- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
- Human Scale Revisited: A New Look at the Classic Case for a Decentralist Future by Kirkpatrick Sale
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Finished in 2020
These are books I started before 2020 but finished this year. Some of them had quite a bit left and some were quick finishes
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
Read in 2020
- Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman
- The Wisdom of Insecurity by Allen Watts
- Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
This book spoke directly to my desire for a healthier relationship with food and improved connection with my own body. I still struggle with this as a practice, but combining calorie tracking in Lose It! with an improved sense of
How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
This book was such a surprise. I had heard Odell on The Ezra Klein Show and knew the basics of what this book was about, but the political and ethical philosophy that the book turns on once it moves beyond the relatively simple point of simply opting not to engage with the attention economy really resonates with my personal individualist streak.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig
I can’t believe it took me until I was almost 40 years old to read this for the first time. I have heard people say many times that the book has very little to do with motorcycles, but I still couldn’t really get my interest up to read it. I’m not sure what got me interested in it this year, but I wish I had read this in my teens or twenties. So much of this book resonates with perspectives that I have long held, dating back to my first reading of The Fountainhead in high school.
How Emotions Are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett
This book significantly reshaped my relationship to my own mind and body. That sounds like an overstatement, but it’s absolutely true. Understanding how our brains bucket our physical experiences based on established categories was a revolutionary thought technology for me. Here’s one example: At the time I was reading this book, I had previously experienced a peculiar sensation in my body that I had had a hard time pinpointing. It was a strange feeling that manifested mostly in my forearms and hands and felt kind of like a distancing, as though my hands were approximately 50% farther from my shoulders as they normally are. At various points, I had thought it was related to caffeine consumption or even anxiety. But thanks to Barret’s concept of a body budget and the idea that we can easily misconstrue our physical sensations, I began thinking more critically about this. Long story short, I determined this was essentially chronic dehydration. As a result, I have begun drinking a lot more water and tracking my consumption. I no longer experience this sensation nearly as often, and more importantly, when I do, I experience it as an indication that I need to drink water, a new conceptual bucket to funnel these body budget experiences into.
Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers written and narrated by Nick Offerman
A fun read that gives a brief survey of the life and career of a wide variety of folks that Offerman admires. Shortly after I had heard a similar sentiment on the Ten Percent Happier podcast, I read Offerman quote Wendell Berry saying, “The programs of optimism and pessimism are cop-outs because you’re taking the responsibility off of yourself to keep trying,” and as the guest on the TPH episode said, offered as a replacement a program of hope, to know what needs doing and to get about doing it, all the while not knowing for sure which way the ball will bounce.
- The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason by the boys of Chapo Trap House
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll
I started keeping a bullet journal this year as a way to reduce my screen time and have a more tactile connection to the process of conducting my life, planning and tracking how I spend my time, and holding myself accountable to the behaviors I consider important. One of the things I have come to realize in the last couple of years is that for the most part, I have relatively few tasks to track for myself, and something like OmniFocus is just too complex for my basic needs. For the most part, I don’t need to track tasks at work because almost all of it happens in a collaboration system of some sort: Basecamp, GitHub, or JIRA, and all I need to do is make sure I check in with those systems on a regular basis. Personally, most of what I need to do happens on a routine basis and what doesn’t can mostly be tracked in a simple list and maybe a bullet journal collection for more complex projects, which honestly are much fewer and farther between than I used to imagine.
The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton
This is a fascinating look at why, for a country with sovereign currency, the idea that a government spends only what it can tax or borrow, is wrongheaded, how budget surpluses actually hurt the bottom line of the citizenry, and how focusing on budget deficits instead of inflation as a reflection of the capacity of our country’s real resources causes our economy to operate below full capacity.
Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals by Robert Pirsig
This is the second of two books that Pirsig ever wrote. As with Zen, it is a novelistic autobiographical novel, but it systematizes the concept of morality at various levels of complexity and abstraction from biological to societal and beyond. The most interesting thing here for me was Pirsig’s description of “insanity” as an aberrant departure from what everyone else agrees is the nature of reality, but without acquiescing that the “insane” are experiencing something that is objectively not real; it’s just differently real to them because they are perceiving the same reality differently or from a different point of view. I don’t think I will return to this book as much as I will Zen but it’s fascinating that 17 years after publishing Zen, Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality matured into this larger conceptual framework.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value Of Work by Matthew B. Crawford
This book is a heady but down-to-earth discussion of the value of manual trades. Personally, I don’t intend to leave my work slinging bits into configurations that make computers do useful things for being a mechanic or electrician or builder, but this book has helped me reassert the value of building software as a craft. Specifically, the objective aspects of software combined with the community of shared tasks and values alongside one’s fellow software developers and the subjective attributes of software that make for quality code such as clarity and elegance resonate strongly with how I think about not only the software I make but why its important for me to make software within the software development community.
Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction by Gary Rogowski
Rogowski thoroughly resists my impatience that he get to the point. Through a meandering exploration of his own journey in the world broadly but into woodworking in particular, Rogowski shares lessons and perspectives in the way you learn from the stories of a father figure, the kind that you only recognize in hindsight, with any luck with time remaining to tell them that you eventually did learn something.
The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming An Individual In An Age Of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford
Crawford’s writing in Beyond is a philosophical outgrowth of his work in Shop Craft. Crawford builds on the foundation he established in the first book with an epistemological treatise of how we come to understand ourselves as individuals by way of our interactions with the physical world, including other people, and also in pursuing knowledge and expertise within an attentional context that frames our successes and failures.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
I actually picked this up from our bookshelf where it had lain for several months after Ann Margaret purchased it at our local independent bookshop cooperative. Having finished all of the physical books I had purchased, I picked it up and was immediately engrossed. Pollan’s ability to popularize an ecological way of thinking about the world is unparalleled. This was a perfect volume to include in my year of connection.
The chapter about Polyface Farms reminded me very much of The Biggest Little Farm, a film that Ann Margaret and I really enjoyed when we saw it in 2019, and I have begun seeking out more of these kinds of sources of food. Recently, this has led to us buying milk from a local dairy, but I expect this to continue to become more central to our food sourcing practice. I find certain parts of Joel Salatin’s philosophy really attractive; I don’t personally identify with two-thirds of his “Christian libertarian environmentalist” politics, but reading about his and his father’s beliefs and practices, I think they could just as easily be classified as anticapitalist and anarchist.
As a work of staggering curiosity and cogent explication of the number of connections involved in our food chain, whether a small number for the industrialized food chain that lead mostly back to just a couple of monoculture crops and an ultimate dependence on fossil fuels or the dizzying, defiant ouroboros of myriad cyclical connections found on Polyface Farms, Pollan delivers a sober survey of the options available to us for feeding ourselves and the various incentives of those who stand to benefit from our choices.
Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek H. Murthi
This was a no-brainer to read as soon as it was available. Murthi outlines much of what I already knew about loneliness and isolation but does add to it quite a bit of other implications as well. I do wish this book were a little more direct about ways to discover and cultivate more connections, especially for folks in middle age. This continues to be something I will seek out, especially once we are on the back side of this pandemic.