump issues. i, on the other hand, feel more at peace there than ever before. which is funny, because i didn't even want to come this year. when burning man was first canceled in 2020, it felt like a life raft. when it was canceled again the next year, i was relieved. part of me—the part of me that still hasn't fully processed the emotional trauma from the last burn—hoped, irrationally, that this year would go the same way. but i'm here. i'm back right where i was four years ago when i first stumbled across two guys in the desert with a wok and some tupperware, the magical, serendipitous experience that led me down the path of starting my own camp. i close my eyes and inhale for a moment to savor it. next to me, out of nowhere, a woman has set up a camp griddle, where she's making breakfast sandwiches. she hands one to my friend, who offers it to me. i take a bite. right now, it's the best fucking sandwich i've ever had.
talking all night with alice in ireland. we're both jetlagged, and we've failed miserably at resetting our internal clocks by immediately crashing that afternoon upon arriving at the hotel in dublin. so now it's night, and we can't sleep, and we start talking. intertwined in bed, we talk about everything. friendships, relationships, our childhoods, our parents, our dreams, our fears. it's getting late now, or, rather, early—i think it's four or five a.m., now? and we have a train to catch in the morning. i feel my mind wandering as i drift dangerously close to sleep, my lids falling. i miss having conversations like this one, i think.
blasting bangers from the rooftop pool of the house where we're staying in cartagena. it's been a fraught trip so far. my friends are frustrated with me because i've been stressed about work and unable to log off. they’re not wrong, and i don’t know how to stop. but cartagena is sunny and warm, and it's hard to stay so tightly wound. most of our trip is packed, with each day parceled out into activities to do and places to see, but this afternoon is wide open. i slip into the warm water and feel myself start to relax as mark sets up the speaker by the pool. juan pops open a bottle of sparkling wine, pours it into our glasses. it's, quite frankly, awful, but it doesn't matter—we all toast, and we all drink. warmed under the sun, kissed by the breeze, the afternoon slows to a crawl, starts to feel infinite. sometimes a vacation can be a little pocket universe outside of time.
tossing and turning in bed the night that catastrophe hits. i find myself cycling through the same thoughts again and again and again. what if, what if, what if. i can't stop restlessly turning over everything i could have done differently in my mind. if i'm honest, i've never experienced failure—have i ever even made a real mistake before, one that mattered?—and i don't know how to handle it. i know it must be late, and i should sleep, but my mind won't let me. then the first light of dawn starts to seep through our bedroom window, and i realize that it’s already morning. i get up to wash my face and brush my teeth, and looking into the mirror, i start to feel an eerie kind of calm. time to pick up the pieces and figure out what to do next.
kicking a soccer ball in the snow. i excel in so many areas—playing sports is not one. i'm not dressed for it at all, and the snow is piling up outside the brewery, but we all trudge to the parking lot and start kicking around the ball. hesitancy begins to transmute into excitement. diana throws herself into it with so much enthusiasm, and it's infectious. when a ball comes your way, you can't not feel a rush of adrenaline. it's so basic, the simplest equation, and, snow floating around us, i feel young.
spotting a stray black cat from our neighborhood curled up in the rose bush in our backyard, a few short hours after coming back from ada's euthanization. it's been a surreal morning. mark is broken, and i am more affected than i thought i'd be. leaving home that morning with our own little black cat, so much thinner and weaker and quieter than i've ever seen her, and then coming back without her is—devastating. we've seen the stray cat in that rose bush just once before, the prior day, after we realized that ada wouldn't be making a miraculous recovery, that we would have to say goodbye. i mention seeing him to a friend when i tell her about ada, choking on the words. she says, "maybe he's a cat spirit, like a guardian angel. maybe he came to watch over you for her."
watching the world cup final at pig beach in gowanus. it's closing its doors permanently in a few weeks, and the world cup is ending, and all my friends are about to leave for the holidays, and the year is nearly over, and it feels like maybe this phase of my life is drawing to a close, too. but the sun is shining, and it's brisk and beautiful, my favorite weather because it makes me feel electric. i've never watched a game of soccer before this month, but today all that matters is that argentina wins. and then a man kicks a ball into a goal one last time, and for a brief moment, everything is perfect. and i think, maybe time passes, and everything we love comes and goes, and still, in spite of that, we find joy. mythology is a kind of magic-making, too.
books of 2022
i read a lot this year! eighty-eight books, to be precise. largely in an attempt to calm my feverish mind before bed, and often failing at this goal, but, you know, i'll take it.
this year was a much less aspirational year of reading—reading for comfort, rather than reading for growth. i reread several of my all-time favorite series (which i highly recommend for absorbing more of the artistry of a book when you're not hungrily turning pages for the plot to unfold), and i ran through stacks and stacks of romance novels. here are some of my favorites.
i must be honest: the first two fiction series i have to recommend are books i have already recommended. but the final books of both series released this past year, and, with the knowledge that they concluded as stunningly as i could have possibly hoped, i am back once again to beseech you to read these books.
the green bone saga (trilogy) by fonda lee
Now, however, he felt no great relief or happiness—only the sort of heaviness that comes from wanting something for so long that the final achievement of it is a loss—because the waiting is over and the waiting has become too much a part of oneself to let go of easily.
i don't have anything more to say about this trilogy except that every single moment that you have not read it is a moment that your life is more impoverished than it could otherwise be.
the dandelion dynasty (quartet) by ken liu
This was the mortal condition, she realized. She would never know with certainty the right path; she would never experience enough to act with absolute conviction; she would never be able to eliminate all suffering. All she could do was to act in the here and now, to live and die for love, to fight and battle for friendship, to trust in a conscience that was never perfect but capable of being perfected, to scintillate in the bright light of winter on the frozen beach suspended between the eternal ocean and the inconstant land for the brief instant allotted to us all.
i can now report that ken liu (as i expected) did not fail me! he absolutely stuck the landing on this series, and it's easily one of my all-time favorites. his particular skill has always been conveying the ineffable—the indescribable feelings and experiences that make up the tapestry of life, society, family, and so on. please, please read this series.
tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow by gabrielle zevin
“What is a game?” Marx said. “It’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. It’s the possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption. The idea that if you keep playing, you could win. No loss is permanent, because nothing is permanent, ever.”
i read this book in the last few days of 2022, and it rose right to the top of this list. it stirred me, deeply, and left me with a kind of soft-edged sadness about the transience of life, mono no aware. at the most surface level, it's a story about friends who make games together, but it's also a story about storytelling, disability, ambition, love, and creating art with friends, which hit in a new way this year. it took me a long time to pick up this book because i had no idea what to expect, and now i understand why—i don't know how to put the experience of reading it into words. but it's just beautifully, brilliantly done, and i can't remember the last time i read a book that felt this vivid and real.
the founders trilogy (trilogy) by robert jackson bennett
what i've always loved most about the founders trilogy is that it defies genres. it's a deeply satisfyingly fresh blend of fantasy and sci-fi, with cyberpunk aesthetics and philosophies woven into a world of industrialized magic. it’s a story about power and how that can be abused, innovation and what tradeoffs that produces, and much more. the series wrapped nicely this past year with one last heist, one last (and biggest) mission against all odds.
the overstory by richard powers
for a long time, i postponed reading the overstory because, frankly, i expected a book about trees to be boring. i'm grateful i finally gave it a pass because it's an ambitious novel, structurally (the story takes the format of the life cycle of a tree) and topically (nine people from starkly different backgrounds cross unlikely paths under environmental activism), and i think it succeeds.
the atlas (trilogy) by olivie blake
the last book isn't out yet, but i had a lot of fun with the first two! it's yet another series about young magicians in an academic setting, but this one captured my interest in large part because what makes the books interesting isn't the magic or the plot at all. in fact, the crux of the plot is probably one of the more convoluted parts of the first novel, but it also creates rich character studies and interesting thought experiments.
a league of extraordinary women (series) by evie dunmore
okay, so the whole premise of this series is suffragists in 1800s england meeting men of varying noble titles and falling in love. each book follows a different suffragist/nobleman romance. is it an earth-shattering manifesto on feminism? no. is it fun and funny and fluffy? absolutely.
the flatshare by beth o'leary
one of the better romance novels i read this past year. i didn't expect to like this one—the premise is deeply contrived (a love story that emerges out of two people who have to share a bed, just at different times!), but it was both sweet and somber.
lessons in chemistry by bonnie garmus
i didn't always like this book, and it's not perfect, particularly as a work of historical fiction that feels notably ahistorical. but it was original, with a complex woman in science at the heart of the story and an unconventional route for her life story.
the big oyster by mark kurlansky
Of the many odd things about New Yorkers, there is this: How is it that a people living in the world’s greatest port, a city with no neighborhood that is far from a waterfront, a city whose location was chosen because of the sea, where the great cargo ships and tankers, mighty little tugs, yachts, and harbor patrol boats glide by, has lost all connection with the sea, almost forgotten that the sea is there? New Yorkers have lost their oyster, their taste of the sea.
weirdly, the best nonfiction book i read this year. i can't explain it, but this book was gripping. i think i randomly saw someone on twitter mention it and decided to check it out, and it was nothing short of fascinating. it had the specific energy of randomly chatting with a stranger in new york city who you realize happens to know everything about oysters and clearly finds the backstory so interesting that you can’t help but find it interesting, too. local histories are the best histories.
games by c. thi nguyen
Fiction is the crystallization of telling people about what happened; visual arts are the crystallization of looking around and seeing; music is the crystallization of listening. Games, I claim, are the crystallization of practicality. Aesthetic experiences of action are natural and occur outside of games all the time. Fixing a broken car engine, figuring out a math proof, managing a corporation, even getting into a bar fight—each can have its own particular interest and beauty. These include the satisfaction of finding an elegant solution to an administrative problem, of dodging perfectly around an unexpected obstacle. These experiences are wonderful—but in the wild, they are far too rare. Games can concentrate those experiences. When we design games, we can sculpt the shape of the activity to make beautiful action more likely. And games can intensify and refine those aesthetic qualities, just as a painting can intensify and refine the aesthetic qualities we find in the natural sights and sounds of the world.
this book shaped how i understand and conceptualize games on a theoretical level. nguyen makes a series of compelling arguments about exactly what a game is and what makes it uniquely compelling as an art form, and i was fully sold.
everything i need i get from you by kaitlyn tiffany
Infatuation is irrational but it can be a precursor to introspection. The experience of bodily joy is an invitation to reconsider the conditions that hold you away from it most of the time. Screaming at pop music is not direct action, and screaming does not make a person a revolutionary, or even resistant, but what screaming can and does do is punctuate prolonged periods of silence.
i spent much of 2021 falling into one specific fandom (see: mdzs, which i discuss later) and developing a fascination with fandoms as a whole. this book is a well-done deep dive into fandom as cultural phenomenon, through the lens of the much-maligned fangirl. plus, i live for niche internet lore, and i learned a lot about the intricacies of the 1d fandom, of which tiffany is a member.
what’s in, what’s out
okay, here's one more indulgence for this already unreasonably lengthy missive because making these lists is fun. granted, i have many more opinions about what's "in" for me this year than "out" (out: basing your personality on what you don't like?).
in for 2023
kitschy retro glam
road trips with no itinerary
reading nonfiction before bed
amari and aperitifs
crispy-skinned fish on the bone
indie games on steam
traveling by train to small towns within the country
uninstagrammable dinner parties
making art with friends for fun
dollar oyster happy hour
getting nine hours of sleep
going to a friend's unplanned to drink wine and gossip
late nights at jazz clubs
over-the-top birthday celebrations
cooking through cookbooks
sharing works in progress
doing without thinking
out for 2023
saving for retirement
big-budget blockbuster media
bonus round: books of 2021
looking back on my drafts, i discovered that i had in fact written a list of books for 2021 and never completed it. so in the interest of sharing works in progress, why not let it see the light of day now?
it's unedited from when i first drafted it last january. i didn't write blurbs for any of the nonfiction books, and i don't feel like doing it now, but thanks to my habitual information-sorting, i have highlights for each one, so i've included those excerpts only for them.
the grandmaster of demonic cultivation (魔道祖师) by mo xiang tong xiu (墨香铜臭)
unpredictably, this chinese web novel, more than any other book, defined 2021 for me. a friend recommended it nearly a year prior to when i started reading it, and i resisted getting into it because i didn't think i would like it. i was extremely wrong! on top of that, i had been spending a lot of time learning about and exploring how fandoms across the internet had evolved in the past decade, and there is no fandom quite like mdzs (the abbreviation for mo dao zu shi, the chinese title of the book).
the novel is a multi-decade fantasy epic that could be described as a supernatural murder-mystery meets a classic tale of wuxia-style politics meets a uniquely captivating love story. it could also be described this way. mo xiang tong xiu (mxtx) covers themes like the perils of concentrated power, the moral complexities in finding justice, the cost of not conforming to societal norms, and the many different paths that love (romantic, platonic, and familial) can take. mdzs has now been adapted to a manhua, a donghua, an audio drama, and a wildly popular live-action show called the untamed, which recently crossed 10 billion views on tencent alone.
it's perhaps the most visible indicator of how popular danmei (the chinese equivalent of yaoi, or a genre that depicts romantic relationships between male characters) has become in china. danmei as a whole is a complicated, fraught topic for many reasons, and i have a lot of thoughts about it, but that might have to wait for a future newsletter—suffice to say, i was pulled into this story four months ago, finished it in two days, and have yet to extricate myself from it.
the dispossessed by ursula le guin
it's difficult to believe that this book was written in 1974; it still feels so timely and so relevant. le guin explores the idea of an "ambiguous utopia" with an anarcho-syndicalist colony on the moon, and she does a beautiful job of imagining and illustrating what a radically different society might look like without shying away from the more complex implications. progress is often nonlinear, and all choices have tradeoffs, and this novel captures that feeling without diluting its ideological stances.
vagabonds by hao jingfang
i read this book not long after the dispossessed, and the similarities really struck me. like the dispossessed, vagabonds is a story of contrasts between two kinds of states, one hypercapitalist and one collectivist, with an interplanetary bent (in this case, earth and mars, respectively). but despite many surface-level similarities in plot, the story feels texturally distinct in that way that chinese sci-fi often does to me—it's ultimately a slow, thoughtful, carefully deliberated exploration of different political ideas, how they develop and morph and collide with each other when they take root in people's minds, and what kinds of interpersonal and societal dynamics emerge from that.
the poppy war (trilogy) by r.f. kuang
this military fantasy epic based loosely on twentieth-century china was both easy and hard to read; i flew through the trilogy, but it was pretty brutal at times, as any book that draws from the history of the second sino-japanese war tends to be. still, i really enjoyed the richness of the worldbuilding, the creativity of the system of magic, and the complexity of many of the characters—the genre of "war is grim" can get pretty tired, but kuang weaves a fresh narrative out of it.
the ministry for the future by kim stanley robinson
many, many people recommended this novel, a near-future hypothetical on navigating toward a global response to the climate crisis, told from many different perspectives. i really enjoyed it, particularly the first half—that part is mostly a painful slog toward a consensus that will seemingly never be reached, but that really rang true to me. it painted a vivid picture of what the next few decades will likely be like, and the constantly stalling plot was both plausible and well-written. the later chapters, for me, start to spiral as robinson writes toward a solution that's clearly intended to leave us on a hopeful, optimistic note—but just doesn't feel realistic, either to the real world or the earlier parts of the story. despite all of that, i liked the book! near-future sci-fi is a hard setting to sell, and i think robinson did a pretty admirable job.
patternist (series) by octavia butler
octavia butler is so, so good. i've read most of her better-known works at this point, and the patternist series is still a standout in a lot of ways. the story stretches over generations but centers around a cruel and ultimately successful struggle to create (by force) a new race of networked telepaths. it unwinds in creative and unpredictable ways; so much of the storytelling and the plot feels so fresh even now. as usual, butler delves into a lot of complex themes around power, agency, and freedom, and it is gut-wrenching to read.
heaven official's blessing (天官赐福) by mo xiang tong xiu (墨香铜臭)
the first mxtx book i read! it happens to be her most recent as well, and it is sprawling, with a word count of over a million. like mdzs, it's a danmei xianxia novel, though this one is even more high-fantasy—the protagonist is xie lian, a forgotten god with terrible luck and an unwaveringly good nature, and the story follows him through earth, heaven, and the ghost realm, as he accidentally uncovers scandals and lost histories on his path to work his way back up the ranks of the gods. though some of the characters were much more richly written than others, the story as a whole is really cleverly done, with countless plot twists interspersed with humor and tragedy and fluff. i don't think i've ever both laughed and cried in the course of reading a book before this one.
free food for millionaires by min jin lee
lee made my list last year with pachinko, and she made it again this year with her much earlier work, free food for millionaires. of all the authors i've read, she stands out in her ability to capture flawed characters and, in particular, flawed families. this book, like pachinko, elicited many familiar pangs of sorrow for that which can't be helped in life—irreparable breaks and misunderstandings between people who love each other, the inexorable pull of power and wealth (juxtaposed against the struggle to stay afloat), proximity to whiteness and what that brings, and so on. there are some weaker moments in this book compared to pachinko, but her touch is still unmissable.
the expanse (series) by james s.a. corey
i watched a few episodes of the tv show adaptation and never got into it, but then i came across this series, and i flew through it. it's fun! i always love a sprawling space opera, and this one had some really interesting twists (body horror!) that made it feel novel. though there are a lot of big, serious issues in this universe, the protagonists are so optimistic (and so lucky—that plot armor...) that the tone of the series tends more toward hopeful and reassuring than dark. this series might be my top rec if you're looking to go deep into a long-running, easy-to-read sci-fi adventure.
xenogenesis (trilogy) by octavia butler
another spectacular, brilliant series, this time about an alien civilization that arrives on post-apocalyptic earth to merge genetically with humans. butler is so skilled at creating settings and scenarios that feel so new and teasing apart the dynamics within them in ways that are disturbing and uncomfortable and so, so thought-provoking. what's right? what's wrong? she renders many of these kinds of questions meaningless, or at least incomprehensible.
the song of achilles by madeline miller
miller is a great writer, and the song of achilles is a heartrending take on greek hero achilles. from pretty much the beginning, the story prophesies doom for achilles, and so that becomes a constant undercurrent pulsing through the novel. unexpectedly, more than just a story of war and glory, it's a story of love, with some thoughtful explorations of masculinity and heroism as concepts.
beach read by emily henry
this book is exactly what it claims to be, a perfect beach read, and it was great. two authors (one fluffy romance novelist and one grimly serious writer of literary fiction) with a long-running grudge find themselves staying at neighboring houses in a small town for the summer, they start out at odds with each other, and... you know the drill, they fall in love. it's an ideal feel-good rom-com book, and sometimes—especially these past few years—that's exactly what you need.
debt by david graeber
In fact, our standard account of monetary history is precisely backwards. We did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around. What we now call virtual money came first. Coins came much later, and their use spread only unevenly, never completely replacing credit systems. Barter, in turn, appears to be largely a kind of accidental byproduct of the use of coinage or paper money: historically, it has mainly been what people who are used to cash transactions do when for one reason or another they have no access to currency.
seeing like a state by james c. scott
How did the state gradually get a handle on its subjects and their environment? Suddenly, processes as disparate as the creation of permanent last names, the standardization of weights and measures, the establishment of cadastral surveys and population registers, the invention of freehold tenure, the standardization of language and legal discourse, the design of cities, and the organization of transportation seemed comprehensible as attempts at legibility and simplification.
bullshit jobs by david graeber
We need to ask ourselves, not just how did such a large proportion of our workforce find themselves laboring at tasks that they themselves consider pointless, but also why do so many people believe this state of affairs to be normal, inevitable—even desirable? More oddly still, why, despite the fact that they hold these opinions in the abstract, and even believe that it is entirely appropriate that those who labor at pointless jobs should be paid more and receive more honor and recognition than those who do something they consider to be useful, do they nonetheless find themselves depressed and miserable if they themselves end up in positions where they are being paid to do nothing, or nothing that they feel benefits others in any way?
the culture of narcissism by christopher lasch
Plagued by anxiety, depression, vague discontents, a sense of inner emptiness, the “psychological man” of the twentieth century seeks neither individual self-aggrandizement nor spiritual transcendence but peace of mind, under conditions that increasingly militate against it.
all about love by bell hooks
To begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility. We are often taught we have no control over our “feelings.” Yet most of us accept that we choose our actions, that intention and will inform what we do. We also accept that our actions have consequences.
braiding sweetgrass by robin wall kimmerer
For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.
the society of the spectacle by guy dubord
The present stage, in which social life is completely taken over by the accumulated products of the economy, entails a generalized shift from having to appearing: all effective “having” must now derive both its immediate prestige and its ultimate raison d’être from appearances.
the assassination of fred hampton by jeffrey haas
Looking back on history, it’s not so clear that you can’t kill a revolution or a movement if you assassinate its leaders. It’s unlikely the Chinese Revolution would have succeeded with Mao dead, or that the Vietnamese would have obtained their independence without Ho Chi Minh. The latter continued successfully after Ho died, but only after he had put in forty-six years of organizing and fighting.
the utopia of rules by david graeber
Yet the fact remains the United States is—and for a well over a century has been—a profoundly bureaucratic society. The reason it is so easy to overlook is because most American bureaucratic habits and sensibilities—from the clothing to the language to the design of forms and offices—emerged from the private sector.
press reset by jason schreier
“But the reality of the games business is, there are four endgames: You go public, which nobody does. You survive for decades like Valve. You get acquired. Or you go out of business.”
thank you, truly, for reading. i don’t take your time for granted.
my intent is to pick up a few of the projects that i’ve neglected the last few years, like writing and hosting events. which is to say: the dream machine (this newsletter) and irl society (the event series i ran back in san francisco) are coming out of hiatus, and you should subscribe if you’d like to stay posted!
as always, responses are my single favorite part about sharing to this newsletter, so if anything sparks a thought for you, i would love to hear it.