It’s been a little while since I last published a reading romp to update the world on the books that I’m reading for a few reasons. Primarily because I’m juggling a couple of projects right now, so there’s less time to write. Which is really just a prioritization problem on my end. Also, I’ve been consuming more information audibly as of late.
That’s not to say I’ve crossed over to the dark side and listen to audiobooks. I’ve spent quite a bit of time listening to and marinating on one of my favorite people in the world, Dr. Jordan B Peterson. The info is incredibly heavy and requires a lot of mental work. And on top of that, I’ve been digging into some of the older episodes of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, and since each episode takes about 4-5 hours, that’s quite a bit of time that would otherwise be spent reading.
However, if you know one thing about me, you know that I’m a reader. And that’s something I won’t ever stop doing. And looking back on the last two months, I read quite a bit more than I thought. Especially about heavy topics like morality, even though going with a theme like that wasn’t a conscious choice. So, without further ado, here’s the list.
The Brothers Karamazov
This is the only book I read in all of April and is probably the most difficult book I’ve ever read. It’s a 700+ page monster with exceptionally small font from margin to margin, which in itself isn’t so hard. I’ve read much longer books in under a week. But if you’ve never read a Russian novel then you don’t understand how the Russian’s have a way of using 1,000 words to tell a story that Hemingway would’ve told in 100. They’re both masters of their craft and they both tell beautiful stories. The Russians just make you work a little harder for the payoff.
On top of that, this book is heavy. Not only physically heavy but mentally and emotionally heavy. You carry this one around with you no matter what it is that you’re doing. Even if you step away for a couple of days, you’re still carrying some of the deeper questions that get asked in your heart.
By picking it up you’re taking a deep dive into morality, free will, doubt, reason, judgment, and God. Which if you know Dostoyevsky, shouldn’t be a shock and you should more or less know how things are going to shake out. If you don’t know Dostoyevsky and haven’t read his work then you’re in for something that can shake the very foundation on which you stand.
The story itself centers on three brothers and a case of their father being murdered, which is something by itself that has a number of heavy psychological implications. On top of that, the Karamazov brothers run the gamut of the human condition. From the quiet and angelic monk who functions as our hero to the hyper-intellectual who nearly goes insane, to the brother who is a scoundrel and is drunk in love and on wine all the time.
And really, that’s about it. One of the brothers is tried for murder, and I’m not going to tell you which one because it’d be a dick more to spoil that for you. But the murder and subsequent trial only serves as a vehicle for which Dostoyevsky comes in and takes a sledgehammer to the very foundation of belief.
One of the things that Dostoyevsky does incredibly well in this book explores the importance of belief, morals, and living a just life. All while juxtaposing what that life might look like with someone who attempts to explain and understand everything about the world and all of it’s constituent parts in which we live.
Which means you get a number of wonderful conversations where the Karamozov brothers are exploring belief in God, and you even get a conversation with the Devil, which for me wound up being payoff enough to justify spending a month reading this.
I truly mean it when I say that I don’t think this book is for everyone. I’m not sure if I was ready for it whenever I started. But I know that reading something as heavy as this was good for me because it forced me to stretch my abilities as a reader and thinker. Which is why I took so much time with it.
Just to give you a glimpse, here are a few quotes I loved:
“Besides, nowadays, almost all capable people are terribly afraid of being ridiculous, and are miserable because of it.”
“A beast can never be as cruel as a human being, so artistically, so picturesquely cruel.”
“The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself.”
Should you decide you want to give this one a try, you can grab it here.
Tiny Beautiful Things
This book has been on my list since Ryan Holiday posted about reading it at some point and calling it one of the most beautiful books he’s ever read. If Holiday says to read it, that’s about all the convincing I need.
I fell hard for this book. I really don’t know if I’ve ever loved a book as much as I loved this one. And the great irony of that is that I love this book so much because of how sad it made me. I know for a fact that it brought me to tears at least 3 times, and damn near weeping one of those times. Since I’ve finished I’ve found myself going back and re-reading various letters because I loved it so much and I wanted a little taste of that purity that exists in these words.
Just in case you didn’t know the story behind it, now is probably an appropriate time. For years there was an anonymous advice column online called Dear Sugar. People would write in with their problems, and Sugar would write them letters in response. She’d doll out advice, all while telling an intimate story from her own life. And not just some mundane story about a trip to the supermarket. These people would write in with very intimate questions about losing a child, being married to an addict, or finding their significant other wearing their underwear, and she would respond just as intimately with the details of her own life like her divorce, her heartbreak, her losing her mother, etc.
The readers would open up their soul for Sugar to look into, and Sugar would respond just the same by opening up her chest, pulling her heart out and placing it on the table for all the world to see in it’s beautiful and perfect fucked-upness.
I truly mean it when I say that you may never read a more beautiful book. You may never pick something up that is just raw humanity in the way that this book is raw and unfiltered love for the fellow humans that share this Earth with us. And it’s perfect in every single way for that.
Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Well, if you want the purest example of what bleeding a page for the world to see looks like, this book is it. Here are a couple of examples:
“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”
“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”
“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.”
“Write like a motherfucker.”
You’d be doing yourself a disservice by not reading it. So grab it here.
The Sirens of Titan
Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors, and by this point, there aren’t many of his books I haven’t read. But weirdly enough I’ve had this one for close to a year and just ever cracked it. After reading a couple of extremely heavy books I knew that I needed something that was going to be a bit more irreverent. Something that would make me laugh. Which is typically what Vonnegut is best at, all while shining a light on something absurd about humanity.
This book is no exception. It’s a weird trip into space and time, complete with the invasion of Earth by a Martian army. The main story deals with a millionaire on Earth who has traveled into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum and subsequently become a time traveler of sorts who returns to the Earth every 59 days, which has become a spectacle that people come from far and away just to try and get a glimpse of.
But some millionaire bouncing around the galaxy isn’t the real point of the story. This is, after all, Vonnegut we’re talking about. Vonnegut not so subtly explores free will, with a few of the characters being completely stripped of it, along with letting it be known that nearly all of humanity has been manipulated for centuries just to tell a story that someone might enjoy.
Also, fun fact, it’s rumored that Vonnegut basically came up with this entire book in one evening. He was apparently at a cocktail party and someone had told him he needed to write another novel. So they went into the next room and Vonnegut basically dictated the major contents of this book based off of what was going on in his mind at the time. Which is fucking cool.
You can grab this one here, and while you’re at it grab the rest of Vonnegut’s work.
Wolf In White Van
Admittedly I had no earthly idea what I was getting into when I started this book. It was given to me by my dear friend Alicia Castaneda and I wanted to escape into a story, so I thought why the hell not.
The book is based on a character named Sean who runs a play-by-mail game called Trace Italian. But not too long into the book you begin learning that Sean is disfigured and suffered from a horrific injury that has left his face permanently disfigured. It’s a prominent piece of the book, and it’s why he started Trace Italian in the first place. His game became a place to escape the cold and barren reality that made up his world.
All in all the book kind of rambles on a bit. Jumping from present day Sean to Sean as a younger kid. Exploring the mundane and morose parts of life, all while alluding to a discontentment that younger Sean deals with, which ends in him shooting himself. And surviving.
Some of the language is beautiful, and the story itself isn’t incredibly long. It’s not a book that requires a ton of time to read, but it did leave me in a bit of a funk for a couple of days because of how incredibly bleak everything seemed.
You can pick this one up here.
The Slow Regard Of Silent Things
If you haven’t read The Name Of The Wind then just go ahead and skip this. You don’t need to pay attention here. If you have, and you didn’t know that there was a novella which centers on Auri, well, now you do.
This book is textbook Rothfuss in that it is full of beautiful prose. It kind of tells a story about Auri and where she lives, but the story weirdly enough doesn’t exactly center on Auri. It centers on the objects that Auri comes into contact with. Which is actually the most beautiful part of the book, because Rothfuss does a marvelous job at just saying shit that not many people would ever think to say. It’s like reading 150 pages of a rambling but beautiful journey into this deep and dark underworld where you explore the inherent beauty of each and everything that the main character comes into contact with.
It’s not near as long as the other two books that Rothfuss has written. Plus it works well to get your fix of The Kingkiller Chronicles while we wait for the third book. So definitely worth a read in that regard.
And because it’s Rothfuss, there are a few quotes that I think are worth sharing:
“It was wise enough to know itself, and brave enough to BE itself, and wild enough to change itself while somehow staying altogether true.”
“I cannot help but wonder how many of us walk through our lives, day after day, feeling slightly broken and alone, surrounded all the time by others who feel exactly the same way.”
“There was a door, but it was terribly bashful, so Auri politely pretended not to see it.”
Why We Make Mistakes
I had been really heavy on fiction as of late and that was something that I wanted to try and fix, which is why I picked this up. The title is obviously intriguing, and for the most part the book was interesting. I didn’t learn anything incredibly new, which has far more to do with having read a number of the pop psychology books out there versus this book just not being good.
The author does a great job of exploring some of the ways in which our brain screws us up with without us having any idea about it at all, and he does so in such a simple and easy to understand manner that I think it’s a great entry point for a lot of people who want to learn about the brain. Which also made it a great primer for things I hadn’t thought about in awhile.
It’s a shortish read at like 230 pages or so, and tends to go pretty quickly. It was definitely a nice change of pace and something I plan on coming back to reference when I write articles about quite a few of the topics that got touched on here.
Should you be looking for a decent intro into pop psychology, you can pick this up here.
You Shall Know Our Velocity!
I’m a massive Dave Eggers fan. I’ll read anything the man writes, and his memoir/first book, A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius is probably one of my five favorite books of all time. I had been meaning to get to this book for awhile, and finally got around to cracking it open.
The story centers around a guy named Will and his best friend, Hand, taking a trip around the world for a week. But there’s a catch. Will has about $32,000 dollars and he wants to give it all away over the course of his trip to people that he thinks are deserving. The real salt of the Earth kind of people are the kind of people that Will and Hand are looking for.
But because it’s Eggers the story is a hell of a lot more entertaining than just that, even though the premise alone was enough to draw me in.
The one thing I love most about Eggers is how he manages to write in a stream of consciousness kind of manner without making you feel like you’re losing complete track of the story. He gets you a glimpse into the internal monologue of his characters, who are thinking things we’ve all thought at various points in our lives – especially the thoughts we aren’t proud of thinking, and then drops you right back into the story without missing a beat.
You Shall Know Our Velocity! isn’t on par with something like A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius but that’s a wholly unfair comparison, to begin with. I think if you read AHWOSG and enjoyed it then you’d really enjoy this. If you read something of his like The Circle and wanted a taste of Eggers where he gets a bit weirder, this would be a good entry point. You can get it here.