06
Dec

Good books for those low on time, or focus. Also: summer reads!

I enjoy a meaty, enthralling brick of fiction as much as the next peanut, but sometimes my poor, overworked brain can only handle small chunks of writing, be that fiction or it’s evil, fact-based foe, non-fiction. These books I dip in to when am wolfing down some lunch, or need some inspiration, or am breastfeeding, or want something to read before going to sleep without fear of staying up til 1am reading because I am deeply entrenched in a wild, fictive narrative.

Here are some dip-in, dip-out books I have enjoyed recently*.

Some are heartbreaking and harrowing tales, some offer career/life/entrepreneurial inspirational candy, some are capable of changing your mindset, some are teachy and learny, some are funny, and some are just, well, pleasant, but all of them are worth your time, even if you can only offer 10 minutes before hurling over a heavy arm to switch off the bedside lamp.

Way More Than Luck

I have spent (too) many hours on YouTube watching first-class commencement speeches from brilliant, funny, wise people when I should be working, but I make no apology for this. You don’t need to be graduating to be able to extract beautiful life advice from the accomplished, witty rascals hand-picked to give commencement speeches to the people who will run the world one day.

My husband knows I love these, and found this book for me. They’re not all on the same level, but I read one speech a night before bed, and even if I didn’t know the author/speaker, I generally extracted at least one good takeaway. (Also, ummmm: Nora Ephron! YAS. KWEEN.) My favourite (and everyone else’s) is of course David Foster Wallace’s ‘This Is Water’ speech. Masterful bastard.

The Moth: 50 True Stories and All These Wonders

For those who haven’t heard of The Moth, it’s a cool bar in Melbourne where everyone just hangs around a giant light. JK JK, that’s sooo Sydney. No, The Moth is actually a NFP storytelling collective based in NYC. They champion the art (and boy, is there an art) of storytelling, and commonality of the human experience. They do a (Peabody-winning) podcast, and put on live storytelling events globally. They also have two books, the original, Fifty True Stories, and their freshy, All These Wonders. From war stories, to cancer, to luck and love, the stories are so incredibly broad that it will do them no justice for me to summarise them here. Not all of them light my log, but most of the stories give me the kind of feels it usually takes an entire Spielberg film to extract. Or in other words: I cried at about every third story, so beat that.

Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss

Say what you will about Tim Ferriss, (I’m equal parts, ‘He’s brilliant!‘ and ‘He’s an annoying alpha-dork!‘) but he’s a deeply prolific and impressive gent. I credit his first book, The Four-Hour Work Week for encouraging me to leave full-time work almost ten years ago, and I credit his podcast (my favourite podcast) for introducing me to some of the most exceptional thinkers, writers and people on the planet (Seth Godin, Esther Perel, Derek Sivers, Brian Grazer etc). This book is a classic dip-in book: just choose a ‘world-class performer’ as Tim calls them, at random, and learn from them. Learn their routines and habits, creative process, how they deal with family and life balance, why they mediate or exercise and how, how to start a company, etc etc. I don’t really like the eat-only-jerky-and-sardines-and-mushroom-coffee-and-do-gymnastics-every-day health section, but I love the wisdom and wealth sections.

(I expect his latest, just-released book, Tribe of Mentors, will be equally great, but I can’t read it yet cos it’s wrapped up for my husband for Christmas and luckily he never reads this blog so there’s no risk of him knowing that unless YOU tell him, in which case: thanks for ruining Christmas.)

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed

I re-read this recently and man. As the at-the-time anonymous columnist, Sugar, on The Rumpus, Cheryl Stayed was phenomenal. I think her writing here is even better than Wild. More raw, more urgent, more energetic. This is an agony aunt book, and agony is the key word. Agony from Sugar, agony from the letter-writers, and agony as you wade through the messy, complicated lives of people in trauma and pain and confusion, and Sugar/Cheryl’s brutal but compassionate advice. (She is the master of me-too, yet it never feels egocentric, and it sure as shit isn’t dull.) Or, more accurately, her semi-memoir-laden responses, filled with empathy, and heart, and honesty and most of which ultimately advise: if you want a good life, despite what unthinkable torrent of shit is hurled at you, you have to create it. If you don’t like advice columns, or self-help, or swearing, or feeling uncomfortable, maybe give this a miss. (And if you’re a writer? Don’t give it a miss.)

Principles, Ray Dalio

This is a strategy book, on values, attitude, life, success, management and how to be effective. (If that’s boring to you, and there’s a high-chance it is if you found my blog via a skin care line or fart book, skip this bit.) Since we’re friends, I’ll admit I skim sections of this book. (Ray is a spectacularly successful hedge fund manager and investor, and also a philanthropist, so there’s a fair whack of shares/stocks blah blah blah stuff.) But Ray’s thoughts on principles, (personal/life principles and also professional principles), has been a bit of a circuit breaker for me. It seems so obvious to have a set of guiding life principles, but do you actually know what yours are? And if you run a business, what are they for your business? I didn’t. I’m getting closer, now, and I’m enjoying the journey. (I like having a framework to live and work within. Funnily enough, it permits me to be more creative.) Principles offers precise, meaningful advice on business, mindset, and life and quite frankly, Ray, I DIG IT.

More Letters of Note

I wrote about this book last time I did a book list, but it’s worth listing here, cos it’s pretty much the ultimate dipper-inner, and whenever I read or re-read this book I want to interrupt the room and READ ALOUD TO EVERYONE WHAT I JUST READ. There is also the original Letters of Note, of course, and Lists of Note, if you’re, like, so over letters. I still can’t think of a better booky gift.

Or actually, I maybe can: the What I’ve Learned books, from American Esquire. (Not British. British Esquire sucks.) Pretty much the perfect gift for anyone, but especially men, but only if you’ve bought them a chainsaw or monster truck already.

Shannon’s Kitchen, Shannon Kelly White

No, a book of recipes probably doesn’t belong in this list, but if we’re being technical, you DO dip in and out of a cook book. Also: Shannon’s writing is so inappropriate and vulgar and funny that I often just pick it up for a chortle at her usage of ‘a bee’s dick of salt’ as a genuine measure, and the rating/time system of ‘How many fucks given’ for each recipe. Plus: GOOD FOOD! Tasty recipes with big ass pictures, which I need cos if I can’t see what I am aiming for, I won’t cook it, that’s just the kind of simple person I am. I give many fucks about this book because Shannon has (organically and unconsciously) disrupted a completely saturated and often tired and overly earnest genre with her combination of disgusting language and delicious recipes. Fucking love it.

Messy, Tim Harford

I’m always down for books that allow me to write off my messiness and procrastination and creative dysfunction as ‘purposeful’ and even admirable, so when my husband bought this and unthinkingly placed it near my breastmilk pump station, I awkwardly, one-handedly jumped in. I like Messy, because it values disorder and chaos, and confirms that when you deviate from routine and organisation, that’s often when magic happens.(I always suspected tidiness was overrated, and now I have some evidence. Soz, Kondo.) (Still love you babe.) Playfulness, gentle chaos, boundary-pushing, intuition and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantsness has been core to my work ethic and, well, success, probably, so I’m a big advocate for Tim’s line of thought. Embrace mess! Within reason! Hoarding is not okay! You know what I mean!

Alright, that’ll do. I’m hungry and you’re bored, so let’s wrap this right up.

For book pervs who need a summer reading list, here’s mine:

  • Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
  • The Heirs, Susan Reiger
  • History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund
  • My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent (I inhaled A Little Life, so hopefully I can handle this…)
  • Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny
  • Do Not Become Alarmed, Maile Meloy
  • Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
  • Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari (been on my bedside table for months, glaring at me)
  • No One Likes A Fart, Zoe Foster Blake (JK, way too high brow.)

And finally, random books I remember reading this year that are good:

  • Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan – the final book in the Crazy Rich Asians series, trashy trashy fun fun fun
  • My Brilliant Friend, Elana Ferrante. I read all four in the Neapolitan series which took up a solid few months. It was strangely engaging, despite not a great deal happening. Huh.
  • The Whole Brain Child, Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson – because I have a threenager
  • You’ll Grow Out Of It, Jessi Klein. (Also, watch Big Mouth on Netflix. So wrong, so funny.)
  • Not Just Lucky, Jamila Rizvi, a wonderful book about professional self-worth by my friend, and the future prime minister of Australia.
  • Force of Nature, Jane Harper, Not as harrowing as her spooky, sad debut, The Dry but still page-turny to the MAX
  • A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. A masterpiece that will completely drain you, and you will hate reading because it’s deeply unsettling and disturbing and sad and fucked up, but it’s also sensationally written and entirely mesmerising. The book I love – and hate – to recommend. NOT a beach read.
  • Eve Babitz! All the Babitz. I just inhaled Sex and Rage, LA Woman and Slow Days, Fast Company in quick succession and fall harder in love with Eve’s writing each book. She tells lush, dreamy, witty, naughty LA girl stories, and her characters and adventures are absurd and delicious.

 

*That doesn’t mean they’re new, just that I’ve read or revisited them recently.
Responses to this drivel: 5 Comments
Responses to this drivel ( 5 )
  • Jessica Dwyer

    Yay! Love a good book list. Just thoughts as a feelow book enthusiast to another that I would suggest a great book called “The end of life book club” it’s by Will Schwalbe and I bloody loved it. It’s a true story about books that shaped a sons relationship with his Mum. AND IT HAS A BOOK LIST IN IT. so you know, I was sold. 

  • Alice

    Such good suggestions – thank you!

    The best book I read this year was Australia Day by Melanie Cheng. I don’t usually enjoy short stories but these were amazing, and perfect for a breastfeed!

  • Elle

    I got my mum Brave enough by Cheryl strayed it was shit.

  • Sally

    LOVE book lists, keep them coming!

    This year I loved Jeffrey Eugenides’ new book of short stories (Fresh Complaint), A Little Life (so many tears, so couldn’t-put-it-downey), The Mothers by Brit Bennet and everything by Maria Semple (possibly from a previous Zotheysay recommendation, I think?).

  • Ral

    Love book lists for the holidays!! I’m pregnant and have been passing many hours, kindle-in-hand in bed the past few months.

    The Life to Come – Michelle de Kretser…love a local book that also travels the world on paper; Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman…sort of like a female The Rosie Project; Whip Bird – Robert Drewe…always love his Australiana, and this one’s got lots of history and family drama in it; Summer House With Swimming Pool – Herman Koch…euro summer holiday drama/thriller; The Vegetarian – Han Kang (think Zoe has recommended this one before)

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