2022 Year in Review
The best books I read, my favorite projects, & a preview of my hopes for 2023
I’m revisiting this newsletter as I sit in front of my tinseled Christmas tree, waiting patiently for Christmas Eve, which has always been my favorite day of the year. Christmas itself is magical, but the anticipation of Christmas Eve is somehow more enjoyable to me than the culmination of all the waiting.
It has been quite a year for me, both personally and professionally. I published a book, which was something of a lifelong dream. And I made a big professional change: I joined the Ethics and Public Policy Center as a fellow, remaining at National Review as a contributor rather than a full-time staff writer. This has given me time to focus on some longer writing projects and more speaking, some of which I’ll share below.
In this 2022 wrap-up newsletter, I’ll review the highlights of this year, including some of my favorite things I’ve written, the best books I’ve read, and my ideas looking ahead to 2023.
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Writing Highlights from 2022
Perhaps most exciting, I published my first book, co-written with Ryan T. Anderson. It’s called Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing. At this time last year, Ryan and I were still in the thick of writing the manuscript, and we spent the first chunk of 2022 wrestling the text into its final form. We wrote it before we knew that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, though we hoped and prayed that would be the case.
Our publisher, Regnery, was wise to ask us to turn the book around on a tight timeline so that it could be published right around when we anticipated the Court would release Dobbs. As it turns out, the book came out on June 28, 2022, a mere four days after Dobbs was handed down. It was better timing than any of us could have expected.
I think the post-Dobbs fallout has proven our argument correct: Abortion has harmed our entire culture. It has robbed us of the lives of millions of human beings killed in the womb. It has hurt women and torn apart families. It has corrupted our politics, our legal system, our medical field. It has ruined everything it has touched — and it hasn’t solved any of the problems that proponents promised it would. I hope Tearing Us Apart has been and will continue to be a resource to pro-lifers working toward a brighter future in the very welcome but very uncertain political and cultural landscape created by the end of Roe. If you’re looking to better understand the abortion debate or have friends or family members who could use a primer on the issue, I hope you’ll consider ordering a copy.
In addition to the book, here are a few of the best articles I’ve written:
As something of an autopsy of the 2022 midterms and their meaning for the pro-life movement, I wrote for Public Discourse on “How to Make Abortion a Winning Issue: Midterm Lessons for Republicans”
In the National Review print magazine, I had a piece on “Why Big Business Loves Abortion,” examining the disturbing philosophy that has animated major corporations’ embrace of abortion.
For the Spring 2022 issue of the Human Life Review, I wrote “The American College of Abortion Advocacy,” which was adapted from Chapter Four of Tearing Us Apart, about how abortion has harmed our medical system.
Supporters of abortion regularly oppose laws that require respectful burial or cremation of the bodies of aborted babies. I wrote a column responding to them, called “What We Throw Away.”
In response to abortion proponents who pretend that unborn children don’t have a heartbeat, I wrote a piece called “The Fetal-Heartbeat Debunking Squad,” collecting and rejecting some of the most prominent examples of pro-choice pseudoscience.
A few highlights from my speaking events this year:
This past semester, for an event sponsored by the Colson Center and Focus on the Family, I spoke to a big crowd at Hope College about the way forward for the pro-life movement. My remarks focused on the importance of rebuilding a pro-life, pro-marriage culture and grappling with the fallout of the Sexual Revolution, which I think will be a theme of much of my future work. You can watch the lecture here.
In March, I debated pro-abortion writer Jill Filipovic at Notre Dame in a modified Lincoln–Douglas style. You can read my column about the event here and watch the full debate here. (The event begins at about 19:00.)
In October, Jill and I did another debate, hosted virtually by Oakland University. We covered similar ground to the Notre Dame debate, but the end of Roe changed the tenor quite a bit, and we were able to do more back-and-forth in the Q&A due to the format. I found that some of the answers Jill gave to audience questions were very illuminating, though I of course disagreed with her. I think you’ll find the same.
My Year in Books
When it comes to reading, I’m a serial book-starter and a significantly less accomplished book-finisher, but I still managed to read more than 50 books this year (and I think I might hit 60 by New Year’s, given how much time I plan to spend reading over the coming week). Several of them were rereads, because I love to revisit my favorites now and again. My favorite reread was In Sunlight and in Shadow, a fairly recent novel from Mark Helprin, who for my money is the greatest living writer or at least a very strong contender for the title. His Winter’s Tale is another of my favorites. I have yet to read his other novels, though true to form, I’ve read the first few pages of two of them. Maybe I’ll try to actually read them next year.
In no particular order, here are my favorite books that I read for the first time this year:
Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport
This was one of the first books I read in 2022, and I’m glad of that. It fundamentally reshaped how I think about technology, the way I spend my time, and the ways that technological progress has reshaped our society for good and ill.
Newport is a computer-science professor at Georgetown University and author of the book Deep Work, in which he argues that it is difficult or near impossible to produce meaningful work unless we cultivate intense focus and eliminate distractions. Digital Minimalism was prompted by the public response to Deep Work. Newport found that readers would frequently tell him the book resonated with them but that their digital devices made it essentially impossible for them to implement his suggestions, no matter how hard they tried.
If you’ve ever found yourself even wondering about the real value of your smartphone, social media, or other seemingly omnipresent technologies, this book is for you. Reading it didn’t cure me of digital addiction, but it helped me become more mindful of how I use my phone and social media and develop a personal philosophy for how to use them well. The practicality of Newport’s advice helped me set up guardrails that allow me to live more in accord with my actual values. (In fact, I’ve even deleted my Twitter account, at least for now. I can’t say that I’m feeling regret yet, only great freedom. Thanks, Cal! But I may well bring it back in a very limited capacity down the road.)
Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
Like Digital Minimalism, this book gets to the root of how to live well. It’s not billed as a book about philosophy, but it is one. McKeown is the rare business and management consultant who uses his experience not to weigh down his writing with unintelligible jargon but to clarify his arguments.
His basic case: Our life will be better if we actively decide what is most important to us — what is essential — and then choose to spend our time accordingly.
It sounds simple and obviously true, but I suspect that few of us actually live this way. I know I don’t. Life gets busy and flies by without us noticing, and it’s far easier to drift along on autopilot, staying in this home or this town or that job or that relationship because it’s what we’ve always done, not because it’s what we really feel called to do.
Essentialism invites the reader not to overhaul his entire life (necessarily), but to examine every inch of it and think deeply about what really matters most — and then to consider whether you’re really living in accordance with what you believe. McKeown doesn’t tell you what you’re supposed to value or how you’re supposed to live; he advocates reflecting on who you are and what you want your life to look like, and then following through on living like you mean it.
The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, by Abigail Favale
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to get to the root of the current gender-ideology craze and understand its history, its motivations, and its flaws. The book pairs well with Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, which was one of my favorite books I read last year.
Favale is a Catholic convert who taught gender theory and embraced progressive feminism until having a major change of heart. The book is eminently readable because it’s peppered with her personal stories and insights, which illuminate the theoretical arguments. I appreciated that her argument is grounded in Catholic theology, but I think this book would be accessible and interesting to someone of any religion or no religion.
Taste: My Life through Food, by Stanley Tucci
I read this in a single afternoon — on Ash Wednesday, as it happens, which for a fasting Catholic was something of a poor choice. As the title suggests, nearly every page is about food. But it should tell you how much I loved the book when I say that I didn’t even mind half-starving as I read it. I think the salivating might even have made for a better reading experience.
I reviewed the book for the National Review magazine, so I’ll borrow a bit from what I wrote there:
Every culture has its venerated culinary traditions, but we Italians savor ours with unique fervor and defend them with particular intensity. Most of my memories of holidays and family gatherings are anchored, in large part, by memories of what we ate: leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary for Easter, the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, big outdoor celebrations around the grill for the Fourth of July.
Raised this way, I felt right at home reading Stanley Tucci’s new memoir, Taste. “In Italian families, nothing is discussed, ruminated on, or joked about as much as food (except death, but I’ll save that subject for another book),” Tucci writes early on. Reading that sentence made me feel as though I’d pulled up a chair at his kitchen table, or at my own.
The talented film actor, known for several prominent roles in recent decades, certainly delivers on the book’s title. Taste is in some ways more of a love letter to good food and skillful cooking than it is a story about his life. We do learn plenty about him along the way, though, and he illustrates precisely what has been my own experience: Reflecting on a lifetime often involves remembering a lifetime of food. Tucci weaves together engaging anecdotes about his life with ruminations on the food he’s come to love — and in almost every instance, it is the food of Italy.
Tucci is a superb writer, and his love for family, food, and Italian culture permeates the book. It’s guaranteed to satisfy anyone who loves to eat, especially those who also enjoy food writing. But it’s about far more than cuisine or recipes. Ultimately, Taste is a meditation on what it means to love and be loved in return.
We Are What We Eat, by Alice Waters
Like Taste, this book is about the intersections between food and culture. Alice Waters is the famed founder of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley, Calif., restaurant that helped to pioneer the farm-to-table movement. Waters’s politics, as you might imagine, are strikingly different from my own, but I find that easy to ignore in most of her writing.
She and I share a love of many food-related practices, including shopping at the farmers market. As it turns out, her effort to build relationships with local farmers while creating fresh, seasonal menus at Chez Panisse is actually a significant reason why farmers markets have grown in popularity and availability across the country.
This fall and winter, my husband and I signed up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm-share with one of the produce suppliers at our farmers market. Every Saturday, we pick up a big bag of the freshest produce grown by this farmer, and the offerings vary every week. So far, it’s been heavy on radishes, which he informed us can be roasted and served with butter, a very different experience from tossing them into salads for an unexpected spicy crunch.
We’ve also learned from the CSA experience that freshly grown lettuce mixes are among the best foods nature has to offer, something Alice Waters writes about in nearly every book of hers that I’ve read. Her love of the simple, flavorful salads in France inspired her to buy seeds, begin growing lettuce in her California backyard year-round, and serve a simple green salad with every meal at Chez Panisse — a practice that eventually led to the popularization of mesclun here in the U.S.
I learned a lot from several of her books this year, including that I don’t need to embrace someone’s every policy prescription or political commentary in order to love the spirit behind their work.
Onward to 2023
We never really know what a new year might bring. I couldn’t have anticipated most of what happened this year, whether in my life or the life of the nation and the world. But I have a lot of plans. I’m hoping to publish here on Substack much more regularly. I’ll keep up my weekly column at National Review and I’ll publish other places, too. That will include forthcoming articles already in the works for Public Discourse, Our Sunday Visitor, and the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty journal. I have several speaking events already lined up, and I’ll be sure to share the videos from those in this newsletter as I have them.
Thanks to all of you for supporting this Substack since its launch. Like I said in my first newsletter, this is the place where I’m thinking through the big questions that animate my work. I’m grateful that so many people want to come along for the ride. If you know of anyone who might enjoy the writing I do here, please consider sharing this newsletter with them and encouraging them to subscribe. May those of you who celebrate Christmas have a beautiful, blessed Christmas season with your loved ones, and I’ll see you all in 2023.
Countercultured is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.