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books i read in 2023

2023 was a year of spiritual changeover. I experienced some tremendous emotional low-points; the pain and difficulty of abdicating reins , only understanding that I was unhappy, not knowing what direction happiness lay in. For the first time, I relinquished mid/long-term planning and safeguarding. The only anything guiding me were my instincts, and that too only in the very short term. Sometimes that didn't even cover a whole day. I quite frequently found myself wondering what the fuck I was doing.

I can identify the precise point of changeover – Sunday, July 9, 2023. The second day of my sabbatical (of indeterminate length). Friday was my last day at work, and I'd spent the entire weekend feeling like I was going to die, both because as sure as I was of my decision, I wasn't sure of it at all, and because I always feel like I'm going to die in the days before air travel. That precipitous feeling gripped me until I was on the plane, in my seat, a little drunk, reading 'Permanent Red'. I don't remember if I read something in particular that struck me, or if it came out of nowhere, but suddenly all the heaviness and the fear lifted, unmasking some fresh, brilliant, utter fog of certainty. Dawn. I felt truly and deeply that I'd crossed some threshold of reincarnation, like the molecules in my body were the same, but completely and totally reorganized.

There's considerable difference in how I feel and am able to reflect on my reading pre-July 9 vs post-July 9. It can perhaps be said that this year's overall theme, in terms of qualifying my engagement with these books, was illumination.

1. After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Even when I don't particularly like/enjoy it, Murakami's writing brings me comfort. Overall, this one is creepy yet somehow also cozy in its own emo way, though not memorable. Wouldn't discourage or encourage anyone to read.

2. The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen

I love Ibsen. Thematically, this play is not so political as other, more popular Ibsen titles, but this is my favorite work of his. The characters are full and varied and the chemistry and the context between them, along with the natures of their judgment and folly, produce a very tasty, rich drama. An effective and complex reflection on pride and forgiveness.

3. Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen

I liked this one. Of the Ibsen I've read, it is the least compelling, but that is truly only on relative terms.

4. Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

Didn't make it past the first chapter. Can't remember why.

5. Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics

Too many thoughts to share about this book. Margins filled. I look forward to revisiting. It's academic, mostly econ, but through a careful/deliberate sociological lens. It helped lift some veils philosophically, as well.

6. Hellboy Omnibus, Volume 1: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola

I don't know why, but I feel inclined to relate Hellboy to Watchmen. They are really not that similar to each other, but I share the same quality of affection for both works. Formally, Hellboy is less sophisticated. There's more fighting. Also because they were issued as comics. Watchmen was also issued as a series of comics, but far fewer issues, and the whole thing definitely reads more like a graphic novel. Anyway. I love Hellboy and his gruff insistence on loving and protecting humanity, rejecting what everyone else insists is his fate, no matter how much he is made to fight for it all. A lot of cool design and imagery, too. And I like the incorporation of existing mythologies and folklore.

7. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin

Walk away from Omelas. Free Palestine.

8. Hellboy Omnibus, Volume 2: Strange Places by Mike Mignola

See #6

9. On Murder, Mourning, and Melancholia by Sigmund Freud

For me, a big part of processing emotions is psychological forensics. Freud's essay on mourning and melancholia was great therapy.

10. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Re-read a favorite. The thing that stuck in my head this time was Malcolm's commentary on the irresponsibility and folly of advancing science without advancing the wisdom to deal with it. Reminds me of the SETI person's thoughts on humanity arriving at what is our technological adolescence. What will/can our survival of this period look like?

11. The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell by Brian Evenson

I had a good time reading this book. The stories are engaging and I enjoy his writing. First time reading ecological horror. I'm tired of dystopian fiction though.

12. I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

She has had many complicated and sad experiences, and I appreciate the hope, grace, and clarity with which she reflects on them, as well as the gratitude she is/was able to have amongst them.

13. The First Bad Man by Miranda July

I read this at my cousin's place in London. Their partner handed it to me with the sentiment that they wanted to me to read it mostly because they were curious what I would think and because they wanted someone else to share in the experience of having read this book. Having now read the book, I completely understand that sentiment and appreciate it being shared with me.

I can't say the experience is a pleasant one, but it is one that can be so distinctly felt, and for that, tick. There is not a single character in this that I can say that I like, no plot points that brought me any degree of catharsis or satisfaction. I'm not glad I read it, but I don't regret reading it.

14. Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Nice. Very solid adventure.

15. Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke

I have nothing negative to say about this book, I just found out a little rambly in its ideas (but not literally rambling) and would get bored. Finished it, though.

16. All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

I am more than happy to discuss – offline.

17. Permanent Red: Essays in Seeing by John Berger

This book renewed and helped me re-root my relationship with art making and my philosophy re who/what (good) art is. Crucial to my understanding of my self. Reinforced my claim to my standards and judgements. As always with Berger, intellectual and emotional companionship.

18. Hellboy Omnibus, Volume 3: The Wild Hunt by Mike Mignola

See #6

19. Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Like I said, illumination. More room for impact when re-reading – I felt that way about the other books I re-read this year.

20. Henri Cartier-Bresson: Interviews and Conversations (1951-1998)

I love C-B as a thinker and an artist and a photographer.

21. The Piano Lesson by August Wilson

Good story, good pacing.

22. Another Way of Telling by John Berger

Re-read. Effectively, poetry.

23. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley


24. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Every single page is a fucking banger! Bang. Bang. Bang bang bang.

25. The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz

Felt fine about it. Agreed with a lot of the points it was making, but I am deeply averse to self help language and metaphor/simile nests.

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