It’s becoming a blogger cliché to put out a reading list every year. They’re everywhere. Most lists are intimidating, to say the least. And many have a not-so-subtle humble-brag vibe. My favorite lists are the ones that begin, “I didn’t get as much reading done this year as I’d hoped…but here’s a list of the top 100 books I read.”
Each January, I catch myself thinking that making a list of what I read the previous year isn’t worth the time. There are enough lists floating around with deeper benches than my own. But then I remember how I’ve found all my favorite books from other people’s reading list. And how my life has been changed by heeding the reading recommendations of strangers on the internet. So, as a reader and a writer with an audience, I feel it’s necessary to pay it forward.
But please consider this list more of a tithe than a flaunt. This is a payment of debt. It’s a confession that I didn’t come up with all my ideas myself. That my writing, speaking, and way of thinking in 2018 was pieced together and influenced by these books. You probably thought I just woke up woke, but that’s not the case.
I hope you find a title below that you take a chance on and that it becomes one of your favorites. These are all non-affiliate Amazon links so you can quickly add them to your cart (and then go buy them at your local bookstore).
Here it goes…
I didn’t get as much reading done this year as I would have liked, but here are the books I read in 2018, in no particular order other than which I read them.
I started the year off with this heavyweight. It was still sticking to my ribs by Christmas. This is an important book in so many ways.
“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.”
A fantastic novel about friendship amidst war-torn Russia. David Benioff is the lead show writer for Game of Thrones and man can he tell a story. One of my favorites of the year.
“the loneliest sound in the world is other people making love.”
I picked this off Ryan Holiday’s reading list, as it’s one of his favorite novels. Now it’s one of mine. It’s a story of old Hollywood, greed, and a warning tale of what happens when you only look out for numero uno.
“There was a lull. Sammy was staring across the room at George Opdyke, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner. I was about to say he was lost in thought, but Sammy was never really lost, and he never actually thought, for that implied deep reflection. He was figuring. Miss Goldblum edged her undernourished white hand into his. Sammy played with it absent-mindedly, like a piece of silverware.”
It’s hard to say this is his best book since Ego and Obstacle are so great, but this is the best writing and storytelling I’ve seen from Ryan Holiday. It’s a full blown ride with valuable lessons and ideas weaved all the way through. It’s about much more than the story of Hulk vs Gawker. I loved it.
“Nick would tell me, in one of our almost weekly chats that I had come to enjoy so much, that the lesson he had learned was that free speech was not necessarily noble by itself, that it needed to be paired with compassion and understanding. Reflecting on Gawker’s approach, he would say that “one person’s liberation can become another’s oppression,” which Thiel would almost certainly agree with.”
How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid
I read this in Bali last year, which was the perfect backdrop. It’s a story about life, love, and death. Any other year, this would probably have been a contender for my favorite fiction.
Look, unless you’re writing one, a self-help book is an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn’t yourself can help you, that someone being the author.
Jon Ronson is the best. This is a collection of his journalism. These stories really made me want to write gonzo journalism and reminded me that telling other people’s stories is a big part of what makes being a writer so much fun.
“A strange thing happens when you interview a robot. You feel an urge to be profound: to ask profound questions. I suppose it’s an inter-species thing. Although if it is I wonder why I never try and be profound around my dog.
‘What does electricity taste like?’ I ask.
‘Like a planet around a star,’ Bina48 replies.
Which is either extraordinary or meaningless — I’m not sure which”
I’m a sucker for hardboiled, noir detective novels. I’m not sure why it took me until last May to finally read what many consider the best. The Long Goodbye is everything you want out of this sort of thing: Vintage Los Angeles, a femme fatale, witty dialogue, and enough booze to get every character on this list wasted.
“There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”
I enjoyed this book and thought it had some pretty unique exercises. It’s always nice to look under the hood at another creative’s process to take what you like and add it to yours.
“Our ability to grow is directly proportional to an ability to entertain the uncomfortable.”
This was a great read. It’s a sincere and heartfelt look at what it means to make the most out of life in America as an immigrant. Lots of practical reminders for everyone — no matter where you were born — on turning obstacles into advantages.
“There is a reason that millions of people every year continue to risk their lives to come to the United States. For those who make it, the power of gratitude for having escaped where they came from is more than enough to keep them going during the hard times that follow.”
This latest collection of essays by Sedaris unlocked all of his work for me. I tried to read, Me Talk Pretty One Day a year ago and didn’t quite see what the fuss was all about. However, Calypso is absolutely hilarious and got me hooked on the rest of his catalog.
“After I die, and you read something bad about yourself in my diary, do yourself a favor and keep reading,” I often say to Hugh. “I promise that on the next page you’ll find something flattering. Or maybe the page after that.”
The Artist’s Journey: The Wake of the Hero’s Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning, By Steven Pressfield
I love me some Pressfield. This is a beautiful book about taking the Hero’s Journey approach to your own life and work.
We set forth as artists, you and I, from a Portsmouth of the mind and sail for an imaginary Indies. Storms arise along the way. We encounter monsters (and allies as well). Growth occurs. Progress is recorded. The artist changes on this journey. She is not the person at the end that she was at the beginning.
I sped through this pretty quick and thought it was just ok. Although, as a digital marketer who specializes in crowdfunding, I found myself returning to the ideas presented here almost daily and this book has paid off in some big ways.
“The key to growing a business today is not building an app or getting new social media followers. The key is engaging people over and over again by triggering their deep, human desire for growth and transformation.”
Don’t let this light, 165-page book fool you — it’s a heavyweight. Lots of value that tugs your brain in some new directions. Opens up new ways to think and learn about history. I’ll be returning to some of the essays here again. Not the breeziest of books though.
“you can’t fool all the people all the time,” but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.”
Written in true, brash Mamet fashion, the information in this book gets revealed as you watch the world after reading it. Great for understanding storytelling, politics, and why we need drama in our lives. (I read his play Oleanna right after to see some of his how-to in action, which was great as well.)
“The audience wants to be piqued, to be misled, to be disappointed at times, so that it can, finally, be fulfilled. The audience therefore needs the second act to end with a question.”
Unfinished Business / Failed Attempts
I’ve enjoyed listening to Jordan Peterson’s talks and debates, but I found much of this book unnecessary (I only read about 5 of the rules before moving on). There are some valuable lessons in the book for sure, but most aren’t big mental leaps that justify the word count. His original Quora post does the trick for me.
Ok, ok… I know. I shouldn’t have given up on this is one. It’s a classic and on many people’s the best of all time list. The writing and world building are amazing, but like most great books, you have to work for this one. I got a bit lazy half-way through and some other titles stole me away. I’ll be back for it one day.
I really like this book. I got distracted while reading Endurance (which is amazing) at the same time and it stole me away. I have tons of notes on the first 4 chapters of Atomic Habits. Lots of new stuff here.
I re-read the first half of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas at an Airbnb in Joshua Tree. Hunter S. in the desert is always a good time, but I didn’t get around to finishing it before we checked out. I read The Rum Diary a few years ago while in Costa Rica and love that novel. I’m also interested in this collection of his letters.
“Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas … with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether.”
My Listening List
I am not going to come down hard on audiobooks. They help people who don’t like reading enjoy books and help authors get their work in front of more people. But, hey…it’s not reading. Let’s not call it reading. And just to be clear, it’s not as good as reading. There I said it. And, yes, I’m right. Don’t tweet me pish posh studies about retention rates or how it’s different strokes for different folks. You don’t get all the magic with audio. You miss bits of beautiful language being stretched across the page.
But I digress… This was my first year with audible and I decided to utilize it for biographies. I’m glad I did.
This memoir was amazing. The guy is such a beast. Arnold only reads the first and the last chapter but the whole audiobook is great. I’ve re-listen to the last chapter where Arnold reads his principals for life to get pumped up a dozen times.
“What is the point of being on this Earth if you are going to be like everyone else?”
This book had been on my reading list for 2 years, I don’t know why I was so resistant to buying it. Last summer I finally decided to just do the audio. We all know Franklin was the man, but this biography was not nearly as good as the one below…
Holy Sh*t. I had no idea what an incredible and full life Theodore Roosevelt had before he even became president. Can’t recommend this audiobook enough. It won’t be the last book on T.R. I dig into.
“It has been objected that I am a boy,” said Roosevelt wearily — he had been hearing the charge for years — “but I can only offer the time-honored reply, that years will cure me of that.”
This book cracked me up. My fiance and I listened to it together on a trip to Canada. Kevin Hart’s story is one of tenacity and perseverance. He also reads the whole book. Really entertaining and tons of life lessons. Plus, you can still feel bits of Neil Struss in there, even with the audiobook.
“If you’re too weak to handle failure and disappointment, then you’re too weak to handle success, which will only end up damaging your life and happiness.”
Whereas Theodore Roosevelt and Arnold Schwarzenegger are two larger than life figures from page one, it was nice to balance things out with Phil Knight. Certainly a titan now, but he comes off much more mortal and far more relatable in Shoe Dog. I don’t know if he had a ghostwriter or not, but man, great prose throughout. While listening I found myself wishing I read the book.
“The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.”
(I also listened to half of the Laws of Human Nature, by Robert Greene but it was so good I stopped listening and bought the physical book. Still working through it.
Phew… That took some time to put together. Please do give it a clap if you made it this far. I’m pretty happy with my year of reading. I’ve got a few new titles on deck, but much of 2019 will consist of re-reading old favorites. As the writer, Francois Mauriac once said, “If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads.”
If you want to see what all this reading and research went toward, check out my newsletter, Creativity Equals Freedom. I send out bite-sized lessons on how to make life better through living creatively.
Until next year…