The 20 Best Books I read this Year

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Merry Christmas everyone if you celebrate that sort of thing. In my boredom, I decided to create a list, because I love lists I’ve read 72 books this year, which is fucking crazy. These are my 20 favorite ones.

TitleAuthorYearShort Review
Moby DickHerman Melville1851I avoided this forever because I assumed it was going to be another dull American classic. I was wrong! I call this a kitchen sink book. Melville throws everything at you from bizarre descriptions of whales’ anatomies to suddenly turning into a Shakespeare play for no reason. One of the few classics that I will revisit again and again.
Notes From the UndergroundFyodor Dostoevsky1864Not sure how I missed this one! Another existential, first-person novel, and maybe the best version of that type of novel. The biggest difference is that stuff actually happens in this novel! I know that’s trite but it makes it a bit of an easier read.
The Death of Ivan IlychLeo Tolstoy1886A short read but a devastating read. About a man who lived for vanity and then discovers he is dying. His reflections are heartbreaking.
The Hounds of The BaskervillesArthur Conan Doyle1901Possibly my favorite detective novel ever written. It is fucking riveting. Equal parts eerie, weird, funny, and smart.
The Notebooks of Malte Laudris BriggeRanier Marie Rilke1910Another first-person journal-type novel. It is also Rilke’s only novel. It’s less a novel, but more a meditation on what it means to live a life as an artist.
The CastleFranz Kafka1922ANOTHER existential novel. And another really hard read. I’m sensing a theme. This one works because of how nightmarishly weird it is. It is was Kafka does best. Kafka might be my favorite writer.
Duino Elegies and The Sonnets of the OrpheusRanier Marie Rilke1923Among the greatest collections of poems ever written. Transcendent stuff. It will make you feel high without the drugs.
The WavesVirginia Woolf1931One of the most experimental novels you’ll ever read. It’s not easy to get through; for much of the first 100 pages, it is hard to know what is going on. But the writing is so incredibly beautiful, and it really pays off if you stick with it.
The Lankavatra SutraD.T. Suzuki1932A translation of one of Zen Buddhism’s most famous texts. Zen is famously inscrutable, and so is this book. But so is all language in a way. It is only through paradoxical language that we can maybe get to the truth of existence.
Murder on The Orient ExpressAgathe Christie1934Unendingly complicated but implausible, but also a lot of fun. Genre writers don’t necessarily get as much credit for their writing, but Christie is obviously a great writer.
NauseaJean-Paul Sartre1938Another difficult read. But like Dostoevsky, it gets to the psychological horrors of modern life. The main is quite literally sick with meaninglessness and loneliness. By the end, his only solution is to make art.
The Big SleepRaymond Chandler1939Maybe the most singularly fun book I read this year. While Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are great detective characters, they are not American. Phillip Marlowe is the platonic ideal of the American male noir detective. Hard-drinking. Fast women. Such a great book.
The Courage To BePaul Tillich1952My first real experience with Christian existentialism. A lovely book about the ailments of the modern world and finding meaning through a diety.
The FallAlbert Camus1956Another existential novel. I suppose 2021 was a tough year if I’m reading all these novels of despair. But unlike the other existential novels I read this year, the narrator is a lot of fun.
The Marx-Engels ReaderKarl Marx1971Marx was a genius. You might disagree with his conclusions, but no one says the battles of the modern world as clearly as he did… the battle between the haves and the have nots.
The Remains of The DayKazuo Ishiguro1989Probably my favorite novel I read this year, and one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It sneaks up on you. It appears to be a simple story of an aging English butler, which isn’t necessarily something I’d be interested in reading. However, by the end, I was in tears. The genius of this book is how the more the narrator speaks the more is revealed about him without him realizing how much he is revealing.
The Red BookCarl Jung2009One of those rare books that alters you forever. It is a journal of Carl Jung’s journey into the recesses of his soul. It is very weird, but also among the most penetrating books, you’ll ever read. I refer to it quite a lot in daily life.
The Sopranos SessionsMatt Zoller Seitz2019The only companion you’ll need for the greatest TV show ever.. Includes reviews of every episode and a great interview with David Chase.
On Earth We’re Briefly GorgeousOcean Vuong2019Less a novel, more of a long narrative poem. It is just so beautifully written and moving. I wish I could write like him.
Eat The Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan TownBarbara Demick2020Demick snuck into Tibet to write this modern history of China’s treatment of Tibetan people. It is so depressing that this is happening, but Demick’s writing is so clear and thoughtful like the best journalism writing.

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