I thought I’d share some of the books I’ve read this year. If you’re like me you are always looking for a good book to read. I hope my list helps. I offer little or no analysis or criticism, just a peek inside with a short excerpt when I thought it might be helpful.
Nothing Like the Sun by Anthony Burgess, © 1964. A terrible book. One of those books I threatened to stop reading more than once. And I should have. A book that makes wonder how could a book like this ever be published or am I too ignorant to understand it. A book I think maybe everyone else read and understood. A book with moments of clarity but also with (too much) unreadable, incoherent rubbish that I believe no one understands. Note to self: Don’t read books like this. There are too many excellent books to read.
“But there are plays to be written, images of order and beauty to be coaxed out of wrack, filth, sin, chaos. I take my pen, sighing, and sit to my work”
The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder by Peter Zeihan, © 2014. My second reading, one of the most optimistic visions for the future of America you are likely to find. It almost sounds too good to be true. We will see.
The Heart to Start by David Kadavy, © 2017. It was the perfect time for this book to come along. I had just started this blog and we had just began a new year.
“What low-commitment things do you end up doing instead of making your art? Change your perception of what it takes to get started. Your art will not only fill the tiny spaces in your life, it will expand and grow into a body of work.”
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, © 2011. A good book, I rated this one a 4/5. Not as good as A Gentleman in Moscow but worth reading and so it gets my recommendation.
“Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high-minded; but when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane - in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath - she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger. What my father ws trying to tell me, as he neared the conclusion of his own course, was that this risk should not be treated lightly: one must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.”
The Dip by Seth Godin, © 2007. A book about quitting.
“Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most. Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny minority with the guts to quit early and re-focus their efforts on something new.”
It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, © 1935. Turn on a television and you will see we are living this book. Apparently it can happen here and we are well on our way.
“Mr. Roosevelt and Miss Perkins were far too lacking in circus tinsel and general clownishness to succeed at this critical hour of the nation’s hysteria, when the electorate wanted a ringmaster-revolutionist like Senator Windrip.”
“…he had thoroughly tested (but unspecified) plans to make all wages very high and the prices of everything produced by these same highly paid workers very low…”
“…they’ve realized that this country has gone so flabby that any gang daring enough and unscrupulous enough, and smart enough not to seem illegal, can grab hold of the entire government and have all the power and applause and salutes, all the money and palaces and willin’ women they want.”
“…could not explain his power of bewitching large audiences. The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store.”
“He slid into a rhapsody of general ideas - a mismatch of polite regards to Justice, Freedom, Equality, Order, Prosperity, Patriotism, and any number of noble but slippery abstractions.”
“The tyranny of this dictatorship isn’t primarily the fault of Big Business, nor of the demagogues who do their dirty work. It’s the fault of Doremus Jessup! Of all the conscientious, respectable, lazy-minded Doremus Jessups, who have let the demagogues wriggle in, without fierce enough protest.”
The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, © 2004. I cannot recommend this book.
“Be a chooser, not a picker.”
“Choosers are people who are able to reflect on what makes a decision important, on whether, perhaps, none of the options should be choosen, on whether a new option should be created, and on what particular choice says about the chooser as an individual.”
Typewriters for Writers by Scott Schad, © 2014. An excellent reference for anyone interested in typewriters. I’ve read this book more than twice and for a while I was referring to it daily.
“You know your audience. Their dependents will only know you from the words that you type. I am guessing that you don’t have time to retype each page a dozen times. Your audience is waiting. Time is short. Load paper. Start.”
Proud Highway: Saga of a Desparate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967 (Gonzo Letters) by Hunter S. Thompson, © 1997. A huge book of letters. This book took me a few months to read but Thompson was a genius and an excellent writer. Too many notes so I will offer you this one nugget.
“I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left to me.”
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson, © 1879. His notes from a 12-day, 120 mile hike with a donkey. Often hilarious.
“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travels sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, © 2013. I was inspired to read this book by my recent return to the typewriter. In fact, this book found me via an Amazon recommendation generated, no doubt, from my recent searches for typewriter ribbons, reference books, and stationary. (Does anyone remember stationary?) A fast read, it reminded me of A Gentleman in Moscow.
I’ve read about and written about the contemporary “typewriter revolution” but the real typewriter revolution happened in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.
“…they said the typewriter would unsex us - would deliver us out of our homes, not into the sewing factory or the steam laundry…”
“I suppose it’s true that knowing how to type has brought the fairer sex into some rather masculine work environments…”
“He wore the simultaneous focused yet disturbed expression of a person trying to place an old acquaintance.”
“That evening she went from knock-kneed tomboy to Greek goddess in the space of twenty-two short, red-carpeted steps.”
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron, © 1990. This book describes the author’s battle with depression.
“…incomprehension has usually been due not to a failure of sympathy but to the basic inability of healthy people to imagine a form of torment so alien to everyday experience.”
“Loss in all of its manifestations is the touchtone of depression - in the progress of the disease and, most likely, its origin.”
The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel, © 2016. From the author of Life of Pi.
“Love is a house with many rooms, this room to feed the love, this one to entertain us, this one to clean in, this one to dress in, this one to allow it to rest, and each of these rooms can also just as well be the room for laughing or the room for listening or the room for telling one’s secrets or the room for sulking or the room for apologizing or the room for intimate togetherness, and, of course, there are rooms for the new members of the household. Love is a house in which plumbing brings bubbly new emotions every morning, and sewers flush out disputes, and bright windows open up to admit the fresh air of renewed goodwill. Love is a house with an unshakable foundations and an indestructible roof.
“The sad fact is that there are no natural deaths, despite what doctors say. Every death is felt by someone as a murder, as the unjust taking of a loved being. And even the luckiest of us will encounter at least one murder in our lives: our own. It is our fate - we all live a murder mystery of which we are the victim.”
Riding the Rails with Paul Theroux, ©1975. A travel book so it is no surprise I liked it. In fact, this book made me laugh out loud regularly. This was particularly fun and fitting as I was reading this book on the S Bahn from the Munich airport to Oberammergau.
“The train can reassure you in awful places - a far cry from the anxious sweats of doom airplanes inspire, or the nauseating gas-sickness of the long-distance bus, or the paralysis that afflicts the car passenger.”
“Train travel animated my imagination and usually gave me the solitude to order and write my thoughts: I travelled easily in two directions, along the level rails while Asia flashed changes at the window, and at the interior rim of a private world of memory and language. I cannot imagine a luckier combination.”
Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola, © 2015. This was not a terrible book but it is likely the last book I read about writers.
“You’re never sure if you’re writing about someone else, or if in writing about someone else you’re unmasking something about yourself.”
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, © 1968. Much Ado about Didion this year? It caught my attention and so I jumped in to her work with this book. I like it and I will likely explore more of her work.
“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”
“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.”
Guitar Lessons: A Life’s Journey Turning Passion into Business by Bob Taylor, © 2011. My second reading of this book. The first reading turned my head; the second reading caused me to purchase a Taylor guitar. I’m glad I did.
“I wanted all our guitars to sound good, play great, and last long without trouble to the owner.”
I think Bob Taylor has achieved his mission and has greatly benefitted the music world by making quality guitars available to everyone.
Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of our Alphabet from A to Z by David Sacks, © 2003. For anyone who enjoys words (and letters).
“In 1400 a single handwritten copy of a book might represent two months’ work by a scribe; in 1500 a printing press could run off 500 copies in a week with a commensurate difference in retail price.”
Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee, © 2017. I discovered this book on Austin Kleon’s blog (austinkleon.com)
“A piece of writing has to start somewhere, go somewhere, and sit down when it gets there.”
“Travel by canoe is not a necessity, and will nevermore be the most efficient way to get from one region to another, or even from one lake to another - anywhere. A canoe trip has become simply a rite of oneness with certain terrain, a diversion of field, an act performed not because it is necessary but because there is value in the act itself…”
This is Marketing by Seth Godin, © 2018. A real hardback book.
“Your work is not for everyone. It’s only for those who signed up for the journey.”
“Ship your work. It’s good enough. Then make it better.”
Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck, © 1962. An excellent book about travel. It was probably on my high school reading list and left unattended until now. What a shame.
“…we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
“For it is my opinion that we enclose and celebrate the freaks of our nation and of our civilization. Yellowstone National Park is no more representative of America than is Disneyland.”
“Who has not known a journey to be over and dead before the traveler returns? The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased. I remember a man in Salinas who in his middle years traveled to Honolulu and back, and that journey continued for the rest of his life. We could watch him in his rocking chair on his front porch, his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu.”
The Destiny Thief by Richard Russo, © 2018. Reading in progress. I will update this post when I an finished.
Please share your recommendations. Thanks for reading.