My Uncle Oswald (strong recommendation)
Probably the funniest book I’ve ever read. I laughed out loud so many times that reading it in public often provoked stares. It’s imaginative, clever, unpredictable, and happens to be about a guy who likes seducing women and making money. His first venture was in Blister Beetle powder, which transforms anyone who consumes it into a mindless fuck machine. I only hope that I can write a fictional book half as good as this before I die.
This book is written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s most famous author and also a Nobel Prize winner. He tells the history of his country through several generations of the Buendia family, starting with the patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendia. The story is entertaining in itself but a knowledge of Latin American history—specifically Colombian—will give you a more complete experience. While not an easy read, intertwining themes of solitude, the rise and fall of civilizations, and the circular nature of history make 100 Years a rich book that feels alive in your hands as you read it.
The Time Machine (free on kindle)
A short book you can finish in only a couple settings, about a man who invents a time machine and travels to the future. The book is slow-going until we find out humans have evolved into two species, with one dominating the other. It’s an entertaining book that could’ve been improved with more interspecies sex action.
I actually intended to buy H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man but accidentally got this instead. It seemed interesting so I went ahead and read it. It’s about a black man who grows up “invisible” in the Jim Crow era. He’s dealt with in a base stereotypical manner, often exploited and manipulated, and constantly fought against what society expected of him. It would have been more powerful to me if I was black, but it was still a pleasant read with some exciting moments. Unfortunately the end, which takes quite a while to get to (the book is nearly 600 pages long), didn’t provide me with a satisfying payoff. Plus there was so much symbolism thrown around that I’m pretty sure I missed a good chunk of the intended meaning.
This is a self-help book meant for creative types who find it difficult to complete the projects they’ve envisioned. The author, who has written several bestselling works, personifies the procrastination, fear, and anxiety we experience as “resistance,” a force that ensures we don’t reach our creative potential. Do you want to check your email really quick before starting your project, only have it prolong into a vicious loop of wasting time? Want to send out a few text messages in the middle of a tough work session? Want to organize your entire wardrobe instead of crack open your word processor? The author says these are all forms of resistance. I feel like this book was written specifically for me.
Kitchen Confidential (strong recommendation)
The first time I saw Anthony Bourdain’s travel show I thought, “Who the fuck is this guy?” If you told me he was a former chef I wouldn’t have known because food seemed to be more in the background than stories about locals. Since I enjoyed his show, it was an easy decision to buy the book, which chronicles his years as a chef. I was expecting a hackneyed diary but the book was funny, revealing, and well-written, telling you not only what goes in a restaurant but how to order from one (Sunday brunch is for suckers!). I worked in the bar of an upscale restaurant for a while so I can confirm that cooks and chefs really are supreme assholes like Bourdain describes.
I noticed that I was significantly worse on my musical instrument when playing for other people, especially my instructor, than when I practice alone at home while half-naked. I knew that it was because of how I was thinking, and I greatly narrowed the performance gap by not aiming for perfection, among other things. This book gives a ton of examples of real-world athletes overcoming performance anxiety (Tiger Woods being most common) while offering easy-to-implement tips to avoid choking. A lot of concepts in this book are common in the self-help genre.
This is a thrilling book that is even more relevant after living in Medellin (most of the city was built on drug money). It details how Pablo Escobar, through his “bullet or bribe” strategy, rose to become one of the strongest men of Colombia, capable of even toppling the state. The United States got involved and while we know how the story ends, it was still exciting to read. I stayed up until 7am in the morning to finish it. If you like Black Hawk Down then you’ll enjoy this one.
I hoped this book would make it easier for me to deal with death, but it did the opposite, making me realize that my life is more meaningless than my puny animal brain could even begin to imagine. The ways I’ve sought to live a fulfilling life (by becoming a “hero”) will not lead to my salvation, and “the only way out of human conflict is full renunciation, to give one’s life as a gift to the highest powers,” which the atheist author considers to be the force of nature. He focuses exclusively on psychoanalytical commentary for how humans view life and death, with heavy emphasis on the works of Freud, Otto Rank, and Kierkegaard. It was such a slog to read that it made me wish that someone with more soothing prose like Malcolm Gladwell tackled the subject instead. Still, I did gain a lot of valuable insights into how humans like myself view and tackle the subject of death.
Making Friends With Death (strong recommendation)
This is the death book I was looking for. It teaches you how to approach death, how to meditate about it, and how to deal with people who are dying, all through a Buddhist lens. That last topic, especially, is something that you can use on relatives whose time has come. My mother has been bedside for many people who’ve died, and she unwittingly does just about everything the book recommends (it’s no accident that she has become the de facto leader when things turn grave). Her powerful recollections of what it’s like to hold someone’s hand as they take their last breath never fails to move me.
The main idea behind this book is that the only way to appreciate life is to embrace death. Don’t obsess about it, but keep it close so you’re prepared for the final “transition.” Whenever I see someone wasting their lives, not living to even 20% of their potential, I say to myself, “That man does not think of death.” I think it about it often.
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