Recommended Reads, Summer 2014
We’re halfway to Maine! Omaha, Nebraska, to be exact, right at the 2,000 mile marker after 40 days of pedaling and 47 total days on this bike tour. In honor of the books that have powered me up mountains, across plains and through cornfields, I thought y’all might enjoy a curated list of my favorite books from our tour plus a few insights into why I enjoyed them.
After a few years of almost only consuming non-fiction, I’m mixing in fiction lately and digging it! In no particular order, here are my top picks. Enjoy.
- “Anasi Boys” by Neil Gaiman: A work of fiction by a master story teller. The audiobook sucked me in with a great narrator weaving a far-ranging and fascinating story. I literally ignored Chelsea for three days while I listened to this all day long, during lunch, at rest stops…everywhere. I haven’t disappeared into a book so completely in years. I also listened to and loved “American Gods” and “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Gaiman (I’m on a roll with his books over the last month).”American Gods” is a brilliant look at a battle of gods in America, ranging from the old ones like Thor and Odin carried over by settlers and the new ones of TV and technology. Great over-arching theme and execution on a complex story. And it’s set in the Midwest, which is perfect timing for our trip!”The Ocean…” is a short novel that brought up strong feelings of loss of childhood and impermanence for me. It was a reminder to live life to its fullest. All three are amazing and walk the line of regular life touching the unforeseen magic of other worlds or “behind the scenes” as a character in American Gods puts it.
- “Savage Harvest” by Carl Hoffman: Brilliant reporting by a true adventurer. This is the story of Michael Rockefeller and his disappearance in New Guinea in the early 1960s in a land of cannibals, revenge killings and intrigue. The Rockefeller family was all-powerful politically (they literally donated the land for the United Nations building) and financially dominant, yet their sway did little to help with their son’s disappearance in a place so remote and unforgiving. A great combination of investigative reporting and a study of an intriguing tribe in a far corner of the world.
- “The Obstacle Is the Way” by Ryan Holiday: An excellent write-up regarding Stoicism by an insightful guy who creates more content and reads more books than anyone I know. And who has a great book recommendation newsletter to boot, I might add.
- “And The Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini: A mix of deep characters, powerful storytelling and chance encounters that makes all his work so fun to read.
- “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott: A primer of sorts about writing. Hilarious, insightful and a fine tool for any writer. A great read. One of her tips: “Write shitty first drafts.” As in, just get it out there, brain-dump style, and come back to it later.
- “Daily Rituals” by Mason Currey: A Tim Ferriss Book Club recommendation, this looks at the rituals of ~150 creative people across the map. From Stephen King’s writing routine (4-6 hours daily of writing and reading) to Vincent Van Gogh’s (paint…then paint more!), it was an interesting read. I must admit that the repetitiveness dragged a little – it seems every creative is fueled on uppers like benzedrine plus alcohol (lots of it, though most create while sober) and many cups of black coffee. My biggest takeaway: set aside 2-4 hours per day of uninterrupted time to pour into your creative pursuit.
- “Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller” by Ron Chernow: A tome about the richest man in America in the early 20th century. I love biographies and this was a great one – it neither solely lionized nor castigated a controversial figure who controlled Standard Oil. John D’s legacy continues with the business dealings, huge endowments and philanthropy his family continues to this day, and it all started from scratch in the rough and tumble times following the Civil War.
- “The Circle” by Dave Eggers: A terrifying work of “fiction” about a not-so-distant future where a company (Circle) takes over Facebook’s archives and Google’s search power and the world takes a turn toward a place many of us may not enjoy. I took a month hiatus from Facebook after reading this. Rarely do books affect me so strongly, especially fiction! A page-turner and warning of a potential dystopia I hope we avoid.
- “The Fish That Ate the Whale” by Rich Cohen: Ah, another great biography. This one follows Sam Zemurray and his creation of a giant fruit (banana) company. The history of fruit companies in undeveloped nations is one of power and control and the interplay with Sam’s company is a great lesson for business owners today.
- “Choose Yourself” by James Altucher: One of the most honest, compelling bloggers and writers out there today, James argues that we have to create our own fortunes and develop various sellable skills these days rather than relying on companies to protect us. I couldn’t agree more. A great read. His blog, jamesaltucher.com, is one of my favorites.
- “On Writing: A Memoir” by Stephen King: Not only can he write horror stories that have sold 350 million copies (!), he is a funny and insightful guy. Loved it.
Annnnnd a few that I thought would be intriguing, but didn’t end up ringing my bell.
- “12 Years a Slave,” while interesting, kept the stilted, ornate language from the mid-1800’s and I had a hard time getting into it.
- The autobiography “The Wolf of Wall Street,” while an interesting look at the seedy underbelly of Wall Street, was just too decadent and greed-driven. Even at 2x speed on the audiobook, I found myself wishing it would end as the author wasted money (e.g. $700k for a 10-day stay in Sardinia), took drugs, paid expensive hookers and generally destroyed his life. And his comeuppance was not enough, in my opinion.
“How to Make Love Like a Porn Star,” Jenna Jameson’s autobiography, initially drew me in with a look at another maligned industry. In the end, it mostly just felt like a sad rendition of a life cast onto the wrong path too early. Meth is nasty, ‘nuf said.
That’s a wrap! Let me know if you like the idea of book recommendations every couple months or so and please do send me ideas for great books to check out.