From the list on ideas of the last 50 years.
Who am I?
I’ve always been fascinated by philosophical ideas, the more radical and counterintuitive the better. But as someone who’s never excelled at abstract thought, I’ve found these ideas’ expression in argumentative nonfiction both dry and unpersuasive, lacking the human context that would alone test the strength of propositions about spirituality, justice, love, education, and more. The novel of ideas brings concepts to life in the particular personalities and concrete experiences of fictional characters—a much more vivid and convincing way to explore the world of thought. Many readers will be familiar with the genre’s classics (Voltaire, Dostoevsky, Mann, Camus), so I’d like to recommend more recent instances I find personally or artistically inspiring.
John's book list on ideas of the last 50 years
Why did John love this book?
In 2021’s most widely-discussed literary novel, Lin, the former enfant terrible of the early 2000s alt-lit scene, rejects that movement’s terse and affectless style in favor of a more startlingly inventive prose alive to everyday experience’s strangeness. This autobiographical novel recounts its narrator’s attempt to wean himself from the toxic habits and substances of our “dominator” society and, through natural foods and psychedelic drugs, to return to a matriarchal cooperative tradition he describes at length. Whatever we think of Lin’s potentially sentimental historiography, he embeds it in a gentle family comedy that effloresces into a tender romance. I appreciate Lin’s countercultural commitment to rejecting fashionable pessimism and unthinking science-worship, and I respect his evolving ethic of personal kindness. It would be preachy if issued as a proclamation, but becomes a practice we can all learn to share when shown in a novel.