100-word reviews of the 12 books I read this year

Jonathan Haukaas
8 min readDec 12, 2021

I’ve read 12 books this year. I don’t subscribe to the speed-reading tactics preached by members of the internets productivity cult, so one book a month is about perfect. I read at whatever pace allows me to comprehend the material and I try not to skip over words I don’t know — you shouldn’t either. Once you start hitting the breaks to look up words you don’t know, you’ll start experiencing the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon which (on top of being exhilarating) helps cement the word in your vocabulary. In other words, as the kids on TikTok would put it, you can start manifesting your own “Glow Up.” (I know you thought you were reading about books, not TikTok, but you’re not paying for this and those keywords might help my SEO on this blog).

Some of the books on this list were very thought-provoking, inspiring and enlightening while others were drab from the start and never ended up offering many redeeming qualities. Below, I’ve written 100 words (give or take) about each one. Hopefully, one of these short reviews prompts you to pick one or more up.

I’d first encourage you to find these at your locally owned bookstore, but if that’s not possible, I’ve included a link of where to buy each one online.

1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (nonfiction, 2000)

This is one of my favorites from the year. I expected some half-baked self-help book with multiple variations of “If you can dream it, you can be it,” but the Godfather of Horror instead offers a down-to-earth manual on how to write well. This isn’t a hoity-toity flex by one of the most successful and prolific authors of our time. It speaks directly to writers who’re in that awkward place of knowing they have something to share, but not knowing how exactly to do it. If you’re trying to write something but aren’t sure where to start, pick this up and let King tell you where to put your chair and when to cut adjectives.

2. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (nonfiction, 1952)

This is a collection of radio monologues condensed into print form. Lewis gave these talks via BBC during World War II. Simply put, this is a theological deep-dive into various principles outlined in the Bible. In a world where the Bible is often reduced to out-of-context soundbites or used as some kind of accent inspirational quote book, Lewis takes a nuanced look at what the most influential book in history is actually trying to say. If you’d like a better understanding of what the Bible is communicating, Lewis is a good place to start.

3. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing (fiction, 2019)

Cheap thriller in the vein of “Gone Girl” and “Girl on a Train?” Sign me up! Sigh… how regretful. Like many thrillers, this leads the reader through a winding and weaving story of everyday life with a lurking evil bubbling just below the surface. But at nearly 400 pages, the detailed descriptions of everyday life and the characters’ perceptions of it drags. Since I was already invested I trudged on, but the climax didn’t pay off. It was brief and poorly thought-out. There’s a strong thriller in here somewhere, but it’s probably about 250 pages long.

4. Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson (nonfiction, 2021)

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s new rules on the proper way to conduct oneself are more ambiguous than his first. I’d describe it more as 12 ideas to ponder regarding the ideal functionality of society. Given the premise, it’s no wonder “Beyond Order” is more complex and less useful to the layman. It focuses on the necessity of chaos in certain aspects of life, rather than solutions to it, which is the first book’s focus. That’s not to say some of what he’s saying isn’t profound and won’t benefit your life — but it’s harder to get it this time. The beauty of his first set of rules is the value they offer both on the surface and on a deeper examination.

5. Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 1968)

“Outer Dark,” the second novel by the greatest author alive today, demands multiple reads. But given its numerous detestable elements, it’s not exactly something I’m excited to return to right away. I need a few years.

This book is easier for readers with some theological education under their belt or at least an interest in understanding what role man ultimately plays in the battle of good and evil (or, if you’ve been reading Nietzsche quotes on Instagram, if there is such a thing). It seems McCarthy is referring to hell with the title and does a pretty good job of building exactly that for the two main characters. If you’ve never read McCarthy, don’t start with this. Start with “No Country for Old Men,” which offers a perfect mix of adventure and philosophy. If you end up liking his style, branch out from there.

6. Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (fiction, 1978)

I read this after it was recommended by my favorite thriller writer Gillian Flynn. It’s a whodunit very much in the vein of Agatha Christie. Despite it technically being a children’s book, Raskin’s writing is fairly sophisticated and its dialogue is refreshingly bare and bubbly. My biggest criticism is that despite there being a threat of murder established early on, the characters do not conduct themselves like people who are scared of being killed. Overall, it’s a fun and decent thriller that’s perfect for parents to read along with their children as it offers a little something for every age.

7. Chasing the Thrill by Daniel Barbarisi (nonfiction, 2021)

This is my favorite book of the year. I was already aware of its subject matter and had been anticipating its release for nearly a year. It’s got everything you want in an adventure book: colorful characters, betrayal, death, love… and the best part? It all really happened! This book is the first-person account of a treasure hunter/journalist as he searches for the Forrest Fenn treasure through the Rocky Mountains. It seems like a pretty basic premise on the surface, but after finishing this book, I thought a lot about the many benefits in my own life that have come about when I’ve focused wholeheartedly on achieving a goal — whether or not it was ultimately achieved (as of this writing, I’m not an NBA shooting guard).

8. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (nonfiction, 1946)

I’ve thought about Victor Frankl’s first-person account of life in Nazi concentration camps during World War II everyday since reading this small book sometime last spring. I had a paradigm shift while reading it, realizing that the quality of one’s life is determined more by how one chooses to respond to crises, rather than the crises themselves.

Frankl writes: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This is a tiny book that will take less time to read than watching two episodes of “Outer Banks.”

9. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (nonfiction, 2020)

Apparently, 90s angst wasn’t reserved for Nu-Metal albums and David Fincher movies. Anthony Bourdain’s fast-paced and foul-mouthed kitchen tell-all is written with the same pith and warmth that defined his TV career after this book made him famous. Whenever he launched into the minutiae of cooking, I didn’t recognize half the words he used, but I still found his narration of what one probably assumes is a pretty mundane job ​​irresistible. His transparency is inspiring and laugh-out-loud humorous.

10. Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (nonfiction, 2000)

It seems Malcolm Gladwell has always been, well… Malcolm Gladwell. At one point in his debut book, he’s so deep in the weeds that I had to look again at a summary to remember what exactly it was about. This is a great book for anyone who’s chipping away at something but isn’t seeing much progress. It’s not a self-help book, per se, but rather a rational explanation for something we often dismiss as “luck.” It simplifies success and makes it seem attainable, and even the most resilient among us need a little reminder from time to time.

11. The Firm by John Grisham (1991)

There’s something weirdly appealing about someone explaining in great detail what exactly they do at work, and that’s basically what John Grisham is doing in this novel. Prior to becoming one of the most prolific and lucrative authors ever, Grisham practiced law for a decade and it’s very apparent in “The Firm,” his first commercial success. Despite this, its unrealistically polished and witty dialogue kept pulling me out of the story.

12. 7 Days in Augusta by Mark Cannizzaro (2020)

This is an insanely detailed look at The Masters, golf’s biggest yearly tournament. I can’t even say this is a great book for golf nerds — it goes beyond that. This book is intended for a niche of golf nerds obsessed with The Masters. I couldn’t decide while reading it if I was impressed or annoyed that the author spent such an astonishing amount of time relaying what meals had been served at the Champions Dinner in recent years. The whole book is like that. Simply put, if you love The Masters, you’ll love this book. That’s it.



Jonathan Haukaas

I was sent from the future to save you from becoming a cyborg. Put down your phone and go outside—unless you’re reading this blog.