The 50 best books I read in the after times, reviewed
I didn't have much sex but I did read much books
Back from that week long silent meditation retreat, which I’ll write about in an upcoming newsletter. But now: books.
I used to do these wild book reviews at year end, they took hours and hours and all I remember from them was one time after spending a week writing it and doing things like triple-checking links and downloading book cover graphics and filtering them through VSCO so it was both aesthetically and informationally perfect, a lady wrote me and said “YOU ARE AN ANGRY WOMAN WHO READS ANGRY BOOKS.” And that was only 2017! Anyway, the last one of these “best books of the year” published in 2018, and aside from a few reviews in this newsletter (this one, this one), I haven’t done a proper year-end list of all the books I read and liked in years. At first I thought, Why not start where I left off? (2019, lols). Then I looked back over the list of books I’ve read since January 1, 2019, and it was very very very long and so I thought, Why not start where my life left off? And that was April 2021 and that list was manageable to sort through, and I narrowed that list down to 50, and that’s being really, really cut throat about it. I mean, Sally Rooney got fucking cut! Anyway, here is a list of books I have read since things I didn’t want to happen happened, not the after-times but my after-times.
Remember, reading is my sport, passion, hobby, professional duty, and safe word. I hunt books, I chase books, I corner kick books, books are my best friends, books are my lovers. I remind you that here not only so you don’t feel bad for not reading enough, but so if/when you get through this truly ridiculous and long post, you’ll remember that I waited years to write this list and had an extremely satisfying time making it.
Not every book has a comment, especially the fiction since I’m not a literary critic and couldn’t appropriately review a work of fiction if I tried; I just like what I like. Some books are closer to the top of the list because they are highly recommended, so there is some hierarchy, but in general I am recommending the best of what I read and it’s a flat recommendation across them.
I read across a variety of authors; I hardly ever agree fully with a text, and sometimes read authors or thought leaders I genuinely dislike or find problematic. Please never interpret any recommendation as an endorsement of someone, or their entire catalogue of work, or every statement made in a text I recommend. I trust humans to make their own decisions with their own minds.
I am using Amazon affiliate links in this post. I normally post the public library links with them, but because of the volume I did not. You can find those links through searching WorldCat. As an aside, this is the only affiliate marketing I use, and only use for books. I buy my own books from Amazon, Bookshop.org, and independent retailers.
Okay I think that’s it! Happy almost next year!
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If you read one book
I don’t even know how to answer this. I cannot choose one! But I will. I choose Undoing Drugs by Maia Szalavitz not only because it’s meticulous and radical, but because we need harm reduction as a standard now. Please read this book, share her work, follow Drug Policy Alliance, and where you can: normalize harm reduction. Drug use is not criminal.
Prompt: What was the best book you read between April 2021 and today? Go.
Non-fiction, Addiction, Anthropology, Philosophy, etc.
Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex | year. 2020 | pages. 226 | author. Angela Chen | I found this book through Ann Helen Peterson’s Substack, and because I had no clue what asexuality was aside from the last letter in LGBTQIA, I wanted to know. I thought I’d be reading about a foreign experience, something that had nothing to do with me but would expand my understanding in a necessary way, and while I did find that, I also found my own story within that experience. I was educated by this book, but I was also liberated by this book. It changed the way I think about my own sexuality, sexual and romantic experiences, and culture in general. It’s listed as #1 for a reason. Angela and I recorded a podcast together, I will be publishing that here in this newsletter in January.
Work: A Deep History from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots | year. 2021 | pages. 460 | author. James Suzman | In the 1930’s, John Maynard Keynes predicted “human beings would be so much richer, so much more technologically advanced, that the problem of scarcity…would have been solved. And now we’d only work 15 hours a week.” Suzman starts his book here, asking why, here in the time period Keynes’ predicted we’d have so much abundance and automation we wouldn’t need to work almost at all, we are working more ever. Granted, I read this book when I was being kicked out of my company and furious at the world and basically devoid of all ability to pretend capitalism is anything more than the master of all addictions that we should as a species divest from, so maybe it’s number two only because it gave me questions I hadn’t thought to ask about why we do what we do at all in a time of my own profound confusion. Maybe it’s only as good as I remember it being because of where I personally found myself when I was reading it. Or maybe it’s objectively as good as I remember. Either way, sorry to the friends I tried to explain this book to in July 2021.
The Urge: Our History of Addiction | year. 2022 | pages. 400 | author. Dr. Carl Erik Fisher | I’ve written about this book in a previous review; I interviewed Carl in a podcast, he generously answered questions for this newsletter, I went on his podcast, I mention his work in like every other newsletter, so literally everything I have to say about this book has been said. I love it! If you love this newsletter, you will too.
Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction | year. 2021 | pages. 384 | author. Maia Szalavitz | See above.
The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture | year. 2022 | pages. 576 | author. Gabor Maté MD | I pre-ordered this book, read it as soon as it was available over a matter of days, and abruptly stopped at around page 400 when it got into the practical applications which potentially says more about me than the book. I thought this book was meandering, trying to boil the ocean, and I don’t really need Gabor to explain to me what it’s like to be a woman, etc. I think he could have probably done this in half the length. BUT: I thought it was absolutely worth it, there is plenty of brilliance contained within, integrations of ideas I hadn’t considered, words that voiced things that before reading, I didn’t have the words for. I 100 percent recommend it, think it is a necessary text, even if a thick part of it was unnecessary.
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body | year. 2017 | pages. 336 | author. Daniel Goleman, Richard Davidson | In the last few decades there’s been an explosion of research on meditation, and claims of what meditation can actually do for us is absolutely overblown. Here, two scientists and committed practitioners get to the absolutes of how meditation can actually benefit us. I like it because it gave me a much better base to move from in terms of how to approach my own practice, and what results I can expect given what effort or commitment I bring. It kind of cuts down the Tony Robbinsification of it all, leaving us with a really practical, and beautiful, motivation for cultivating a regular practice, and a way to sort through what meditation has truly been scientifically proven to do.
A Brief History of Everything | year. 2001 | pages. 354 | author. Ken Wilber | I’ve read this book multiple times, and each time I do I take away something different than I did before. Parts of this book and parts of Wilber’s work is cornerstone to my philosophy and has given me the ability to marry extremely complex and seemingly disparate ideas into cohesive arguments, even programs. This particular book is helpful at examining spiral dynamics, emerging stages of human development and states of consciousness, and why we are where we are, and what we need to do in order to save the planet lols. A gem, (paraphrased): “The culture gap is equal to the scope of climate disaster.” I also very much loved his somewhat follow up to this book, Trump and a Post Truth World.
Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love | year. 2003 | pages. 240 | author. Pia Mellody | I read this book this summer, or rather listened to it on my drive across the US, after hitting the same fucking bottom (and running the same painful and humiliating habits) romantically. While I had read plenty co-dependency and sex/love/relationship lit, and had worked with therapists for years (specifically around my romantic relationships), I don’t think anything made as big of an impact on me and those patterns as this book did. For sure, there was a decade of healing that preceded it, lots of practice opportunities, and a lot of compensating and complementary practices (like somatic release or meditation) that helped me turn the corner on what has felt like “the thing I’ll always have”, and perhaps this book was just divinely timed. But still, reading this gave me an entirely new perspective and set of instructions; how I’ve moved through romantic stuff since is not even comparable, and it’s further rearranged (in a good way) some of my non-romantic relationships.
Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear | year. 2022 | pages. 304 | author. Dr. Carl Hart | I could write five articles on this one. It’s such a good book and I disagree with some consistent themes. In summary, Dr. Hart has a great argument—yes, we should be able to decide what to put in our bodies. Yes, decrim, legalize all drugs and drug use. Yes, cocaine and crack and smack and “plant medicine” should all have the same moral weight. Etc. Where he gets it wrong (IMO) is in his pro-drug stance (like, we don’t need anyone arguing on behalf of drugs okay? The drugs have that covered), and his constant refrain that the only people who should use drugs are those who are essentially stable and employed which isn’t all that different from the idea that it’s wrong to use drugs to self-medicate and adds additional layers of shame to those most likely to benefit from what he’s arguing for; I found it surprisingly classist and ableist and further categorizing of who should be able to put things in their body, or furthering the idea of the functional addict, i.e., the addict who still performs his capitalist duty. Complicated. Worth your time if you’re into this stuff.
Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology | year. 2022 | pages. 224 | author. Jess Zimmerman | A re-examination of the classics and the monstrous qualities assigned to mis-behaving women, and an opportunity to reclaim what we’re not supposed to be (loud, angry, aggressive, greedy, gluttons, etc.) as our actual strengths. It was such a fun book, the combination of so many favorite things (gross ladies and mythology, yes please).
Caliban and The Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation | year. 204 | pages. 288 | author. Silvia Federici | TLDR: this is a book that takes the Marxist argument of primitive accumulation and expands it to include sexism. It is a history of the making of women into witches, into vessels of capitalist production (the uterus as the source material for the propagation of the work force), and helps to make sense of why hundreds of years after fucking feudalism ended, our reproductive and lifestyle choices are still policed. I read it a few times over the last few years and will probably have to read a third, fourth and fifth.
Pharmacracy: Medicine and Politics in America | year. 2003 | pages. 248 | author. Thomas Szasz | Thomas Szasz is one of the larger influences on how I think; reading his seminal Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers in 2017 gave me an entirely different language and conceptual framework, especially around drug taking and the therapeutic state. Pharmacracy is similar to Ceremonial, but builds on the basic premises established. (I’d probably start with Ceremonial Chemistry if you’re interested in this kind of thing). It explores the consequences of creating a fiat diagnosis system, of turning people and their problems into diseased and disease, and examines what it means to live in political system that increasingly limits personal freedoms through the medical establishment, or the Pharmacracy.
The Beyond Addiction Workbook for Family and Friends: Evidence-Based Skills to Help a Loved One Make Positive Change | author. Carrie Wilkens. There’s so few resources that exist for family and loved ones of folks struggling with addiction, and a lot of it is totally out of line with what we now know to be humane, dignified and effective approaches to addiction treatment. This workbook, along with its companion text Beyond Addiction, are the gold standard for how to support yourself and your person.