Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield
Pressfield is one of my favorite authors. He has written one of my top five favorite works of fiction AND what could be my absolute favorite non fiction book.
Gates of Fire is historical fiction set in ancient Sparta centered around the Battle of Thermopylae (yes, the battle from 300). It is…everything. I’m not even going to try. Life. Amazing. Just read it.
The War of Art should be required reading for…well, everyone. But in particular, if you are pursuing some kind of creative endeavor or are trying to initiate a change in your life (new job, exercise regimen, etc), then you must read this book. It would also make an excellent gift for…absolutely everyone. It’s beautifully written in very simple terms, like you’re just sitting chatting with Steve.
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t is a follow up to The War of Art. It isn’t quite as profound, but that would be a tall task. Pressfield shares the lessons he has learned from each of the industries he has written for. Advertising to Film to Porn to Fiction to Nonfiction to Self Help.
It’s a quick read filled with great anecdotes and sharp advice. It is classic Pressfield. The man is marvelous. I’m obsessed. Worth a read, but start with The War of Art (and when you’ve finished that, you’ll be so inspired you’ll want to work on your own stuff for a while before reading this one!). If you write, I also suggest following his blog.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
This book is as brutal to read as it is lovely. Set in a slum in India, the story follows the lives of the people who inhabit a place that is invisible to most of us. It is a kick in the teeth reminder that I hit the genetic lottery. If you’re reading this, so did you.
People really fucking live like that. A mother is crying because her baby perpetually has infected rat bites on his face, but they have to keep the trash they have collected in their living space or it will get stolen, so the rats are unavoidable. Monsoon season is approaching and many of the families don’t have roofs over their heads. It’s not about that, though. Boo does a wonderful job of telling the stories of these people and humanizing them instead of simply putting their poverty under a microscope.
An entire slum city has formed around the trash that is generated by the hotels at the airport. What is amazing about this book is that it illuminates the drama that unfolds no matter your station in life. Even amongst people who have nothing, a hierarchy naturally forms, archetypes still exist, and people are generally still people–with all their highs and lows. I love that she focuses mainly on the stories of the women and children, who are a forgotten class even within an invisible caste. The widespread corruption that she highlights sounds terrible. I don’t know if the despair or the small glimmers of hope make me sadder because I know there is almost no chance anything has changed for the people in the story.
If you don’t read often, I don’t recommend this be the first thing you pick up. It’s nonfiction and it’s heavy, so there’s definitely a time and a place for it. Read it if you want to be reminded how lucky you are.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
This is a beautiful memoir about a woman who is devastated by the unexpected death of her father, so she decides to raise and train a goshawk. I knew precisely nothing about birds of prey when I started the book, and found myself fascinated by her account of what it takes to “tame” one.
Maria Popova described this book on Brainpickings far better than I ever could, so I won’t try. She starts her review with:
“Every once in a while — perhaps thrice a lifetime, if one is lucky — a book comes along so immensely and intricately insightful, so overwhelming in beauty, that it renders one incapable of articulating what it’s about without contracting its expansive complexity, flattening its dimensional richness, and stripping it of its splendor. Because it is, of course, about everything — it might take a specific something as its subject, but its object is nothing less than the whole of the human spirit, mirrored back to itself.”
I bought the book without having to read any further, and it lived up to such high praise (okay, maybe I checked it out from the library…). It is deep and soulful, so if you’re in the mood to examine the meaning of it all, I highly recommend H is for Hawk.
As a side note, if you don’t read Brainpickings, you’re missing out. It is the antithesis of the listicles that have taken over the Internet.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
This was Neil Gaiman’s first novel, and I had never read it, so I finally caught up. It was marvelous. We saw Gaiman speak at a small event last November, and now I hear all of his books in his voice, which just adds to their magnificence.
Like American Gods (which is being filmed as a mini series right now!), Neverwhere has an element of mystery to it. Gaiman drops you into a world that is familiar, but has a secret side we’ve never seen before. The protagonist is as out of their depth as the reader as we are slowly fed pieces of the puzzle that allow us to make sense of what is happening.
His books offer a glimpse into his brilliant mind where nothing is quite what it seems. It makes sense that he also writes such wonderful children’s books because he seems to still look at the world through a child’s eyes–full of possibility and magic.
It sounds like he is finally working on a sequal-20 years later! And he announced this week that he will be releasing a book of Norse mythology–excited for February 2017 now!
Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Kleypas wrote a wonderful romance series about a family called the Hathaways that I thoroughly enjoyed. This is her latest romance that falls during the same time period (Victorian England) but follows a new set of characters. It isn’t profound or particularly unique within the genre, but it’s light and amusing with a fun cast of characters. Her books to me feel like Jane Austen stories with quirkier characters and lots of sex. If you like a good period romance, give it a read.
So, Anyway by John Cleese
An amusing account of a fascinating life. If you’re a huge Monty Python fan like I am, you’ll enjoy reading about Cleese’s journey. There isn’t anything particularly profound about this book, but it’s an interesting peek into the life of a very funny human being.
It follows Cleese from his early days as a British schoolboy through Cambridge and into the Python years. There are some great behind the scenes stories about some of the greatest comedic minds of a generation. Don’t expect it to change your life, but it’s an enjoyable light read.
Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou
I don’t remember much of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which goes to show that required reading takes all of the enjoyment out of the act of consuming a book.
This is Angelou’s memoir that follows her life from adolescence through early adulthood. Those are tough years to reflect back on and examine honestly because they are usually the years when we act most foolish. Angelou doesn’t flinch before her own girlish silliness, which lets the reader grow with her. This is the period in her life when she worked as a prostitute, something I wasn’t aware of before reading this. She handles the subject of being a sex worker bravely and honestly, without either glorifying it or trying to sweep it under the rug. She presents it as simply another part of her journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s an elegantly written, exquisitely human story. Angelou is such a wonderful, relatable storyteller who teaches you about life without it feeling like you’re doing anything but enjoying a good story.
Baby Sign Language Basics by Monta Z. Briant
This is a guidebook for using sign language with infants. It’s simple, clear, and concise. We’ve only just started using it, so I can’t speak to how effective it is yet, but I felt the book provided a solid foundation for us to begin using sign language.
The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani
A sweeping historical tale of two families who start in a mountain town of Northern Italy and emigrate to America during the first half of the 20th century. I mostly enjoyed it, but it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. The characters are wonderfully rich, but it felt like she tried to tackle too big a story at the expense of the individual scenes. I think it might have worked better if she had slowed down and broken it into a trilogy.
It’s strange to say, but I think my biggest complaint is that none of the characters really actively suffer, so there isn’t a payoff when things are resolved. Bad things happen, but she doesn’t delve too deeply into those experiences, so it feels more superficial than it should. The war, terminal illness, and poverty are there, but they are almost side notes that we don’t experience with the characters, so we don’t feel relief or triumph when they overcome an obstacle. Pressfield (see above) teaches that your hero is only as strong as your villain is terrible. This book is in need of a good villain. Having said that, I did enjoy it and would suggest giving it a try.
Xander’s June Picks
Peek-a Who? by Nina Laden
This was a suggestion from Adrienne last month, and it was spot on! He giggled from the very first page turn! Spoiler Alert…It helps that it ends with his own reflection, of which he is rather fond. There isn’t much to it, but he’s loves watching me turn the pages over and over again, and once he’s engaged I can talk about the animals, the train, etc. He now anticipates the mirror on the last page, which is adorable! Thanks, Adrienne!
Bingo Was His Name from Little Learners
This one was a gift from Mama J, and he loves it! He shrieks with laughter when the puppet wiggles, and loves the page that has sheep on it. He likes to try to catch Bingo and stuff him in his mouth, but we usually get through the book at least once before that starts. Thanks, Debra!
For next month, we might have a Bill Bryson, some more Gaiman (Bad Omens) and possibly his lovely wife, Amanda Palmer (The Art of Asking). The book I started this morning is so terrible, it might actually get the dreaded DNF label, which almost never happens. I will report back next month! My digital library hold queue is getting a little ridiculous, but I’m next in line or close to it for some good looking books (Do you know that you can check Kindle or .epub books out from your local library?):