I’ve just begun my fiftieth book of the year, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. Like the last book I read, I discovered it via Derek Sivers, who reviewed it on his site. It’s been an interesting read so far, on overcoming one’s own resistance to ambitious endeavours. It’s inspirational, but so far does not promise to be the most inspirational book I read this year (see Sivers’ own, for example, below). I tracked my progress on Goodreads. Here are the ten books I rated five stars from 2018, in reverse order of when I read them.
This weekend I finished The Courage to be Disliked (2013), and have decided not to review it in detail. It is an excellent, potentially life-changing book, and one I intend to re-read. But any summary would be reductive. I highly recommend getting it and reading it to all who are interested in improving themselves or their lives; it’s a short read, so there’s little to lose, and, in my opinion, much to be gained.
Dorothea Brande’s 1934 Becoming a Writer is an incredible, practical guide to overcoming the painful impediments to the act of writing. I delayed almost a decade in reading it as I described in my review. If you want to write, don’t delay; get this book.
Derek Sivers’ Anything You Want (2011), which I wrote about here, is an enlightened and enlightening account of how to live a good life. Despite being aimed (at least superficially) at entrepreneurs, it’s well-worth reading for anyone; I find him like no one so much as Marcus Aurelius.
Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind (2018; subtitled, in the US, “What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence”) on psychedelics and their fraught history, is another book that just might change your mind about the world and your relation to it. I wrote about it here.
David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) is a mind-bendingly brilliant look at the role of debt in history, and a view of the underpinnings of economics through the lens of anthropology. It is not a quick read but I highly recommend it. I reviewed it it here. This year Graeber also wrote Bullshit Jobs, which, in addition to being hugely entertaining, poignant, and relevant, is probably more accessible than Debt (and I wrote about it too).
Esther Perel’s The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity (2017), is a work of staggering empathy, and the testimony of a master practitioner at the height of her powers. Its tagline, “A book for anyone who has ever loved”, is actually a pretty good description of the relevant demographic. Gorgeous.
Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women (2015) is a collection of short stories, alternately harrowing and transcendent, with rare insight into the vitality and violence of everyday life. It’s also a look at the lost danger of America, once so close to every moment, and now somehow subsiding into safety.
I was always going to like Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism Is True (2017), since his coursera course on meditation gave me an introduction to Buddhist thought when I gravely needed it. I also love his podcast. The book is, in a way, the culmination of his thinking in the course, and a great introduction to some of the most important and relevant parts of Buddhism.
Finally, Gregor von Rezzori’s Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (1969) is a sweeping but personal look at the agony of the early twentieth century in Europe. Once again I won’t say much more than that you should read it; the English translation glistens with unbelievably beautiful prose and vocabulary.
In 2019, I’m planning to aim for 200 pages per week, rather than any set number of books, as I noticed that my high pace for books led to me to shorter reads. Still, it was an amazingly rewarding year in terms of what I read. Please let me know if you have any recommendations for my 2019 list!