What I’ve Been Reading

Books, books, books. Many of which I didn’t fully finish but I take pride in that (not finishing most/all books I start).

1. The Problem With Everything by Meghan Daum. I read everything Daum writes. I even took a writing workshop with her earlier this year. She’s one of the premier essayists around, in my view. This book is not a collection of essays, though, it’s a continuous narrative documenting her “lived experience” (the phrase of the moment) navigating the culture wars. I found myself sympathetic to many of her arguments about the extremes of modern left wing cultural norms.

2. String Theory by David Foster Wallace. Collection of old DFW essays about tennis. Always great and worth perusing if you’re learning to play tennis, as I am.

3. One and Only by Lauren Sandler. Excellent summary of the research on being an only child and excellent personal reflections on what it’s like to be and parent an only child. Refutes many inaccurate stereotypes about being an only. She points out that singletons are immune from modern political correctness culture — it’s still fair game to make fun of the self-centeredness of only children, even though that stereotype (among others) is unfounded.

Some quotes:

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self,” May Sarton wrote—a musing that makes me want to pull on a coat, leave behind my cell phone, and take an indulgently long walk on a crisp day.

“Only children are well self-connected in their primary relationship in their life.” By primary relationship, what he means is that whether we like it or not, married or single, identical twin or only child, every relationship we have is secondary to the one we have with ourselves—nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.

In their much-discussed analysis of a survey of 35,000 Danish twins, women with one child said they were more satisfied with their lives than women with none or more than one. As Kohler tells me, “At face value, you should stop at one child to maximize your subjective well-being.”

The University of Chicago’s Linda Waite, whose research focuses on how to make marriages last, tells me, “You’re better off to ignore your kids and focus on your relationship than to focus on your kids and ignore your relationship”

4. Recursion by Blake Crouch

Fairly compelling sci fi. I read it on a beach — a good book to get absorbed by on the road. That being said, I preferred Crouch’s other novel Dark Matter.

“His mind races. It is the lonely hour of the night, one with which he is all too familiar—when the city sleeps but you don’t, and all the regrets of your life rage in your mind with an unbearable intensity.”

5. Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream by Nicholas Lemann

Some big ideas that didn’t captivate me.

6. The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes by Frank Bures

Some fun stories about how culturally determined many diseases are. Eating disorders are uniquely American, for example. Penis snatching (the feeling that someone has stolen your penis) is unique to certain countries in Africa. Makes you wonder what other beliefs in life are so culturally influenced. I read the first half but didn’t finish. Here’s Nick Gray’s summary.

7. A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen. I love Keith’s writing. I eagerly dove into this novel. The writing is spare and expert…so spare, in fact, that at halfway I began to bore of the slow-moving “and today I woke up and helped my grandmother down the stairs” plot developments. I’m okay with micro observations but prefer more elaborate Knaussagardian flourishes.

There are, though, some touching scenes of the protagonist taking care of his aging grandmother, whose mind is going, memory flickering in and out.  Or of the grandmother trying to not go mad of boredom, as she never figured out a way of “doing leisure” in the late afternoon witching hour.

8. Open by Andre Agassi. A super well written memoir from the tennis legend — likely credit the same ghostwriter who penned Phil Knight’s renowned Shoedog, J. R. Moehringer.

The most stunning fact from Agassi’s memoir: he hates the game of tennis. Always has. His abusive father turned him into a tennis maniac as a child against his wishes, basically, and there was no turning back — from playing the game he became amazing at, or from hating every second of it.

I like playing tennis but I’m not that into the history of tennis tournaments to desire so much detailed blow-by-blows of matches and tournaments. I’d still recommend the memoir for any casual tennis player or fan to get inside the head of a world class sports champion and better appreciate the sacrifice and mental fortitude that made him so.

9. This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom by Martin Hägglund

I dipped into a few chapters of this one. Spiritual freedom is defined as being able to ask what you should do with your time — you possess a meaningful degree of autonomy with which to challenge norms and shape a life. And secular faith is defined as acknowledging the fundamental finitude of life, and consoling oneself over the unchangeable fact that no one gets out alive. Religious faith assumes the ability to live forever in the afterlife.

The loss of loved ones is the experience that is hardest to bear in a secular age. – Charles Taylor

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