January/February Reading Romp

Much like the title says, this is the books that I’ve read in the months of January and February. In the interest of full disclosure, I admittedly forgot all about publishing my January reading list. I’d like to blame moving to New York City, being busy with work, and getting wrapped up in the whirlwind that is this great beast of a city. But really, I just forgot.

Oh well. We’re here now. And for those of you who care about these things, 2017 is the year of great fiction. Why? Well, because I think that stories hold all of the answers that we consistently find ourselves searching for throughout history.

We can read all the self-help we want, but typically the greatest truths of the world are contained within a story. It shouldn’t seem like a huge coincidence that we have legitimately evolved to accept and understand information more effectively and efficiently when presented in story format. Plus stories are just far more entertaining and make you a more interesting person.

Because let’s be real, you’d much rather hang out with someone who can talk about Harry Potter vs. The Secret.

Alright, enough is enough. Here’s the list.

Brave New World

I felt there was something poetic to reading this first in 2017 because, in case you hadn’t heard, there was a rather controversial election that took place at the end of 2016. This was actually my first time reading Brave New World, and I have to say, I was very pleased with the book as a whole.

The writing and narrative of the book are infinitely better than 1984, the companion book this one so often gets compared to. But this book itself might be harder to read. Not because the writing is difficult, or the narrative seems to jump all over the place. But because the parallel’s between modern day and the world Huxley has built are downright terrifying at times, which is not an experience I really got with 1984.

Huxley did a marvelous job of crafting a story here, and it’s no real shock that he is one of the two progenitors of the modern dystopian fiction genre as we know it today. But even more so, some of the prescient predictions he seems to be making seem truly visionary when viewing them through the lens of the past. Namely the seminal point that we will drown from the fire hydrant flow of information to the point that we’ll no longer care about what is important, instead of dying of information drought like in 1984.

For anyone interested in a good story, getting mildly freaked out, or going back to one of the first fathers of dystopian future, this is a must read. You can grab it here.

The Name Of The Wind

After John Romaniello repeatedly threatening to kick me off the Earth if I didn’t read this book I finally got around to not being an idiot and my life is infinitely better for it.

The Name Of The Wind is Patrick Rothfuss’ introduction into the world of Kvothe, a ginger boy wonder. Which should automatically tell you that our young protagonist is fighting an uphill battle because that is the lot in life of a ginger. Just ask Robbie Farlow.

Jokes aside, this truly is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time. The story itself is incredibly rich, seemingly always holding another layer for you to peel back and dig into. The characters wrap you up into their lives so that before you know it you’re walking around the grocery store wondering how exactly Kvothe is going to make it out of Tarbean and feeling glad you don’t have to sleep on a rooftop.

Like most great works of fantasy, the universe that Rothfuss built is incredibly detailed and thorough. You’re dropped into an entirely different world where so much of the inner workings are unfamiliar. But also like most great fantasy, the workings of the people themselves are intimately familiar. And we are rewarded for his work by a truly beautiful book that is written in such a way that it actually leaves you in awe at times.

Don’t be a jackass like me and wait over a year to start this. You can argue that fantasy isn’t your thing all you want, but give the first page a read I believe you’re going to be all about it. Don’t believe me? Just ask Benjamin Matthews Johnson. But whatever you do, don’t be a jackass like Peter Baker and take over six months to finish this book. It’s long, but it’s not that long.

You will live a better life by picking it up here.

The Wise Man’s Fear

Oh, I didn’t tell you? Rothfuss is working on a trilogy. The Name Of The Wind is part one, and this is part two. I’m obviously not going to spoil things because I vehemently believe that all of you reading this would improve your lives by reading this series, and then waiting in despair until Rothfuss publishes the third book.

So all I will say is that this book probably has more action, but the first one has more poetic prose at points. They’re both beautiful, maddening, contain outstanding character development, and will leave you incredibly pissed off when you finish and know there’s another book coming but you have no idea when it will be out.

Join me in frustration here.

Seriously, Rothfuss. Don’t be a dick. Publish the third book already.

A Farewell To Arms

This was a re-read for me. It’s one of my favorite books of all time and my favorite by Hemingway. After going through some beautiful prose and wonderfully done stories from Rothfuss, I needed to give myself something that was a bit more laconic and still just as beautiful.

If you haven’t read A Farewell To Arms, it’s a story of love and war born out of World War I and loosely drawn from some of Hemingway’s own experiences as an ambulance driver on the Italian front. Throughout the book we not only get taken on what can be a harrowing account of early 20th-century warfare, but we are privy to a truly beautiful love story born out of the horrors of war.

Some of the greatest dialogue ever spilled on paper was written in this book. Including one that I think all who have ever been in love can empathize with:

“Maybe…you’ll fall in love with me all over again.”
“Hell,” I said, “I love you enough now. What do you want to do? Ruin me?”
“Yes. I want to ruin you.”
“Good,” I said. “That’s what I want too.”

Hemingway famously said that he rewrote the ending 39 different times to make sure he got the words just right. And when you read the ending, you’ll see why he went through such a herculean effort to conclude the journey he took you on.

You can grab it here.

But What If We’re Wrong

I know I said 2017 is the year of great fiction but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading nonfiction. Especially nonfiction that challenges my thinking, and that’s exactly what this book did.

But What If We’re Wrong was the February choice for the book club I run, and for good reason. It’s a book that challenges the conventional wisdom of all that we know. And we’re talking about things that we take as a foregone conclusion. Like, gravity.

Yes, this book seriously opens with challenging what we think we know about gravity. Talk about swinging for the fucking fences, man. To be clear, he’s not saying that gravity doesn’t exist, or anything absurd like that. He’s just making the point that maybe we don’t actually know everything about how gravity works, so maybe we should quit acting like we know anything and everything.

The entire book feels like a bunch of different complex and impossible to solve conversations you’d have with your friends when you’re entirely too stoned, but I love it for that reason. It’s interesting to think about, it’s not actionable at all, and it forces you to think about certain topics a bit differently than you may have in the past.

You can grab it here and have three-hour conversations about the color red.

Oh, also we might live in a computer simulation. Just fyi.

American Gods

Yo, this book is excellent. Like, truly excellent. As a hardcore mythology nerd, I loved every single bit of this book. As an American, I loved it even more. Not because Gaiman goes on to talk about how great America is, but for the exact opposite reason.

He deftly shows just how much America lacks by way of a set of cultural myths that have been passed down for generations and highlights what we’re missing by that. American’s don’t have myths to live by. We don’t have Thor and Loki. We don’t have Zeus and Poseidon. So instead we had to create our own by deifying characters like George Washington.

Gaiman does an excellent job of talking about this, but he also talks about the other gods that we worship in the modern day. The gods of TV and radio. The gods of pop culture. And the crux of the book? How those gods are creeping in to take from the gods of mythological lore.

Oh, and it’s all framed in reference to the old gods of mythology battling the new.

The book flew for me. It was like as soon as I picked it up I was done, despite it being roughly 500 pages or so. Part of this is thanks to the story itself, and part of it is thanks to Gaiman just being entertaining as hell with his writing.

You can read it here.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

I went on a bit of a Gaiman run and decided to pick this one up after American Gods. This one is far shorter but packs an incredible punch in the form of the story. It’s simple little story of a middle-aged man who is back home and goes back to where he met a childhood friend, and before he knows it the forgotten past comes flooding back to him.

Part of what comes back is a truly horrifying time in his childhood when a boy who is all of 7 has to deal with demons and monsters, which no self-respecting 7 year old should be forced to fight. But guiding him through it all as his savior is young Lettie Hempstock.

It’s a beautiful book that tells of the power of stories, and just how much stories matter in shaping who we are and who we become, while also highlighting a deeply human element within all of us.

You can read it here.

A Confederacy Of Dunces

This book is damn near perfect, and that is not me being hyperbolic. I truthfully think that’s all I really need to say about it, but for the sake of convincing you that you should read it, I’ll write more. The book is hilarious in every sense of the word. The characters are so incredibly deep and addicting that you find yourself wanting more and more. The story is so interconnected and beautifully woven together. And the picture of the American South is truly magnificent.

The book is hilarious in every sense of the word. The characters are so magnificently developed that you feel like Ignatius J. Reilly is the annoying friend you’ve got who makes up excuses so far fetched that you actually have to admire them on some level. The story is woven together beautifully, and like all great books, it leaves you feeling like you saw the ending coming a mile away, and at the same exact time, you’re blown away it actually happened like that.

I can’t express to you just how much I loved this. The wittiness and originality of the dialogue is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. And when coupled with the inevitable feeling that the entire house of cards is going to come crashing down around the main characters, the book becomes downright addicting from start to finish. It is officially one of my top 10 favorite books of all time.

What’s even better is the story behind it. To make a long story short, Toole wrote this book and then wound up committing suicide when he couldn’t get the book published. After his mom found the manuscript she worked like hell to get it published. Then it obviously went on to set the literary world on fire.

If you pick up one book from this list, pick this one up here.

The Art Of Learning

I had always heard about this book from plenty of others who are interested in doing bigger and better things with their lives. On top of that, Tim Ferriss does a lot of work with Josh Waitzkin, the childhood chess prodigy. So I figured I should go ahead and give this a go.

As much as I really wanted to find some earth shattering takeaways from this, there were none. The big reason for that is probably because I read this at a point when so many other books like Deep WorkBut even as much as I loved that one, most of these books can be summed up by saying, “Unplug from the Internet and challenge yourself every single day.

So, will you gain much from reading it? That’s not for me to say. But you will learn an interesting story behind the makings of a childhood chess prodigy and a world class Tai Chi competitor, for whatever that is worth. Which, to be fair, I found to be really fascinating.

You can learn about chess and shit here.

You Are Not So Smart

So a few years back I actually read the sequel to this book, You Are Now Less Dumb, on accident. Which worked out, because many of the knowledge bombs from that book spawned some of my most popular blog posts in the history of this site. Which is cool.

I found this one and figured I’d give it a read because I’m always down to learn more about psychological fallacies and ways that our brain fucks with us. And much like I figured, this book did not disappoint at all.

The entire book was a great reminder for a number of fallacies that I’ve meant to write about, forgotten all about, or had wanted to revisit at some point. For others that I wasn’t as familiar with it was a great entry point. Granted, you become aware of these fallacies, but fixing them is an entirely different animal. Why? Because, well, we’re all still an animal to some degree.

Fallacies like the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, confirmation bias, The availability heuristic, and others all get love. So for those of you who are interested in learning more about how much your brain really can’t be trusted, this would be a great jumping off point. Then move on to the sequel.

You can grab it here.

Ernest Hemingway On Writing

Despite the fact that I work professionally as a writer, I have actually never read a book on writing in my life. Part of that is just me being a snob. Part of that is that I tend to think that most of the writing lessons books on writing can teach you can also be learned by reading great stories, much like most lessons in life. And those are far more entertaining, anyway.

But when I saw this, obviously I had to pick it up. There’s something poetic about the first book on writing I ever read to be from my literary hero.

The book is super easy to read, as it’s nothing more than a collection of excerpts from letters, articles, and books where Hemingway talks about writing. It might be the writing process, other writers, what goes into a project, or a whole host of other things.

All of this makes for a short and entertaining read, but one that warrants being revisited day in and day out to pull from for sources of wisdom instead of read as a narrative. Look at it as more of a compendium of quotes than anything else.

The writer in me loved this. The Hemingway acolyte in me absolutely adored it. And if you care about Papa and the written word, I think you will as well. You can grab it here.

What Makes Sammy Run

Ryan Holiday consistently talks about this being his favorite novel. By chance, I happened upon it the other day and seeing as I had just finished that Hemingway book on writing, I figured why not give it a go. Damn near every single thing Holiday recommends is great, so this was sure to be as well.

Once again, Ryan Holiday is spot on.

What Makes Sammy Run follows the story of Sammy Glick from errand boy up the ranks to Hollywood hot shot in a manner that seems to highlight this special little piece of the American spirit that is both disheartening and enlightening.

The story itself is beautiful. But more than the story, the insight into the character and persona of Sammy, Al, and Kit are what really makes the book magical. There’s something beautiful to be gained from the insights you get into the lives of these characters. Something that we all recognize in ourselves. Something that we all love, and something that we’re all repulsed by at the same time.

If that doesn’t make sense, there’s a beautiful quote about Sammy in the book that essentially describes him as the Id of society. That Freudian concept of this thing that is deep down, primal and uncontained. Something we’re all familiar with, but don’t allow ourselves to come into contact with very often. And I think that is what I found to be so fascinating about the book. Sammy and his character are addicting because he is this strange mix of relatable and repulsive.

Much like A Confederacy Of Dunces, I finished this and felt like I could immediately turn right back around and read this over again. It is a truly beautiful book, and I think this is one that everyone should read at some point in their lives.

You can grab it here.

Do The Work

Pressfield has a host of nonfiction books all dedicated to getting shit done. But not in a personal productivity hacking way. These are all dedicated to artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and speak to the internal struggle that we all go through when trying to see our baby through to completion, and the Resistance that we must face during that time.

If you’ve read The War Of Art, then you know all about the Resistance. If you haven’t, don’t even bother with this book. You need to start there.

But if you have, and you’re working on something that you find to be a labor of love, then you might find this book to be an enjoyable read. It was actual a reread for me, but most of his nonfiction books can be picked up a couple of times a year and revisited for a nice little kick in the ass to get yourself moving on a project you know you’ve been putting off.

Don’t pick it up looking for productivity hacking techniques, time management tips, or anything like that. Instead, what you’ll find inside is sage advice from someone who has been in your position before. Someone who knows about the Muse you pray to when doing any sort of creative endeavor, and an empathetic voice that you can turn to.

Don’t pick it up looking for productivity hacking techniques, time management tips, or anything like that. Instead, what you’ll find inside is sage advice from someone who has been in your position before. Someone who knows about the Muse you pray to when doing any sort of creative endeavor, and an empathetic voice that you can turn to.

All of Pressfield’s nonfiction books are short and easy reads that pack a serious punch. The kind of book you can read in an hour but find yourself highlighting and marinating on for the next month. That’s the stuff that makes these worth a read.

You can grab it here.