Reading Recommendations, Spring 2016 (Plus Vader Arrives)

Black Butte Lake sunset flowers


Quick note: Vader arrives! Check out a fun little video I put together while volunteering this month at Farm Sanctuary.


I’ll go out on a limb and say it: Yeeeeeeehaw, spring is on its way! For the first time in a two years of trips into California, the hills are green. Even the awkwardly-named Blue Dick flowers in the photo above are in full mating mode

Dark still rolls in early though. Before summer hits and outside fun takes over like zombies in a Stephen King novel, there is plenty of opportunity to grab a good book and some hot tea.

I read a ton last year and plan to read even more in 2016 (my goal: 100 books). This will continue to be a mix of nonfiction, biography, sci-fi, and random fiction. It’s a big time commitment, but one of the most satisfying, perspective-expanding activities that I do. (For a discussion regarding the claims of speed reading, check out a great link in the comments by Leo R.)

Since I always appreciate a solid book recommendation, I like to pass along the love with my favorites. I digitally borrowed most of these as ebooks or audiobooks for free from the public library.

If you check my Goodreads profile, you may notice I rate many books 4-stars and usually don’t leave bad reviews. I’m not simply over-positive – it’s because the last thing I want is to waste time reading, so I screen books on Amazon or Goodreads. I think 2-star and 4-star reviews are the most helpful, since that strips away 1-star reviews from lunatic readers and the 5-stars from the writer’s best friends.

As always, please leave some of your recent favorite reads in the comments. I’m constantly looking for more great books.


Out for a hike with Chelsea near the sanctuary.

Out for a hike with Chelsea near farm sanctuary.

The Books

Deep Work by Cal Newport – Looking to increase your ability to thrive in today’s world of scattered attention and crank out focused hours of creative time? Of course you are! Cal concisely presents compelling reasons to structure your life around deep work. If you read one nonfiction book from this list, make it this one: I guarantee you will learn something concrete and helpful. His blog is one of my favorites too.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson – There are often shouts for someone’s head after they make a dumb comment online, especially given how easy it is for quotes to be taken out of context and spawned all over the internet. This book talks about the aftermath for the people who were victims of these public internet hangings.

It’s a reminder to do some research before joining a screaming melee on Twitter or Facebook over an “outrageous” statement. A quote without the full source is often twisted by the media to manufacture clicks and advertising revenue. Nothing creates comments like someone who is pissed off.

Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday – This is a similar theme to the above, but from the side that profits from Internet Outrage. Ryan is one of my favorite writers/bloggers and this is the story of his manipulation of the blogosphere as marketing director for American Apparel and for personal clients. I consider myself reasonably well-educated about the way the internet works, but this was a total eye-opener.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown and Big Magic by Liz Gilbert – Both of these books are about creating work from a place of power. They’re both charismatic, funny, and insightful. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read or heard either of these women say.

The Stand (Unabridged) by Stephen King – Wow. I see why King fans consider this his finest work. Good vs. evil, mythological discussions, funny dialogue, complicated characters, dark magic, witty metaphors, and a story that kept me riveted. It’s long (1,150 pages!), but I listened to the audiobook (the narrator is versatile and nails the varied accents) and was so immersed that I woke up at 2:30 a.m. last night to finish it.

A quiet night in NorCal.

A quiet night in NorCal that could be straight out of The Stand.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer – This book’s format and style is unlike any I’ve ever read. The main character, a young boy somewhere on the autism spectrum, is a hilarious and yet serious lens through which to view the post 9/11 aftermath.

Astoria by Peter Stark – A true tale of survival, exploration, and greed in the early 1800s. It’s set a few years after Lewis and Clark’s expedition and discusses John Jacob Astor’s plan to build a trading empire on the west coast. I enjoyed the history lesson on the U.S. and the connection with Oregon.

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson and Thomas Jefferson by Jon Meacham – Biographies are an informative way to learn about history, and these two catch the U.S. at an important time. Both men remind me to continue pursuing all manner of interests – you never know where it will lead.

China’s Second Continent by Howard W. French – I had no idea that over a million Chinese have pulled up roots and emigrated to Africa. They leave to escape the crowds and pressure of their homeland and seek their fortune in a way that has completely changed the dynamics of many African countries.

The Sports Gene by David Epstein – Are there genes that simply give some athletes an unfair advantage? This author thinks so. If you’re into athletic performance and science, read this! I loved it.

The Truth by Neil Strauss – A deep look at relationships of all sorts. I found it painful, hilarious, revealing, and ultimately a confirmation that I’m glad I’m happily married. There are lessons for us all in here about self-healing and what makes us tick.

That’s a wrap! More recommendations coming your way sometime later this year. Please let me know if there’s a favorite book you’ve gobbled up lately. Happy reading, y’all.

Overlooking my favorite trails near Black Butte.

Overlooking my favorite trails near Black Butte Lake as they weave up and down the peninsula fingers.

8 replies
  1. Kate
    Kate says:

    Dakota – Thank you for sharing your reading list. I too, am always looking for recommended books. …and, your pictures are BEAUTIFUL. I enjoy them so much.

  2. Adam Rust
    Adam Rust says:

    Conscientious Objections by Neil Postman. The book is a compilation of essays which are intended to stir up trouble about language, technology, and education. He’s a fun and witty writer and clever with his sarcasm.

    P.S. I also read Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin last year. I thought it was great. He’s a really good writer and I learned a lot about the man and our country.

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Sounds awesome! Added to my list. Thanks for the suggestion, Adam.

      Isaacson is a great biographer, eh? Anything he’s written (Steve Jobs comes to mind) was stellar. I find his writing style less dry than some biographers.

  3. Leo Roos
    Leo Roos says:

    ‘Oh, but I just read so slowly.” Well, if you’d like to read faster, this (free) technique is for you.’ – The article “Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes” by Tim Ferris is ironically rather unscientific.

    For one thing he doesn’t cite any sources but that probably doesn’t bother many people besides me (I think it’s a sign something is not well researched). And he uses worst case numbers to motivate his argument, which can be very far away from average numbers.

    For another thing, and more interestingly to your readers, much of what he says are actually outdated hypotheses, shown to not work or to have big negative impact on reading comprehension.

    The recent meta study (a study going through available research results) by Elizabeth Schotter from UC San Diego goes through what is currently known about the different speed reading techniques [1].

    Ferris: “You must eliminate regression and back-skipping to increase speed.”
    Study results: “readers would maintain misinterpretations if they forced themselves to keep moving forward and would comprehend the text less well ”

    Ferris: “You must minimize the number and duration of fixations per line to increase speed.”
    Ferris: “You must use conditioning drills to increase horizontal peripheral vision span and the number of words registered per fixation.”
    Study results: “However, such a process is not biologically or psychologically possible. One indication that it is not possible is that visual acuity is limited and that these limitations are what cause readers to make eye movements. […] To get a sense of how small the [the fixation location] viewing area is, note that it is roughly equivalent to the width of your thumb held at arm’s length from your eye.” (makes roughly three short words recognizable)

    For people who seemingly have an increased reading speed after taking a speed reading class the study concludes:
    “The data thus suggest that the students of speed-reading courses are essentially being taught to skim and not really read in the sense that we use the term “reading” here. ”

    “To summarize, there is no evidence that training programs allow people to dramatically increase their reading rates while maintaining excellent comprehension. If speed readers have developed a special skill beyond the ability to turn pages quickly, that skill may be learning to skim. Effective speed readers appear to be intelligent people who already know a great deal concerning the topic they are reading about and are able to successfully skim the material at rapid rates and accept the lowered comprehension that accompanies skimming”


    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      This is awesome! Thanks for the in-depth analysis, Leo. Much appreciated.

      I usually don’t use any speed reading techniques, which I’m mentioned in past blogs, but it seems like people always WANT to read faster. What it comes down to is committing uninterrupted, focused time to reading – that’s the way to increase comprehension the most, if you ask me.


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