The books I read in 2021

Not a terribly long list this year but I went back to pick up some previous reads that I'd tried and failed to get through, so I’ll take it. In alphabetical order:

  • Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991, by Eric Hobsbawm
  • A Children’s Bible, by Lydia Millet
  • Death in Her Hands, by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Expressive Design Systems, by Yesenia Perez-Cruz
  • Filthy Animals, by Brandon Taylor
  • Foundation and Empire, by Isaac Asimov
  • Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America, by Alec MacGillis
  • Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
  • Intimacies, by Katie Kitamura
  • No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood
  • The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
  • The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by Alex Ross
  • Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, by James C. Scott
  • Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, by Mike Isaac

Notes

  • A Children’s Bible is so beautiful, and so bleak. Dramatizing climate change strikes me as something that's quite hard to do, but by turning it into a parable about parents and children, Lydia Millet focuses what would otherwise be free-floating anxiety into a terse, brutal narrative. I read it early in the year and while the plot hasn't really stuck with me, the mood remains incredibly vivid.
  • After saying I didn't really dig Foundation last year, I read the second book in the series anyway, Foundation and Empire. It's modestly better, with, you know, some actual characters. Will I keep reading this series I claim not to like despite myself? Stay tuned!
  • The Pale King has an understandable reputation for being somewhat impenetrable but once I got into it I was so hooked. The current cultural consensus on David Foster Wallace seems to run from eye-rolls to outright condemnation, all of which I get. But the work: it still sings.
  • The central idea of Seeing Like a State — that technocratic authorities wind up distorting the communities they're meant to serve through over-determined metrics — explains so much about contemporary social dysfunction at every level. But the book is simply too long and trots out too many repetitive examples to prove the point. Good stuff in the home stretch about metis vs. techne, and the need to respect local knowledge and craft practices over abstract expertise.