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May came and went in a flurry of reading over here, how about you? This post over on Instagram even garnered some hate! "There's no way you fully understood what's written in those books."

Just a reminder, everyone:

  1. Read at your own pace.

  2. Read the books you like.

  3. Stop wasting your energy judging what others are doing!

Reading is an opportunity to learn and grow, and just because I can read X number of books one month doesn't mean you have to or should feel bad about reading Y number of books. I'm sure some people will read this post which will have read more than this, and that's awesome. Keep doing you!

With that out of the way, let's do a quick recap of May and see where we end up. Complete reviews will come under the new format. I'm trying to capture whole blog posts for each book and create more links amongst posts, a Zettelkasten approach to blog posts if you will.

New York Times Bestseller and considered one of President Barack Obama's "Favorite Books of 2019", Jenny Odell brings her own philosophical take on breaking free from addictive technology. Not just breaking free, though, also refocusing on the importance of nature and how we can adequately understand happiness. If you feel like the world is rushing past and everything is about hustle, it may be time for you to pick up a book like this to garner a different perspective.

Sebastian Junger, the author of the influential book Tribe, returns with a personal look at freedom and what it really means. He and three friends spent part of a year travelling railroad lines across the East Coast, and Junger reflects on the journey and life around him through stories of Apache raiders, fighting strategies, and how brutal life was on the frontier. If anything, I think this book could have been longer! Reminds me of the book On Trails by Robert Moor in some respects.

I loved reading this quote from Adam Grant on this one: "Full of revealing, instantly applicable ideas for leveraging your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses." That sums this book up in a nutshell. Do you want to learn how to listen better? This is a one-stop book to find practical ways to improve listening skills and the reasons why it is so important, especially in today's day and age.

If you haven't already read The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander, stop here and go read that book! It is exceptional and one of my favourite books (featured earlier in this post on getting out of ruts!) This book follows that path and focuses specifically on the pathways that we have laid down in our own minds. To find fulfillment, we often need to spend time understanding who we really are. What ruts have we created in our mind that started as some event as a child? Rosamund uncovers these pathways while also providing solutions on how to get out of them.

Winner of the 1985 National Book Award, White Noise takes an uncomfortable and humorous look at the state of the world back in the '80s and the rise of consumerism. Much of it applies even today, as Jack Gladney and family try to navigate their own life. At the same time, the world turns chaotic as a mysterious chemical cloud is released over the town, and the family must deal with it. Suspense fills the pages while we laugh at the absurdity of how Jack deals with the situations that he encounters.

I don't even know how to describe this one. Wrapped in the guise of a self-help book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia brings humour, suspense, and emotion as the book unfolds into creative storytelling at its best. This is really a book that people need to read to understand. It brings a critical eye to the world around him while also bringing the sense of hope that you begin to latch on to as the story progresses. A fun and moving read.

Yes, a television show is coming for this one, so now is the perfect time to jump into Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time world! This is book one in the series and introduces us to a cast of characters as we set off on an adventure the likes of Lord of the Rings. This is my first time through the series, but it will be good if Book 1 is any indication. The pacing and detail create the right mixture of immersion, with enough mystery and suspense enticing you to continue reading more. Can't wait to jump into Book 2!

Famed writer Natalie Goldberg brings a powerful memoir of her own life to the page (if you haven't read Writing Down the Bones and are a writer, this is highly recommended!). This book tells the story of Natalie's life dealing with abuse and the unravelling of her Buddhist community upon the news of abuse by her teacher. Her deep attachment to her teacher, Katagiri Roshi, is ruptured by his sexual indiscretions. This book tries to find peace amongst the chaos the way only Natalie can.

These little books by Austin Kleon are a must for anyone who is following a creative path. Filled with simple ideas on making the most of our current social media world, Austin focuses you on what the title claims; Show Your Work! There are endless possibilities when we step back and realize all that we are creating today. I'd argue this book is something you can turn to every day if you are looking for a touch of inspiration.

Brian Grazer is the producer behind some of the most popular movies and television shows, including A Beautiful Mind, 8 Mile, Arrested Development, and Apollo 13. His book A Curious Mind focuses on the critical skill that got him where he is today, curiosity. As someone who also finds themselves curious, this felt like a no-brainer. This book brings an interesting perspective from someone who lives in a world of creativity.

A surprise hit for me this month was Julia Galef's The Scout Mindset. Any book that can help someone shift their mindset from a fixed defensive position to one that is open and looking for opportunity is a winner in my mind. Julia does a great job working through how anyone can start to shift their own mentality to recognize the most accurate picture possible of a world that basks in confusion. One of my highly recommends this month.

Love Yourself. Two simple words pour off the page as Kamal tells his story of losing his love for himself and working diligently to find it again. He attributes much of his success to showing himself the love that he needs to go out in the world and show love. Through a daily practice of self-love, Kamal guides the reader through a process that softens the language we use on ourselves while helping dig ourselves out of the personality ruts we created.

May's spiritual book choice was Thich Nhat Hanh's book Living Buddha, Living Christ. Nhat Hanh is a favourite of mine, and this book provides a mindful way for anyone to look at the practices of Christianity and Buddhism as sharing the same road. It's an exploratory book in that Thich considers himself a Christian in spirit because of Christ's fundamental beliefs. He also doesn't hold back from criticizing the religion and its current standards that diverge away from the teachings.

The essentials, water, food, and housing, many of us take for granted. For a large proportion of the population, these items are not guaranteed. This book dives into a variety of topics that are often misunderstood when it comes to poverty. Many mind-blowing statistics in this one that I think are important for anyone to read and understand. This book is essential for people who believe poverty is caused by laziness which seems to be an epidemic on social media.

This book is a great daily reader for anyone who wants a different perspective on entrepreneurship. Derek Sivers built CD Baby and got out all without clear intentions in mind and a singular focus on the importance of the customer. Sivers breaks down his focus into essential points that everyone should follow when thinking about starting a business.

E.O. Wilson provides the introduction to this one and also provides one of the most poignant quotes to support this book: "As clear a picture of humanity's impact on earth's natural environment as any ever written." This book focuses on the importance of protecting 50% of the Earth's lands which is a target that is often overlooked. Not only is it essential to limit CO2, but the interconnectedness of the world and land is essential to maintaining our ecosystems and all of the organisms that are living within. Tony Hiss lays out some fantastic research while travelling across the world, making the case that Gaia really is something we need to be thinking about.

Pam Grout brings the world of metaphysics to the practical, guiding the reader through nine easy steps to recognize the world's interconnectedness. If you believe that the Universe is interconnected and if you ask for something, you will eventually get it, this is a book for you. Fans of The Secret and Joe Dispenza will find this book practical and easy to follow.

Steven Pressfield brings his practical, no-nonsense take on creativity and layers it into the epic Hero's Journey storyline. Pressfield recognizes that even Artists must go through their own journey before overcoming resistance and doing the work they were meant to do. This book has simple guidance in short and easy-to-read sections and is an excellent pick-me-up for anyone who may be struggling with a creative project or finding themselves in a rut.

In 1974, the world was in awe as Philippe Petit wire walked between the two World Trade Centers. This interconnected story tells of many people impacted that day by the wire walker and how their lives relate. A powerful and all-reaching book, Colum touches on pain, loneliness, and love all while weaving these stories together for the reader. Winner of the National Book Award, the book stands up to its acclaim, in my opinion.

Easily my favourite book in this stack, Tim O'Brien has written a masterpiece in this one. Crafting stories around war, life now, and the power of stories to heal. One of the amazing things about this book is Tim's ability to step outside of the story and tell the reader how he will craft the story, then step in and do it. It's not only a masterclass book of the stories told but also on how to write stories. A candidate for my Top 10 for 2021!


If you like the book lists be sure to check out a few other of my posts (although I haven't been as consistent as I'd like!). December had some big highlights so you can check out the post here. If you are really interested in good books though I'd also suggest checking out my Top 10 of 2020 list here.

  • Writer's pictureSean

"Human beings are designed to assess their social environment, and, having figured out what impresses people, do it, or having found out what people disfavor, avoid it."

Where do you stand on the idea that morality itself is an evolutionary trait? How about the jealousy that you or I may feel being simply our genetics and how we can make out better in this infinite game we call life. My understanding of evolutionary psychology is limited to this book (Robert Wright's The Moral Animal) and perhaps a few more touchpoints, so apologies to any experts that are gripping their phones in anger right now.

When I think about morality or humans as moral creatures, it doesn't seem like that big of a stretch to believe that we may ultimately benefit by being charitable to others. That we've evolved to be kinder to one another to help our own gene pool. If you consider that most of us, whether we accept it or not, seek to impress others, kindness can be looked positively upon; it can be based on how we are perceived.

Let's consider the impact of social media (not even a thought when Robert Wright penned this book in 1995) today; an easy tool we can use to alter how we are perceived. As Chris Bail notes in Breaking the Social Media Prism: "The deep source of addiction to social media, I've concluded, is that it makes it so much easier for us to do what is all too human: perform different identities, observe how other people react, and update our presentation of self to make us feel like we belong."

In other words, social media is likely popular because it plays right into our evolutionary nature to be perceived by others positively while ultimately helping facilitate the success of our genetic future. What better way to make oneself look better than through social media?

Another idea I've been mulling has been that religion is baked into evolution. Perhaps something about religion's altruistic/moral nature has also been instilled in us to keep us alive longer in large groups and fighting less (yea, I know religions don't lead to violence, right?).

This book will take some time to get through as there is a lot of detail, which builds slowly. Darwin features heavily throughout as the book jumps back and forth between Darwin's history and his ideas. The book also spends a fair bit of time discussing the nature of our sexual activities as a species. Is human nature designed to be monogamous? It would seem men are created to be eager to reproduce with as many women as possible while women are less enthusiastic and more demanding. There is a can of worms on this one that I'd do no justice explaining when the book is right here.

It does raise interesting questions about beliefs that humanity has created over the ages, though. Why were Puritanistic views so heavily followed through the 16th and 17th Centuries, and even today, we see remnants of these heavy-handed cultural decisions on the individual? I think the challenge will be to bridge the ideas of cultural evolution with the actual biological evolution we seem to be mapping.

Another interesting question is the idea that our own genes have, for some reason, built us to not understand our own subconscious. We know it exists; we have glimpses of it, perhaps when we dream or else when we spend time in deep reflection or are hypnotized. Why is it so hard to actually access the underlying motivations that seem to drive us without knowing it? This is a rabbit hole for many areas. Consider a subconscious driving someone to commit a crime; what if we can prove that the person really wasn't in control?

Many good questions come from a book like this, and I'm confident that newer books add to this one; Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate comes to mind as another one to pick up.


For more details on Chris Bail's book, Breaking The Social Prism, check out my post here. If you like to dive into books that raise more questions I'd suggest this post on Sam Harris' Making Sense.

"But to look back from the stony plain along the road which led one to that place is not at all the same thing as walking on the road; the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey; only when the road has, all abruptly and treacherously, and with an absoluteness that permits no argument, turned or dropped or risen is one able to see all that one could not have seen from any other place."

Powerful words in amongst a powerful story as we dive into James Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain. This is the second Baldwin Novel I've read, following Giovanni's Room, and I must say, I found this one to be much more captivating. It also came on the heels of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, another religiously fueled book, so I felt primed for this one.

Have you had a chance to read anything by James Baldwin?

This book tells the story of John Grimes, a teenager living in Harlem during the 30s, son to an oppressive father tied fanatically to his Pentecostal religion. Baldwin's powerful voice brings a pace and emotional grit to this one as we jump back into the lives of everyone around John. We begin to see the people in his lives, not just how they are today but what brought them to this point. I'm always a fan of a book that forces you to question your own feelings about a character partway through the book. Do I see this person in a different light now, or does my opinion still hold?

Great book, and I think I'd recommend this one over Giovanni's Room as this one felt more visceral; there was more of an emotional charge to this one. The next Baldwin book on my stack is If Beale Street Could Talk, so looking forward to that one when it comes up!


If you are looking for another classic I'd recommend my post on Ken Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. With James Baldwin being an influential writer and critic during the Civil Rights Movement, you may want to consider my post on the Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. as an add-on.

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