I read Ask The Dust by John Fante because it's Ryan Holiday's favorite novel. The book was published in 1939 and is about Arturo Bandini, a young writer in the 1930's trying to survive in Los Angeles.
I still haven't decided if I loved this book or not. Although I don't finish books that I don't want to read, so that's saying something. Fante's writing caught me immediately, it was different than what I'm used to reading and sort of had me captivated as I quickly read each paragraph to find out what happened next.
Bandini is completely self obsessed, almost ironically crazy. His insights into the other characters in the book are often humorous. I read the book wondering what Fante might have been saying about mental illness. He was able to write about a delusional, neurotic man rather beautifully. I read somewhere that the Bandini character is John Fante's alter-ego.
I've been trying to read older novels - novels that have stood the test of time or are liked by the good writers of today. This one is still relevant today and also an interesting peek into LA in the 30's.
All That You Leave Behind is a memoir by documentary filmmaker Erin Lee Carr, daughter of the late New York Times columnist David Carr. This is a raw, well written memoir that starts with David Carr's untimely death and somersaults into a story about grief, alcoholism, drugs and the often dysfunctional but intensely loving relationship between Erin and her dad.
I couldn't put this one down. It reminded me of how I felt when I read Educated.
My brain wanted this to end differently - I wanted Erin to dive further into some of the questions she had about her life and how her relationship with her father was dysfunctional. Many reviews tout all the great advice David Carr gave to Erin and how they want to give the same advice to their own kids, but I was more interested in the too-close relationship and how that affected both Erin and David. But this was her story to tell, not my interpretation of it, and it was still a book I really enjoyed reading. I'll probably now read David Carr's memoir The Night of the Gun.
I enjoyed reading Range by David Epstein. It was filled with interesting research and stories, all lending itself to the idea that early and intense specialization is not always a good thing.
This is a must read for parents, coaches, soon to be or recent college grads and anyone in the world of business or sports. Epstein gives a well supported case for breadth of activities and not being afraid of getting a late start. This means no need to force your kid into one sport at age 4 so he/she doesn't fall behind, it means college students don't have to know exactly what they want to do and will actually be of more value to the world if they get a variety of experiences and take detours, and it means generalists can be more innovative in a particular field than those who have specialized solely in said field.
Experiment, take detours, learn from a variety of sources, don't aim for efficiency perfect focus all the time. This is a breath of fresh air from Epstein in an ever more specialized and focused world.
I will likely be recommending The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr for a long time to anyone looking to discover or rediscover Christianity in a way that actually makes sense and can provide lasting value.
This is Rohr's latest book in which he explores what it means that Jesus was called Christ, and how things got pretty distorted over the last 2,000 years due to limited cultures, religious debate and our tendency to put ourselves at the center of everything.
Using scripture, history and spiritual practices, Rohr talks about how to understand God and rediscover the fundamental truths of life and faith - all on the basis of not trying to prove Jesus was God, but rather about learning to recognize the divine presence all around us, in everything. This was such an eye opening read.
I read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe in my World Literature class in college and decided to read it again. I remembered enjoying it but couldn't remember most of the story.
It was fun re-reading this almost 15 years after I was first introduced to the book by a professor who focused our class on Colonialism.
The book is about pre-colonial Nigeria and its eventual clash with British missionaries. Even though it's written in third person, the book gives a non-Western (and refreshing) view into the life and culture of the tribes of Africa as it follows the life of fictional main character Okonkwo.
White it's a work of fiction it is also a historical and engaging critique of European Imperialism. Achebe gives a clear view into the impact of Colonization from the perspective of the Colonized.
What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg was another recommendation by Ryan Holiday. I read this in a week, it was an engaging and well written story, a classic Hollywood novel from 1941 that I haven't come across until now.
The story is sort of a cautionary tale of the true cost of egoism and narcissism, as well as a glimpse into how "old" 1930's Hollywood worked. The story proves it has stood the test of time, as Sammy characters are still seen in our world today.
Though it's a novel, Schulberg was a talented screen writer in his day and his father ran one of the then top production studios in Hollywood. Hollywood is certainly Schulberg's element and it shows in this portrayal of the business of movies.
Apparently Schulberg got flack when the book was published for giving Hollywood a bad look and was accused of antisemitism (because Sammy is Jewish). These arguments don't seem as relevant today, (and in the updated publication of this book Schulberg counters the anti-Semitic argument) and this story I think stands the test of time and would be a great read for a young professional, recent grad or anyone in the business world.
If anyone today hails the character Sammy as a hero, they are missing the point. While it may appear Sammy has achieved everything he set out for, in the end it comes at a great cost.
I read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, a recommendation from Pete Holmes. This book may seem a little out there to some, but it really has stood the test of time, it was first published in 1997. I definitely read it at a time and place in my life where it really resonated with me.
I enjoyed reading Singer's The Surrender Experiment, which made me interested in the idea and practice of meditation. But it wasn't until I read The Power of Now that I actually understood what the goal of mediation truly is and how to get there.
Meditation, ancient wisdom and philosophy, religious teachings - they all get you to the true goal, which Tolle says is full consciousness and enlightenment. Tolle makes an effort to get you there by teaching how to exist in the present moment and no longer identify with the mind, which causes thought to become compulsive. This incessant mental noise is normal (and unnoticed) among most people and is what blocks the discovery of inner stillness that is your true self, your Being.
This book can be read and enjoyed with or without a religious background. For anyone who is interested in mindfulness and stillness, this is a must read. The mindfulness trend that seems to be all around us in the U.S. right now is good and necessary but sometimes feels superficial in my opinion.
I understand the rejection and decrease in the practice of religion in our current times (I'm speaking of my observation in America since I live here), but there still must exist a way to "access" the one spiritual teaching that every religious and spiritual leader in history seems to be pointing us to. Tolle is a great start before diving into any specific teachers such as Buddha or Jesus, as well as a good read for anyone currently practicing/following a particular religion.
Stillness is the Key is Ryan Holiday's latest book and while I'm a huge fan of his this is the first book he wrote that I actually read from front to back.
This was a quick and inspiring read, filled with references and stories from historical greats. I must admit that since I'm in the middle of reading other spiritual and religious texts (my rabbit hole on this topic that I still haven't gotten out of), this book felt less important to me as I'm so deep in the weeds of material that's teaching stillness and inner peace. With that said, everyone should try reading at least one of Holiday's books, he's super well read and therefore does a great job at putting together something worth reading.
Holiday says himself in the book that he wrote this as a first step on the journey to wisdom; an introduction to classical thinking and history. He urges everyone to continue on the path of finding wisdom and stillness through other texts and looking inward.
Stillness, according to Holiday, means to be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear only what needs to be heard. To possess quietude - exterior and interior - on command.
Buddhism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Christianity, Hinduism and more have all gotten people to this stillness, the key to elite performance and a happy life. Holiday references all of these ancient wisdoms, as they all agree that this stillness is what everyone should look to achieve in life.
After I read Love Wins by Rob Bell I had to read another one of his books so picked up What Is the Bible. Bell brings to this book more perspective about the Bible and Christianity that I wish I knew about sooner. But as Bell says, it's never too late to change and develop knew thoughts and beliefs, and something as big as spirituality and historic and religious texts should be constantly wrestled with and questioned with the goal always being personal growth and improvement of the earth.
Rob makes a strong argument for why and how we should look at the Bible in a new way and why it's still relevant and helpful in today's world. One of the key points Bell makes is that the Bible was not created by God, it was created by humans, and you cannot get to the holy without going through the human first. So you have to understand the humans that wrote the book, and its historical context.
Therefore, it's pointless to argue whether the Bible is true or not or whether or not it's the word of God and needs to be followed exactly as written. Yes, people in the Bible quote God and say things are the word of God, but that was their perspective of God in their time..
The Bible was written by real people, in a real world at a point in time in history when real (and terrible) things were happening to them. When we take that into consideration as we read the Bible, we can start to understand it better and actually allow it to be useful to us for growth.
We must ask ourselves, why did these people decide to keep this story alive (at a time when there was no printing press)? What where they trying to get across and could they perhaps be using language and innuendo and humor in strategic ways to be sure this message gets across in the right way and creates change?
I loved this fresh perspective on the Bible and think this is a must read even for those who are not religious or don't believe in God. The Bible is a historical document. It was refreshing learning more about it from this perspective.
I picked up Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell after Pete Holmes recommended it in his book Comedy Sex God as well as Ryan Holiday in his books to read newsletter. This was a great follow up to the insightful and pleasantly surprising commentary about God and the meaning of life from comedian Pete Holmes.
Bell gives a refreshing take on Jesus's story that I've been waiting to hear. Here's a Christian Pastor who's saying, 'yea, some people just are looking at this the wrong way.'
He starts by acknowledging the staggering number of us who have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven while the rest of those who did not accept Christ into their heart will burn in hell forever. Bell says this is misguided and a toxic way to spread the word of God and Christianity.
Instead, Bell hopes to spread a contextualized version of the story that focuses on spreading Jesus's message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear. This book is about the meaning of life and why we should be good people - now. His take is that people can find peace and "heaven" and "eternal life" here and now, and alternatively have the chance and choice to live in hell on earth - now.
Bell dives into how and when the Bible mentions the word heaven and hell (a surprisingly few number of times), what the context is around it, how the Hebrew words got translated and what the original words meant to the people at that point in time. It's a quick read and if you haven't read Rob Bell, I'd recommend reading this.
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