The author seeks the definition of narcissism, which is nebulous. The word comes from a myth and was coined as a clinical term by Freud, who defined it in one way, and since then, as the idea of "narcissism" has passed through the minds of other researchers, and now the internet, it has shifted, a warped mirror reflecting our individual and cultural fears back to us, making the faces of others seem merely masks for malevolence. There is a new industry thriving in the narcisphere, an online haven where one finds support in rationalizing abuse and rejection as the inherent inhumanity behind the fake eyes of whomever we feel hurt by — we are reassured the "narcs" are feeding off of our inherent goodness, our "empathic" tendencies — we fall for the easy villain/victim narrative that is so comforting — we lose hundreds of dollars to be fed a caricature of a narrative. As with all things, there are fewer easy answers and more nuance than we generally care to acknowledge. Dombek has explored the nuance of "narcissism" about as thoroughly and concisely as anyone might.
I finished this book in one sitting, yet I'm not entirely sure I could have picked it back up if I had to put it down for more than a few minutes. It is a very meta fictionalized memoir, examining through itself what it means to write a fictionalized memoir at all. It flows organically, not unstructured but unstrict, burbling generously in tangential rivulets that are never out of place or meandering in the mobius stream of consciousness that Browning has somehow captured, wrapped up prettily, and presented to the world. One can only sit in awe of the emotional largesse. I feel she has put a firefly fragment of her own soul in a metaphorical jar and entrusted it to us, and I am deeply grateful for the experience.
A conclusion to the story begun with An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green manages to be incredibly optimistic about humanity and our ability to help each other while also looking realistically at obstacles we face — through a weird alien lens, but still. There is so much emotional honesty in this book. I chose it as my top book of 2020 because it gave me more laughter and actual hope than almost any other media I've encountered this year, while also moving me to tears.
Small Gods is one of Terry Pratchett's best stand-alone Discworld novels. We learn the origin and personality of the Great God Om, his reformist disciple Brutha, and the institution of the Omnian Church, which has developed most of its practices while Om was... Distracted. Pratchett's satire is even more cutting than usual, and Small Gods is laugh-ou-loud funny while making some serious moral points and illustrating certain character archetypes so brilliantly that they'll haunt you as you run into flashes of them in real people.
Intrepid reporter Talia Lavin, a young Jewish woman, goes undercover in white supremacist circles online. She lifts the rock and reveals all the insects beneath. She shows that one does not need to be neutral to do excellent investigative journalism — the people she is exposing all wanted her dead even before she wrote the book. We cannot expect neutrality from people reporting on fascism and bigotry. Lavin also has a poetic quality to her prose that makes some horrible content considerably more palatable.
In this debut novel, Lindsay Ellis takes us back to 2007 and also gives us first contact with sentient alien life. This is smart and interesting and unexpected science fiction. Ellis avoids most tropes, leaning into and personalizing the few she keeps. The deeply "2007" ambiance is nostalgic and entertaining.
This is an excellent, concise resource for persuading the unconvinced and assisting those who "would if they knew how".
This is a gorgeously illustrated, incredibly imaginative children's book. The characters are diverse and beautifully kind to each other. Kids and adults alike will fall in love with this soft, dreamy world of tea dragons.
This book is a thoroughly researched history of human "badness". Evans takes a clear-eyed look at all the things we love to prohibit each other from enjoying. He tries some of it out on himself, for science, and provides guides for those who might like to follow in his footsteps, though he doesn't necessarily encourage anyone to do so. Evans uses a Vonnegut passage from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater as a prayer when he tries Amanita muscaria ("There's only one rule that I know of, babies--: God damn it, you've got to be kind.") This delighted me perhaps excessively, but is I believe representative of his whole vision with the book; his look at human "vice" is one of the most generous, friendly, and truly informative that I have ever come across.
These essays, written in 2013 and 2014 and mostly published in Al Jazeera, are uncomfortably prescient, in hindsight. Kendzior is very insightful and incisive. A must-read for anyone who wants to know how we got to where we are.
This book is just precious. I loved Sophie and her journey, and the ending was quite touching.
This is a deeply engaging historical courtroom drama, a subgenre that may have been invented by the authors with their previous collaboration, Lincoln's Last Trial. This book is just as well-researched and arguably more entertaining; every piece of Roosevelt's testimony showcases his character, and he was a clever, charismatic ham. In this case, former boss of the New York Republican party William Barnes was suing him for libel, and the whole procedure became a thoroughly-documented spectacle. Roosevelt tried to prove his claim that Barnes was corrupt and contributing to the partisan demise of American democracy. This book manages to have a laser focus and still illustrate the gestalt of the era, and also give us a glimpse of certain aspects of our potential future.
This is the story of Kelp, a land narwhal— or a sea unicorn? Kelp is caught between two very good worlds— which will he choose?? This story of self discovery is beautifully, adorably illustrated. A treasure!
Grimly amusing. Probably good for teens with too-high expectations. Might make you feel less alone— or more alone. This is a rather strange little book...
This book has deeply influenced me, in fact it has almost certainly shaped a large part of how I view reality, and love, and The Great God Pan. Our beloved protagonists trip their way to some kind of immortality and learn many things along the way... Such as the intensity of beets.
This book is a compilation of thoughtful, funny, and strange vignettes taken from the life of the author. George Watsky is a poet, lyricist, musician, rapper…
When you boil it down, he is really just a poet, and an incredible one. This book is full of clever, flowy prose; even when he isn’t rhyming, his words pack a bit of a punch. I would recommend this book to teenagers (maybe older teens) and adults.
Surprisingly readable, this history of the Nazi party is an enlightening warning. Fascist parties do not rise out of any genius or inevitability; they rise because there is little or poorly organized opposition. Social instability is their breeding ground. The best way to prevent them is to organize against instability. This book clarifies so much.
This book was recommended to me by an amazing woman named Athena. We discussed grief and she showed me some of Prechtel's lectures, and I later got the book here. It is a deeply profound guide to navigating grief, and perhaps something of a rebuke of contemporary American society, which does not understand grief and makes no room for it. Prechtel explains beautifully that grief must be tended with praise; one would not grieve what was not praiseworthy, so they are inextricably linked. Please read this book.
Meticulously researched, this book reads like a courtroom drama; you could forget that it's a true story. Abrams gives us a look at who Lincoln was before the presidency and the war, and he was a deeply fascinating person.
This book is a delightful, well-researched romp through history, with hefty doses of psychology, chemistry, and humor. Raden tells us about Dutch glass, wampum, and the Faberge legacy, as well as diving deep into the composition and structure of stones such as diamonds, emeralds, and pearls (which are not, in fact, stones). Full of fun facts, this book has given me lots of conversation fodder!
There are jobs that exist for no reason other than to employ someone. Jobs that are ultimately useless and unfulfilling. Graeber examines this phenomenon thoroughly and with his usual candor. He argues that these useless jobs are a product of a “morality” gone haywire: in our learned revulsion for idleness, we have created a system that steals unnecessary time, to “prove” that the person whose time is stolen has value.
A well-written and fascinating look at the birth and early growth of Los Angeles. Krist looks at William Mullholland, a key figure in the history of water engineering (without which LA could not exist); DW Griffith, who gave us Hollywood in many ways; and Aimee Semple McPherson, who was central to a “spiritual boom”. All three helped create what we now know as LA from literally nothing.
This is a wild ride of a book. Dark, funny, deep. The Lovecraftian horrors don't even begin to scratch the surface of true fear; Ruff reminds us of what is truly scary, and also gives us a magnificent cast of characters to face down those terrors. The book is being adapted by HBO and is set to premiere soon; Jordan Peele is a Producer. Read the book first so you can say that you did!
Michael Pollan is a very good writer, as evidenced by his whole body of work, but I think How to Change Your Mind is his masterpiece. I am so grateful for his honesty about his experiences, and for his meticulous research. I have heard many people talk about their experiences with psychadelics, but none have done them for the first time as real adults. The perspective of someone in their 60s is new and beautiful.
I love this poem, the unpredictable rhythm and lyricality… Usually unpredictability in rhythm throws me off, but Dawson’s flow is highly readable. Beautiful. Tightly wound, in a way… Some lines stick really hard. Very much of the present; will probably be slightly dated soon, but may end up being a perfect snapshot of our times.
This book begins with the end of the world. Jemisin pulls no punches with what this truly means. The book begins with a tragedy and the whole series has more tragedies in store… There is still a strong sense of hope throughout. Our protagonist is powerful and amazing and deeply human; all of them are… this world is so like ours, but of course with differences, palpable ones. The earth magic wielded by some of our characters is hated and feared by many others. It’s also a fascinating and grounded magic system… Probably one of the most unusual and wonderful things is the unforced diversity. Jemisin is masterful!
This book was incredibly intense, absolutely heartbreaking. If one were to read this book and not find themselves deeply saddened, it would be astonishing. Also astonishing: the purely poignant horror and cruelty of slavery. As someone who does not have ancestors who experienced this horror, I feel that this book was absolutely necessary for me to even begin to grasp the truth. This should be in schools.
Nice mandalas. Clear explanations and tutorials.
Semiosis by Sue Burke is probably my favorite sci-fi of 2018. I had been reading about Desert ecosystems, found myself thinking about potential plant sentience, and looked up “sentient plant stories” on Google. This led me to Semiosis, and I’m so glad it did! Beyond the interesting plants, Burke illustrates human nature, through several generations of colony, very well.
Before reading this book, I had no idea who Richard Holbrooke was. Since reading the book, I now firmly believe he was one of the most important figures in modern history. There is also a documentary about him (The Diplomat) on HBO. Beyond Holbrooke, this is a really excellent book about US foreign policy. Farrow is very articulate, of course, and also very insightful. A must read for any policy wonks.
This book is just so beautiful, I’m not quite sure how to describe it. It feels like it comes to you through the mists of memory… There’s a sense of nostalgia, and deep misunderstanding, and mystery. There is murder and also espionage, but it is really a story about family. I found out about it from President Obama’s “Best of 2018” book list.
Book Two of the Kingkiller Chronicle. Our protagonist remains entirely endearing and fascinating. It’s hard to write much more without spoilers, but there is much Adventure and Magic and Music, and as before, the world-building is second to none.
The first in a prequel trilogy for ‘His Dark Materials’, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage is deeply nostalgic for fans of the original trilogy. In this book, our beloved Lyra is an infant, and a boy named Malcolm (who is the age Lyra was in The Golden Compass) finds himself caught up in her fate. There is espionage, mystery, magic, and adventure.
Cat’s Cradle is like other books by Kurt Vonnegut in that it is deeply strange. In it unlike his other books in its focus… Vonnegut writes scientist characters with a good deal more insight and accuracy than most authors. The religion that is Bokononism is such that those who have no religion might be comfortable adopting it… “Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.” *harmless untruths
An ode to the ways in which humanity has used the earth to craft our world. Deeply nostalgic, but not without hope. This book instills a longing to create, and see more handcrafted things.
Sir Terry’s last book; this is such a beautiful ending. The story is as clever as any of his others, and I am personally so grateful that is a Tiffany Aching novel with a focus on Granny Weatherwax. As someone who has read most, if not all, of the Discworld Novels, I felt like I could feel the love and struggle that Sir Terry must have poured into this book as he battled his Alzheimer’s. It is a very fitting, poignant conclusion to his body of work.
A zany romp, of course. As with all Vonnegut, there are some deeply thoughtful undercurrents. I think this book is perhaps less kind to some of the female characters than is necessary, but Vonnegut isn’t feminist literature, really. Still, there is a lot in here that is worth the read. I might start with another novel if this is your first foray into Vonnegut.
Billy Pilgrim and the bombing of Dresden… What is there to say about this classic? It has been burned and banned, and it is also deeply beloved. It is much stranger than one might anticipate, given that it has been taught in English classes (in the districts that didn’t deem it obscene). I love this book.
“You are what you pretend to be.” One of the only (maybe the only) Vonnegut novels with a clear-cut moral, Mother Night is a book that forces the reader to really think. It’s slightly ironic that this book about moral ambiguities has the only official “moral” of his body of work. The story of Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is particularly profound in conjunction with that character’s appearances in some of the other novels, including of course Slaughterhouse-Five.
Alan Alda shows thoroughly in every chapter of this book that every huiman being can benefit from practicing communication, and that traditional improve games make for very effective practice.