What I'm Reading

My reading list is heavily influenced by my passion for creativity, spirituality, nature, the recommendations of respected friends, and the following blogs which are daily reads for me:

  • www.brainpickings.org
  • www.farnamstreetblog.com

I rely heavily on Amazon's used book market. Often I can get a nice used version of a book I want to read on my doorstep for 4-6 dollars.

Currently Reading (and On Deck):

  • Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg
  • Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Doug Hofstadter
  • Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
  • The Hungering Dark, Frederick Buechner
  • More Than a Rock, Guy Tal
  • Lost Horizon, James Hilton

2016 Completed Reading

1. The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers
In interview format, Joseph Campbell talks through some of his most interesting work on the Hero's Journey, the Monomyth, and other ideas that have both ancient roots and modern weight.

2. For the Time Being, Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard on, among other topics, time.

3. Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner
The last of three autobiographical collections Buechner wrote (so far as I know), he writes beautifully about aging, family, and skeletons. Three autobiographies might seem like a lot of page-space dedicated to one's own life, but Buechner is one of the most humble, open-hearted people I've ever had the privilege to read.

4. Coming Through Slaughter, Michael Ondaatje
The author of The English Patient on the early days of jazz in New Orleans, centered around a demon-beset trumpeter. Equal parts fever-dream, improvisation, and post-mortem, it nicely rounded out my little spate of jazz-related reading I tackled last year (the others being the fittingly-aspirational Wynton Marsalis', Moving to Higher Ground, and Geoff Dyer's But Beautiful, which is essentially a jazz-inspired riff of the lives of many jazz greats). A gift from my friend Kristen.

5. Holy The Firm, Annie Dillard
A short read that I know will warrant frequent re-reads. Covers in a way only Annie Dillard can some of the most existentially-troubling and soul-stirring questions that humans build their life around avoiding, I think.

6. Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer
After listening and thoroughly enjoying his On Being interview, I sought out some of Palmer's writing. Didn't disappoint. Oddly hits many of the same themes that come up in The Power of Myth: vocation, self-acceptance, etc. According to Mark Twain, the two most important day's in a person's life are the day you're born and the day you find out why. BrainPickings.org has much more in-depth things to say about this work. 

7. The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts
Watts simply explains that most of our life is wasted because we're living in the future or past, unable to see and appreciate the miracle and beauty and satisfaction of existence. He deconstructs some of the Western world's obsession with preserving the ideal, avoidance of death and decay, and argues for a conception of the self that re-integrates the brain/self with the body. Recommended by brainpickings.org. I re-recommend!

8. All That Is, James Salter
A sad publisher tries to find love. Some beautiful passages, but I'm not sure I connected with the protagonist's inability to commit himself or make wise choices.

9. Refusing Heaven, Jack Gilbert
My friend Jake introduced me to the Jack Gilbert by way of the poem "A Brief for the Defense," which may be a fitting framework for the rest of his poetry, a collection of odes to delight and elegies for lost or dead love. I much preferred this old man's recounting of a life of love, mistake, triumph, excess, delight, death, pain, and everything else in between than I did Salter's.

10. Grief is the Thing With Feathers, Max Porter
A providential find on my trip to New Zealand, Porter's short novel I know will be one of my most recommended and recollected books in coming years. He imagines a family in the wake of a mother's death, visited by a giant crow who, in his simultaneous scavenging and creation, gibberish and wisdom, perfectly personifies and demystifies the giant blot of grief. 

11. The Iliad, Homer (trans. Lattimore)
I've never read it. I wanted to. Newbie mistake: there's no Trojan Horse in this part of the epic. Just gods and men at war. The enjoyment of the translation equalled the sense of accomplishment at finishing it.

12. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
I started this book in 2014, and read it slowly. It's a dense read that provides a fascinating look at everyday human psychology and decision making. It will warrant some re-skimming to remember the many fallacies humans commit on a daily basis to make life easier.

13. Survival of the Bark Canoe, John McPhee
McPhee goes on a canoe trip with one of the last surviving birch bark canoe builders in the world, Henri Vaillancourt. McPhee realizes that Vaillancourt may be a master canoe maker, but that doesn't mean he's a master outdoorsman.

14. Revenant, Michael Punke
A logical pair to "Survival of the Bark Canoe," Revenant is a historical fiction based on the life of Hugh Glass and the humans and wild things he came into contact with in his brutish and brave life. Much different than the movie, which weaves in many more spiritual themes. Both, I loved.

15. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
For someone who overthinks, over-worries, and is prone to unhealthy nostalgia, I deeply enjoyed living in the Rev. John Ames' head for a few hundred pages.

16. This House of Sky, Ivan Doig
Labelled "required reading" for a Midwest transplant. While the major thrust of the book concerns old ways of life surviving through into the 20th century, Ivan's writing about losing a parent and coming of age were deeply touching.

17. The Abundance, Annie Dillard
"Best of" selections from a life's work by Ms. Dillard. She's my favorite author. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is at least in my top 3 of all time favorite/most life-altering reads. Are all Annies baddasses? Good chance they are.

18. Eiger Dreams, Jon Krakauer
A selection of shorter work, covering Denali, Eiger, ski communities, slot canyons, glacier pilots, Zen Buddhism, and personal goals. The last selection, "Devil's Thumb" is fascinating. I think, however, he talks himself out of a great achievement, or missed the point (or both). He did not, surprise, bag the peak as easily as he had thought. And he reflects on the why and how, on naivete and youth. But... he did bag the peak, with persistence and a bit of grit and gall. That's the point, to me—getting after something will never be smooth, but those who get it doggedly hound the goal. 

19. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Listened to this on my way out to the Olympic Peninsula. Coates cuts through politics and ideas and writes a deeply personal series of letters to his son about growing up African American. The detailed thought process about how black people do not—cannot—feel complete ownership of their bodies still is a resonant and personal way of understanding "what's going on now". 

20. Winter Brothers, Ivan Doig

21. Sonnets to Orpheus, Rainer Maria Rilke

22. The Missing of the Somme, Geoff Dyer

23. Upstream, Mary Oliver

24. The Writing Life, Annie Dillard

25. Our Only World, Wendell Berry