Cuevano ~ Jorge Aranda

Recommendations from 2022

When you look for a recipe online, do you quickly scroll past the long reminiscences about growing up on a farm and Nonna’s secret spices? Me too. So let’s just skip the preamble here and get to the good stuff:


I had a blast with Turton’s “The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle”. I really couldn’t put it down… in fact I had so much fun that I read it all again a second time the moment I finished it! Without spoiling much, I would describe it as a combination of Groundhog Day, Agatha Christie mysteries, and Quantum Leap, and if any of those appeal to you, I think you’re going to love it.

DeWitt’s “The Last Samurai” was also fun, although a fun of a different kind. Denser, concerned with learning, exploring, non-conforming—concerned with genius, I suppose, but a genius that here feels within reach. It is also about parental and filial love, and it is surprisingly touching.

I’ve recommended many of Ursula LeGuin’s books before. This year I read “The Word for World is Forest”, and I think it is another gem. She explores colonialism, exploitation, violence, and cultural infection. Needless to say, it is a sad book. Also a very Taoist one.

Two more old books, but new to me. First, “The Great Gatsby”. How is it so good? I was dreading either a stiff solemn tragedy on ambition and hubris, or glitzy Leonardo DiCaprio, bootleg whiskey, and flappers. But Fitzgerald’s short book about class is neither. Instead it is fun, clever, nimble, quirky, beautifully written, and still relevant.

The other old book I only recently read is John Williams’ “Stoner”. I knew nothing about it—nor about Williams—when I picked it up at the bookstore, except that it was in the Staff Picks section. The cover was boring and one of the blurbs referred to the novel as “quiet.” It’s a campus book, and campus books tend to be rather meh. You are told what will happen to Stoner within the first paragraph, and it isn’t much of consequence. And yet, I think this is my favourite book of the year. It is wise, kind, observant, and it praises the persistent, dedicated, imperfect, and loving work that so many do every day to keep what is good alive.


If you approach self-help books with the same kind of subtle shame I do (it’s hard to admit you may need help, and that you are naive enough to think you might find it in a place as full of quacks and hucksters and fakers as the self-improvement genre), you’ll find much to like in Schaffner’s “The Art of Self-Improvement”. Schaffner studies the self-help literature academically, distilling what the best of these books are trying to say, what do they value, how has their advice changed over time, and how our stance about improving ourselves bleeds into the political domain. The result is enlightening.

“How to Invent Everything”, by Ryan North, is a book that I’ve always wanted, but I had never known how to ask for it. Want to know how to make fertilizer, soap, or baking soda from scratch? Glass or steel? Simple machines, musical scales, paper? How to find salt or domesticate animals? It’s all here, under the premise that you are stuck back in time and need to get civilization going by yourself. More instructive by far than any classroom lectures I’ve attended—this is what popular science books should be. Very funny, very cool.

Davies’ “Extreme Economies” attempts to understand economics by looking at what happens when certain conditions of social life are at the edge: refugee camps, prisons, failed states, reconstruction after a disaster, extreme old age, and so forth. I appreciated the novelty of the idea more than its execution, but I still found it quite valuable.

Kate Beaton’s “Ducks”, a graphic memoir of Beaton’s two years working in the Alberta oil sands, is both deeply personal and broadly useful to understand what it’s like out there. I don’t know why the graphic medium is so good at conveying everyday life in the far north, but it works.—and Beaton is so talented at conveying emotion and thought visually, in a seemingly effortless manner, that the book is a joy to read. (Don’t take my word for it either! This book is my one point of overlap with Obama’s own book recommendations for the year.)

Finally, in Reilly’s “The Staff Engineer’s Path” I found a fantastic description of what it is I should be doing and thinking about at this stage of my career. It is thorough, kind, supportive, and full of practical advice. Highly recommended.


“The Carrying”, by Ada Limón, spoke to me particularly well. Limón’s poems deal with both the mundane and the transcendental—and with the fact that you get to the latter via the former. They are like gardens: productive, weedy, a miniature universal struggle. They are full of life and death. Not every poem hits, of course, and Limón is very immersed in the United States. This is an American book, often a very NPR book. But when these elements are quieter, it’s also a humane, joyful, empathetic, sorrowful experience.

Film and TV

So much to share! But I have to start with the wonderful “Everything Everywhere All at Once”. What an exhilarating experience! Goofy and profound and fresh and thrilling.

Some fun movies: “Glass Onion”, while not as mind-blowingly good as “Knives Out”, is still excellent. Rian Johnson and Daniel Craig seem to be having a lot of fun, and we are all the better for it. “Confess, Fletch” is a light dry noir comedy, and shows that Jon Hamm can be quite funny. And after watching Val Kilmer’s appearance in the new Top Gun, I remembered an early movie of his that I thought was a classic, only to discover it is half-forgotten: “Top Secret!” Old comedy often grows stale but this is still so good—cheesy, zany, dumb fun.

On TV, I thought “Severance” was nearly perfect. Stylistically precise and gorgeous in its surreal and sterile corporate propaganda aesthetic; narratively tight and complex. The one small knock against it is that the finale leaves more out than in, and the second season won’t come out for a while, so it feels incomplete. “Slow Horses” is astute and twisty, and Gary Oldman is a delight in his role. “Only Murders in the Building” has a cheeky look at the true crime podcasting genre and great character interactions; both seasons so far have been quite enjoyable.

I’m surprising myself a bit by recommending something from the Star Wars franchise, but “Andor” was excellent as well. I read somewhere that it’s like The Wire on space, and while I certainly would not go that far, the comparison aims in the right direction: Andor is a sociological story of resistance and insurgence, with full-fledged characters with complex motivations. No lightsabers in sight.

Sports stuff

I started running more seriously again this year, and to a lesser extent, swimming. A few things have helped me a lot: for my running, the approach in Fitzgerald’s “80/20 Running” has been exceptionally good—it helped me realize I had been going too hard in previous years (leading to injury and an overall decreased mileage), and how to craft better running plans for myself. I’ve also made heavy use of my Garmin Forerunner 255, of some rolls of KT Tape, and of a Roll Recovery R8 Plus self-massager.

In the water, my big obstacle for the longest time was the lack of goggles that wouldn’t leak. No goggles I tried would help, and I tried a lot of them—I suppose they don’t make them with my head shape in mind—, which meant stopping frequently to drain them and putting up with the red itchy eyes afterward. However, this year I found the goggles from THEMAGIC5, which are custom-made to your face: you submit a face scan and get a 3D-printed fit for you. The effect is miraculous, with absolutely zero leaks. They are a bit pricey, but they essentially unlocked swimming for me. I love them.


The best source to navigate the war in Ukraine has been the series of columns from Lawrence Freedman in Comment is Freed. Such a bright strategic mind, with so much clarity of thought. Whether it is the possibility of nuclear war, the potential angles of a peace negotiation, or the tactical positions of each army, I learned a lot about how to think of these issues from Freedman’s approach. Similarly, Hannah Ritchie, in her Substack and Twitter feed (oh, Twitter…) cuts through the misinformation and doomscrolling of our climate crisis to present an evidence-based, highly numerate, and useful climate commentary.

One boardgame I enjoyed this year was Cascadia. Winner of the Spiel des Jahres, and based in the fauna of the Pacific Northwest, it's a deep game with a moderately simple ruleset. Another one was also nominated to the same award: SCOUT, a trick-taking card game with even simpler rules but an amazing execution. And finally, the WASGIJ? puzzle series gives a good spin to the classic jigsaw puzzle model by asking you to assemble not what you see in the box, but what a character within sees, or what will happen later.

Yet again this was a difficult year for the world. I do think though that art, books, stories, and beauty provide not just—or not necessarily—escapism to cope, but a deep value worth fighting for; a window into what we actually are, what we want, and how we can reach contentment. I hope you find a nugget or two for yourself in the list above. Until next time!

(Previously: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, ...)