I didn’t read as much as I have in past years. While I feel a bit bad about that — and very much wish I had made time to read more — the fact is that the house rehab project as well as many other worthwhile, yet time-consuming, factors simply meant my focus was elsewhere. I hope that the coming year brings me more time to make reading the priority it has been in years past.
Here are the books I read this year in the order I read them with a short review of each.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown — A wonderful book that explores the idea that living a whole hearted life means having the courage to love ourselves despite out shame about out imperfections. Great way to start the year.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg — This is one of the writing books. One of those widely considered the gold standard of books on writing. For good reason, it is wonderful. This is actually my second time reading it. The first time, a couple of years ago, I did not highlight or mark it up for easy future perusal. I read through it again mainly for that purpose. I plan on visiting this book and browsing through at least once every year.
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld — This was wonderful book. Two books, actually because… It is the story of an 18 year old debut YA novelist and each chapter about her is interspersed with the novel she write. So, you are reading two books at once, really. Sounds gimmicky but came together quite well. I’m not normally into YA but I highly recommend this one.
The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer — A must read for artists of all sorts. This is a delightful, and often very moving, combination of advice and personal memoir.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac — I’m trying to make it a personal goal to read more of the classics that, for one reason or another, I have missed. Reading this was near the top of that list. I’m glad I did because it is a classic for a reason. Kerouac has a voice all his own. It’s like reading improvisational jazz as interpreted by Woody Gutherie. It is at once relaxed and frantic.
The Circle by Dave Eggers — A ridiculous book, really. Contrived and clichéd in all of the worst ways. And, it went a long way towards finally convincing me that middle aged men are rarely good at writing young female characters. But I powered my way through. It makes its rather simple point about 20 pages in (i.e. Companies like Facebook and Google are evil and we should fear what they stand for) and then spends the rest of the book beating away at this thinly veiled point. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson — This was a really fantastic book. The first 2/3rds of it follow the total destruction of earth following a mysterious event that causes the moon to explode and fracture. Humanity must find a way to survive and very few do. The final third happens 5000 years later. It’s a gripping story of survival, ingenuity, and human nature. My only warning is that, like many of Stephenson’s books, he can at times get a little bogged down in the weeds of technical detail. Fascinating if you are interested, easily skimable if not.
The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna — Normally, when I read a non-fiction book I highlight key sentences and paragraphs to make it easy to find specific important thoughts skim through the book again in the future. It is rare that I will “dog ear” a page. Because, when I dog ear a while page it means everything on the page is important and not a single word is to be missed. I dog eared a lot of pages in this one. Several in a row in many cases. Unlike a lot of the “quit your job and follow your dreams” books, this one is rational, reasonable, and readily admits that jumping off such a cliff is not wise. Instead, it argues that if you can make the time to do the things you should do, you can make the time to do the things you must do. And it gives plenty of examples of those who have done just that. A particular favorite is composer Phillip Glass who continued to work as a plumber even as rave reviews of his work were being published in the New York Times. This is one of those books I now recommend to as many people as I can. Plus, it is beautifully illustrated. Worth getting for that alone.
Darkened Blade: A Fallen Blade Novel by Kelly McCullough — A fine wrap up of the series. Just as fun as all the rest. You should read them all (and look back at my past reviews of them if you’d like to know more).
Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim S. Grover — This book will either completely piss you off in the first few pages or completely resonate with you. It’s one of those books. For me, it not only resonated but I found myself compiling a list of others I know who needed to read it. I sent one as a gift to a friend only half way though. I knew they would see themselves in there like I did. Tim Grover is a personal training coach to many top athletes — especially in the NBA. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and many other credit him with a large part of their success. His mission, taking players way past their perceived limits to be the very best. Not just the best in the game or the best playing today but the best of all time. He’s the best at what he does and he has the clients and results to back it up. He also makes no bones about that and gives zero fucks about what you think. He is arrogant, cocky, and tells it like he believes it is. In this book, he gets into the mindset and anecdotes of what it takes to play and live a life at that level, who has it (very few), who doesn’t (the vast majority). This is not a book that will teach you how to get there. This is not a how too guide. It will not teach you how to get into “the zone” and stay there. And, as he makes clear, if that’s what you want then you already don’t have what it takes so he can’t help you anyway. What it is is a litmus test. You will either recognize the qualities it takes to meet this kind of success or you will not. Very inspirational to the right person. Worthless hyperbole to most. But, some very interesting and entertaining anecdotes for the long time basketball fan.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel — Wow, this is a really wonderfully written book. Set both just prior and 20 years post-apocalyptic pandemic that wipes out most of earth’s population, it is a story of survival and hope. But not only in the ways one might expect from such fare. It’s really about relationship and connectedness and how even in the worst of times simply surviving is insufficient.
The Gypsy in Me: From Germany to Romania in Search of Youth, Truth, and Dad by Ted Simon — A wonderful account of one mans’ journey, mostly by foot, to trace his Eastern European roots. Along the way, he finds a deeper meaning of his own personal identity. Part travelogue, part memoir, with plenty of political and social inquiry, this book is a unique bird but an engaging read.
The Assured Expectation of Things Hoped For by Shawn Mihalik — A smart and beautiful coming-of-age story about a young woman growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness. This offers an interesting peek into a world many of us turn away when it comes to our doors. Shawn is a really good writer — especially in the shorter form of a novella.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — The classic novel about a group of Long Island upper-crusters and one particular mysterious gentleman. The prose is beautiful and, at times, whimsical with a strong sense of time and place. At its heart, this is a novel about the stories we tell (and the ones that are told) about ourselves in an effort be strive to be better and how it keeps the world from being able it care about who we really are.
It’s Never Too Late: A Kids Book for Adults by Dallas Clayton — Full of wisdom and whimsy, it’s a short inspirational, “kids book” (i.e. with illustrations) meant for adults. Mainly about the value of time and living life to the fullest. This was a gift from my friend Garrick and it was timely and very sweet.
Books I’ve started…
(But have not yet finished.)
The Journals of Henry David Thoreau by Henry David Thoreau — I’m slowly working my way through this, the most reader friendly version of the original 7000 journal pages of one of my favorite writers and thinkers. At only 704 pages, it seems a breeze in comparison. This is something I pick up and read a bit more of when I’m between other books.
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner — This 750 page tome I’m reading as contextual research for a Big Book Project I’ve been (slowly) working on.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: Books — This is the engaging and fascinating definitive biography of one of America’s most misunderstood founding fathers. Started reading it, in no small part, because it is the inspiration for the current Broadway musical of the same name (which my wife is obsessed with). We will be seeing the musical in March in New York City and, well, wanted to “read the book first”. Glad I am.