I keep this list as a reference of the most notable, lingering ideas of a book.
Somehow 2021 was even worse than 2020 in terms of my reading list.
A World Without Email by Cal Newport — Newport argues that the “hyperactive hive mind” we use to get knowledge work done isn’t very effective. Beyond personal productivity systems, focusing on improving production processes by organizing information and tasks will help teams produce better work.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
No Pain, No Gaines: The Good Stuff Doesn’t Come Easy by Chip Gaines — This guy is easy to love. Though I’m sure his books are ghost written, they have his fresh, direct style that most people writing books think is too pedestrian for a hardcover.
Little and Often by Trent Preszler
The Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain — Been a long time fan of Bourdain but had never read the book that kicked off his post-cook fame. He’s an awesome writer and I’m very sad that we lost him as a human.
The stress of 2020 was not good for my reading habit. I spent more time reading people like Ed Yong in The Atlantic and Zeynep Tufekci’s newsletter Insight and periodicals like The Economist rather than I did books. Here’s what I did get to:
Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard — Inspiring. Yvon tells the history of Patagonia and, through sharing the principles followed by the company, provides clear instructions on how to be better stewards of our planet. We have over extended the planet’s ability to supply our rampant consumerism. We have to change our purchasing behaviors to reduce the demand for such a scale of products and reorganize our economy to not be solely growth-driven. The book also reminds me of how happy the outdoors makes me. I need to prioritize getting out of the city to enjoy nature.
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino — Jia Tolentino is a force in interpreting the chaos of the 21st Century. Covering ground from the way the internet has messed us up to how feminism has changed celebrity culture and politics, Tolentino makes sense of what we usually can only sense but not quite put our finger on. I appreciated her thoughtfulness so much that, by the last couple essays, I was hoping she would move on to cover more topics and thus explain more of the world to me.
Little Bets by Peter Sims — I was given this book when I started my new job. Though a little old (2011) in technology years, it has maintained a good approach to creativity. “The Growth Mindset” is a new idea to me that resonated. I like the concept introduced about how when jazz musicians improvise the part of their brain responsible for self-censoring deactivates. We can use this technique to create new ideas before risk-aversion kicks in. Another important point is how critical research and discovery are to understanding the space we’re working in. This has a major crossover with my writing interests, where fresh ideas also come from watching and connecting ideas. It was also a good reminder that I can’t wait around for good ideas to write about but that good ideas come from writing and refining.
Against Interpretation and Other Essays by Susan Sontag — Picked up a copy of this at the Met’s ‘Camp’ exhibit last year. It’s my first time reading Sontag. She’s of legendary status and I usually find it intimidating to read legends for the first time, unsure of whether I’ll like them as much as history has. “Against Interpretation” and “On Style” both gave me fresh ways to think about writing and art.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion — Didion reads so natural and effortless. One of the best. I put off reading Didion for a couple years because I was intimidated. She writes the way I dream of writing and I thought I would be disheartened by her talent. The opposite is true: I feel inspired.
Life is defined by perspective. The way we see the world and understand it defines our experience. Didion sees the world with such clarity. “As it happens, I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one’s self depends on one’s mastery of the language…”
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow — One of my favorite novels in a long while. I first learned about “walkaway” as a concept through reading conversations on SSB. This book reinvigorated my sense of technology supporting humanity. We can use the tools we have to work together and make technology work for us.
Agency by William Gibson — I think I should have read The Peripheral first. I felt a little lost through the whole book. I found some of the conversations with Gibson in the press for this book just as interesting as the book itself. Gibson spoke with Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker as well as Sam Leith for The Guardian.
Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore — Been doing a bit more work-related reading. A classic in the startup space, this book helped me get a sense of where the company I joined in January sits in the market and the need to shift from a product-focus to a market-focus as as company expands within a market.
The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins — How to spot your weaknesses when you transition into something new. I’m transitioning into managing people for the first time and need to shift my thinking substantially.
On Writing by Stephen King — This is the only of King’s work that I’ve read so far. He is quite entertaining here—honest and human. King calls out most other writing books aside from Strunk & White as being bullshit (which, in retrospect, is fairly accurate). The fundamentals, he reminds us, are nothing more than to write a lot, read a lot, and love a lot. This book holds a good lesson for me to learn to enjoy the process of writing.
4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris — One of the original “productivity” books of the internet era. I avoided this for a decade because of the “hacks” within. If you can close your eyes through the buzzy stuff there are some good things to learn. It’s no longer as easy as it was in 2009 to sell stuff online but was helpful in some tips for owning a business. I left with some ideas of businesses I could start.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates — Inspiring-turned-heartbreaking look at suburban life. Set in the 1950s, it’s a worthwhile lesson still about communication, the promises we make to ourselves and our loved ones, and the way we trade in our dreams. This books is a reminder of how much I appreciate my wife for not pandering to me.
The Quiet American by Graham Greene — A journalist in Saigon during the Vietnam War struggles with the dangers of a young idealist as well as his own cynical ways of seeing world now that he’s not so young anymore. Reading this right after Revolutionary Road had a fascinating way of telling the story of someone who has escaped the drudgery of routine life but has to find contentment in this new place. I have to try making a Vermouth Cassis.
Working by Robert A. Caro — An interesting read with some back story on how Caro wrote his books on Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson. Caro tells of the importance of making the reader feel what he could have just told through facts.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King — After reading On Writing and realizing I had never read a King novel, I borrowed an audio book copy for no other reason than that this was the only one of his immediately available without a wait list. Long, at over 13 hours, I found it a bit meandering yet still enjoyable. There seemed to be some supporting story lines that went into more depth than I would have thought to be needed but maybe that’s an allure to King that I haven’t come to understand. I think it would have been more difficult to read in book format but, as an audio book (which I have rarely listened to), it was easy to get through and an enjoyable mystery.
A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams by Michael Pollen — Pollen explores our human relationships to the natural and man-made spaces that surround us. By building a writing house on his property, he forces himself out of the cerebral world of writing into the physical of building. Through the process of working with an architect, Pollen exposes the failures in architecture and how modernism and post-modernism have shown a disregard for the human physical existence within buildings. Pollen manages to seamlessly connect literary, architectural, and construction concepts, treating all with a level of craft.
Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin — A smart book about money management that closely follows my beliefs about living within the bounds of “enough.” The program can help define what the value of money is to you and then how to use the life force money affords to continue making investments back into your future. An astounding amount of Americans are stuck in a trap where they are trading their livelihood for a life of consumption that leads to financial ruin and personal emptiness. The program in this book helps lead people to financial integrity, intelligence, and independence by building on an “alignment of vision and values with action.” This comes from understanding that money is a vehicle for fulfilling your values. We usually consider our jobs to be a vital mechanism for fulfilling our values but if we can see work as only a source of income, we can “redefine work” and find meaning in the world beyond our paid employment.
Underworld by Don DeLillo — (Abridged Audiobook) Only after finishing did I realize this was the abridged version that, at best guess, is only about one third of the total length of the original. Even still, the trimmed down version of Underworld gives a look under the skin of American between the cold war and the late 90s. Themes of surreality and the physical and emotional waste that our modern lives create vibrated with me. DeLillo’s prose have a lucid energy that supports the surrealness: how can someone shape dialog in such an affecting way? I plan to read the unabridged print version someday to get the full experience.
Blood Meridian by Cormic McCarthy — Set in the borderlands of Mexico and the United States in the 1850s, this epic follows the main character “the kid” through the gruesomeness of life in the Glanton gang. McCarthy sears the reader’s nightmares with the formidable Judge Holden whose grandeur sparks terror. The violence stuns the comfort of modern senses yet after some chapters, you become numb to the bloodshed and what continues is a vivid depiction of the days of the gang members. The book becomes almost monotonous in the exact way traveling through the desert on horseback should feel. McCarthy’s simple, rugged sentences (robbed of nearly all its punctuation) reads in such close harmony with the subject that you feel as if you have so deeply become bored of the endless months of riding across a desert that the minutes become defined by the ways you sense your surroundings; the sounds of the desert winds, the sharpness of hard settled rock on the ridges of mountain passes, and the ache of the cold in the darkness of night. This not only kept me interested but gave me a show of McCarthy’s striking style. His use of sometimes page-long sentences build momentum into scriptural expanse. Heralded as one of the greatest American novels of all time, Blood Meridian hits you hard with questions of good and evil and where America found itself in this balance.
In roughly reverse chronological order, stretching back even to some elementary school reads that I remember:
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines
- Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
- Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
- A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
- How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton
- The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- True Names by Vernor Vinge
- Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Huck Finn by Mark Twain
- Neuromancer by William Gibson
- St. Marks is Dead by Ada Calhoun
- Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal
- Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit by Stephen Pressfield
- 1984 by George Orwell
- Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
- The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
- Quiet by Susan Cain
- Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
- The Flinch by Julien Smith
- Design is a Job by Mike Montero
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- On The Road by Jack Kerouac
- A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
- Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
- Wool by Hugh Howey
- The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
- Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau
- Smiley's People by John Le Carré
- Survive by Les Stroud
- Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
- Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
- enough by Patrick Rhone
- Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
- Rework by Jason Fried
- Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky
- Linchpin by Seth Godin
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- Outliers by Malcom Gladwell
- Blink by Malcom Gladwell
- The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell
- Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
- Holes by Louis Sachar