2022 reading review

3/4 of the way through a wonderful year of reading, I've had time to think about the books again. In many cases I think my initial thoughts, either about the book itself or its likely long-term effects on me, were wrong.

Here are some new thoughts about various books. The most striking trend to me is that novels that I love when I read them fade from my intellectual view faster than I'd thought they would. (I didn't even bother revisiting The Three-Body Problem, and I haven't for a second thought about picking up either of the sequels, even though I enjoyed the book very much and think highly of it.)

The Nineties

I'd say I got this one very wrong when I first reviewed it. This is likely for two reasons: Chuck Klosterman is an excellent prose stylist and I love reading about the nineties. (Actually, being a nineties kid is one of the parts of my identity I hold most deeply, but enough about that for now.) But as I review the book, I think of it as a series of fun, smart GenX takes on the nineties, with too little attention to the mass culture of the decade. Klosterman doesn't mention the Macarena, the Backstreet Boys, the Kosovo War, or "MmmBOP." When he mentions the fact that Cracked Rear View sold 21 million copies, he dismisses it (and related mega-hits) as "historical misdirection." What was really happening, Klosterman says, is that rock music was losing its "dominance... as an ideology." That's probably true. But a lot of culture and a lot of influence happened during that shift. It accounts for a lot of what the nineties were about and felt like. So, whatever this book's merits, it's not a sustained and successful treatment of what the decade was all about.

Lonesome Dove (initial review)

I just finished this one a few weeks ago. I still believe it to be a great book. The epigram seems to me to get the themes right: its significance to me is as a treatment of freedom, law, choice, and the relationship between all of those.

It is remarkable how unfree many of the characters seem, and not just because they might die at any moment. Their choices often seem, if not forced upon them, not the product of anything we would recognize as personal deliberation.

The defining image of Lonesome Dove might be that of a human riding a horse, asleep on or tied to it. Perhaps they want to be there; perhaps they chose to be there (directly or indirectly, recently or long ago); perhaps not. Some combination of human, horse, and other natural forces will take them somewhere. They are quasi-free. They could really use some good institutions.

(That epigram: "All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.")


I think I overestimated this one, too. It's an admirable, meaningful novel, but for whatever reason it just hasn't stuck with me. An exception: the character of Russ Hildebrandt pops to mind often, and with him Franzen really hit a certain strain of semi-well-intentioned, pathetic psychology worth digging into.

I stand my my view that the book is a sort of exploration of ethical spaces that the contemporary political landscape doesn't permit and, simultaneously, a damning critique of ethical life (especially mainstream masculine ethical life) before it was modified by contemporary political awareness.

How to Change (initial review)

I still think it's in the top tier of this kind of pop science / self-help book, but I'm struck by how little I retained. I'll say it's my failure, not the book's.

From Front Porch to Back Seat (initial review)

I'll stand by my initial impressions here. I'd now add that I think I have a much more nuanced view about the sociology of monogamy and the economic roots and effects of "going out" as a mode of dating (one among many).

The End of Solitude (initial review)

I read this only recently, but I don't want to revise anything I said, especially the praise. One idea from the book that's particularly stuck: that college coursework and other traditional infrastructure is a mere vestige, which few parties to those courses have much reason to care about, and onto which a certain kind of elite training is being "retrofitted."

Talent (initial review)

I'll stand by my initial impressions here, too. I still view this primarily as a book about cultivating and testing my own skills.

One broader point is that I think of Talent, Crossroads, and to some extent even The Nineties as books not just related to but about the systematic oppression of people who are not white men; if my quick tally is correct, over half of the books I've read that have been written in the last couple years fit this description. Culture is a powerful thing.

Home page