My main theme for 2023 was religion, and Buddhism in particular, so I’ve moved those into their own section.
- Circe by Madeline Miller goodreads
- Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges goodreads
- Cold Nights of Childhood by Tezer Özlü goodreads
- The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky goodreads
- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson goodreads my review
- The Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles, new translation by Bryan Doerries goodreads
- God’s’ Dog: Monster a graphic novel by Jonathan Pageau and Matthieu Pageau goodreads
- There Is No Antimemetics Division by qntm goodreads
In our ADHD TikTok world short fiction is a godsend. I read Cold Nights of Childhood almost in one sitting and proclaimed to myself that all books should be either 100 pages or 1000 pages with nothing in-between. Reaching for short story after, I inhaled Borges’ Ficciones. Now I’ve started on Michael R Katz’ promising new translation of Brothers Karamazov but plan to work in some shorter morsels on the side.
I didn’t directly seek to read religious fiction but the theme has enriched my reading. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are obviously evangelists. But what is the theology of Miller’s Circe? Why is the source of Özlü’s heroine’s irrepressible zest for life?
My Favorite: Qntm’s There is no Antimemetics Division. Pulpy yet geniuinely novel. And we live in a time of intense conflict in both the memetic and antimemetic spheres. Likely the most underrated of the works here.
- The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire by Joseph Sassoon goodreads
- The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 by Chris Wickham goodreads
- Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell goodreads my review
- How to Be a Founder: How Entrepreneurs Can Identify, Fund and Launch Their Best Ideas by Alice Bentinck and Matt Clifford goodreads
- Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard Feynman goodreads
- Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential by Tiago Forte goodreads
How did the catholic church get so successful? People take it for granted that the church was a middle ages thing when in fact operating a vast NGO in a time of anarchy is one of the strangest things that ever happened. Why did anyone outside of Italy listen to the popes? Wickham doesn’t focus on this question but can’t help answering it (in as few words as possible: their alliance with the Carolingians in the 8th century). This is important as context for Henrich’s WEIRDest People in the World, because this is ultimately how Europe got so WEIRD. What happens when a penniless yet devout Baghdadi jew strikes it rich in Mumbai? What made it possible? What motivates his descendants? Did anybody every stop to conisder it may have been wrong to be pushing opium on China?
The Sassoons and Super-Infinite were also excellent simply at providing slices of life that remind one how huge the world is.
My Favorite: Rundell’s Super-Infinite. Those were different times indeed and yet Rundell can paint them in vivid detail. Goodreads review here.
- Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World by Tara Isabella Burton goodreads
- Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr, OFM goodreads
- The Life of St. Benedict by Gregory the Great, with translation and commentary by Terrence G. Kardong, OSB goodreads
- The Rule of Saint Benedict by Benedict of Nursia goodreads
- The Problem of God: Yesterday and Today by John Courtney Murray, SJ goodreads
- The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis by Matthieu Pageau goodreads
- Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle, SJ goodreads
- The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, SJ goodreads
Tyler Cowen has predicted that the most important thinkers of the future will be religious ones. But what does that look like? Each book here proposes a set of values and spiritual epistemics. Although I leaned heavily on Catholicism due to my background, the catholic perspectives presented here were extremely diverse.
My Favorite: Tattoos on the Heart demonstrates a value system that is clearly superior to mainstream culture’s. If we imagine that the right wants to build a big wall around the center to protect from the periphery and the left wants to burn the center to the ground, Boyle wants to bring the periphery into the center to make a greater whole. And he is ready to devote his life to it with no hope of material reward. Boyle made me deeply question my own life choices and motivations.
…but if you are skepitcal of the importance of religion, it’s worth looking at Strange Rites by Tara Isabella Burton. Responding “No religion” on a survey doesn’t actually mean a person has “no religion.”
- The Science of Enlightenment: Teachings and Meditations for Awakening Through Self-Investigation by Shinzen Young goodreads
- The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science by Culadasa goodreads
- Dependent Origination and Emptiness by Leigh Brasington goodreads
- Spaciousness: The Radical Dzogchen of the Vajra-Heart by Longchenpa, translated by Keith Dowman goodreads
- Seeing that Frees by Rob Burbea goodreads
Can we end suffering for ourselves and for all sentient beings? Buddhism says yes, and crucially, we can do it in a life-affirming way. Important if true!
In addition to these books I’ve been spending a lot of time learning both from Kati Devaney and Michael Taft at the Berkeley Alembic, and from Toby Sola via his digital sangha Brightmind. Toby and Michael were both students of Shinzen Young. Interestingly they’ve both published there own reading lists! Toby’s is here and Michael’s is here
My Favorite Young’s The Science of Enlightenment paints a compelling picture of the commonalities among the world’s mystical traditions, arguing that there’s a kind of “spiritual physics” that all traditions provide windows into.
- Pieces of the Action by Vannevar Bush goodreads
- The Pathless Path: Imagining a New Story for Work and Life by Paul Millerd goodreads
- Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey goodreads
- Free Spirited: How My Daughter Healed Me From the Afterlife by Suzanne Falter (my neighbor) goodreads
My Favorite Greenlights was great entertainment and demonstrate how far you can get with a great attitude. I listened to McConaughey narrate his own audiobook which adds an additional layer of fun.