Reading List for May 2015

Here’s what I read in May 2015. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman: A book about how to learn new skills fast. I was not a fan of this book. Some bits felt condescending; much of it was thoroughly boring and I skipped huge sections where Kaufman tells you how to use his system to learn to play the ukulele or whatever. One of his sections is on Colemak, which is an optimized keyboard layout that I’m in the process of learning myself. The time I spent reading that section would have been better used practicing.

2 – Kosmic Consciousness by Ken Wilber (audiobook): I liked this. Whereas the other Wilber book I read felt like complete bullshit, this had a much friendlier tone. He has sort of a supernova clusterfuck theory that includes parts of all scientific, religious, mythological, and spiritual teachings. There’s a ton of overlap with Joseph Campbell’s comparative mythology lectures recorded from the 1980s. A bit heady in spots, but overall very approachable.

3 – 26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss by Kij Johnson (short story): This was cited as an example of “how to write great short fiction”. It’s very good. Read it on the author’s blog.

4 – Protector by Larry Niven (audiobook): Niven’s Ringworld series was recommended, but when it comes to sci-fi I prefer to know what I’m getting into before committing. This is a standalone. Typical tech-first fare for the most part. I’ll check out Ringworld soonish.

5 – Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins (audiobook): Plenty of timeless marketing wisdom can be found in this short, old book.

6 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (audiobook): This is kind of like a darker, more sensitive, modern version of Catcher in the Rye. Some sentences even feel like they were written by Salinger. I prefer Holden Caulfield, but some of what Catcher could only hint at, things like sex and drugs and rape, are front and center in this, and I think that’s important.

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Reading List for April 2015

Here’s what I read in April 2015. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – 23 Anti-Procrastination Habits by S.J. Scott: Steve Scott has a great self-publishing podcast. I checked this book out mainly to see what the inside of his books looked like. Solid advice, mostly reminders of what I already know, but might not do.

2 – 2000 to 10000: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love. by Rachel Aaron: Weird subtitle, great writing tips. And it’s only 99 cents.

3 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): Grinds along, lots of stuff happening, but not seeming to build towards any climax, then WHOOSH! you’re in the graveyard and the proverbial shit has hit the fan. That chapter reads like a completely different author wrote it. Great scene! I stuck it in my writing swipe file. The movie adaptation is reasonably good, given the source, but there are changes that definitely don’t add value.

4 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): Too long. Could have been a much tighter book, and been better for it. I thought the movie got the characters wrong. Snape is more of a dick in the book, but is sympathetic in the movie. McGonagall’s strong in the book, and is almost left out in the movie. Umbridge is more of an inept bureaucrat in the book, but is an outright tyrant in the movie. Solid job of taking a rambling book and turning it into a single long movie, though.

5 – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): My favorite book of the series! This one is definitely a bit darker than the rest. My least favorite movie though. The scenes change in it so fast that unless you read the book I don’t think it’s possible to figure out what’s happening.

6 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): Not a bad way to wrap up the series. Definitely some great twists and turns. Kind of felt cheated by the train scene. The movie was very good, although that final battle scene where they jump off the tower and fly around and shit – really?

7 – The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White: The classic writing guide.

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I’m a week late on getting this up, I apologize. My father had a hip replaced, and the lead up to the surgery and then the post-surgery handicap house-proofing afterwards while he recovers has kept me crazy busy. Life happens. Appreciate it all.

Reading List for March 2015

Here’s what I read in March 2015. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (audiobook): Gaiman has a wonderful way of sweeping past any inconsistencies or gaps in his stories so fast that you never notice them (unless you’re a nit-picky fuck, like me). It’s kind of like watching a magician perform a trick you know, and you still can’t catch him in the act. This is a great kids fantasy story. Audio is read by Neil himself, which is definitely a good thing.

2 – How to Stay Motivated by Zig Ziglar (audiobook): I don’t think there was anything new in this I haven’t heard in other Zig programs. If you’ve never heard any of his stuff before this is probably the best compilation of his ideas, but I felt a little cheated. That’s an expectations problem, not a content problem.

3 – Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): I decided to do the whole series with audiobooks first, then watching the respective movie before starting the next book. This was all sparked by my nephews having to read these for school. I went with the British versions because the audio is done by Stephen Fry, so you’ll notice this title might not be the one you’re familiar with.

The book itself kind of pulled me in two directions. I felt the build up was too long and boring, and that seems to be common among several books in the series (I’m currently in the middle of the 4th book as of writing this, which will be in next month’s list). Rowling also relies heavily on adverbial dialogue attribution, which I personally hate, so to me it seems like for every “Harry said” there’s 3 “Harry screamed loudly” or “Harry whispered surreptitiously”. But, once the story starts rolling it’s very good. The payoff is definitely worth it.

4 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): A better overall story than the first book, with less build up. There’s a lot of resolution here, too. It felt like this could be the end of the series. The movie stuck close to the text and when changed it was usually better and more streamlined.

5 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (audiobook): I thought this was probably too complicated, certainly more than it had to be. The ending is great, but it really didn’t need any of the previous story to make happen. I can’t really explain that without spoilers, so figure it out on your own. The movie for this title deviated from the book quite a bit, and tried to make it less complicated, but it felt rushed and stilted and left out some major pieces of the story.

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I also tore through a ton of podcasts this month, which I won’t include here. I’m only mentioning them to forewarn followers of these lists that the mix will skew towards fiction while I do it. Podcasts are wonderful at delivering information, but there tends to be a lot of bullshit. Here’s a tip: download them to your computer, then open with a non-iTunes media player that allows you to increase the playback speed. I wish I could do it right on my iPod and listen faster on-the-go, but Apple doesn’t care what customers want. I bet there would be a market for an app that re-recorded podcasts at faster speeds.

Reading List for February 2015

Here’s what I read in February 2015. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Big Short by Michael Lewis (audiobook): Great story about who profited by foreseeing the huge mortgage crisis that lead to the Great Recession.

2 – Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (audiobook): I liked this. Because its scope is more focused I think this was more like what I wished “American Gods” was.

3 – Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek (audiobook): There’s some sketchy biology here, and the title fails the text – there is no clear WHY here. Despite that, I thought this was a pretty solid read. If you read between the lines, I think you see what Sinek was (probably) trying to say: if you treat people with dignity and respect and give them responsibilities they will tend to meet your expectations, but if you treat them like featureless, replaceable cogs in a machine they will tend to resent you. Also, as with Sinek’s other book “Start With Why” there is a video that sort of gives you everything here in a smaller bite.

4 – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: Figure out why you do what you do, and how to fix it.

5 – A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber (audiobook): There are some interesting ideas here, but my bullshit detector was on full blast. I checked out reviews and others said similar things. Not sure who recommended this to me, but I also have another of Wilber’s audiobooks and I’ve already sat on them for quite awhile. Kind of debating whether or not to push ahead with the other one.

6 – The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (audiobook): In middle school I read several Crichton novels (right before the Jurassic Park movie came out) and loved them. This is one of his earliest and the science holds up remarkably well. He was a master of giving you enough detail in a certain way to make you absolutely certain that what he was describing was going to happen within mere months. I’m planning to go through much of Crichton’s catalog so expect more of him to show up in the near future.

7 – Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace (audiobook): There are more essays in the text than you get in the audio, but the audio is read by Wallace himself. This is everything you want from Wallace over a pretty wide subject range. Definitely check it out if you’re a fan, or if you’re thinking of trying DFW but are scared of the size of Infinite Jest.

8 – Perfect Shadow by Brent Weeks: Prequel to his Night Angel trilogy, but I have to say I think it was much better that I read it after reading the trilogy. Actually, I only found out about it after I read the trilogy, and then told the friend to recommended the trilogy to me about it. It’s good, but it’s written a little weird. And the beginning of it kind of sucks until it gets going. Yeah definitely wait until AFTER you read the trilogy to read this.

Reading List for January 2015

Here’s what I read in January 2015. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Science of Personal Achievement by Napoleon Hill (audiobook): Poor audio quality, and nothing new here. But this is actually select recordings from Hill giving speeches, so that’s fun. Also, he spoke just as he wrote in TAGR, which is hilarious.

2 – The Snowball by Alice Shroeder (audiobook): This is a biography of Warren Buffett, written with his cooperation. It’s a long and detailed (but never boring), warts-and-all look at the Oracle of Omaha, and I loved this. Highly recommended.

3 – Raise The Bar by Jon Taffer (audiobook): Solid business book. I wonder if Taffer used a ghostwriter, because this was really well done. Cheers to him if he wrote it himself. The downside is that it relied a bit too heavily on examples from his Bar Rescue show, which is probably the selling point of the book and thus intentional.

4 – The Authentic Swing: Notes from the Writing of a First Novel by Steven Pressfield: Heavy on golf, light on writing tips. Promises the Bagger Vance book is better than the movie.

5 – Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield: Not as good as The War of Art, but still worth a look. It gets a bit circular, and you’re left with a sense that something’s missing, but that’s just how it’s written. The message is clear: stop fucking around and get back to work.

6 – The Warrior Ethos by steven Pressfield: Meh. Skip it.

7 – The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (audiobook): Fantastic! I can only imagine how revolutionary this must’ve been when it first came out in the 1980s. In this updated version, Dawkins doesn’t hesitate to tell you where he was wrong, or brag where he was correct. In some spots this gets a bit heady if you don’t have a science background (I don’t), but almost all of it is very readable for layfolk.

8 – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (audiobook): I enjoyed this. The audio is done by Allan Corduner, and it’s amazing. Definitely get the audiobook.

9 – Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon: Short and sweet book about taking ideas and making them your own. Definitely check it out.

10 – Without Their Permission by Alexis Ohanian: Basically, entrepreneurial ventures are important and internet freedom should be protected. I agree with both. For chuckles, compare the copyright notice which mentions piracy specifically (at least in the digital version, which is what I read), with Ohanian’s pro-piracy (or at least not anti-) stance later in the book.

11 – American Gods by Neil Gaiman (audiobook): I didn’t love this. I would have liked this to be two or even three books that went deeper into all the places and players. As is, it’s too broad and thin for my taste.

12 – Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (audiobook): This is really good. I especially liked the effort Sandberg made to consider issues from multiple angles. I think more of that type of thinking would benefit society, compared to the “I have the one and only truth” position usually taken.

Reading List for December 2014

Here’s what I read in December 2014. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (audiobook): Great title, but not a great book. The narrative is a little weird, but that didn’t bother me. The author’s insistence that he was smarter than anyone who has ever lived, ever, bothered me. Especially since it obviously wasn’t true. This bugged me despite the fact that I like an author who writes with bravado (see Taleb’s Antifragile for a good example of this).

2 – The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (audiobook): The book is better than the movie, but not by much and it follows the text closely. The symbology is legitimate, at least according to my knowledge of it. But, if that’s the draw for you, you can get better symbology in works focused directly on that. Save yourself some time and just watch the movie.

3 – Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir (audiobook): Very interesting, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in social psychology stuff. Unfortunately it’s repetitive and could’ve been a third of the size without losing anything. The idea here is that scarcity is more of a “mental bandwidth tax” that decays further decisions as opposed to the “mindset” that self-help authors have been throwing around. That would coincide with what the willpower researchers say about that, too.

4 – Coraline by Neil Gaiman (audiobook): Fun novella. Echoes of Alice in Wonderland.

5 – 50 Lessons I Learned From the World’s #1 Goal Achiever by Vic Johnson (audiobook): So there were more like 30 lessons and a bunch of re-phrasings. But I took a lot of notes and got a few good ideas. That’s more than worth it.

6 – Candide by Voltaire: Voltaire said so much in so few words, like all great comedians seem to. Next time you hear someone complaining that today’s world is so fucked up and wonders how humanity ever got here, recommend this book so they’ll know that in this best of all possible worlds, things are because they could be no other way.

7 – How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler: Jim Rohn recommended this book in many of his programs, and I finally got around to reading it. I don’t know if I would recommend it to anyone, though. It’s dry and academic, and I don’t know if it’s really useful to many people outside of students working on theses. Adler himself was a philosopher and his style is sort of Aristotelian. The best part of this is the reading list, and you can get that on the wiki page.

8 – Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry Porras (audiobook): Very good, but the ideas in this book have been used so ubiquitously in other writings that nothing here was new to me. If you read less, this would be a great business book.

9 – Built to Sell by John Warrillow (audiobook): Great book in the style of Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited. Useful checklist/to-do list at the end. Avoid the audio though, the narrator drove me crazy by drawing out the last syllable of every sentence.

10 – Boomerang by Michael Lewis (audiobook): Entertaining book about the recent financial crisis from a global perspective. I especially enjoyed the “Germans are fascinated by shit” part after having read Becker’s Denial of Death recently.

11 – 52 Mondays by Vic Johnson (audiobook): Sort of a pep-talk/action plan for every week. Really cheesy when read all at once, since most sections end with the same bromide. But again, a couple good ideas came from this, so that’s worth a lot.

12 – How to Speak How to Listen by Mortimer J. Adler (audiobook): Starts out strong with oratory and rhetoric, but then circles back to the same style as How to Read a Book. At one point, Aristotle – I mean Adler – actually writes that most people think a “heart to heart talk” is two hearts talking, but it really is two minds talking to each other. I punched myself in the face at that point. Also, there is a huge appendix/afterword section with limited relevance.

13 – How to Use a Journal by Jim Rohn (audiobook): Nothing revolutionary here, but just some good basic ideas. Running time less than 50 minutes might make it worthwhile.

14 – Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson (audiobook): Cute story about getting over your fear of change.

15 – First Things First by Stephen Covey (audiobook): “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” That pretty much sums up the whole book, and now you don’t need to read it.

16 – Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steven J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini (audiobook): Lots of tips that can help position you or your product. I had never heard of this before Amazon’s other recommended titles, but would definitely recommend it.

Reading List for November 2014

Here’s what I read in November 2014. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Walden by Henry David Thoreau (audiobook): Thoreau is eloquent and poetic, and his nature scenes are beautiful without diving too deep into sentimentality. His philosophy doesn’t come across as preaching. And this is one of the most quotable books ever written. But also, he tends to ramble and get lost in his eloquence at times.

2 – Fat Vampire by Johnny B Truant: I’m not big on vampire stuff, but I was listening to the podcast where the idea for this came up and decided I needed to see the end result. This went from off-topic idea spark to self-published on Amazon inside of a month. The story-behind-the-story is more interesting than the story itself to me, but this didn’t suck. Free on Amazon, by the way.

3 – The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker (audiobook): I wasn’t crazy about this, but it did make me think, so that definitely counts for something. He cites Freud and Jung quite a bit, but says he finds major faults with both. He goes on to jock-ride the fuck out of someone named Otto Rank who I’ve never heard of before this. I can’t recommend this book to anyone because it’s too full of psychoanalyst bullshit and talk about literal shit, but again I will say it isn’t without insight.

4 – Wool – Part One by Hugh Howey: Major self-pub success story, and I had to check out the hype. I was bored until the ending, which was top notch. I’m not sure if I would have read to the end if the book was much longer than it is, though. Start to finish this will probably take you less than an hour to read, and it’s free on Amazon, so check it out.

Reading List for October 2014

Here’s what I read in October 2014. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (audiobook): First off, props to the narrator for crushing this. That’s about the only positive thing I have to say though. Wait, that’s not exactly true. I like how the obvious shit Steinbeck is trying to say is actually the opposite of what the story says. It’s fitting for such a vitriolic work to be fucked up by details like that. Also. Worst. Ending. Ever.

2 – Blogging for Creatives by Robin Houghton: Good book for beginning bloggers.

3 – Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull (audiobook): Pixar from an insider’s managerial POV. Really good overall, but one caveat: there are some exceptional leaps in logic here. I HOPE that it’s just a matter of editing or “leaving out the boring stuff”. Definitely recommend this book to any creative entrepreneurs.

4 – F.U. Money by Dan Lok: This is a sort of distillation of personal development programs that came before. Done in a pretty compelling way, too. I felt kind of guilty for noticing that one story was from Tony Robbins and another was from Zig Ziglar. Maybe I read too much of this kind of stuff. Oh well, fuck it. [PS: Get a digital copy of this for free from his site with no opt-in.]

5 – Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (audiobook): At its core, this is a Hamlet rehash. And I fucking love Hamlet. This doesn’t disappoint, but it isn’t exactly just a modern-day interpretation either. You will have to put in some effort to understand what’s going on here. But, it isn’t as difficult a book as the internet critiques tell you, especially the literary-type ones (those fuckers either didn’t read this, or didn’t understand it). It’s a little dark, and fucking hilarious, and also 900+ pages that you have to read twice to figure out what happens. Completely worth it.

6 – Howl by Allen Ginsberg (audio): I feel like I’m completely unqualified to make a judgment about this kind of poetry. As far as poetry goes, give me Dr. Seuss and Hip Hop. With that disclaimer, I didn’t like this one bit. Also, it’s called ‘Howl’ and contains no werewolves. Boo no werewolves.

Reading List for September 2014

Here’s what I read in September 2014. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers (audiobook): I thought this was brilliant, and reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Whenever the Encyclopedia speaks up – always introducing itself the same long-winded way, and always too late – I chuckled, but you might think that’s stupid and repetitive. That’s okay.

I think that this should be required reading in high schools so that people remember what creativity looks like. Nobody needs to memorize facts when everything is .3 seconds away in a Google search.

2 – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (audiobook): I was actually surprised how much I liked this book. The writing itself is face-grating at times, due to it being YA first-person present tense. Yet, even that doesn’t destroy the beautiful emotional content of the story. [Note, link is to the trilogy.]

3 – Catching Fire (Hunger Games 2) by Suzanne Collins (audiobook): Kind of a long opening, but then it really takes off. Not as good as the first book, but still not bad.

4 – Mockingjay (Hunger Games 3) by Suzanne Collins (audiobook): I think the writing got better as this series progressed, but the story weakened. This one goes all Atlas Shrugged for awhile, but Collins definitely got the ending right.

5 – Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee (audiobook): This was great, right up until I got overwhelmed by the pile of good information. Definitely something I’ll listen to again and again for storytelling tips. The focus is on screenwriting, but it concentrates on storytelling, so it will help you in any medium.

6 – Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton (audiobook): I like the idea here, but not the execution. You’re told that the majesty of religious art and contrived rituals can be used to better daily life, but then you’re given a bullet point list of how to do that. That’s ironic, and also why I couldn’t like this.

For a better version of essentially the same message, check out Joseph Campbell’s lecture series. Same focus on the story, art, and rituals, with better understanding and execution.

7 – The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (audiobook): A 12-step program for creatives. I got lost somewhere in the middle, and never really got back on track. I’ll probably go back over this a few times to see what else I can take from it, but for now I’m grabbing onto ‘morning pages’ and trying that out. If you don’t know, the idea is to write 3 stream of consciousness pages longhand every morning to clear out the bullshit self-talk in your head. That’s a good idea for anyone, I think.

8 – The Art of Instigating by Tom Morkes: I like Tom’s blog, and this is one of his freebies. Kind of a Seth Godin / Steven Pressfield lovechild.

9 – The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone: The basic idea in this one is to multiply your goals by 10, and then also take 10x the action you think is needed to get there. That way, you don’t limit yourself by choosing too-small goals, and if you fall short you still end up way ahead. So if you want 1 new client a day, and think you need to make 10 sales calls to get that client, set your target for 10 new clients a day and make 100 calls.

There is more to this book than just that idea though. One thing that I don’t remember seeing before is that Cardone treats success as an ethical obligation. Not just financial success, but relationships, and health, and all that. It’s an interesting idea, and something I’ll have to ponder. Definitely check this book out.

Reading List for August 2014

Here’s what I read in August 2014. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Secrets of Greatness by the editors of Fortune magazine: This was hard to find, but worth the effort (and the penny+shipping from the used section of Amazon). Full of business gems covering strategy, pivots, tips, maxims, warnings, mistakes, and most importantly stories.

2 – Secrets of Closing the Sale by Zig Ziglar (audiobook): Zig is an amazing storyteller, and even though the audio quality here isn’t very good I have to recommend this. Here’s a quote: “People buy what they want, when they want it more than the money it costs.” Doesn’t get any simpler (or profound) than that.

3 – Shadow’s Edge (Night Angel Trilogy book 2) by Brent Weeks (audiobook): This is the book that defines the trilogy. This is one of the best books I’ve read lately, and I’ve already recommended the series to two friends because of it.

4 – Beyond the Shadows (Night Angel Trilogy book 3) by Brent Weeks (audiobook): Like the first book in this trilogy, this is a solid read. There is also a glimmer of the gold from book 2. You have to check out the series, srs.

5 – Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (audiobook): This was published in 1992 and inspired a whole bunch of fun things. It popularized the term avatar as we now know it. It’s supposedly the inspiration for Google Earth, and definitely the inspiration for the MMO Second Life. It even has ties to helping Quake take shape.

The book itself though? Ehh. The style is disengaging right from the start, the characters are thin, and the plot is needlessly complicated. The action scenes are lackluster, and the climax is anti-climatic. Also, I felt like I was being trolled over and over, awaiting the moment when the inevitable Rickroll would occur. And yet there’s something very compelling about a style that keeps you at arm’s length. It adds another layer to the building mystery, and makes you want to figure it out twice as badly. Akin to a girl playing hard to get. Which, happens to be exactly what this book is really about – a wayward teen’s journey to reconciling with her career-focused mother.

6 – The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal (audiobook): This is more of a toolbox than a book. It can help you do stuff. Or avoid doing stuff. Stick to the print version, so you can skim and refresh as needed.

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