The Most Impactful Books I Read in 2022
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As part of my Yearly Review process, I like to reflect on some of the most impactful books I read this year.
Sadly, Porn by Edward Teach
"You never want to know about your unconscious so you're obsessed with learning about your conscious-- information, studying every detail, to guard against what you are doing. So rather than fantasies that risk failure but at least clarify our real desires, we find it easier to want things that we are told to want-- that we don't want, but that there can be no guilt in wanting because they were commanded to be wanted. Since it's too painful to fantasize what will never come to pass-- or shouldn't come to pass-- we drown ourselves in other people's visions and are lead mechanically to the end, see also politics, economics, love."
Every once in a while there's a book that throws you for such a loop that you end up in a completely unexpected place. This was 100% that book for me this year.
This book messed me up so bad that I am now 5 books into Freud, Lacan, and psychoanalysis after having little to no interest in it whatsoever. I can definitely say it's given me a new way of looking at the world, which is the most you can ask of any book.
Pair this with What What You Hear by the same author, which is a bit more straight-forward in it's arguments, and with Teach's now defunct blog The Last Psychiatrist.
Walt Disney, by Neal Gabler
"Obviously Disney’s work had universal appeal, but in America, with its almost religious belief in possibilities, his urge to wish fulfillment was especially resonant. In both Disney’s imagination and the American imagination, one could assert one’s will on the world; one could, through one’s own power, or more accurately through the power of one’s innate goodness, achieve success."
An eye-opening look into the frenzied mind of a genius. Disney is both more and less than his critics and fans make him out to be; argumentative, difficult, selfish, visionary. It's easy to think of parallels, and I found his struggle to make a living from his art inspirational...while also finding his various implosions painful.
Accelerated Expertise, by Robert R. Hoffman, Paul Ward, Paul J. Feltovich, Lia DiBello, Stephen M. Fiore, and Dee H. Andrews
"Expertise in many domains is defined partly in terms of the practitioner’s ability to rapidly perceive patterns that non-experts cannot perceive (Klein & Hoffman, 1992). Furthermore, highly proficient practitioners are often able to apprehend a situation and intuitively know what course of action to take. In theory, one could do a form of time compression in which one taps into a corpus of cases that present opportunities for perceptual learning, and thereby “hasten expertise” (Fadde, 2007, p. 1). The cases do not all have to be “tough” (i.e., emphasize the recognition of critical patterns), but should span a range including representative cases."
Academic, but provides an incredible deep dive into how build systems that accelerate learning.
The TL,DR version that I will probably butcher: encourage pattern recognition through deliberate practice using case studies; interconnect the notes and thoughts of new and experienced users to provide deeper context than would otherwise be available.
Relating Between The Lines, by Norman Tran
OK, not a book. This one's an online course.
I took this on a whim after it was recommended by someone I like. This was a powerful group-learning experience on better communication, boundary-setting, and relationship navigation. I got a lot out of it, especially after seeing how the course itself is structured: the community is one of the best parts.
I also got to connect with lots of people I probably never would have come across otherwise. Strongly recommended.
Ernest Hemingway, by Mary V. Dearborn
"In his last two years, in A Moveable Feast, he wrote again about the fall, this time in Paris in the 1920s, another good time in another good place. “You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light” (AMF, 39). Yet fall during that period of his life was beautiful for what would inevitably follow: “You knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.”"
I honestly didn't know much about Hemingway, other than his outsized reputation. This book (apparently the first Hemingway biography by a woman) does a good job of balancing recognition of his talent and his (considerable) shortcomings.
The entire thing reads like a tragedy, since you likely know how it ends. I found myself, like so many people in Hemingway's life, falling in love with him despite myself. That made the inevitable ending feel much more terrifying.
Into Africa, by Martin Dugard
"Day by day, through means visible and concealed, the continent in which he felt most content whittled the world's greatest explorer to a nub. Hundreds of miles from relief supplies, and with a second rescue a delirious fantasy, Livingstone was fated to die an anonymous death and be lowered into an anonymous wilderness grave, like Cook and Franklin before him. For the people back home there would be curiosity about where his bones were turning to dust, but only for a time. That's the way it was with exploration. The curiosity would fade as his explorations were surpassed. Over time he would be forgotten. There was no romance in the dying, only the reality that it would be slow and painful."
If you're familiar with the saying "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" from cartoons and so on, this is the book for you.
This is a story of suffering and determination that simply defies description. Add to the mix that all that suffering was largely pointless, and, well. Let's just say it's a riveting read.
My favorite line, and a representative one:
"Livingstone's birthday was March 19. He celebrated in a swamp, sleeping in a hut choked with poisonous spiders."
The Agony of Eros by Byung-Chul Han and Alain Badiou
"Depression is a narcissistic malady. It derives from overwrought, pathologically distorted self-reference. The narcissistic-depressive subject has exhausted itself and worn itself down. Without a world to inhabit, it has been abandoned by the Other. Eros and depression are opposites. Eros pulls the subject out of itself, toward the Other. Depression, in contrast, plunges the subject into itself."
This is a wild and ranging book; I honestly don't know what to make of it, other than I continually return to it in my thoughts.
I don't have a great summary for you; that's a sign I likely need to read it again. In any case, it's an easy recommendation if you're curious about what Eros is and what, if any, role it out to play in your life.
Thanks again for being here. It means the world to me.
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