I happened to come across a YouTube video where a guy reviewed all 164 books he read in 2021 in one (of course very long) sentence each. I thought it was a fun idea, but it's the middle of the year, so I'm reviewing (drumroll please)...
all 39 books I read in the second half of 2021 or the first half of 2022, in one sentence each! Where by "read," I mean "first mentioned in my diary (which is going stronger than ever, even though the blog post I linked is from early 2019)," because those are basically the same thing, right? (They're actually almost identical in my case, except that I didn't finish quite all of the books below, and there are probably some forgettable books that I never listed.)
I'm reviewing all 39 books I read in the second half of 2021 or the first half of 2022, in one sentence each!
The guy in that video rated all the books out of 5 stars, but I liked most of the books I read, and don't want to hurt their feelings. Therefore, you'll get to extrapolate from my one long sentence how much I liked the book!
In Which Jacob Has An Existential Crisis About Consistency
Say you're me and you've written this entire blog post you're pretty happy with, which reviews all 28 books you've read in the second half of 2021 or the first half of 2022 in one sentence each. And you've made this very aesthetically pleasing thumbnail you like, and you're reflecting that 28 was a very lucky number because it let you make a symmetrical thumbnail without distorting the book cover proportions very noticeably!
But then you remember that you also read three books in the Years of Lyndon Johnson series, and definitely would have mentioned them in your diary, and you check, and you did (but in an annoying way where you often referenced "the LBJ Book" instead of the title, forcing your future self to determine from context which book in the series it was). But you forgot to write reviews for them because, having read book 2 before July 2021, you had listed the whole series under that mention date in your spreadsheet (of course you have a spreadsheet), and it missed the cutoff.
But then you do another pass through your diary and found some books that you forgot, including a couple more books you mentioned but not by name in italics (curse Past You). But now that you're thinking about this, you're also wondering about other some questionable decisions you made: Ready Player One and Paper Towns were rereads, but you also reread The Scout Mindset in the timeframe (again, not the first mention — but you loved that book), and wouldn't Paper Towns have been mentioned in your diary if you had been doing it when you first read the book six years ago or whatever?
You're also wondering about whether you should include puzzle books, and are pretty excited to keep in the reviews of The Language Lover's Puzzle Book and Cracking the Cryptic's Greatest Hits, but then you notice you mentioned this compilation book of New York Times Monday crosswords from the 1990s, which you're pretty sure you started before the cutoff, so you're not sure what to do about that. But wait, you have an anecdote about that, so you should include it. And speaking of puzzle books, you did release your own puzzle book in November 2021, but you mentioned it in the first half of 2021, even though it wasn't done yet, and besides, it would be very narcissistic (but perhaps funny?) to review it.
And you also notice that you mentioned a time when you lent your friend a copy of The Bill of Rights, which you were reading for history class, but it wasn't really about the book, so does it really count? You also didn't quite finish that book (and you read just a few chapters of quite a few very large books for history), but you feel like it's fair to talk about books you didn't finish if you got the spirit, as you did for Winning Ways. And you definitely want to talk about Atlanta Nights, even though you only really read a chapter or two. Still, you're not sure that that particular history book deserves the airtime.
And now that you're doing this section, you could pretend that your existential crisis extends to whether audiobooks and fanfiction count, but they obviously do. The covers for the fanfic are unofficial, but they look good and were surprisingly easy to find (you should never have doubted fanfic readers), so you're fine with them.
While all of these thoughts are percolating in your brain, your secret objective is to come up with a consistent set of rules that also leaves you with exactly 28 books, so you can keep the aforementioned aesthetically pleasing thumbnail. Or maybe 30 would be okay too, you'd just have to decide whether to make the missing center bit in the second or third row, or maybe it should actually be the first row. You feel guilty for caring about this objective.
Fixing this blog post no longer excites you, and you plan to procrastinate it to when you have more energy to make these hard decisions, but then you remember: consistency hobgoblins! You can write a long, meta, meandering tangent that's in second person for some reason (I guess "Say you're me and..." is technically a Vi Hart reference, but since the next words weren't "you're in math class," it's not a very relevant one) about your struggle to determine which books should be included! It will be fun and cathartic to write, and your readers should know by now to expect nothing less.
You're going to include every book you mentioned in your diary between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, and read enough of, within that period, to have an opinion about.
But then, when it comes down to it, you still have to make the decision. And, ultimately, wasn't there only one? (No. Lots of things feel inevitable in retrospect that weren't! I wrote that line unironically, but I very easily and defensibly could have made a different decision.) You're going to include every book you mentioned in your diary between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, and read enough of, within that period, to have an opinion about. You're going to format a thumbnail with whatever final count of books you arrive at. You're going to do a thorough check back through to be sure. (It will turn out to be 38, except for the book you will later realize you forgot, which will make it 39.) And you're going to stop writing in second person instead of first. It's going to be fun.
And look, the thumbnail still looks decent!
The Actual Thing
As you will see, I read a lot of different kinds of books. They're in chronological order by when I read them (technically when they're mentioned in my diary).
Disclaimer: Not all content in all of the books below is the sort of family-friendly stuff I like to publish on Chromatic Conflux. I recommend you read any that sound interesting to you, but you may want to do a bit more research first!
Also, I do want to say that my enjoyment of books is often more about them connecting with/being interesting to me than good in any neutral sense. These reviews reflect my experiences with the books — yours might be different!
Without further ado, the books I've read from 2021 to 2022, reviewed in one sentence each:
The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't by Julia Galef
I loved this book, finished it in under 24 hours twice, and almost wrote a blog post about it: it provides a very strong basis for a lot of my philosophy and personal goals about seeking out disconfirming evidence, being appropriately confident and willing to bet, and striving for more accurate beliefs — along with a fun in-text calibration test, as well as proof that Spock's predictions on Star Trek manage to be anticorrelated with actual events.
The 2020 version of the video that inspired this blog post also mentioned a book the person wrote, so I'm not too much of a narcissist, right?
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
The protagonist starts this book (by the author of The Martian) stranded in space with no memory of why he is there, and the reader very satisfyingly discovers along with him why he's there, how the Astrophage works, and what he needs to do, featuring generally accurate science and what-did-you-reasonably-expect linguistics and politics.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
I read this book in advance of a Cortex review that tore it to shreds — while it's true that some of the book's groundbreaking social science findings later failed to replicate, the main theses remain intact, and contrary to that review, I found the book quite enjoyable to read.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This was a reread, or more accurately a relisten: I recommended this as an audiobook for my family to listen to on a road trip, and it was just the type of exciting puzzle hunt adventure story we wanted for that purpose.
Master of the Senate (Book 3 of The Years of Lyndon Johnson) by Robert Caro
While technically a work of biography, this series is secretly an epic fantasy thriller, depicting its protagonist as a genius power-hungry sociopath with a knack for seizing power from places it would've been impossible for anyone else to; I found this 1167-page book, which clocks in as the longest I've ever read, to be gripping from start to finish.
Leviticus (book 3 of the Torah)
I've been slowly but surely making my way through the Torah for about three years now, and mentioned it in my diary in 2021, but while I have thoughts on the topic, I will not be talking about the Torah on my blog today.
Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon
With a clever premise and an engaging narrative, this book, which I started reading at a bookstore and then had to finish, is the sort of well-written romance novel that I would gladly recommend to anyone who likes that sort of thing.
The Path to Power (Book 1 of The Years of Lyndon Johnson) by Robert Caro
I happened to read Book 2 of this series first, since my dad had it lying around, and then came across Book 3 in a bookstore, so I decided it was high time to read Book 1, which was as fascinating as the others — though if you start with it, beware that it talks a lot about the Hill Country's agricultural qualities before it gets to the payoffs.
The Exeter Book Riddles by an unknown 900s author, translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Within this collection of weird-but-not-that-weird first-millennium riddles, which I read for literature class, is a riddle where the answer is "barnacle goose" (based on the theory that they emerged, fully formed, from barnacles and driftwood), several with obscene double entendres, as well as one whose answer is "one-eyed seller of garlic," which it unfortunately turns out is probably supposed to mock low-status one-eyed people and garlic salesmen.
Yes, this is 188-chapter Harry Potter fanfiction which ships Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, but it's the most popular fanfic on Archive of Our Own for a reason: it's way more than that, very good, and made me read tens of chapters in a sitting while crying.
The Bill of Rights by Akhil Reed Amar
I probably wouldn't read this book, which was assigned in history class, for fun, but it has plenty of good information about the Bill of Rights and its partial incorporation against the states — and did you know that there was a rejected first amendment about Congressional apportionment which would have made apportionment impossible when the US population was between 8 and 10 million?
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by an unknown 1300s author, translated by Simon Armitage
This book, which I also read for literature class, is about a knight who consistently focuses on acting in the chivalrous way considered proper of a knight, without questioning anything about the world, and yet, from the book's perspective, his greatest character failing is that he is not even more chivalrous and unquestioning.
Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea
It's a bit of a travesty (pun intended) to list Atlanta Nights here, but I was briefly obsessed with this very unserious book, designed to expose PublishAmerica as a vanity press with no standards: each chapter was written by a different author with only a vague outline, characters changed gender and race throughout, Chapters 13 and 15 have the same segment of outline, Chapters 4 and 17 are literally identical, there are two Chapters 12, there is no Chapter 21, Chapter 34 was written by a neural net in 2004, the initials of the characters' names spell out "PublishAmerica is a vanity press," and it's revealed that all events were a dream only for the book to continue as if they weren't ... in addition to the writing style being deliberately, all-around bad — needless to say, PublishAmerica accepted it.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
I could feel Gladwell's hedgehog nature as I read this book, but it has some interesting anecdotes: we do like to see the underdog win.
Best of Monday Crosswords: 75 of Your Favorite Very Easy Monday Crosswords from The New York Times edited by Will Shortz
Turns out that New York Times Monday crosswords (the easiest day of the week) from the 1990s were harder for me than Mondays today, closer to Wednesdays, but harder more in the way of finishing most of the crossword but having a few squares, or a section, that I just can't do as a person who wasn't alive in the 1990s, except... the first puzzle in the book that played like a Monday from today, #52, had a constructor, Mark Gottlieb, I thought I recognized the name of — and it turns out he was the former Rules Manager of the game Magic: The Gathering, a wild coincidence!
The Language Lover's Puzzle Book by Alex Bellos
This is a book of very fun linguistics puzzles (I've made a handful) taken from olympiads, which require you to, in different ways, deduce how languages work from examples of words and sentences in that language, like cracking a code!
The Passage of Power (Book 4 of The Years of Lyndon Johnson) by Robert Caro
When Lyndon Johnson runs for president in 1960, he makes a critical mistake: he denies that he's running for so long, and so convincingly, that people actually believe him, and his natural allies have already endorsed other candidates: he becomes JFK's much-scorned vice president instead, but when Kennedy's assassinated, is reawakened and secures the passage of critical legislation on civil rights, taxes, and poverty, and then ... it's been ten years (granted, that's also the average gap in publication date between books in this series), hopefully the fifth and final book will come out soon?
Cracking the Cryptic's Greatest Hits by Cracking the Cryptic and Blue Beard Entertainment
This book contains tons of very good (though very difficult) variant sudoku puzzles from the YouTube channel Cracking the Cryptic (go watch The Miracle Sudoku if you haven't; if you have, why not The Miracle Killer Sudoku, which I got to test before this video was released?), and I am happily working through the book at a slow pace.
Play Optimal Poker: Practical Game Theory for Every Poker Player by Andrew Brokos
I do not have the knowledge of poker and poker jargon that this book assumed I had, but there was plenty of interesting content about the game from a game-theoretical perspective — here's something relatively simple I didn't appreciate before reading: you typically want to bet when your hand is very good (to get more money out of other players) and sometimes when your hand is very bad (to encourage other players to fold so you don't lose money), but not when your hand is average.
This is a short story collection in the same universe as Onions and Garlic (which you should read first), authored by friend (and recurring commenter) of the blog slash Prime Factorer of the Triunited Kingdom extraordinaire (who I recently met in person!): the format works well, I like that the stories stand on their own, and hi Autumn, how does it feel to be probably the only writer (besides me...) who's reading the one-sentence review of your book?
A Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine
Another book I read for lit class, and it exceeded my expectations, though it undergoes two bizarre and drastic tonal shifts throughout, which I argued in an essay were essentially driven by references to time: by the way, in Act 4, Father Time literally steps on stage as an old man with wings and an hourglass to announce a sixteen-year time jump.
Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar
I loved the Wayside School series when I was younger, and was super excited to hear that the series had been updated, but very much felt the fact that I'm no longer the target audience.
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
By the author of the Scythe series, which I love, comes a book that was fine and which I kind of forgot about, which I'm now realizing is the height of irony since the core trait of the titular character (the Schwa) is that everyone forgets about him.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
This is one of those books that is very hard to summarize but just had a writing style that I found absolutely captivating; I suggest this review by Jordan Ellenberg (which, along with a recommendation from a friend, caused me to read it), which praises "the way this book takes what’s become a standard bundle of complaints against 'literary fiction' ... and gleefully makes itself guilty of all of them, while being nevertheless rich in life and incident, hilarious, stirring, and of its time."
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, edited by Stevie Davies
You would be correct in assuming, given the date this book was published, that I read it for literature class, though I actually thought it was pretty readable and engaging, and wrote my essay about how social status both hinders the romantic relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester and is its cause.
Paper Towns by John Green
This was a just-for-fun reread of one of my all-time favorite novels, and I can tell you: it was just as fun and enjoyable as I remember (especially the road trip), and it should definitely be ranked in the very top tier of John Green novels.
Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle
After I reread Paper Towns, I realized this was the only John Green novel I'd never read (I would proceed to begin listening to his podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed as well, which I am currently enjoying), albeit a novel with two other authors — it wasn't as good as his other books, but still quite readable.
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
This book has a fun conceit: in addition to being written in letters from characters, letters of the alphabet progressively stop appearing in the book because of the plot; I thought the book was solid but slightly below expectations.
Winning Ways for Your Mathematical Plays: Volume 1 by Elwyn R. Berlekamp, John H. Conway, and Richard K. Guy
I'm a big fan of the mathematician John Conway (among many other things, co-inventor of Sprouts!), and watched a great hour-long video about the game Hackenbush and surreal numbers, which was inspired by this book, but... I consider myself a math person and just found this book a little too confusing and didn't finish it.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
The devil is in 1930s Moscow, but he's not trying to cause the most damage in the most efficient way: rather, he prefers to mess with the characters and sow chaos, for his and the reader's great entertainment.
This online book (which I was actually rereading) describes a psychological theory of organizations based on (despite the name) the US version of The Office, dividing the world into three categories with three names that sound like insults — the Losers, the Clueless, and the Sociopaths — and like all such typologies, there's a lot it doesn't explain, but it does have some explanatory power, and really fleshes out its theory.
Yes, this is fanfiction of a fanfiction (the very same one I mentioned earlier), and it was likewise very good in much the same ways the original one was, but a little bit less good.
Leviathan Wakes (Book 1 of The Expanse) by James S.A. Corey
I found the two main characters awkward and arrogant, and disliked the recurring sexualization of female characters (including an especially creepy example), but these issues became less prevalent as the book went on, with a world of space politics and warfare and an interesting, coherent plot.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
This book, the last I read for literature class, is about a half-Pueblo Native American World War II veteran with PTSD; despite being published more recently, it required a lot of focus to read, because of the many flashbacks and jumps in time, but this structure also serves to reinforce the confusion and pain in the mind and world of the main character.
The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack
This book, which I successfully pitched to read for my physics class (the teacher asked for suggestions for books to read and discuss), talks about five scenarios for the end of everything in the universe, and despite my normal preference for math over science, it was fascinating to learn about how astrophysicists determine the far future as well as the far past.
Either/Or by Elif Batuman
This quality of this book, a sequel to The Idiot, mirrors the protagonist's emotional state: in the beginning, it is enrapturing in exactly the same way The Idiot was; when the main character becomes depressed, the book loses some of its luster; and then when she, um, takes actions that make her happier but feel generic and hollow, the book continues to reflect this, which reinforces the book's theme about the ethical vs. aesthetic life in a very meta way — good on a sentence level as well.
What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
I actually debated including this the first time through: while I don't think I reread it in the second half of 2021 or the first half of 2022, I did finally binge the online What If archive, am excited for What If 2, and did a physics project inspired by What If (which is why it was mentioned in my diary).
Wyrd Sisters (a Discworld book) by Terry Pratchett
I got this book as a birthday gift, but didn't begin reading it for four months: this was a blunder, considering Pratchett's very witty writing style, which felt like it may have inspired a generation of writers; I disliked the lack of chapters in the book, though (you didn't think I'd get through an entire book review blog post without mentioning my desire for consistent and short chapter lengths, which are so desperately needed in the book The Goldfinch, did you?).
That's a Wrap
Well, those are all of them. I hope you enjoyed these one-sentence reviews, and that they maybe gave you some ideas for books to read! Sorry for all the inevitable dashes, colons, semicolons, commas, and parentheticals. If you enjoyed, let me know, I might do something like this again in the future!
I am aware that in my last blog post, I promised more posts soon, and that that was two months ago, but there really will be more blog posts soon now: the next one will be out one week from today! So there, I've manufactured hype.