In the past couple of years, at the end of each year, I’ve taken some time to look at the best things I’ve read and written through that year and how/if any of it has changed me as a person, reader, and writer. Inevitably, interesting patterns emerge in this kind of retrospective analysis. Just as importantly, gaps also emerge that show me, sometimes, how my reading and/or writing aren’t in sync with my personal and/or professional priorities, therefore calling for a bandwidth realignment.
Let me start by sharing some of the thought-provoking articles I came across this year. The main aspect that stood out was that I read far fewer business and science/technology articles this year than ever before. Understandably so, as my focus in 2015 has been on certain personal literary writing projects. Still, this lack of balance is bothersome and I will definitely be looking to remedy it in 2016. Also, I intend to keep better logs because I’m sure I’ve missed a few good ones below.
So, here are my best online reads from this year. Topics range from gender equality to election politics to financial crises to, yes, the meaning (and anti-meaning) of life.
Gender equality and feminism came to the forefront this year because of greater amplification through social media. These are not new issues, of course, but how they’ve been given voice, in more compelling and urgent ways, has made me pay more attention.
Earlier this year, Harvard University did a series of interviews called the “Experience Series“, where they talked with certain faculty members on what made them teachers and scholars and covered their personal and professional journeys. The entire set is well worth reading. The ones that stood out for me were the ladies: Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law School; Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Emily Hargroves Fisher Endowed Chair; Melissa Franklin, the first woman to earn tenure in Harvard’s Physics Department and part of teams that discovered two elementary particles: the top quark at Fermilab and the Higgs boson at CERN.
About three years ago, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who worked in the Hillary Clinton State Department as the first woman director of Policy Planning, wrote a contentious essay titled ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All‘. In 2015, she put out a new book, just as controversial, called ‘Unfinished Business‘. And, this essay, by her husband, ‘Fathers Who Serve as the Primary Parent‘ was a terrific read. Years ago, I ended a long-term relationship because my partner wanted kids but didn’t want to share the responsibility equally to raise them. My career would have had to take a complete backseat to his if we’d decided to have children together. Unable/unwilling to accept that, I chose my career because I had invested so much in it and I wanted to achieve much more. It was one of the most painful, guilt-ridden decisions of my life. I don’t regret it now.
And, guess what? There are many more like me out there — men and women — in every walk of life. Still, childless/single people, especially women, get a bad rap. No, we don’t hold the monopoly on being selfish — see Meghan Daum’s ‘Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids‘ and read some excellent excerpts here. And, no, we don’t hate kids — see Liz Plank’s brilliant video on ‘The Truth About Women Who Don’t Have Kids‘. And, yes, single people can be happy too, even though, as with almost all choices in life, singlehood has its price.
Back to the topic of work and life balance, one of the biggest hurdles women face is workplace bias. When a VC firm executive gave an interview recently about how it was hard to find talented women in tech, he raised hackles everywhere. It wasn’t simply a matter of tone-deafness, as Jess Nordell wrote in this excellent article:
The problem is that the idea that women are not as good is so deeply embedded in the mind of so many people in positions of power, that it is not even recognized. It’s a belief system that leads one to automatically and without awareness, connect “women” with “lower standards” and “woman as good as a man” with “the exception.”
Related to these gender prejudices is the issue of how women’s history has been systematically erased over centuries. BBC Two did a terrific mini-series with Dr Amanda Foreman on ‘The Ascent of Woman‘ to uncover some of these history-making women that we don’t know much about. She’s working on a book, which I am looking forward to.
And, finally, to end on a slightly lighter note, this funny-but-true piece by Homa Mojtabai for McSweeney’s covers the typical BS that women are still hearing in workplaces everywhere, even in 2015. Let’s hope that 2016 brings a change to this tired old script.
Overall, as Jessica Valenti points out, 2015 drove conversations on sexism (and racism) to a new, heightened level — at least in the developed world. Long may it continue.
On the political front, there’s so much going on the world over: Syria/ISIS, gun violence in the US, terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere; the US election campaigns, and much more. Hard to pick any one article as there have been many good ones. So, I’ll simply go with these, though they are mostly US-centric:
First, one of the more cogent fact-based arguments against gun rights. Whichever side of the debate you’re on, you owe it to yourself to read this about gun culture by Dan Wilhelm.
Gloria Steinem is in her eighties and has another book out. She’s going strong, God bless her. I’ve listened to her on various podcasts this year and cannot get enough of her insights and witticisms. This article she wrote about Hillary Clinton takes its place in her “Best of” list for me. And, that is a long list, let me tell you (one of these days, I will compile a separate post of my favorite Steinem hits).
‘The Big Short‘ is one of my favorite films of this year. Really, any book-to-movie thing by Michael Lewis is a favorite. And, this interview with one of the key people from the book and movie, Michael Burry, about the next big crisis is worth a few minutes.
It’s not been a year of doom and gloom, though. Angus Hervey summed up eleven good reasons why 2015 was great for humanity. So, let’s end this segment with that.
2015 has been, for me, one of those years where I’ve spent a fair bit of time musing on those big questions about direction, purpose, meaning, and so on. Not the first time I’ve done this and it certainly won’t be the last. So, here are some reads that touch on all of these and have given me much food for thought.
Mark Manson wrote an excellent post titled “Screw finding your passion“. Instead, it’s about priorities and how we choose to spend our time. His no-nonsense approach reminded me of this post that Cracked.com publishes every year on harsh truths that will make you a better person.
Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley investor and thought leader, talked about the toxicity of competition and how we mythologize its virtues, something I’ve long believed in.
Combining both Manson’s and Thiel’s thinking in a gentler tone, Sloane Davidson wrote about how eulogies aren’t resumes and we need to learn about which is more important to us. If you need some help with figuring that out, read about how Oliver Sacks responded to finding out he had terminal cancer. And, then, read some Tim Urban on how you can improve as a human in a meaningful way (this is one of my all-time favorite blogs, by the way — lots of good stuff).
One important caveat: if we want to understand more about meaning in life, we also need to understand more about anti-meaning. This matters because it helps us get better clarity about meaning and because the overall meaningfulness of activities and lives is partly determined by the anti-meaning they contain. Got it? Good.
But, before you rush out to buy several self-help books (and there are plenty out there this time of year), start with good ol’ Nietzsche — more answers than any pop self-help book.
This year, I embraced my introversion. Friends and family have always known this about me, of course. But, we’ve all had our frustrations with what this means re. how I behave/react/exist. So, this article on the science behind introversion was very welcome. As was this one on solitude. Yes, it really can be fun to do things on your own.
In my forties now, I also reflected a fair bit about the whole getting-older bit with these gems: Amanda Clayman’s essay on how she’s appreciating life more after forty; Ed Merck’s look-back after reaching seventy on the six stages between forty and seventy; Stephanie Georgopolous on allowing yourself to peak again; David Robson on what is considered the “prime of life“, scientifically speaking for different kinds of activities; and, finally, this timeless, beautiful wisdom from six New Yorkers, aged eighty-five-plus.
By far, the articles/essays that I focused on the most were related to writing and literature. So, I’ll cover those in Part 2.
Part 3 will cover book-reading. My best reads of 2015 aren’t the bestsellers of the year but they’ve all been amazing and I can’t wait to share them with you.
Finally, in Part 4, I want to talk a bit about how my 2015 reading has influenced my writing and how that has shaped my 2016 reading and writing resolutions.
In between, somewhere, I’ll cover my favorites from TV, film, and radio as well.
Please feel free to comment on what you think of these favorites. And, definitely, share your own too.