Idylls of the King by Alfred Tennyson
Now I know how Monty Python wrote their movie about the Holy Grail. But there’s more here than material ripe for comedy.
“O purblind race of miserable men,
How many among us at this very hour
Do forge a life-long trouble for ourselves,
By taking true for false, or false for true ...”
Finished January 1. Recommended by Thomas A. Shull.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
I don’t know anything about Rainer Maria Rilke’s writing other than this book (recommended by James Victore). I’m not a poet, but this had good advice for anyone chasing something down — especially chasing a creative endeavor.
“There is only one way. Withdraw into yourself. Explore the reason that bids you write, find out if it has spread out its roots in the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die, if writing should be denied to you. Above all, ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night, “Must I write?” Dig deep into yourself for an answer.”
Finished January 10
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Having grown-up exposed to plenty of Pentecostal church services, this was a true-to-life accounting of what I witnessed — but was written nearly 20 years before I came along. I sat on the sidelines of the story, though, as Baldwin recounted the 40 years which led up to this tale of the life of a black family in 1930’s Harlem. In spite of the brokenness and ash and heartache we often find ourselves in, life is beautiful.
“Don’t you let Roy bother you,’ said their mother. ‘He cross as two sticks this morning.”
Finished January 22. Recommended by Thomas A. Shull.
Reinvent Yourself by James Altucher
Some of the the stories in the book were familiar to me (that’s when I realized it’s a collection of, in part, articles Altucher has published elsewhere). A prolific writer with a consistent message of ignoring rules and following your interest — anew every day if necessary. About opinions: “People worry about oil and fracking. Guess what? A solar-powered plane just flew across the country.”
“When you have bacon in your mouth, it doesn’t matter who’s president.” Altucher quoting Louis CK
Finished January 24
Why Haven’t You Read This Book? edited by Isaac Morehouse
12 folks join forces to convince readers to do stuff — drop out of school, move to a new city, start a business, have a bunch a kids, and more. Morehouse writes the introduction and a closing essay on next steps. These are fresh stories of creating a life with more possibilities. It’ll be easy for you to mildly enjoy this book. But, because Morehouse wants you to replace mediocrity with fulfillment, you’ll be presented with practical ideas to create some guidelines — and then to start coloring outside those guidelines.
From the bio of one contributor, Bob Ewing: “People constantly tell him that he looks like Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, and Denzel Washington — except he’s taller and more ripped than them.” Funny.
Finished January 27
The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale
Spoiler alert: Deciding on something you want is the strange secret (it comes within the first few pages of the book). Nightingale, a pioneer in the life-improvement industry, spends his time making the case for how the universe conspires to help you achieve the things you want to do. But the secret is deciding what you want. He encourages readers to be able to instantly answer this question: “what’s a goal towards which you are currently working.”
Finished January 28. Recommended by Stephen J. Frick.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
This was a surprisingly-moving step-by-step guide on how to fill your house (and life, I suppose) with things that “spark joy,” and how to get rid of the things that don’t. Can “people come to know contentment” simply by tidying up? This young author writes with such wise conviction, I bet you’ll have a pile of clothes in the middle of the room before you get halfway through the book. (Thanks to author Whitney Johnson for recommending it.)
“The true purpose of tidying is, I believe, to live in the most natural state possible. Don’t you think it is unnatural for us to possess things that don’t bring us joy or things that we don’t really need? I believe that owning only what we love and what we need is the most natural condition.”
Finished January 31. Recommended by Whitney Johnson.
Mindwise by Nicholas Epley
The book’s subtitled like this: “Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want.” (But it’s not what you think.) When you finish this book, your pessimistic cynicism may convince you to throw up your hands in frustration and write your own book called “Everything You Know is Wrong!” No one would blame you. At the very least, this book should give you pause as you consider what you think you know about men, or women, or your spouse, or Muslims, or Sting — “Run every kind of test from A to Z, and you’ll still know nothin’ ‘bout me.” What we think we know and what we actually know can be two very different things.
“Your opinions about the minds of others cover a much ‘bigger space’ than your direct observations, pieced together in your imagination from things you’ve read and heard from others.”
Finished February 3. Recommended by Derek Sivers.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Before I read this book, I felt I would already have a pretty good handle on the gist of it (I’ve heard it quoted and referenced by many people — personally and professionally). It was unexpectedly sad in parts but surprising insightful (in spite of having read many books “of this type”). Perhaps it’s sad because this specific wisdom has been around since the book was published in 1989.
“There are three constants in life: change, choice and principles.”
Finished February 17
Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss
What qualifies as a “perfect book?” Context is everything, obviously.
Tools of Titans doesn’t have a wasted page. There is something for everyone. Indeed, lots of things for lots of people. Tim Ferriss distills his notes and connects dots to give readers a relevant encyclopedia of experience and wisdom from the nearly-200 interviews he’s done with world-class success stories (Tony Robbins, Jamie Foxx, Brené Brown, Laird Hamilton, and more). The book recommendations list at the end of the book is, alone, worth it. Due to the nature of how the material was collected, it doesn’t need to be read from cover to cover. But your brain and heart will be full if you do.
“When people say: ‘You do so many things. You’re a musician, you’re a painter, you’re a composer, you’re a cinematographer, you’re the editor. You do so many different things.’ I go, ‘No, I only do one thing. I live a creative life. When you put creativity in everything, everything becomes available to you.’ . . .” —Robert Rodriguez
Finished February 28
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers
On the surface, it’s a story of how CDbaby began. Underneath, it’s a story about having the freedom to build anything you want. And, even more importantly, the freedom to build anything you ought.
“Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself.”
Finished March 2
Tao Te Ching
The earliest manuscripts of this collection of proverbs date to as far back as fourth-century BC. I chuckled every time the author referenced “the ancients.” Our life is so short, and the world is so long. I read this because of Tim Ferriss. It’s been mentioned/recommended by five of his podcasts guests.
“To know and yet (think) we do not know is the highest (attainment); not to know (and yet think) we do know is a disease.”
Finished March 6
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
Even with the cacophony of apocalyptic nightmare stories, the future looks bright. And it’s not just because we’ll be able to buy anything we want, or because of a convenient app to order toilet paper with, and it’s not because of robots. It’s bright because each new day is a new chance to look at the world anew. And I think that optimism will build the future.
“Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.”
*Finished March 7
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
So it goes.
“All this happened, more or less.”
Finished March 8
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Harari connects historical facts and ideas together like the best kind of detective novel. We see facts, Harari sees clues. How are wheat, peasants, money, religion, empires, capitalism, the scientific revolution, vitamin C, and opium connected? By Jove! You’ll find out in this fascinating and engaging story.
“The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance.”
Finished March 27
A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr
Set as a memory of 1920, I was delighted by the simple way Carr told the story of a young WWI soldier hired to restore a long-forgotten painting inside of a church in Oxgodby. Simple, likable, moving, warm storytelling — the kind that inspires you to write your own good stories. (The idyllic village of Oxgodby was made even more so through reading about it in a beautiful Folio Society edition of the book — loaned to me by Tom.)
“We sat in the warm sunshine: he smoked and I thought about Alice Keach.”
Finished April 9. Recommended by Thomas A. Shull.
Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by the very funny Marie Kondo
I’ve read two books by the same author in one year. It’s a Japanese miracle! I woke up one day being sensitive to tidying-up my stuff. I had a dream where I went to Chicago and took a “organization tour!” In relation to the things I own, I’m learning to ask myself, “does this spark joy?” If not, I thank it for bringing me joy at some time in my life, and then I recylce, donate, or toss it in the trash.
And this follow-up book to “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” has pictures! I’m a big fan.
“Some people think it doesn’t really matter if they wear socks with holes in them or tights that are pilled, but this is like declaring ‘today doesn’t matter.’ “
Finished April 13
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
I’m pretty much an expert on Norse mythology. I’ve read a book on it! Like that time when Thor dresses like a woman to get his stolen hammer back. Or how Thor got a hammer in the first place. (Spoler alert: Loki was up to no good when he asked the dwarfs to make the hammer.) And more. Definitely worth reading. Each chapter a different story.
“Many people would admire Odin’s horse, but only a brave man would ever mention its parentage in Loki’s presence, and nobody ever dared to allude to it twice.”
Finished April 16
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport
Sometimes all you have to do is read the title of some books to get the gist. You could stop at the title of this one. But you could read it all and reap the full benefit and Cal ties to bulld a case for improving your craft, and gathering skills, and becoming better — even if you aren’t doing the work you think is your passion.
“Do what Steve Jobs did. Not what he said.”
Finished April 19
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
It feels like I’m going through a phase in life when I’m trying to learn brand new things — or, at least, things for which I need much improvement. I forgot who recommended this book to me. But I’m glad they did. It was a simple example of how important a simple checklist can be to help get things done and done correctly.
“[“$1.7 million remote-controlled R]obots [have] increased surgical costs massively and have so far improved results only modestly for a few operations, compared with standard laparoscopy. Nonetheless, hospitals in the United States and abroad have spent billions of dollars on them. But meanwhile, the checklist?”
Finished April 2
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Even in being familiar with a lifetime of stories about Hitler’s concentration camps, Frankl’s story felt new. I suppose every survivor’s story is unique. There is some connective tissue tying everyone together, but how it effects each person, what it meant to them at the time, what it means now, is distinctive to the storyteller. The second part of the book is an explanation of a psychological method of looking at the world — logotherapy. Meaning-centered psychotherapy. Logotherapists seek to make patients aware of how discovering meaning can help them overcome their neurosis. And awareness is critical in life.
“Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”
Finished May 21. Recommended by Aaron Green.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
A book on writing. It’s a how-to manual. A funny how-to manual. Imagine that. A poet once said writing cannot be taught, only insinuated. So, if that’s the case, I’ve already started using Lamott’s 1-inch frame insinuation.
“I feel like a lot of time my writing is like having about twenty boxes of Christmas decorations. But no tree. You’re going, Where do I put this? Then they go, Okay, you can have a tree, but we’ll blindfold you and you gotta cut it down with a spoon.”
Finished May 28. Recommended by Aaron Green.
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Spolier alert: there’s no mathmatecial formula for finding what makes you happy. Unless the formula just means rolling out of bed and placing one foot on the floor, followed by another. Standing up, and stepping into a new day. Perhaps even stumbling.
Finished June 11
Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
An enemy? Another spoiler alert: Yes.
Like most people, I like hearing a good story. In my best moments I can tell a good story. Consequently, I like hearing psychology behind people’s stories — about their aspirations, their success, their failures. Ryan is only the second author I recall recommending their bibliography for further research. Way to go.
“Be lesser, do more. Imagine if for every person you met, you thought of some way to help them, something you could do for them?”
Finished June 18
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
“Sounds like the kind of book you’d read,” my bride scoffs. I had to drive a defining stake through the topic. Once and for all. (Until next time it comes up.)
“I don’t care what people think about me, unless it’s in regards to an important issue,” I say.
And the important issue is defined by me, and is defined by context. For example, if I want to make a good impression with someone, I might care what my clothes look like. If I’m in another context where I’m not trying to impress someone, my clothes are irrelevant. It’s not too hard to understand.
I think Mark Manson’s trying to use his experience to help people live happier lives. This book reminds me of Fight Club. Fight Club isn’t about fighting. Or a club. It’s about something else.
It’s nearly unbelievable. I have never heard the story of Hiroo Onoda. “On December 26, 1944, Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Japanese Imperial Army was deployed to the small island of Lubang in the Philippines ... .”
The author includes a quote from Bukowski. It’s worth repeating here. “We’re all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by life’s trivialities; we are eaten up by nothing.”
Finished June 26
The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
I read this book for the same reason Einstein spent the last 30 years of his career looking for a unified field theory — an all-encompassing framework for understanding the universe. Einstein wanted to illuminate the workings of the universe with a clarity never before achieved, allowing us all to stand in awe of its sheer beauty and elegance.
And that’s how I’m connected to Einstein. Cuz we both want the same thing.
“The history of science teaches us that each time we think that we have it all figured out, nature has a radical surprise in store for us that requires significant and sometimes drastic changes in how we think the world works.”
Finished July 4 Recommended by Kyle Ransom
Modern Physics and Ancient Faith by Stephen M. Barr
The author says the modern science/religion are often debates not between science and religion but between materialism and religion — materialism basically being a philosophy of science. Barr is a scientist and this is his view on how things work.
“It has long been known that the cosmological constant (when expressed in these natural units) is less than about 10-120. In decimal form this would be written 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001. This is an amazingly small number.”
I like understatements like that.
Finished July 20. Recommended by Kyle Ransom.
How to Be Here by Rob Bell
Do you see your life as something you create, or as something that’s happening to you? Bell’s got an opinion, and it falls on the side of you creating it. Spoiler alert.
“Some things people give their energies to prevent other people from thriving. Some tasks dehumanize and degrade the people involved.”
Finished August 1
What Is the Bible by Rob Bell
There’s something more going on here.
“. . . . try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” —RAINER MARIA RILKE
Finished August 6
Love Lives Here by Maria Goff
A meaningful, encouraging, inspirational collection of stories from Goff’s life. You just may want to turn around and read it again.
“I think we can all benefit from times of honest reflection.”
Finished August 9
The One-Page Marketing Plan by Allan Dib
It’s a book of how to stand out from the crowd. And that’s what I need to do. In some ways.
“It never ceases to amaze me how many businesses, large and small, make it difficult to buy from them. It’s almost like they have a sales prevention department, whose job is making the buying process a painful experience.”
Finished August 11. Recommended by Craig Moyers
Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger
Holden Caulfield was judgmental, confused, immature and different. And wiser than his years. Salinger had me all over the place with this — mostly with a sympathetic tone. Life’s hard.
“He’s so good he’s almost corny, in fact. I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it.”
Finished August 15
Head Strong by Dave Asprey
This is all about the mitochondria. Fascinating research and opinion about improving brain health. And I need all the improvements I can get.
“After all of these years as a professional biohacker—spending hundreds of thousands of dollars hacking my biology and traveling to the ends of the world to seek out the most cutting-edge, extreme, and ancient hacks for improving human performance, I was surprised to learn that it really all comes down to our mitochondria. I never would have imagined the extent to which these billions of tiny bacteria that live in all of us are calling the shots, controlling our energy, brains, and performance and basically determining who we are.”
Finished September 6
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
I started the Harry Potter series because my son thought I’d like them. And he’s right. I do.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
I can see why potter became a hit all of the world. These books are fun and well written.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Rowling really hits her stride with book 3. More and more details and more and more description of surroundings and defense are making their way into the series.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
This was enjoyable read – especially the last half.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
This book was far too long. It’s a thrilling ending, though. These books hit at just the right time for Hollywood to really undergird what kids we’re reading in these books. As these books were made into movies, then become classics.
And then it was December 31. Happy new year.