One of the best things about the Book It! program is that it encourages students to write down the books that they read on a monthly basis.
I regret that I did not keep up that habit (note that I did have some help from Mom). As the saying goes, the best time to start a good habit was 32 years ago, and the next best time is now. So I thought I’d use this blog as a way to record what I’ve been reading on a semi-regular basis. Please feel free to share ideas, thoughts, or recommendations based on what’s below.
Couple of additional notes – I’m a big fan of re-reading books, so I’ll make a note of when a book is on a second or third (or more) pass. There are also some books (especially poetry/philosophy) that I like to dip into a little each day, as opposed to read cover-to-cover in several sittings. Finally, some books I consume as Audible, others in written form, and others I do a little of both (especially using the fantastic WhisperSync technology).
Here’s my list from roughly September to now, in no particular order:
- Atomic Habits, James Clear. I found this book so useful and will be going back to it again and again. The concept of making 1% improvements on a daily basis has motivated me to start habit-tracking using an app, so that I can see my “streaks.” Right now, I’m using HabitBull, but it’s a little crash-prone. If I find something better, I’ll share.
- The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The authors’ observations about the doctrine of “safety-ism” taking over American parenting, schooling, and childhood are spot-on. I saw this phenomenon gaining strength as a middle and high school teacher from 2004 to 2014. Each year, parents got more and more reactive to things like students receiving B’s (as opposed to A’s), field trips becoming more and more tricky to pull off due to safety concerns, and a general sense that friction of any kind had to be foreseen and forsworn in institutional contexts. It worried and puzzled me then, and I’m relieved that there are organizations like LetGrow that are helping parents and schools fight back against these damaging presuppositions. I loved that the authors make a really clear case for viewing childhood through the lens of antifragility.
- Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday. This one is a re-read, and I should probably re-read it 3-4 times a year. If you are interested in a really engaging introduction to Stoic thought or applying CBT-like techniques to the mess in your head, this is the go-to. See below for the real-life implications of both allowing your ego to run amok and restraining it.
- Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, Ryan Holiday. I mean, what more can I say? This book has it all –professional wrassling, libertarian billionaires, Florida Man, and blackmail. The biggest take-away for me we might all do better to engage in more conspiracies for good — by which I mean being singularly focused on a goal, enlisting the right people to help, and doing it out of the spotlight. Seeking credit is death for any long-term, big, and important plans, and I think this true of making changes in your own life or in the world. That dopamine hit you get from the “likes” to your Facebook post that you’re starting a diet actually robs you of the motivation to make healthy changes. Really.
- Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles and Discover Your Hidden Potential, Barbara Oakley. Re-read. Going through transitions in your life, especially as you approach the middle of it, can be really hard. This book helped me get my head right about how much is still within my power to change for the better.
- How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, Michael Pollan. I’ve written about this one here already. I think its perfect companion piece is Mindshift, so read them back-to-back.
- Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman. I love biographies, and I’m especially fascinated by the stories of people who kick-started the new age. What’s interesting about Shannon is how he (outside of short period following a break-up) was really not a tortured genius. Just a genius, who had a good life, loving family, and remarkably modest ego. Kind of the polar opposite of Steve Jobs, whose biography by Walter Isaacson I re-read as a companion. I like doing the whole Plutarch thing where you study the lives of people in similar situations or positions that exemplify different virtues and vices.
- Poetry/fiction/philosophy: for morning readings, I like to dip into A Book of Hours, which is a compilation of Thomas Merton’s writings arranged by times and days of the week. You really can’t beat P.G. Wodehouse if you need a laugh at the end of the day. His insight into human nature and its foibles is downright Shakespearean.
- What I’m reading now: As a fan of both detective fiction and yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, true crime, I’m happy to recommend Margalit Fox’s new book, Conan Doyle for the Defense. One of Fox’s previous books, a history of the decipherment of Linear B and especially Alice Kober’s role in it, taps into my other obsession, the Greek Bronze Age. She is one of the finest writers of biography out there, a craft honed by her years as the writer of obituaries at the New York Times.
Please feel free to share other ideas or suggestions for the next round-up (probably coming in January).