things to read as the end is nigh!
here's what i loved reading this year
It’s the end of the year— and the end of my least favorite time of year, The Holidays. I am a noted holiday skeptic, as those who know me know. Who needs all that anxiety! Not me! And apparently not my daughter, if this picture is any indication:
But it is worth noting that we were the recipients of a Holiday miracle this year. While we were in California visiting Zak’s friends and family, the junction box (???) that our HVAC system plugs into (??? I don’t know what any of these terms mean but nevertheless) exploded, blowing the cover off of the box. The fire self-extinguished it seems, and it is apparently a miracle our house is still standing.
Gonna tell you all the stuff I loved reading this year BUT before we get started, three things to flag.
First, my new podcast, UNREFORMED, comes out in 19 days. It’s about a “juvenile reformatory” outside of Montgomery, Alabama, and there are very few things I’m more grateful for and proud of in my career than this project. It was revelatory, devastating, moving, hopeful. I’ll send a link out here as soon as I have one.
Second, I joined Sarah Marshall for the third time on You’re Wrong About to talk about my ****issues**** with season 1 of Serial. It’s a patreon bonus episode, but I hope you check it out and joing the patreon.
Third, I’m going to publish a lot more in the new year so keep your eye on this newsletter unless you hate my thoughts in which case ignore it (but keep subscribing please????). Also, share with your friends thanks!
Anyway, end of the year means time to tell you ten things I loved reading this year. The only rule here is that there are no rules except these rules: I have left out all of Zak’s pieces because it seems unfair to include him, because all his pieces are my favorite (ESPECIALLY THIS ONE!!!!)
Also, I might be forgetting some, these are in no particular order, and there may be more than ten in the end. It’s a journey, friends.
FIRST – early this year I read Jessamine Chan’s “The School for Good Mothers” which absolutely destroyed me. It’s a really incredible book, dystopian and realistic in all the right ways, and it’s a real indictment of the ways in which our governments punish parents and separate families. And the end is one of the most emotional ends to a book that I’ve ever read. It’s great. Can’t recommend it enough.
SECOND – I Lived the #VanLife. It Wasn’t Pretty. By Caity Weaver
That anyone would allow Caity Weaver to go camping (or camping-ish) — AND that someone actually accompanied her — is frankly insane. That being said, I’m glad those insane people exist, because it led to the most enjoyable article I read this year. I laughed out loud at least five times. Caity is one of my very favorite writers (if you’re reading, Caity, I never said this) and I guarantee you will enjoy her suffering as you read this.
She also wrote another GREAT article this year, called “Could I Survive the ‘Quietest Place on Earth’?” It’s about - you guessed it — the quietest place on earth. It’s also GREAT. She’s truly an unprecedented talent.
THIRD – We’re Not Going Back to the Time Before Roe. We’re Going Somewhere Worse by Jia Tolentino
Jia is another brilliant writer, obviously, and a remarkably lovely human being. This piece does such a good job covering how the Dobbs decision is made worse by our carceral infrastructure and modern surveillance state.
FOURTH – Ok this one is def a cheat because it’s really four in one. There are a few substacks I read without fail and they’re always excellent. First is Substance by Tana Geneva, which Zachary Siegel contributes to a ton. It covers the intersection of drugs and our carceral system, and it’s great.
Second is a long time favorite, Posse Comitatus, by Jess Pishko. Jess knows more about sheriffs than anyone else in America, and given their increasing political power and radicalization, everyone should be reading this particular newsletter.
Third is The Watch by Radley Balko, whose blog I started reading in high school. He’s an incredible journalist and has changed the way I think about so much.
Fourth is LawDork by Chris Geidner – incredible legal analysis, incisive commentary on the CJ system, and a frankly terrifying understanding of the goings on at the Supreme Court.
FIFTH is kind of related to FOURTH in that it includes newsletters for publications. Also related because I truly believe that if you sign up for the four newsletters listed above, and the three I’m about to list here, you will learn SO MUCH about our criminal legal system and the structural and political forces that shape it.
Sure, I’m biased, but The Appeal’s newsletter really is an incredible resource for news and analysis about the CJ system. Sign up halfway down the homepage here.
Also, Balls and Strikes is the best publication covering the Supreme Court, bar none. There’s nothing like it, and it provides incredible analysis of both the institution itself and the decisions it makes. Their newsletter is also very good and often hilarious. Sign up here.
And Bolts Mag is also invaluable at providing a comprehensive overlook of how shifts in politics and power are affecting criminal justice and voting rights in particular. Somehow Daniel and his team manage to cover countless jurisdictions across the country, it’s mind-blowing and incredibly valuable. Their newsletter is here.
SIXTH – The Haves and the Have-Yachts by Evan Osnos.
Okay yall this article is BANANAS. It’s about yachts and yacht culture among the super rich, and my jaw dropped like 11 times while reading it. It’s…infuriating, it’s fascinating, it’s soapy, it’s everything you could want in one article. Give it a read.
SEVENTH - The Abortion I Didn’t Have This is another cheat, because it’s from 2021. But I read it this year, and I think it’s a beautiful recollection of the ambivalence of motherhood – and how the right to choose doesn’t mean the decisions are easy. It’s from a woman who loves her children enormously while recognizing that her decision to not get an abortion affected them and her deeply. It’s really worth reading.
EIGHTH – No More Police: The Case for Abolition by Mariama Kaba and Andrea Ritchie
This, by two women I admire so much, is an excellent book that lays out such a beautiful vision for the future. It’s incisive and brilliant and one of those books that, I believe, can really change the minds of skeptics. Read it.
NINTH – I loved loved LOVED The Candy House by Jennifer Egan. It’s sort of a sequel to A Visit From The Goon Squad, which I also loved. They’re both brilliant books, and the ideas and stories stick with you (you will never forget the powerpoint chapter in AVFTGS!) Zak thought The Candy House was even better than the first – I think I liked them equally.
TENTH – Monuments to the Unthinkable - Clint Smith
What do we celebrate and what do we obscure? How do we atone? What do we construct to justify our mistakes? Or our horrors? Or the darkest parts of our history?
Clint asks— and also tries to answer— these questions in this piece, and it’s deeply beautiful. Clint is not only a great writer, he is a great thinker. I don’t just mean this academically, for what it’s worth, though he is also a great academic thinker. What I mean is he thinks about PEOPLE in a great, expansive way. He is, without a doubt, absolutely one of the best people I know. He’s a great father. He’s a great partner. He’s an AMAZING friend. He has the kind of heart that one could only hope to encounter, because it is so kind, so open, so loving. I am so lucky that he is my friend. (If you haven’t listened to our podcast Justice in America please do)
BONUS – okay one more half an hour out from 2023 – another great book I read this year was called Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. But here’s the thing — part of the reason I like it is because it’s soooo imperfect. There’s a lot that I feel could have been….better? Different? more polished?
But who cares? It’s bold. It tries hard. It brings you into another universe. It made me imagine something beyond my world. It made me want to learn and try new things. It made me want to do the impossible.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a good ending to this list as we head to 2023. Listen, my friends, my babies, my idols. Maybe….maybe the next year is good? Maybe it’s a blessing. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe it’s an omen. Maybe we should hope for something better. Maybe that’s the job.
Maybe tomorrow is the point.
What do they say? Good night and good luck? I’ll meet you back here in the new year.
“So much to be done and undone”
Let’s get to work.
Thanks for reading.
You make the best recommendations! Added everything to my local bookstore shopping list.
I loved Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, in a really weird way. Like it wasn’t necessarily a book I couldn’t put down, but after I finished I kept rereading passages or entire chapters. There’s something deeply special about it.