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May 2020 Recap; What Did You Read Last Month?


Welcome back to May's recap! I've been throwing the year in there in case I'm ambitious enough to keep this going for another year ...


Working from home definitely has its advantages. More time to sit quietly and read for one, and it shows in the number of books I managed to read this month. The book stack is starting to look a little more manageable provided I don't go on a buying streak.


I don't generally rank books too seriously as I progress through the year but I thought it would be helpful to sort my discussion based on what I think had the most impact. It's a varied mix across many genres so it's not a perfect system.


Ernest Becker - The Denial of Death

"People create the reality they need in order to discover themselves."

The Denial of Death is a fascinating book and one of those big idea books that everyone should have a chance to read. The grand problem of the purpose of our lives unfolds throughout the pages in a psychoanalytic look at the human struggle with life and death. There are moments in this book that can truly open the mind to new levels of thought. Fair warning, some sections left me scratching my head. The existential angst that many of us carry throughout our lives can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Becker tries to highlight this while also providing a more understanding narrative from the likes of Freud, Jung, Kierkegaard, Adler, and Rank. It can feel like an overwhelming read at times but with patience I found this to be an incredible read.


MJ DeMarco - The Millionaire Fastlane

"Your income eventually can't depend on your time any more."

MJ DeMarco's The Millionaire's Fastlane was May's finance book of the month. What a mindset shifter! Put your foot to the pedal and dive into this one but be warned, you may not like what you hear. DeMarco's mentality is that if all you are doing is working at a job and investing in your retirement you are probably living in the slow lane when you could be working hard to build something for the fast lane. This book will definitely leave you questioning your own mindset around money and where you see yourself in 10+ years.


Maryanne Wolf - Reader, Come Home

"The atrophy and gradual disuse of our analytical and reflective capacities as individuals are the worst enemies of a truly democratic society, for whatever reason, in whatever medium, in whatever age."

This book asks some important questions and ... spoiler alert, we don't know the answer yet. The book dives through the science of the reading brain before showing just how important it is to read to our children before allowing them to follow their own reading journeys. The sections on childhood development are worth the read for any parents out there; it really sets home the importance of reading to children and learning development.


Beyond the reading brain, however, the question then becomes what now in this digital world? Much like other books on the subject, we are only now learning how the digital world is impacting our brain. Our decaying levels of focus seems to be offset by a stronger ability to shift focus faster. The fear, of course, is that a loss of focus and lack of interest in reading will eventually dovetail into broader problems later on.


As the quote above notes, a lack of critical analysis among a population leads to an erosion of a society's ability to question and reason with what is happening around us. Does the child today who avoids books for technology become less able to think critically later on? We just don't know. This could be the case of society advancing, much like we did when writing came to be and the oral argument disappeared. Great book with some great questions asked.


Joseph Campbell - Myths to Live By

“...in this wonderful human brain of ours, there has dawned a realization unknown to the other primates. It is that of the individual, conscious of himself as such, and aware that he, and all that he cares for, will one day die.”

This book charts the course of twenty-five talks made by Joseph Campbell at the Great Hall of The Cooper Union Forum in New York City. Edited into shorter essays, this book packs a lot of thought into a small number of pages. It is definitely worth a read although I'd suggest starting with one of his other books, Power of Myth or The Hero of a Thousand Faces, to get a sense of Joseph Campbell if you haven't already. Talks include deep dives into the ideas of Zen, the contrast between Eastern and Western religion, and even Schizophrenia which was fascinating to read.


N.K. Jemisin - The Obelisk Gate

Book two of The Broken Earth Trilogy, The Obelisk Gate follows the tale of Essun and her daughter Nassun as they learn more about themselves and the fractured world around them. The world-building and back story really strengthened this one for me and I found myself enjoying the series even more. It's nice to jump into a new fantasy series and find unique and interesting world ideas all while bringing social issues to the forefront. Great series and I'm looking forward to diving into the third book.


Thich Nhat Hanh - At Home in the World

“Time has much more value than money. Time is life. Money is nothing compared with life. In two hours of drinking tea together, we don’t get money, but we do get life.”

Thich Nhat Hanh recounts his life through a series of small stories filled with his Buddhist wisdom. Each story provides a sense of calmness and wonder even though he's faced many challenges in his life. Exiled from Vietnam during the Vietnam War, then kicked out of the U.S. for stirring resentment over his peaceful position. He would move to France and start Plum Village which is now a world-renowned Buddhist retreat. His other books are excellent and I'd recommend any of them to someone interested in Buddhist ideas or meditation.


Steven Pressfield - The Lion's Gate

“A nation is born in blood and purchases with blood its right to stand in the ranks with other nations.”

The story of the Six-Day War as told through the eyes of the Israeli's who fought in it as only Steven Pressfield can! What a storyteller! This book really makes you feel as though you are living through the war as it jumps between so many different individuals all while time is progressing. You recognize the history of the War and perspective on why it was so important to prepare, plan, and strike first. Granted it doesn't address the other side so be warned. This isn't a history book providing any type of balance or historical context from both sides. It is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel and I enjoyed it!


David Graeber - Bullshit Jobs

“Shit jobs tend to be blue collar and pay by the hour, whereas bullshit jobs tend to be white collar and salaried.”

As Graeber defines it, a bullshit job is a form of employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence. The book is chock full of examples from consultants that act as middlemen between layers of management, to various roles in government that seem to serve no other purpose than to keep the machine running.


Truthfully, I appreciated the overall idea of this book but found it could have been wrapped up in a much shorter book. Graeber dives into the history of the workplace and focuses on the rise of Puritanism as the fundamental reason behind the growth of work; it's a part of our lives and god looks fondly on those conducting work with the right attitude.


Ideas around the need for some of these jobs do raise good questions. We seem unable to eliminate these inefficiencies within our society and in some cases, they proliferate. Roles are created to address flaws in the system become entrenched and the problem never seems to get solved. We find ourselves working in these positions and unwilling to leave; perhaps because we too are caught up in the rat race and fear is preventing us from following something more aligned to what we want to do.


The idea of Universal Basic Income as the savior fell a bit flat to me. Not well thought out in terms of how does UBI truly factor in all of the variables of eliminating 40-50% of the workforce? Interesting book for sure and worth a read if you are sitting at your job wondering what you are doing with your life.


Last Night a Superhero Saved My Life - Edited by Liesa Mignogna

Liesa Mignogna has edited together a variety of essays by writers who have themselves been inspired by superheroes at some point in their life in this book Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life. Familiar names like Neil Gaiman, Leigh Bardugo, and Delilah S. Dawson all make appearances while writing about parts of their lives where inspiration was needed. Themes such as love, writing, gender, and childhood all make appearances through the eyes of writers and their connection to certain superheroes. Batman and Wonder Woman were the most popular but others such as The Hulk, Weapon X, and even Underdog make an appearance.


A fun read and makes you think about what superhero you'd pick if you had to choose. Do you have any superheroes you would point to as giving you inspiration?


Alexandra Wolfe - Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods tells the story of silicon valley through the eyes of the students who decided to forego university and College in lieu of a cash price offered by Peter Thiel to go start companies instead. It's a fascinating social experiment, to be honest. At the time it received a ton of press as people debated whether the value of University really still existed as college debt mounts at a seemingly exponential rate. I often wonder what I'd suggest for my own kids. Do they take a chance and jump into a business or go to school?


This book felt like it was written as a 1.5 hour Netflix documentary. Not really that great of a book but overall interesting to learn about. This was a bedside reader for the week and it fit the need perfectly.


So there you have it! All of the books I read in May and some quick summaries in hopes you may find one amongst the stack that you want to read. Hope you enjoyed. Leave me a comment if you have read any of these or have suggestions for future posts!

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