Writing Process

2022 in Books: Worst to Best

This past year was mostly filled with professional work, but I made some progress on personal projects as well. Axon, Inc.’s revisions are coming along slowly but surely. I took November to make progress on Return to Sagaia, which now is well over 40K words, and I’m super excited about it. I’m also continuing to work on my new short story, Orphan Moon, which will go in the new release of Wild Enough and Free. I did a bunch of background worldbuilding for Sagaia and the Gnial project. Besides fiction, I’m also working on my research into syntactic typology — hope to publish something about that this year.

I’m also publishing a new article on my druid blog about ChatGPT and some experiments I performed to explore whether it has “subconscious knowledge.” Short answer: it definitely does. (With luck, I’ll remember to post a link here when that’s done; but if not here’s Druid Journal at least.)

If you want to follow my work, besides this blog and Druid Journal, you can join me on Mastodon (I made the leap from Twitter a few months ago, and it’s been awesome), Tumblr, Goodreads and Bookwyrm. If you’re really committed and want to give something back, consider joining my Patreon. If you follow me there (following is free), you can get a free copy of my trans-positive Harry Potter / Wizard of Oz crossover fanfic, “Harry Potter and the Hourwick of Oz”. Higher tiers provide first drafts, pictures, maps, and online dictionaries.

Anyway, I managed to squeeze in some reading this year, too. I did a mix of classics, non-fiction, and new releases. Only one of them was thrown down in bitter disappointment. Ranked from worst to best, here they are. Do you agree with my ranking?

  1. Doing Our Own Thing by John McWhorter. Oh, this was bad, so bad. I gave up reading it properly and just skimmed to the end, but I counted it because I’d put in so much painful effort. I have every respect for McWhorter as a linguist, but this book is, at core, an attempt to justify his aesthetic dislike of modern American informal language. He is free to dislike it. But there is no scientific rationale for it being inferior to other formal or informal dialects or registers, and it’s intellectually dishonest to suggest that there is.
  2. The Dawn of Everything by Graeber and Wengrow. I wanted to like this book, a lot, but I just couldn’t. The book has a laudable goal (exploring why we have the unjust society we do, whether it was inevitable, and whether anything can be done about it) and it contains many relevant facts (about indigenous societies in particular) but their analysis is just shallow, incomplete, and doesn’t do justice to the ideas. The biggest single lack is the failure to consider geographic and environmental factors seriously — treating humans as if we were reasoning machines unaffected by our biology or environment, and nature as if it were a repository of resources instead of a vital partner in our society. I would say that if you want a real answer to these questions, the answer lies somewhere between Against the Grain and Cultish.
  3. Before Atlantis by Frank Joseph. This was a fun read. The middle part dragged, because it was mainly an exhaustive list of hundreds of dolmens and stone circles around the world. And Joseph was by no means convincing. But I do enjoy going down these rabbit holes; and, if I’m honest, I do think much of the evidence of humanity’s early civilizations has likely been destroyed by rising oceans. After all, during the last ice age, the oceans were lower, and the nicest, warmest places to live would have been along those ancient seasides. But that doesn’t mean that there was a single advanced Atlantean civilization behind it all.
  4. Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson. This book was fine (if a bit out of date), but didn’t have much to offer that I didn’t know already.
  5. The Historical Atlas of Native Americans by Ian Barnes. Goodreads says the book was published in 2019, but it feels older — it’s not as modern in its attitudes about white European colonialism and imperialism as it might be. And it contains a fair number of omissions and errors. Still, the maps are nice.
  6. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. I first read this in high school, and thought it was pretty great. Now… well, I can’t believe this beat the Lord of the Rings for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966. But “hard sci-fi” had more of a cachet then, at least in certain circles. (Arguably, there is more actual science — in the form of social science, i.e. anthropology, medieval studies, and linguistics — in LotR than there is in the Foundation.) The Foundation is more like an alternate / wish fulfillment scenario in which free-market America is transplanted into post-Roman Europe. IN SPACE.
  7. The Lost Colony Murder on the Outer Banks by John Railey and Kim Thorn. Not a masterpiece of literature, but again, lots of fun, and it did a great job of conjuring the sense of time and place, and making the people believable and compelling. A perfect, perfect beach read, especially if that beach is the Outer Banks.
  8. Motor Spirit: the Long Hunt for the Zodiac. An in-depth analysis of the hunt for the Zodiac and the killer’s connections to the libertarian / anarchist ‘zine scene of the 60’s in California. Interesting and quite a page-turner.
  9. Arrival by Ted Chiang. Been wanting to read this since I saw the movie. This was a collection of short stories that includes the famous aliens-linguistics-time-shenanigans story. Arrival was certainly excellent, and he’s definitely an engaging writer, but I found many of the stories less insightful and deep than I was hoping.
  10. Midnight Riot (Rivers of London), Moon Over Soho, Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovich. It’s been called “Harry Potter meets CSI” and that’s fair, except there’s more diversity in the cast of characters, which is awesome. Fun mysteries, fun characters, well written.
  11. The Writer’s Map by Huw Lewis-Jones. This was a lot of fun — and it had tons of maps, which I adored. Interesting to look at how writers used maps to inform their process.
  12. Extreme North by Bernd Brunner. An interesting look at the Scandinavian countries and their place in the consciousness of Europe, historically and in modern times. 
  13. The Art of Language Invention by David Peterson. Peterson is famous for his constructed languages (having done a masterful job creating the languages of Westeros and various other franchises), and this book shows his skill and his love of the art form. I myself didn’t learn much new from it, but I’d recommend it to anyone thinking about making a language or two.
  14. The Computer’s Voice by Liz Faber. I haven’t read an in-depth Freudian analysis like this one before, but if you squint and tilt your head it fits nicely into a cognitive linguistics account. That is to say: Freud believed that the subconscious drives he discovered were at work in all people at all times; but it’s more true to say that these drives were at work for many men and women in his time, and they’ve continued to influence culture into our own time. I’ve worked at half a dozen companies that created computer voices, and the biases and expectations that Liz talks about were definitely at work.
  15. The Creativity Code by Marcus du Sautoy. I enjoyed this as much for the insights into the process behind mathematical discovery as for his analysis of creativity itself.
  16. Dinotopia by James Gurney. Gurney is rightfully praised for his amazing art. His worldbuilding also shows flashes of innovation, although for the most part it’s nothing groundbreaking.
  17. Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain by Caitlin Matthews. A beautiful, useful, thought-provoking book, and a great companion to her Arthurian Tarot deck, which I’ve been using for a few years.
  18. The Art of Slow Writing. I tend to plan my writing a lot and execute pretty rigorously, so this was a great book to balance me out. Beautifully done.
  19. The Ignorant Perfection of Ordinary People by Robert Inchausti. This book argues that great social movements of the 20th century arose not from atheistic, humanistic ideals, but from religious, spiritual people who inspired their communities with faith and drive. People such as Gandhi, King, and Walecsa used their spirituality as a ground of strength to make profound social change. 
  20. Gandhi the Man by Eknath Easwaran. An inspiring book, especially for someone like me who knew little about Gandhi personally. The book makes it clear that he was a man of many flaws, especially when he was young, but he never stopped striving and working to better himself and his society. Truly a great soul. I hope to read more about him this year.
  21. King of the Celts by Jean Markale. I loved this. A book of great scholarship, but also a lot of speculation. To be sure, the speculation sometimes goes a bit wild, but it’s still a great ride. Arthur is a major archetype in my meditations these days, so I appreciated the deep dive.
  22. The Flame Imperishable by Jonathon S. McIntosh. I never thought a book by a Catholic theologian would get so many things right, but he does. It’s not an easy read, but it’s worth the slog to the top of his mountain if you can handle the rarified air up there. He argues, essentially, that Tolkien’s view of evil was that it is not a thing in and of itself, but a lack of goodness — a failure to recognize and embrace the good potential within us; a reaction against what we know to be right. In the process he makes a good case that Tolkien’s view is, in fact, correct. Great stuff.
  23. The Mabinogion (various authors; translated by Jeffrey Gantz). A challenging work but extremely interesting. I suspect Walton’s translation would be better, but I mainly wanted to read a short, close translation so that I could think about the themes and symbols in it.
  24. Dialect Diversity in America by William Labov. An excellent, important, accessible book. Most of it I already knew, at least in outline, but the details were fascinating. Labov’s research about the causes of dialect change was particularly insightful. I got a few other books of his for Solstice and I can’t wait.
  25. Beowulf (unknown; tr. Tolkien). This was fantastic. Tolkien’s translation is a masterpiece and this book includes essays and additional materials that bring Tolkien’s love for and scholarship of this work into clear view. Tolkien makes it clear that Beowulf was Arthur before Arthur himself: a figure that straddled Christian and Pagan worldviews, amalgams of historical and legendary figures. The book is worth getting just for Tolkien’s imaginative reconstruction of the earlier, pagan version of the Beowulf story.

I have a goal of 35 books again — ambitious but maybe doable. (My max, since 2011 when I started tracking this on Goodreads, was 32 in 2017. I was doing a lot of commuting and audiobooks that year.) I’m really looking forward to a few in particular: The Indigenous Peoples History of the United States, Irish in 100 Words, Markale’s book on Merlin, Labov’s Principles of Language Change, Seeds of Yggdrasil, and Where the Language Lives (a biography of Vi Hilbert, a tribal elder instrumental in preserving the Lushotseed languages of the Pacific Northwest). 

And we have some new kittens to help us snuggle up and read. Plenty of tea in the cabinets. Gonna be an amazing year.

1 thought on “2022 in Books: Worst to Best”

  1. Re “The Dawn of Everything”

    Yes, unfortunately, that book lacks credibility and depth.

    In fact “The Dawn of Everything” is a biased disingenuous account of human history (www.persuasion.community/p/a-flawed-history-of-humanity ) that spreads fake hope (the authors of “The Dawn” claim human history has not “progressed” in stages, or linearly, and must not end in inequality and hierarchy as with our current system… so there’s hope for us now that it could get different/better again). As a result of this fake hope porn it has been widely praised. It conveniently serves the profoundly sick industrialized world of fakes and criminals. The book’s dishonest fake grandiose title shows already that this work is a FOR-PROFIT, instead a FOR-TRUTH, endeavour geared at the (ignorant gullible) masses.

    Fact is human history since the dawn of agriculture has “progressed” in a linear stage (the “stuck” problem, see below), although not before that (www.focaalblog.com/2021/12/22/chris-knight-wrong-about-almost-everything ). This “progress” has been fundamentally destructive and is driven and dominated by “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” (www.rolf-hefti.com/covid-19-coronavirus.html ) which the fake hope-giving authors of “The Dawn” entirely ignore naturally (no one can write a legitimate human history without understanding and acknowledging the nature of humans). And these two married pink elephants are the reason why we’ve been “stuck” in a destructive hierarchy and unequal class system , and will be far into the foreseeable future (the “stuck” question — “the real question should be ‘how did we get stuck?’ How did we end up in one single mode?” or “how we came to be trapped in such tight conceptual shackles” — [cited from their book] is the major question in “The Dawn” its authors never really answer, predictably).

    “All experts serve the state and the media and only in that way do they achieve their status. Every expert follows his master, for all former possibilities for independence have been gradually reduced to nil by present society’s mode of organization. The most useful expert, of course, is the one who can lie. With their different motives, those who need experts are falsifiers and fools. Whenever individuals lose the capacity to see things for themselves, the expert is there to offer an absolute reassurance.” —Guy Debord

    A good example that one of the “expert” authors, Graeber, has no real idea on what world we’ve been living in and about the nature of humans is his last brief article on Covid where his ignorance shines bright already at the title of his article, “After the Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back to Sleep.” Apparently he doesn’t know that most people WANT to be asleep, and that they’ve been wanting that for thousands of years (and that’s not the only ignorant notion in the title) — see last cited source above. Yet he (and his partner) is the sort of person who thinks he can teach you something authentically truthful about human history and whom you should be trusting along those terms. Ridiculous!

    “The Dawn” is just another fantasy, or ideology, cloaked in a hue of cherry-picked “science,” served lucratively to the gullible ignorant underclasses who crave myths and fairy tales.

    “The evil, fake book of anthropology, “The Dawn of Everything,” … just so happened to be the most marketed anthropology book ever. Hmmmmm.” — Unknown

    “Never hide the truth to spare the feelings of the ignorant.” — Mikhail Bulgakov


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