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Dan's Blog

Book Club of One 📚

December 22, 2020

My wife is in a book club. For a long time I thought it was a drinking club. But recently I happened upon her Zoom call with this "club," and I am pretty sure I heard the title of a book mentioned. Of course, I can't be certain due to all of the laughing, air toasting and general frivolity. Let's just say all mics were on.

Over the years I have casually mentioned to some guy friends that we should start a book club. Exactly zero people took me seriously. Even I kind of regretted it the moment it came out of my mouth. A book club sounds like another commitment. Over the years I have also tried and failed at New Year's Resolutions. In a moment of quixotic delusion last December, I decided to combine the two: book club and New Year's Resolution. Exactly zero people were interested in forming a book club so I was on my own. I had a simple goal, err "resolution": Read 12 books in 12 months. Twelve for twelve, if you will. I also challenged myself to mix in some fiction because traditionally, I have been all about the historical and biographical. 

Twitter is Destroying My Brain

Another reason I wanted to do this is because I am pretty certain Twitter has destroyed my attention span. This is funny: Right now out my window, I can see two squirrels taunting a dog. Anyway, last January I began this endeavor. How did I do? Not bad. I actually enjoyed the project. My favorite book? One of fiction (I reveal at end). Below is a listing, with short publisher description, and short feedback — dare I say Tweet length? —  by me. 

Books I Listened To

  1. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott. Why did humans abandon hunting and gathering for sedentary communities dependent on livestock and cereal grains, and governed by precursors of today’s states?

    Me: Move to cities fostered subjugation, taxes, disease and some innovation. Trend among some to camp more, live with less, and live remotely seems like a logical reaction to what civilization has wrought. 
  2. In the Land of Men: A Memoir by Adrienne Miller. A fiercely personal memoir about coming of age in the male-dominated literary world of the nineties, becoming the first female literary editor of Esquire, and Miller's personal and working relationship with David Foster Wallace.

    Me: Just as I suspected: Mad Men was a documentary. Many in my gender are terrible.
  3. The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry. Magisterial in its breadth of perspective and depth of research, The Great Influenza provides us with a precise and sobering model as we confront the epidemics looming on our own horizon. As Barry concludes, "The final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that...those in authority must retain the public's trust…”

    Me: Yikes. History does repeat. Truth matters. Also: Who knew the Spanish Flu actually started in Kansas? Who knew how backward American medicine was until relatively recently? 
  4. Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way by Tanja Hester. In today's work culture, we're expected to hustle around the clock. But what if you could escape the traditional path and get on one that doesn't require working full-time until age 65? What if you could wake up every day without an alarm clock and do the things you love most?

    Me: Smart, practical look at how to retire early, but also dependent on some built-in advantages.
  5. American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon by Steven Rinella. American Buffalo is a narrative tale of Rinella’s (buffalo) hunt. But beyond that, it is the story of the many ways in which the buffalo has shaped our national identity. Rinella takes us across the continent in search of the buffalo’s past, present, and future.

    Me: Eye-opening and heart-wrenching account of our often brutal history with this magnifcent animal. Also: best narrator (the author) of any audio book I have experienced. 
  6. The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness by Morgan Housel. Money―investing, personal finance, and business decisions―is typically taught as a math-based field, where data and formulas tell us exactly what to do. But in the real world people don’t make financial decisions on a spreadsheet. They make them at the dinner table, or in a meeting room, where personal history, your own unique view of the world, ego, pride, marketing, and odd incentives are scrambled together.

    Me: Flat out the best book I have read about investing. It is simultaneously simple and deep. Holiday spoiler alert: Many in my family are getting this book.

Books I Read

  1. Paris in Love by Eloisa James. When bestselling romance author Eloisa James took a sabbatical from her day job as a Shakespeare professor, she also took a leap that many people dream about: She sold her house and moved her family to Paris.

    Me: To quote Liz Lemon in a 30 Rock episode upon encountering a hunky new neighbor played by John Hamm: I want to go to there. 
  2. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Book 1) by Alexander McCall Smith. This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith's widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to "help people with problems in their lives."

    Me: Delightful. Also: fiction!
  3. The Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper. A young Congressman stumbles on the powerful political underworld of 1950's D.C. in this "potent thriller" by CNN correspondent Jake Tapper.

    Me: Enjoyable look at seedy side of fictionalized Eisenhower-era Washington. 
  4. City of Girls: A Novel by Elizabeth Gilbert. Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

    Me: Woah. The 1930s and 1940s, at least in New York City, were not so prudish.  
  5. Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. Unflinchingly honest and remarkably candid, Matthew McConaughey’s book invites us to grapple with the lessons of his life as he did—and to see that the point was never to win, but to understand.

    Me: MM is neither dazed nor confused. Super enjoyable read.  
  6. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger. A memoir of leadership and success: The executive chairman of Disney, Time’s 2019 businessperson of the year, shares the ideas and values he embraced during his fifteen years as CEO while reinventing one of the world’s most beloved companies and inspiring the people who bring the magic to life.

    Me: Surprisingly honest account of life in leadership.

A Few Notes

I didn't consciously set out to listen to and read an equal amount of books (6). It just worked out that way. As usual, I tacked heavily towards non-fiction. I need to improve there. A key takeaway: I was reminded of how much I love the affect a good book has on me. In a way, I feel more alive or at least more consicous. Twitter often has the opposite effect.

In Conclusion

You know what would be cool? If your friends read the same book as you did at the same time. Maybe you would even get together (remotely now and together in the future) to discuss. I could see even mixing in a drink or two. 

Stay wise and well. 

My Favorite?

Book #4 under "Books I Have Read." It was laugh out loud funny. I was seriously sad when I finished it. I can't wait for the movie.