2017 Book Review
Between “researching” genre fiction for my thesis, a good bit of travel, and healthy procrastination, 2017 was a great year for reading. Nine favorites with three-ish sentence summaries, full list at the bottom.
A Man Called Ove — Henrik Bachmann
For someone who typically goes immediately to the sci-fi and epic fantasy shelves of B&N, this book was a reminder that a galaxy-spanning plot with bioengineered megaDwarf ring planets isn’t necessary for a deeply powerful story. Bachman uses ordinary people to zoom into the everyday in a way that’s both hilarious and deeply human. It’s so good.
“Ove is fifty-nine.
He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight.”
The War of Art: Winning The Inner Creative Battle — Steven Pressfield
This book was a great kick in the ass when I was (and still am) coming up with excuses for stumbling in the creative arena. Pressfield’s demarcation between the “amateur” and the “professional” was an important step for taking myself and my work seriously. Recommend for anyone struggling against Resistance. Audiobook version also great.
“Fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”
East of Eden — John Steinbeck
Steinbeck is one the few revered “Great American Authors” who’s actually incredible. His prose is so exact and elegant that it pulls you through the pages until the characters become too real and you have to take a break and remind yourself it’s just a story. It’s about good and evil and family and love and purpose and all other sorts of things that are good to bask in.
“The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.
I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer—and what trees and seasons smelled like—how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck — Mark Manson
In a sea of flabby feel-good nonsense, Manson’s no bullshit approach to personal accountability is a narwhal to the face. Hilarious and unrelentingly honest, The Subtle Art combines what I like best about Pressfield and Aurelius into relentless self-evaluation and growth. In a time when we worship the oddest things, it’s profane in the best of ways.
“Our most radical changes in perspective often happen at the tail end of our worst moments. It’s only when we feel intense pain that we’re willing to look at our values and question why they seem to be failing us. We need some sort of existential crisis to take an objective look at how we’ve been deriving meaning in our life, and then consider changing course.”
The Richest Man in Babylon — George S. Clason
Simple stories with powerful lessons. Good financial habits are simple to comprehend, difficult to execute. Wrapping them in little parables got me to finally take concrete steps toward fiscal responsibility instead of just nod and continue treating my savings like a checking account. Perhaps the most actionable book I read all year.
“You first learned to live upon less than you could earn. Next, you learned to seek advice from those who were competent through their own experiences to give it. And, lastly, you have learned to make gold work for you.”
Option B —Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant
I’m grateful to all the authors I read this year but especially Sandberg for cracking open the bone and telling her story of grief and coping. Her narrative is poignant and relatable on many levels while the substantive research (curated by Adam Grant) woven throughout offers concrete insights. Her thoughts on recovery and resilience are applicable to anyone who identifies as a human trying to live in the world.
“grounded hope…the understanding that if you take action you can make things better.”
“Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us. It comes from gratitude for what’s good in our lives and from leaning in to the suck. It comes from analyzing how we process grief and from simply accepting that grief. Sometimes we have less control than we think. Other times we have more. I learned that when life pulls you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again.”
Meditations — Marcus Aurelius
Stoicism offers a powerful framework for responding favorably when excrement collides with one’s face. Meditations (the Hays Translation) is a pleasure to read, easy to understand, and immediately applicable. Returning to this book (and Seneca’s Letters) in my day-to-day has helped condition more selective and empowered reactions to myself and the world. I think. Incredibly powerful for maintaining peace of mind and maximum effectiveness.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Bird By Bird — Anne Lamont
Speaking from experience, Bird by Bird is worth at least three creative writing classes from a top liberal arts college. Lamont’s thoughts on craft and creativity, honed by her own time in the trenches, pulls back the curtain around the creative process and motivates the author to do the only thing that matters: write. Lamont helped me get past debilitatingly high standards and write the first two hundred pages of Safescape.
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
Red Rising — Pierce Brown
I snagged this book at random from a library stack, read the first page, and didn’t look up again until I’d finished it eight hours later. Learning a bit about the author sent me spiraling down a well of self-doubt and then, a week later, bounding back to my desk brimming with passion. It’s raw and brutal and the other two books in the series are just as excellent.
“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.
I watch twelve hundred of their strongest sons and daughters. Listening to a pitiless Golden man speak between great marble pillars. Listening to the beast who brought the flame that gnaws at my heart.”
BOOKS READ IN 2017
* Denotes Book’s I’d Read Again/Recommend to Friends
Business, Writing, Growth
*Creative Confidence — Tom & David Kelly
*Bird by Bird — Anne Lamont
$100 Startup — Chris Guillebeau
*Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days — Chris Guillebeau
*Talk Like TED — Carmine Gallo
Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It — Kamal Ravikant
48 Laws of Power — Robert Greene
*Vagabonding — Rolf Potts
*The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck — Mark Manson
*The War of Art — Steven Pressfield
*Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days — Jake Knapp
*Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard — Chip & Dan Heath
*Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear — Elizabeth Gilbert
Rework — Jason Fried
*The Richest Man in Babylon — George S. Clason
The Barefoot Executive —Carrie Willkerson
Disrupt You! — Jay Samit
*Tools of Titans — Timothy Ferriss
Memoir & Philosophy
When Breathe Becomes Air — Paul Kalanithi
*Stealing Fire — Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal
*Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy — Sheryl Sandberg
*Born A Crime: Stories from a South African — Trevor Noah
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness — Susannah Cahalan
Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression — Meri Nana-Ama Danquah
*Meditations (Hays Translation) — Marcus Aurelius
*The Tao of Seneca: Letters from a Stoic Master — Seneca
Renegades — Marissa Meyer
Snowcrash — Neal Stephenson
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore — Robin Sloan
*For We Are Many (Bobiverse Book 2) — Dennis E. Taylor
Six of Crows— Leigh Bardugo
Crooked Kingdom: Sequel to Six of Crows — Leigh Bardugo
*Dark Matter: A Novel — Blake Crouch
*A Man Called Ove: A Novel — Fredrik Backman
The Passage: A Novel —Justin Cronin
The Fifth Season — N.K Jemisin
A Darker Shade of Magic — V.E Schwab
*Ready Player One — Ernest Cline
*East of Eden — John Steinbeck
*The Complete Sherlock Holmes — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Gunslinger — Stephen King
Shards of Honor — Lois McMaster Bujold
Around the World in 80 Days — Jules Verne
Moby Dick — Herman Melville
Started But Not Finished
The Woman in White — Wilkie Collins
Dracula — Bram Stoker
The Time Machine — H.G Wells
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — Robert Louis Stevenson