I do too.
Because of the volume of reading I do (around 3-4 books a week) I find a lot of cool stuff. And when I find something incredible, it is difficult, (actually nigh on impossible) for me not to share it.
To that end I’ve written this post, which is a list of the absolute best of the books I’ve read in the past month or so.
I want to stress that these are not average books. These are not good books. These are the books that I recommend to my friends.
The face-meltingly amazing ones.
Equal parts: manifesto, memoir, confessional and kick-assery, ‘The Art of Asking’ is a book spawned from Palmer’s phenomenally successful viral TED talk of the same name. And in case you are wondering why she is qualified to write this book: Palmer was the first independent musician to mount and execute a kickstarter campaign that exceeded a million dollars.
This woman clearly knows a thing or two about asking effectively.
Her ideas about an artist’s relationship with her audience are: insightful, fascinating, and grounded in a model of appreciation and reciprocity which seems to have been overlooked in the majority of the reviews I’ve seen.
I was genuinely surprised at how good, and how readable this book was. I consumed it in a single sitting and was nary a moment bored. I have also listened to the audiobook, which is punctuated with impromptu songs and asides.
(Note: This was a re-read. I first read this in Nov 2014 when it was published).
Beginning by defining ‘spirituality’ as a term, and progressing from there thru a discussion of: the mind, the self, meditation as an empirical practice, gurus drugs and near death experience, Harris is implacably merciless with anything that fails to withstand the onslaught of his rationality.
The reason I found this book compelling is because of what Harris is trying to do. Using as his scalpel the most cutting edge: scientific theory, philosophy, and psychology, this book is his attempt to pare away as much of the rampant woo-woo and flagrant bullshittery that surrounds the subject of spirituality as possible.
A worthwhile contribution to an important discussion.
Essentially a collection of notes written not for publication but for himself, this book is, among many other things, a fascinating insight into the mind of ostensibly the most powerful man in the world at the time.
Most surprising about this book is: just how contemporary it feels. The questions that Aurelius wrestles with on a daily basis have not changed (the human condition having remained essentially unaltered). Questions such as: What it is to be alive? How are we to be happy? And how should we best relate to others?
These concerns are timeless and Aurelius’s answers, preserved for posterity in this slim tome, remain eminently: deep, wise, and applicable.
[Important note: As with all books, not all translations are equal. I looked at four different translations of the Meditations before I found the Gregory Hays version which really stands (in my opinion) head and shoulders above the rest.]
‘The Unfettered Mind’ is a collection of three essays / letters written by a Zen priest for a Samurai warrior. At the core of all three is how to deal with the challenge of keeping your mind still (or unfettered) whilst in the highest of pressure situations (martial combat to the death).
Do not be put off by the mentions of combat. The main reason that I love this book is: the ability to maintain a calm mind in the midst of rampant chaos and high pressure environments is transferable. It is something that is useful everywhere.
I first read this last year, and re-read it this month. I have the paperback edition, which is a true thing of beauty. I also loved the preface and introduction which I honestly feel are worth the price of admission by themselves.
At times this book reads like a thriller (think: Jaws in Siberia) which has at it’s heart that most primal of battles; the battle for survival. On one side is the Tiger (the apex predator of the region), on the other the men who are trying to hunt it down before it kills again.
As well as being a roller coaster thrill ride, this book paints an incredibly vivid picture of: the Siberian tiger, the history of the region, and the brutally dark and hard living conditions of it’s inhabitants.
I read this in one night in front of a blazing fire, while snow fell outside the window. Which was, as it turned out, pretty much the perfect way to enjoy this book.
Written back when Zen was only beginning to be discussed in the west, this relatively short book has lost none of it’s penetrant clarity. At it’s core is the story of Herrigal’s journey towards mastery; during which he confronts, is stumped by, and overcomes a series of ever-greater trials and pifalls, which in turn illuminate deeper and deeper levels of his Art
Herrigal’s journey is eminently relateable. Not just to archery but to the process of learning any art or skill.
A quick read, but worth it’s weight in gold.
Written in a style very much informed by his mentor Robert Greene (48 Laws of Power, 33 Strategies of War) ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ uses stories and examples from history to illuminate a set of timeless principles that ultimately demonstrate show how to take any situation, no matter how shitty or backslash, and turn it to your advantage.
I think that the biggest compliment I can pay this book is: I read it during a very trying situation which lasted for a few days and it genuinely helped. I would pick it up, read a few of the bite-size chapters, underline some key concepts and then return to the fray strengthened by it.
Very much worth the time, and a volume that you can return to again and again.
This book is literally phenomenal. In it, Kotler examines the: science, biology, physiology and characteristics of what has come to be termed as the ‘flow’ state. His goal? To find a reliable way to ‘Hack’ flow.
The way he does this is almost as cool as the premise of the book. He takes extreme athletes – Big wave surfers, extreme snowboarders and skateboarders as case studies – people who have no choice but to enter a flow state when they are performing, because the alternative is death – and puts them, and their process, under the microscope.
I was hooked from start to finish and have revisited this book multiple times. If you are interested in ‘hacking flow’, performing at your best no matter the situation, or simply want to live vicariously thru the antics of some of the world’s most incredible death-defying athletes, then this book is for you.
I found this collection of poetry about halfway thru the month and am still working my way thru it. Why am I recommending a book I’ve only half-finished? And why is this book taking me so long?
Because: this is the most incredible collection of poetry that I have found for a long time. And because these poems deserve to be read slowly. They deserve to be read multiple times. They deserve to be read out loud.
They deserve to be savoured.
Meaning. Nuance. Layers. Beauty of language. Sound. Rhythm. Flow. Presence, and Sex, these poems have it all. This is, by far and away, my absolute favourite thing that I have found in January. If I was going to liken it to anything, maybe I would liken it to hearing Miles Davis play ‘Kind of Blue’ for the first time. Which brings me back to the slowness. The reason I am taking this one so slowly is: you only get one chance to read a book, or poem for the first time.
If you like poetry, or even if you think you don’t: buy this book. It will surprise and delight you. I have it on Kindle, but the physical edition is beautiful enough that I may get that as well. This book has blown my mind. It may blow yours too. Buy this book. Read this book. Buy this book.
This has been an experimental blog post. If you’ve enjoyed it then let me know by hitting the ‘like’ button or leaving a comment and I’ll do more like it.
Happy Reading ;-)
A Quick Note about Links:
For ease and convenience, all the books in this post are linked to Amazon.com. If you are a UK reader, then here are the UK links:
(And Lastly, if you want to know why I read so much and why I it is so important to me, you should read: this.)
My name is James Radcliffe and I am a 100% audience supported independent artist. If you like what I do (and can afford it) then please consider buying some of my music. Each purchase really makes a big difference to me and 10% of every sale goes to a charity which: houses, feeds, clothes, and educates orphaned children in Nepal.
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