My reading divides itself up into 3 general buckets:
- Magazine articles
- Online posts and articles
When asked how I manage to read so much, my go-to reply is that reading is my default idle. If I am not doing anything else1 I am reading or listening to an audiobook2. That idle time plus dedicated chunks of the day I find here or there is when I read books.
I also subscribe to a whole bunch of magazines that reflect the variety of my interests. I prefer these magazines in physical form because it gives me an opportunity to read off screens3. I have a more regimented method for reading my magazines. I wrote a little script that randomly selects a feature article for me to read each day, and I read that article while eating a light breakfast in the morning, usually out on the deck. I post what I read on Twitter4 each morning, like this from yesterday5:
The final bucket is online posts and articles. These I tend to read when I know I have a small set chunk of time, like when I am making Mac-n-Cheese for the kids and waiting for the water to boil, or when I finish up a piece of work and discover that I have only 5 minutes before my next meeting6.
Each year, I write about my favorite books of the year on January 1. (Here is the post for my favorite books from 2021.) Most “best book of the year” lists come out in late November or early December in time for holiday sales, and I get that, but I feel bad for all of the books that come out in November and December that get excluded so I make it point to post my list of favorites on January 1 just in case there is a masterpiece that I read in December.
For reasons I can’t entirely explain, but may have something to do with my desire to write something today, I don’t have the same compunction about articles I read online. Here, therefore, is my post on the best writing I’ve read online in 2022–so far.
A brief survey of online writing in 2022
Something changed for me in 2022 with respect to my online reading. For the first time, I think I pay for more of what I read online than I’ve ever done in the past. There are some good blogs and newsletters that I read that are free and have great writing, but quite a bit of the items that appear on this Best Of list are things that I subscribe to and pay money for. Why is this? It seems in part that online writing is self-sorting into a grouping of markets:
- There is a vast universe of blogs that are free and range in quality from abyssmal to incredible7.
- There are a growing number of subscription-based newsletter-blogs, like Substack, to which many professional writers are flocking. In my experience so far, the quality here is significantly higher than that of the general blog population, which makes sense since these are professional writers who write for professional markets in addition to what they writer for their newsletter. That said, some services, like Medium8 have an almost remarkably wide-range of quality.
Medium, in particular, is a very mixed bag. It reminds me of those Harry Potter jelly beans, where there are many repulsive flavors, but scattered among them are some gems. Unlike Substack subscriptions, where something like 90% of the revenue goes to the author9, Medium pools its subscription fees and gives authors a cut based on some algorthim that involves relative clicks and reads. The two models make for distinct quality-variations. So far, for instance, all of the Substack newsletters I’ve read written by professional writers have generally been high quality. If people are going to pay for individual newsletters, they expect quality and my experience, so far, is that is exactly what I get.
Medium is different. I’ve discovered a handful of really good writers on Medium, and it is for those few writers that I pay for a Medium subscription. The rest of the writing on Medium, it sometimes seems to me, is a cacophony of voices screaming out click-bait headlines that often diametrically oppose one another and that offer extremes. This makes sense when I consider that all of these voices are attempting get clicks to pry funds from the same pool of money. Just a few examples from my “for you” feed in Medium:
- “These 4 Habits Will 10x Your Productivity”
- “The One Productivity App You Cannot Live Without10“
- “How to Remember Everything You Read” — the real answer: be born with an eiditic memory, which, alas, I was not11.
- “To-Do Lists Are Ineffective, Obsolete, and Exist in Vain”
- “Why You Should Stop Writing To-Do Lists” — I’ve added this one to my to-do list so that when I stop writing to-do lists, I’ll forget to read this.
- “A Simple Way to Organize Your Life”
- “Why OOP12 Is Bad”
- “One App to Remember Everything You Read” — for those of us without eidetic memories13.
- “10 Simple Hacks to Consistently Write Over 1000 Words in 60 Minutes” — this might actually be useful if it included the words “high quality.” I can type fast enough to write 1000 words in 30 minutes, but I wouldn’t guarantee the quality.
One thing that stands out in posts like these on Medium is the use of words like “You” and “Your.” In reality, a post titled, “These 4 habits have 10x’d my productivity” is a perfectly reasonable expression because it reflects the writer’s own experience, whereas “These 4 Habits Will 10x Your Productivity” is a sham fortune-tellers best-guess. The statement assumes knowledge that it is not possible to have (like what my current productivity is) as well as the law of diminishing returns — if my productivity is already high, 10x-ing it is unlikely.
For the record, and not counting the many magazine subscription I pay for, here are the online newsletters and subscriptions I’ve paid for in 2022:
- Breaking the News by James Fallows (Substack, $60/year)
- Joe Blogs by Joe Posnanski (Substack, $60/year)
- The Long Game by Molly Knight (Substack, $50/year)
- Medium ($50/year)
- The Athletic ($72/year)
Some of the best things I’ve read online in 2022
Now that I’ve gotten all of that out of the way, here are some of the best things that I’ve read online in 2022. These are listed in no particular order, except that I’ve saved the best for last, so if you are only interested in the best thing I’ve read online in 2022, skip to the bottom. (P.S.: It’s free, so you can read it without a subscription.)
Breaking the News by James Fallows on Substack (Paid)
James Fallows is a veteran reporter, as well as a pilot. Along with his wife, Deborah, he wrote what was my favorite book in 2020, Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America.
His Substack newsletter, Breaking the News, is a gem. Not only does Fallows have an original and readable writing style, but he writes intelligently about important subjects, in particular examining how the news media portrays the news. Over the year he has been writing a series of pieces on “Framing the News” which for anyone wanting to understand, for instance, why the predicted Red Wave in the recently election didn’t take place, is a good place to start. I eagerly look forward to each new piece Fallows writes.
Joe Blogs by Joe Posnanski on Substack (Paid)
Joe Posnanski has to be the best modern sportswriter writing today. His book, The Baseball 100 was my favorite book of 2021. Indeed, I have gifted several signed copies of the book to friends and family in the last year–that’s how much I liked it.
His Substack newsletter, Joe Blog’s is baseball-centered, but there is also a lot of other stuff that gets into the mix. One of the things I love about his writing is his enthusiastic style. Reading Joe, you can tell how excited he gets writing about whatever subject he takes under his pen. Another thing I love is that he is not afraid to digress, and indeed, embraces the entire concept of digression so that his essays begin like planned tour with an experienced guide, who decides to go off the beaten path and enliven the experience with a whole bunch of divergent-but-still-relevant stuff that wasn’t listed in the brochure.
I would love to see Joe write more about his writing process. The essays that make up The Baseball 100 were originally written for The Athletic over a period of 100 days. These essays probably average 3,000 words, are extremely well written, and he did all of that writing and research in 100 days. It seems absolutely incredible to me.
Golden Age of Hollywood by Melanie Novak
A guilty pleasure of mine, often indulged in during our annual December sojourn to Florida, is reading Hollywood memoirs, or books about Hollywood. I particularly prefer older Hollywood. I spent part of my vacation last December with Mel Brooks, for instance. Bing Crosby is probably my all-time favorite entertainer, and I’ve absolutely loved reading Gary Giddin’s 2-volume biography of Crosby14. I mention this because one way I indulge in this guilty pleasure throughout the year is through Melanie Novak’s blog series, The Golden Age of Hollywood. I wake up each Wednesday morning to a new post (most recently, “Craig’s Wife (1936): Careful What You Wish For“) on the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Melanie writes with an entertaining style, which already puts her a cut above the countless film review blogs out there that come across as a petulant, angry reviewers either demanding their money back or claiming they could do better. There are two other elements that make Melanie’s posts my favorite weekly. First is the historical background they provide. These posts are well-researched, and like any good article about a film, talk about the film’s context in addition to its content. Second is the sheer consistency of Melanie’s efforts. I think her latest entry is the 130th in the series. Fortunately, there are countless films from Hollywood’s golden age, good and bad, and so I don’t fear Melanie will run out of subjects any time soon.
Reading these weekly posts, I imagine myself heading off to the film in question as if it was an Occasion, as indeed film-going once was. Many of the films mentioned I’ve never seen, and based on what I’ve read in her posts, I’ve gone ahead and located the movie somewhere and watched it from the comfort of my own home with more delight than I would get from going to a blockbuster summer flick at the megatheater today.
This month, Melanie is doing an additional series on “Movies I’m Thankful For.” And I have to mention that in addition to all these posts on film, Melanie does a Sunday post that is a delightful potpouri of whatever is on her mind. It is all worthwhile, all highly recommended, and this one is also entirely free.
The Marginalian by Maria Papova
I’m not sure how long I’ve been a subscriber to Maria Papova’s newsletter The Marginalian15 but it has been a long time. I get the newsletter emailed to me on Sundays, and it is the newsletter equilvalent of a Sunday morning magazine show. An eclectic assortment of fascinating topics are covered. Sometimes I read the whole thing, sometimes I skim, but I always find something relevant to latch on to. Sunday’s wouldn’t feel like a Sunday to me withou The Marginalian.
Clive Thompson on Medium
My complaints about Medium’s content offerings notwithstanding, there are some great writers there. Clive Thompson is one of them. I first encountered Thompson’s writing in the pages of WIRED, and would always read his articles first in any issue they appeared. He writes about tech, science and culture, and has a programmer’s mind, which resonates with me since I am programmer in my day job16.
I only recently discovered that Clive Thompson writes 3x/week on Medium. Most of his posts are “Member-only”, meaning you have to subscribe to Medium to read them, but just a sampling of some of the titles will illustrate the difference between what he writes and some of that noisy cacaphony I described earlier:
- “Timed” Math Tests Destroy Kids’ Love of Math” — this one resonated with me since all three of my kids are at various levels of math in school.
- “Why ‘Microhistories’ Rock” — since I love microhistories18 this one also resonated with me.
- “The Literary Style of Voice Dictation“
- “How I Take Notes When I’m Doing Research” — note the “I” vs. the “You Should” that many Medium articles use.
I enjoy Thompson’s posts so much that I now get email reminders when they appear.
Susan Orlean on Medium
Susan Orlean is another great writer writing on Medium. She is, perhaps, most famous for her book The Orchid Theif which was adapted into the motion picture Adaptation. But her more recent book The Library Book was one my favorite book of 2018.
On Medium, Susan Orlean writes mostly about writing but her style is as charming as I found it in The Library Book. I enjoyed a recent piece she did on “Size Matters (Or Does It?)” when it comes writing columns and articles19. Her’s is another Medium blog that I subscribe to via email so that I am always alerted when a new post comes out.
My favorite of 2022: “The Art of Letting Go” by Robert Breen
The single best piece of writing I read online this year was, without a doubt, a long essay by Robert Breen titled, “The Art of Letting Go.” If there is something that encapsulates a well-written, moving personal essay, it has to be this piece. It is reflective without being morose. It is descriptive and clear. Most of all, it is moving. You have to read it for yourself, and if you only read one piece mentioned in this post, read Robert’s.
This writer tends to, like blotting paper, take on the qualities of the writers I happen to be reading at any given moment. It is not a consciously intentional thing, but something that does happen from time-to-time. As a young writer, newly getting started20 on this journey, I mimicked the style of the writers I read. There are old stories of mine that read like bad impersonations of Harlan Ellison and Piers Anthony, for instance. Eventually, if a writer keeps at it long enough, they develop their own style, distinct, but with hints of an accent from this writer or that. And sometimes, even more seasoned writers are not immune to the occasional influence from what we read. I mention this because if someone is out there thinking, What has Jamie been reading lately, David Foster Wallace?, that someone would be spot-on. I’m making my way through Wallaces essay collection Consider the Lobster and absolutely loving his writing style, and the way his mind works. And his use of footnote. And footnotes of footnotes. I’ve actually written about footnotes before21 so this isn’t entirely new. But I figured an explanation was warranted.
And what about the best books I’ve read of 2022? For that post, you’ll have to wait until January 1. As of this writing, I’ve made it through 85 books so far, with a goal of 15 more to go before the end of the year. Since (a) I don’t know what those books will be yet, thanks to the butterfly effect of reading, and (b) any of those 15 books could jump onto the list of best books I’ve read in 2022, I want to wait until the year is out before producing a final list.
Written on November 10, 2022.
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- Or sometimes, if I am doing a mindless chore, or driving. ↩
- Which is just another form of reading ↩
- Occasionally, I’ll read a paper book as opposed to an e-book or audiobook as well. ↩
- I’m still on Twitter, still posting there, still reading there. ↩
- I haven’t gotten to today’s article yet, but I know that it will be “Some Like It Hot” by Sophie Lewis in the November Harper’s ↩
- Which generally isn’t enough time to get anything practical done, but which also doesn’t happen very often. Usually, I am bowing out of one meeting so that I can join the next. ↩
- This blog, free as it has always been, falls somewhere on this spectrum. Where, exactly, is not for me to say. ↩
- Which I also pay for as you will see momentarily ↩
- While it seems to keep the quality high, as I’ve written before, I’m not sure this is a sustainable model for the reader, who forks out $60/year per subscription. ↩
- I am living without it. ↩
- Incidentally, when my kids play the dinner game of “what superpower would you want if you could any superpower”, my answer is always, “I’d want an eidetic memory,” to which my family always rebukes me for not playing in the true spirit of the game. ↩
- OOP: Object-oriented programming ↩
- Also, this reminds me of a joke I can’t fully recall, possibly from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about someone inventing a television that watches itself so that you don’t have to. ↩
- White Christmas is also my favorite movie. I look forward to the first full viewing each holiday season, especially with my youngest daughter, who likes the movie just as much as I do. It will soon be time for that first viewing. It will also soon be time for eggnog. ↩
- This used to be called “Brain Pickings” but she changed the name. I’ll admit that I preferred “Brain Pickings” but what really matters is that the content is just as good, despite the name. ↩
- Actually, these days, I am more project manager than programmer, but my official title includes the words “Senior Application Developer” which is jargon for programmer, or, as Thompson might put it, “coder.” ↩
- For my own history of coding, see How I Learned to Write Code in 37 Short Years ↩
- For example Paper by Mark Kurlansky ↩
- I note as I write this line that this post is approaching 3,000 words, the longest one I’ve done in quite some time. ↩
- Next month will be the 30th anniversary of my sitting down to write a story with the idea of sending to a magazine for publication. ↩
- Of course I have ↩