Jeff Zych

2021 Reading List

2021 felt like a slow year for reading for me, what with vaccinations and my social life and work life picking up. In actuality, I only read 4 fewer books than last year (24 compared to 28). Not as bad of an outing as I was expecting.

Some interesting stats:

  • 2 books were over 1,000 pages (Master of the Senate by Robert Caro and Antkind by Charlie Kaufman)
  • Only 3 were fiction
  • 21 were non-fiction
  • 10 of those non-fiction were art and design books (still my favorite category, obvs)
  • Only 4 were by a person of color, and 6 were by women. I tried to continue my anti-racist reading, and reading perspectives of under-represented peoples, which I did, but this wasn’t a huge improvement over the previous year. It also highlights that my most dominant category, non-fiction (and specifically art and design) are primarily white and male.

Some of my faves (all links are Amazon affiliate links):

  • House Industries Lettering Manual (Ken Barber) — Amazing lettering book with tons of great techniques, styles, and lessons to up your lettering game. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to letter, or even just admires the art form.
  • The Vanishing Half (Brit Bennett) — Great story of light-skinned black twins who take divergent paths in their adult lives — one passes herself off as white and leaves behind her black heritage, the other remains in black society. An illuminating tale on the arbitrariness of race. (Also, this book has a great cover).
  • The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) — A damning case for how we’ve used the war on drugs and the prison system to systematically keep black people in the lowest social caste in America. These programs don’t specifically target any races the way they’re written, so they don’t technically violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the implementation of these systems target black Americans (and other communities of color). This makes fixing this broken system really difficult since it’s not explicit like the Jim Crow laws were.
  • Master of the Senate (Robert Caro) — Caro’s fourth volume of the Lyndon B. Johnson biography does not disappoint. This was a fascinating look at the inner workings of the Senate, its storied history, and how LBJ was able to pass bills despite the institution being designed such that “the rights of a minority must be protected against the tyranny of the majority” (as Caro put it [and in different words, the founding fathers]). Very interesting to read through the lens of today’s political climate as it really highlights why it’s so difficult for any bills of real change to pass and why the Senate is broken. I’d be curious to hear Caro’s perspective on the functioning of today’s Senate given all of his research.
  • This Is Your Mind on Plants (Michael Pollan) — Pollan’s next foray into the effects of chemicals on our brains and consciousness is just as interesting as his previous book. He focuses on just 3 drugs: an upper (caffeine), and downer (opium), and an “outer” (mescaline). He includes their history and a trip report for each (or in caffeine’s place, an anti-trip), which was especially interesting for mescaline since I didn’t know much about that drug (it’s the active chemical in peyote).

Full reading list

As always, you can view the full list (past or present) in Notion.

  • Validating Product Ideas by Tomer Sharon (finished December 31, 2021)
  • In pursuit of inspiration by Rae Dunn (finished December 20, 2021)
  • This is your mind on plants by Michael Pollan 👍 (December 19, 2021)
  • The typography idea book by Steven Heller & Gail Anderson (December 12, 2021)
  • Master of the Senate by Robert Caro 👍 (November 25, 2021)
  • River Days, River Nights by Mark Abramson (October 24, 2021)
  • Twenty Bits I Learned About Making Fonts by Dan Cederholm 👍 (September 25, 2021)
  • Twenty Bits I Learned About Design, Business, & Community by Dan Cederholm (September 21, 2021)
  • Logo Design Love by David Airey 👍 (September 19, 2021)
  • The Art of Letters by Kris Sowersby (September 14, 2021)
  • The Cuckoo’s Egg by Cliff Stoll 👍 (August 22, 2021)
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander 👍 (August 14, 2021)
  • The Wreckage of my Presence by Casey Wilson 😆 (July 19, 2021)
  • The Outdoor Kitchen by Eric Werner (July 18, 2021)
  • A Field Guide to Whisky by Hans Offringa (June 12, 2021)
  • Uncanny Valley by Anna Weiner 👍 (May 4, 2021)
  • Cubed: The Puzzle of us All by Ernö Rubik (April 18, 2021)
  • Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Producers by Dennis DeSantis (April 17, 2021)
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett 👍 (April 3, 2021)
  • Eat a Peach by David Chang (February 28, 2021)
  • Demand-side Sales by Bob Moesta with Greg Engle (February 15, 2021)
  • Antkind by Charlie Kaufman (February 12, 2021)
  • Sign Painters by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon (February 1, 2021)
  • House Industries Lettering Manual by Ken Barber 👍 (January 11, 2021)
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