Final Reading Log of 2020

For about four years now I’ve been tracking my reading. First, I used index cards in a box, which I have since supplemented using an app called Reading List for a digital backup. Normally I use the index cards as bookmarks while reading, but since all my books have been packed up for our move to New Mexico since August, I’ve had to make do with an ereader for longer than I would have liked. I’ll be glad to once again surrounded by my faithful friends in the new year once we’ve made the move.

My general tendency is toward neurosis. I don’t suffer from a compulsive disorder, but sometimes feel such is just around the corner. My wife pokes fun (lovingly) at my “systems,” and I do sometimes go overboard in my desire for systematization, but when I consider the kind of life I want to have, it is a thorough, considered, systematic one (although not one devoid of flights of fancy!) This systematic approach is a source of comfort for me. For example, when I feel bad I clean the house or fold laundry or rearrange my index. But for all its comfort, my “systems” are also sources of (good) stress. When I see my carefully arranged index, I feel spurred to use it. The thing itself calls to me, entreating me to give it a use, a purpose. I feel I would insult it to just let it gather dust. The systems themselves are not the goal, but rather means to the goal. I keep track of my reading because I want to write, and at least for the last few years, this system has served me well.

I see the particular neurosis of logging my reading as an attempt to do two things: first, to serve as a kind of mnemonic. When I flip through the cards, I remember what I was doing when I was reading each book. I don’t always remember specifics, but each card carries with it a kind of encapsulated atmosphere. I’ll remember the chair I was sitting in, or the weather, or maybe how I felt that day. My memory tends toward the visual, and I can “see” the past in each card. Of course, I also remember the plot or topic of the book, which helps me to remember what I know and what I don’t.

The second thing this neurosis does (I find the word “practice” irritatingly overused) is to create a physical, tangible, external trace of myself. I took a course on Martin Heidegger this last semester, and learned that his collected works, or Gesamtausgabe, are still being published in several volumes even decades after the man’s death. I’ve been fascinated by the things that come to light in a person’s “papers” after their death. In my training in history, I often thought of the things that we wouldn’t know had it not been for the survival of a single lucky shred of parchment or paper. In a world where correspondence and more and more of life take place in an ethereal space of ones and zeroes, I like the idea of leaving tangible things behind. Would todays Heidegger (hopefully sans dalliance with the Nazis) leave anything accessible behind? I’m sure archivists and librarians are considering this problem, and no doubt digital files take up less space than reams of paper, but it is still something I wonder about.

In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt distinguishes “labor” and “work.” Labor is circular – it’s the “daily grind” that keeps us ticking over. Work, on the other hand, is linear – it’s the way that humans make a lasting mark on their world. The world of the digital, especially now that it is being colonized by the same ruthless market forces destroying the planet and everyone’s minds, feels like a space of labor to me. The physicality of pen and paper, the tangible scent of the stuff on my desk, feels much less like labor to me. For all its demands that I put it to use, such demands feel like the demand to work in Arendt’s sense, that is, to be free.

I don’t have much to say about this year’s reading specifically. Like everyone else, I have basically gone insane since the pandemic and its vicious mismanagement (at least on the part of the US government). My reading this year probably tends more toward escape than it would otherwise – and why not? Ursula LeGuin once made the point that one escapes into freedom. Don’t we all want to be free? Over the next year I plan to make periodic posts ruminating on my current reading. I have set myself the same goal this year as in previous years – 50 books – but in the past I haven’t been using this goal as effectively as I could have, that is, I haven’t taken the time to use it to think. In the Jewish tradition, when one drops a book, one hurriedly picks it back up and kisses it to make it feel better and apologize for hurting it. This particular ritual is a bit theatrical for my taste, but the kernel of truth it contains remains deeply appealing. I don’t make new year’s resolutions usually, but this year I think I might make an exception: to respect my tools by using them to work.


Below is this year’s reading list. I may post something in January about the most significant or memorable books of the year, but we’ll see. Moving is stressful, and I may not feel like working (but, then, my tools don’t care about that, do they?)

TitleSubtitleAuthor(s)Started ReadingFinished Reading
1491New Revelations of the Americas Before ColumbusMann, Charles C.12/31/201901/02/2020
The SwerveHow the World Became ModernGreenblatt, Stephen1/3/202001/06/2020
RuthlessScientology, My Son David Miscavige, and MeMiscavige, Ron; Koon, Dan1/6/202001/07/2020
Red ShambhalaMagic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of AsiaZnamenski, Andrei1/7/202002/29/2020
BlasphemyA NovelPreston, Douglas1/11/202001/11/2020
Babel-17
Delany, Samuel R.1/13/202001/19/2020
Broken AngelsA NovelMorgan, Richard K.1/19/202001/25/2020
Pattern Recognition
Gibson, William1/26/202002/09/2020
The Bloody White BaronThe Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of MongoliaPalmer, James2/26/202003/04/2020
The MastermindDrugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.Ratliff, Evan3/13/202003/15/2020
The Secret TokenObsession, Deceit, and the Search for the Lost Colony of RoanokeLawler, Andrew3/15/202003/21/2020
Indispensable Goods
Pepper, Tom4/23/202005/06/2020
The Dark Tower IThe GunslingerKing, Stephen4/24/202004/24/2020
The Dark Tower IIThe Drawing of the ThreeKing, Stephen4/26/202004/28/2020
The Dark Tower IIIThe Waste LandsKing, Stephen5/2/202005/13/2020
The Origins of UnhappinessA New Understanding of Personal DistressSmail, David5/6/202005/27/2020
The Dark Tower IVWizard and GlassKing, Stephen5/14/202005/21/2020
The Wind Through the KeyholeA Dark Tower NovelKing, Stephen5/21/202005/23/2020
The Dark Tower VWolves of the CallaKing, Stephen5/23/202005/30/2020
Valis
Dick, Philip K.5/30/202006/01/2020
The Dark Tower VISong of SusannahKing, Stephen6/2/202006/05/2020
A Maze of Death
Dick, Philip K.6/5/202006/08/2020
The Dark Tower VIIThe Dark TowerKing, Stephen6/8/202006/15/2020
The Divine Invasion
Dick, Philip K.6/16/202006/27/2020
Downward To The Earth
Silverberg, Robert6/28/202006/30/2020
Faking HistoryEssays on Aliens, Atlantis, Monsters, and MoreColavito, Jason6/30/202007/02/2020
The Quest for Wilhelm Reich
Wilson, Colin7/2/202007/06/2020
Wilhelm ReichPsychoanalyst and Radical NaturalistCorrington, Robert S.7/6/202007/12/2020
The Western Esoteric TraditionsA Historical IntroductionGoodrick-Clarke, Nicholas7/12/202007/16/2020
Provenance
Leckie, Ann7/21/202007/22/2020
KrakenAn AnatomyMiéville, China7/22/202007/26/2020
Woken Furies
Morgan, Richard K.7/26/202007/29/2020
La Balle du néantLes Futurs mystères de ParisWagner, Roland C.7/30/202008/02/2020
Ancillary Justice
Leckie, Ann8/3/202008/05/2020
Ancillary Sword
Leckie, Ann8/5/202008/07/2020
Ancillary Mercy
Leckie, Ann8/7/202008/09/2020
AuthorityA NovelVanderMeer, Jeff8/11/202008/14/2020
AcceptanceA NovelVanderMeer, Jeff8/14/202008/16/2020
The Forge and the CrucibleThe Origins and Structure of AlchemyEliade, Mircea8/18/202008/30/2020
Hawksbill Station
Silverberg, Robert8/18/202008/19/2020
Continental Philosophy A Very Short IntroductionCritchley, Simon8/19/202008/19/2020
Analytic PhilosophyA Very Short IntroductionBeaney, Michael8/20/202008/23/2020
The Medusa Chronicles
Baxter, Stephen; Reynolds, Alastair8/28/202009/01/2020
Consider Phlebas
Banks, Iain M.9/2/202009/18/2020
The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe
Flint, Valerie Irene Jane9/2/202009/16/2020
On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism
Scholem, Gershom Gerhard9/17/202009/24/2020
The Player of Games
Banks, Iain M.9/18/202009/20/2020
Use Of Weapons
Banks, Iain M.9/20/202009/25/2020
Starfish
Watts, Peter9/25/202009/27/2020
Don’t Sleep, There Are SnakesLife and Language in the Amazonian JungleEverett, Daniel L.9/28/202009/29/2020
A Parting of the WaysCarnap, Cassirer, and HeideggerFriedman, Michael10/1/202010/05/2020
Jurassic ParkA NovelCrichton, Michael10/4/202010/05/2020
The Lost World
Crichton, Michael10/6/202010/07/2020
John Dee and the Empire of AngelsEnochian Magick and the Occult Roots of the Modern WorldLouv, Jason10/7/202010/22/2020
The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age
Yates, Frances Amelia10/7/202010/18/2020
Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy
Karatani, Kojin10/31/202011/14/2020
Pandemic!COVID-19 Shakes the WorldZizek, Slavoj11/4/202011/04/2020
An Insula Life 
Pepper, Tom11/5/202011/06/2020
Time in the DitchAmerican Philosophy and the McCarthy EraMcCumber, John11/13/202011/17/2020
Greek BuddhaPyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central AsiaBeckwith, Christopher I.11/14/202011/26/2020
Warriors of the CloistersThe Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval WorldBeckwith, Christopher I.11/29/202012/01/2020
Stranger from AbroadHannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and ForgivenessMaier-Katkin, Daniel12/10/202012/16/2020
A Corpse in the Koryo
Church, James12/18/202012/19/2020
Bamboo and BloodAn Inspector O NovelChurch, James12/19/202012/20/2020
Hidden MoonAn Inspector O NovelChurch, James12/19/202012/19/2020
The Man with the Baltic StareAn Inspector O NovelChurch, James12/21/202012/22/2020
A Drop of Chinese BloodA MysteryChurch, James12/22/202012/23/2020
The Gentleman from JapanAn Inspector O NovelChurch, James12/28/202012/29/2020

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