I love my data. I love my spreadsheets. I love tracking my personal progress and making pretty charts out of them. I used to graph my weight weekly. I used to run every day and logged that in a spreadsheet. I still log how much money/debt I have on a weekly basis. It’s fun, it gives me little projects to do, and it’s pretty obvious that keeping track of stuff in a spreadsheet, especially with finances, shines a light on how you’re doing. When you see your cash trendline go up and your weight go down, it’s hard not to feel good about it. It’s just so damn clear in graphical form!
This year I made a book spreadsheet. It’s a simple one too, just a date, page length, book title, but it’s still a nice way to track how much reading I’ve done in 2021. Reading is fine on it’s own but seeing a cute little list of exactly what you’ve read and how many pages you’ve read kinda blew my mind. According to my sheet, I’ve read over 8,000 pages this year. Yikes, that’s amazing!
Having a hard and clear number to look at really helps you feel proud of your progress. It worked so well I want to recommend it to everyone! Reading is good – it’s one of the few things in the world that seems to be universally viewed that way – and keeping a list of your reading conquests just gives you that much more momentum to keep reading. It doesn’t have to be a spreadsheet either; a piece of paper would work just fine, just don’t lose it mid-year. Give it a shot; you’ll be surprised how many books/pages you actually read in a year!
As a fun way to close the year out (fuck all the typical resolution crap), I want to write a very little about the books I’ve read. Probably not all of them — a few of them outright sucked — but some of the highlights of the year should be fun.
The Narnia Series
I wrote a blog post ranking the Narnia series nearly a year ago. Here’s the link if you’re interested. Since some time has passed since that, I don’t have much to say about any of the books specifically, but the series itself has solidified in my mind: It’s a great series. Sure it’s meant for kids but it doesn’t suffer like some kid/young adult books might as you reread them. The series is tight, it never stalls and is never boring, and never suffers from pompous exposition or anything. It’s clean, it’s fun, it’s Christian as fuck, and the series still holds up even in my 30s.
East of Eden
A Reddit favorite from literary giant John Steinbeck. I don’t have anything to say about this book not because it was bad but because it was so fucking dense. I read it, but it’s one of those books that you need to read three or four times to pick up on all of the themes. Something about life and death, something about religion, something about goodness and evil, something about freewill (timshel: thou mayest!); it’s a book about life in its entirety it seems. It might end up as one of my favorite books of all time, but it’s going to take a few more dips before I can say that for certain.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
This is a book about the “failed” Shackleton voyage to the south pole. I’m a sucker for adventures and polar adventures especially. I don’t know why either. I live in the mid-latitudes, away from the ocean, but damn, sailing to the top/bottom of the world gets me erect! It’s non-fiction but is told in such a way that it’s very novelesque; it’s not a list of cold and boring facts that stereotypes non-fiction books and reads like a story.
In short, Shackleton and his men sail to Antarctica, get stuck in the ice during winter when it’s perpetually dark and frigid, loses his boats to the ice pack, and they have to walk across the ice and sail in little dinky ‘lifeboats’ to an actual deserted island in the middle of the ocean. Dude then sails with a handful of people for about a thousand miles in a shitty boat to the closest town to get help. The whole thing lasted two damn years! Surprisingly enough, it all worked; no one died during the entire fiasco. The story almost seems fake because it’s so damn unbelievable — if it was a movie you’d constantly be like “Oh, come on!” — but by being non-fiction it’s even more of a tale for the ages.
Ah yes. Let’s not bitch too much here since I already did that awhile ago. The book that made me wonder why I wasn’t a successful author. The only book to make me groan aloud as I was reading it. The book that made me wonder if teenage girls collectively lost their sanity back in 2005. The book that made me realize hype does not equal talent. The book that made me wonder what kind of person Stephenie Meyer really is and how she views her fame; she has to know the book sucks, right? Is she proud of the series? Is this really what she wants to be known for? The book that was so awful I can’t even imagine reading the rest of the series despite my morbid curiosity trying to get the best of me.
11/10 would definitely take to a deserted island to read.
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
A book about quantum electrodynamics from famed physicist Richard Feynman. I was binging a ton of science YouTube videos around this time and decided to reread this book. Its…it’s a book.
Don’t get me wrong, the book is great, just the topic is fucking weird. Feynman basically came up with his own version of a QED theory (which he won the Nobel Prize for) so is the perfect person to describe the theory. Feynman is also noted for explaining complex topics in an understandable manner. He does a fantastic job as always in his book, but once again the QED world is strange (hence the subtitle of the book). He talks about how you can think of a particle having a clock on it with arrows that spin really fast and how if you add all the arrows together and draw a square with the final arrow you get the percent change to find a particle taking that path. So basically add all the arrows possible for any of the particle’s path and the most likely path will be the one with the biggest final arrow. Just to hit this home again; this is how the universe actually works.
Great book, kind of niche, but if you’re curious about the fundamental building blocks of the universe and why the hell light is so damn strange, this is a must even if it does make you question everything about reality. At the very least it’ll break your brain and make you feel stupid only about halfway through if you’re lucky.
The Wheel of Time Series: Books 5-7
I’ve slacked off reading these recently as I’m in the beginning of the slog that is books 7-10 (or something). The first books had pretty decent pacing, but book eight is just dragging along. I can’t even tell you what going on.
I don’t even know what to say about the series. It’s great! But it’s also a series where so much happens that it’s hard to look back and see a coherent whole. Especially due to my recent slacking, it’s hard to recall the plots of each book. But the series is fantastic. Jordan’s world-building is elaborate and the entire universe is so fleshed out that it feels like a real place. You have magic, heroes, prophecies, legends, myths, the fate of the world, politics, traitors, Ancient Evil™; anything you could ever want out of a fantasy series.
House of Leaves
One of Reddit’s recommendations for a very disturbing and terrifying book. I’d say it wasn’t exactly terrifying as much as unsettling. Most scary books have legit scary thing in them like ghosts, zombies, etc. but House of Leaves was more subconsciously terrifying with a slight dose of existential crisis mixed in. For flavoring, ya know? It seemed to dive more into the horrors of not knowing your true self, the unfathomable depths and complexity of the human mind, along with childhood trauma that’s been tucked away and long forgotten about, always hiding somewhere in the depths. I might be way off here but that’s how I viewed it.
The book also felt like an acid-trip in text form. I’ve never done acid but I imagine that’s what it would sort of be like. The book also totally ruined my mood for a week. Just the vibe of the whole thing seeped into my life and left me feeling plainly off and even slightly depressed. It was a great book and another example of a book that’ll take a least a second read to properly absorb.
I reread this book when I got into soap-making. Why? Soap plays a role in the book, more so in the movie, and it got me thinking about it. Fight Club is also a fairly short book (especially when compared to the 1000+ page Wheel of Time books) so was a joy to quickly fly through, serving as a break between the heftier reads of the year.
What to say about it? Huh, I don’t know. It’s something to do about masculinity and how men don’t really have a role model in our society. It’s all a bit fuzzy this late in the year. Insomnia causes the main ‘hero’ of the story to develop a split personality and that devolves into a sort of religion/cult that is trying to overthrow capitalism or something. It’s a fun read if you haven’t checked it out before. Pretty damn confusing to write about apparently.
Another Reddit “this book changed my life” mention. I wouldn’t go that far but the book certainly hits pretty hard. It’s not an example of a book that must be read multiple times to “get” but one that should be read yearly to refresh your soul.
The story roughly follows that of The Buddha from Buddhism (obviously) but isn’t the actual guy. The book has heavy Buddhism overtones (obviously again) about being one with the world, flowing through life, growing patiently with time, living in the moment, etc. Our hero goes to be an ascetic, giving up all bodily pleasures, then swings to the opposite. He falls in love, gets married, finds himself a wealthy business owner, and is then in the opposite position from his previous self. He’s living in earthly pleasures but that doesn’t satisfy him either. At the end of the book he’s by a river and it’s talking to him and he finds his way in life. Or something like that…
10/10. Would read again but I let someone borrow it and I doubt I’ll get it back.
I finished the year with Essentialism. It was mentioned to me by a work friend and a quick Google search it was obvious I’d love the book.
It’s a self-help book and has all the downsides of that. At least the author acknowledges you need to work at the lessons to really get them to stick. It’s not a book you read and instantly absorb.
The book was great though! It’s all about how we like to please everyone, take on way too many projects, and therefore lose sight of the important things we’re trying to do. The author mentions ‘being pulled in all directions and not making progress in any one way’ and the rest of the book is all about solving that. Find what is important — essential — to you and making that your primary goal. Cut out and minimize distractions to what is essential. Life is a bunch of tradeoffs and compromise and you need to learn how to pick and choose what you’re going to do with your limited time and effort.
The book gives tips such as “telling people no” and getting enough sleep. Many of the tips are pretty obvious and there’s no self-help “voodoo” to confuse the hell out of you. Routine is mentioned as well as setting small goals to achieve. It’s a great book and helped refresh my mind quite a bit. After reading it I did start viewing most tasks as unessential (making life a lot less complex) and tried to keep the big picture at the forefront of my mind.
Honorable Mentions of Spooky Shorts
I read a few short stories as well, all horror and all easy to find for free on the internets. Stephen King’s 1408, NoEnd House, and I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (.pdf warning on that one!). They’re all great and pretty varied. King is a well-established author and 1408 is great, and I have No Mouth is a classic futuristic horror about AI taking over the world and killing everyone. It’s probably the bleakness story I’ve read. It’s entirely hopeless and unimaginably awful to even think about. NoEnd House is a short story written by someone on an internet forum and is House of Leaves unsettling with nearly the same lack of hope as I have No Mouth. But the writing is a bit loose and tacky, being an unprofessional sort of thing, but it does add character.
So have a good 2022 everyone. Uh…maybe I can get back into posting regularly too?
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