Recommended Reads, Summer 2015

Slovenian valley

I’m in a foreign land physically, but still love transporting my mind to a world constructed by a brilliant writer. As we rode along today in Slovenia, my book took me to Florida during the Cold War. In the last month, I’ve also been to Mars as we spun through Belgium and Pakistan as I pedaled through Croatia.

Diving into the past of a country via a book always deepens my appreciation for a place. Hosts and people we meet build an education, but books I read frequently lay the foundation beforehand or while we’re there.  A true story of two Hungarian families from the 1930’s showed me Hungary through the eyes of people who lived through chaos. With few people alive from that era (practically none of them speaking English), it is more difficult to gain that kind of perspective through a conversation.

Enjoying a lunch break and some reading by a canal in France.

Enjoying a lunch break and some reading by a canal in France.

I’m always searching for additions to my “books to read” Evernote file. Thanks to recommendations from friends and bloggers I follow, I’ve enjoyed some marvelous books this year. Perhaps because we are approaching the end of summer (what?!), a few friends recently asked for recommendations. To share my favorites, I figured I’d assemble a list from the last few months. If you are looking for more, check out my Goodreads profile, which compiles the books I’ve read.

Considering speed reading? Maybe it doesn’t even help, according to this study. I read fairly quickly, but mostly just commit quite a few hours to this rewarding activity.

Below are books that, for various reasons, I highly recommend. No specific genre – you’ll find fiction, nonfiction, self-improvement, biography, sci-fi and more. Here’s to a few more days in the sun by the pool or a lake flipping through a book (or borrowing it digitally) before glorious fall and crackling-cold mornings are upon us.

  1. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid. This book is written entirely in 2nd person (e.g. “you wake up in a dark room”) and contains zero names. I found that mechanism, not to mention the story, very thought provoking. He captures a world I knew nothing about (Pakistan) with language and imagery that shimmered. I read two more of his books (Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist) right after this one. All three endings will leave you wondering.
  2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Ugh, another piece of historical fiction about WWII? And this one with a blind French girl and a young German soldier as the main characters? Just. Read. It. There’s a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015. The author has an exceptional gift for bringing detail to life.
  3. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I devoured this book, a true story about a Seattle rowing team. It follows their quest to win gold in the 1936 Berlin games as Hitler was about to launch another world. An absolutely engrossing book.

    Audiobooks make 14% grade inclines like this one in Slovenia just a touch more doable.

    Audiobooks make 14% grade inclines like this one in Slovenia just a touch more doable.

  4. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. I read this depiction of Utah’s red rock region while road tripping through those spires in April. It’s a travel tale, but more so an ode to solitude, adventure for the hell of it, and the power of exploring. With the wilderness constantly under attack, I think Abbey’s genius is even more timely these days.
  5. We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider. The honesty and wit in this book made me nod in agreement at one sentence, crack up at the next, and tear up by the end of the paragraph. I’m very glad Tim Ferriss unearthed this fantastic piece of work for his book club. Don’t worry what it’s about – just read it.
  6. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. One of my favorite deep-thinking bloggers, Maria Popova of, recommended this book. It totally surprised me. Amanda, a master crowdfunding musician who is married to the writer Niel Gaiman, lays out vulnerable, brilliant insight on what it takes to ask others for help as a way to grow and create great art. As she writes, “Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with—rather than in competition with—the world.”

    Hanging in a courtyard in Croatia with Jen and Dave.

    Hanging in a Soviet-era courtyard in Croatia with Jen and Dave.

  7. Open by Andre Agassi. I love biographies, and this is one of my recent favorites. The real story behind the bad-boy tennis player. Honest, painful, and inspiring.
  8. Singularity Series by William Hertling. AI (artificial intelligence) both titillates and scares me, and I’ve dug deep into it recently with nonfiction as well as through this great sci-fi series recommended by Brad Feld. I become a nonexistent husband whenever I picked one of these up and disappeared into the story.
  9. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. No AI in that one, just a world-enveloping virus that changes the face of the planet. The way the author jumps around in time frames was well-executed. Another (slightly terrifying) sci-fi book that won the Arthur C. Clarke award.
  10. How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson. This book was so thought provoking. If you like science, or just enjoy understanding the mechanics of the world, you’ll dig Johnson’s “long-zoom” insights. He investigates and connects basic items we take for granted – chapters are titled clean, time, light, glass, cold, sound – in a compelling way.
  11. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. Two great books that have helped me recognize – and modify – the destructive actions that undermine forming positive habits. (If only it were easier to eliminate the bad habits.) Great studies and approachable writing made these two solid reads.
  12. The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer. This short treatise on the power of introspection and stillness is a great read. One quote that spoke to me – both as a traveler and as someone who could benefit from more reflection time – was, “Going nowhere isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.”
  13. The Martian by Andy Weir was a page-turner of a survival story set on Mars. Plus, the author self-published and it grew to grass-roots success before blowing up. Now Ridley Scott is making a movie of it.
  14. Racing the Rain by John L. Parker, Jr. is the newly released prequel to the cult classic Once a Runner (another inspiring book I gobbled up a few years ago). I finished the audiobook version of Racing earlier today and loved this mix of athletic story and historical fiction from a 1950’s and 60’s Florida. I’m no competitive runner, but the challenge and focus of Quenton, the main character, made me nostalgic for those youthful days when anything felt possible.

That should be enough to load your Kindle or top out your holds at the library. Got any books that blew your mind or lit up your soul? Feel free to share below or send me an email. I’m always on the lookout.

Happy reading!

Audiobooks are great for rainy days. Here's Chelsea and our buddies from Long Haul Trekkers in a valley in Slovenia.

Audiobooks are great for rainy days. Here’s Chelsea and our buddies from Long Haul Trekkers in a valley in Slovenia.

10 replies
  1. Tavascarow
    Tavascarow says:

    My recommendations.
    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
    The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.
    And my favourite of all time, Illywhacker by Peter Carey.
    India, Mexico & Australia in three books.

  2. Amelia
    Amelia says:

    As if I needed more books to add to my ever growing ‘to-read’ list! Thank you for these, and also to Tavascarow for their picks too.

  3. Jen
    Jen says:

    Yes! Got my MultCo Library app downloaded and ready to go!

    Here’s a few recommendations for you:

    The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander
    Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
    Another Barbara Kingsolver vote with Poisonwood Bible and
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Poisonwood Bible is a great one. Didn’t make me want to live like them, but what a story. Thanks for the other recommendations!

  4. Tavascarow
    Tavascarow says:

    Forgot another of my favourite Authors.
    David Mitchell. ‘The thousand autumns of Jacob De Zoet’.
    ‘Bone Clocks’, ‘No9 Dream’.
    All brilliant.
    To quote from esquire.
    “A genre-bending, time-leaping, world-traveling, puzzle-making, literary magician.”
    & no I’m not his literary agent, although I wish I was. 🙂

  5. Wayward P
    Wayward P says:

    Thanks for the recommendations D! How We Got To Now is also a lovely little PBS series that we have been enjoying and All the Light We Cannot See was the most beautifully constructed and written thing I’ve read in a long long time. Several others you mention I also enjoyed and a few are on my list to get to.

    One to add I think you guys might dig: Being Mortal, Atul Gawande. A surgeon writing about the inadequacies of our medical systems to address end of life. Very lovely writing, incredibly helpful perspectives and some real solutions for all of us.

    Also, if you need brain-candy novel recommendations let me know! They shouldn’t all be bettering the mind.

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      I could see Mr. Chris getting into that PBS series. That kind of info seems right up his alley!

      I’ll check out Being Mortal too. Thanks for the tip.


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