You exercise to keep your body healthy, so too must you read for the benefit of your mind.
And for enough energy to do both, be sure to drink lots of coffee.
Here’s a list of some books I’m currently reading, hope to read, or have just finished. And there are some that unfortunately I could not even force myself to finish — these, like misfit toys, are the abandoned.
Last updated: March 2017
If you’ve got a recommendation for something I should read or have a comment/question about something I have read, let me know: @kendallgiles.
And if I haven’t updated this page recently, I’d appreciate a reminder!
Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman.
Ummm…Norse Mythology…Neil Gaiman…is there even a question about why this is on my list?
The Daily Stoic, by Ryan Holiday.
2016 was a year consumed by excessive work demands. I picked up this book to help get 2017 back in balance. So far, this book is great for a daily reminder to focus on what’s important in life.
Appetites: A Cookbook, by Anthony Bourdain.
One has to eat, right? Then one might as well endeavor to eat well. Assuming, of course, one doesn’t set the kitchen on fire from trying.
On the Radar
How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life, by Massimo Pigliucci.
If the Daily Stoic is a light appetizer, then I’m looking forward to Pigliucci’s main course on Stoicism and living a better life.
Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen.
Bruce is a wonderful songwriter and a legendary performer. So I’m really looking forward to his rock memoir — rumor has it that it contains great writing and lots of insights into the motivations, history, and demons behind his musical career. I hope this one won’t turn into a dud like the abandoned ones below!
Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, by Rob Young.
This was recommended by my writing mentor Elizabeth Hand as one of her five favorite books about music. Electric Eden traces the mystical, magical history and influences of English roots music and folk rock, including the music of Led Zeppelin, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and others.
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.
I’ve loved the works by Tolkien and Lewis for years, and had often heard rumors of their mythic group at Oxford called the Inklings. This book tells the tale of Tolkien and Lewis, along with the stories of the others who were involved in this intimate, groundbreaking, and world-changing gathering. I’ve not come across a similar group as the Inklings before or after them. They were dedicated friends — in their case associated with the University of Oxford, who met twice a week — Tuesday mornings for breakfast and Thursday evenings for “beef and beer,” over the course of about 20 years! Group membership changed over time, of course, but it can be argued that the Inklings at their core were Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams, and this book tells their extraordinary tale. In these meetings they shared their thoughts, their current projects, and their lives. Yes, given modern understandings of the cosmos, learning about the strong religious bents of my literary heroes took some adjustments — that Lewis was a Christian apologist, sure, but who would have imagined, for example, that The Lord of the Rings was written by a zealous Roman Catholic? However, times were different then, and authors are not their writings. Nevertheless, after reading this book I can only hope that one day I can find true fellowship with such a group of like-minded individuals — to meet each other regularly to exchange ideas, drinks, and dreams for the future. The Inklings are an example of what can happen through fellowship, discourse, understanding, and the will to actually think, create, and do. For those who keep that fire of learning, magic, and creation kindled in their hearts, I think you will enjoy this detailed look at the lives of a group of friends who found each other during difficult times and then proceeded to change the world.
Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success), by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David Wright.
Do we really need another guide on how to become an independent author? A successful author? A professional writer? The title has the right attitude — if you want success you’ve got to do the work, then do it again. And the content over-delivers — it’s more than worth the price of admission. I’m not aware of a self-publishing guide better than this one (please let me know if you do!).
The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, by A. G. Sertillanges.
While the title of the book is true in that the main focus is cultivating someone who produces work based on their own intellect — someone who writes, thinks, and creates — be forewarned that the original was written in 1934 and many of the author’s base attitudes do not fit well with today’s sensibilities. The work is heavily religious (in particular: Catholic mysticism), and it may seem to the modern reader rather orthogonal — a bit of an oxymoron, even — to combine such religious beliefs with intellectual thought. There is also the typically religious assumption that only men could have such a life of mind — the book advises such a man to find himself a good woman to support his intellectual endeavors, Amen. But if you can set aside such pathologies, there are some gems of wisdom and insight you can pick out. The best chapters for me (based on the number of entries in my notebook) were Chapter 3: “The Organization of Life,” Chapter 4: “The Time of Work,” Chapter 7: “Preparation for Work,” and Chapter 8: “Creative Work.” I almost abandoned my reading, but I’m glad I pushed through to the end.
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, by Elvis Costello.
Now this was a really interesting rock memoir. I’m not familiar with too many of Costello’s works, but this was still a really great memoir. He writes well, and you can really feel the anguish, darkness, and sorrow that he felt and that drove his songwriting. From the influence of his father to stories about his many, many music collaborations — well done. I’m going to immerse myself in music now — you go immerse yourself in this book.
Some books require effort — and reward you for it — but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Life is too short to waste on a book that just doesn’t click for you.
Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream, by Neil Young.
Would have loved nothing more than to enjoy this account of Neil Young’s rock career and life. However, I found the jumbled, meandering narrative too plodding and too repetitive to keep my interest. He deserved a better editor.
Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, by Chrissie Hynde.
Another rock memoir disappointment. Sure, Chrissie Hynde paid her dues, but that story came out rather empty, emotionless, and confused here. It seemed like the majority of the book was just her experiences as a screw up teenager trying to escape Ohio by chasing men and drugs. A career and fame found her — by random chance, from this telling. I wish it had more of what drove her, or what she learned, or something — anything but Ohio.