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.

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.

Recommended Reads, Summer 2014

Can't get enough of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Here I am heading off the east side of the pass.

Has it really been a month since we rode through Glacier?!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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,, is one of my favorites.
  11. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


Little House on the Prairie...

Little House on the Prairie…