I have decided to make monthly reading round-ups a regular fixture. It is a useful way for me to keep track of what I read and pass on recommendations.
I have been asked by quite a few people how I afford to buy this many books so I will address that here. Firstly, books are my priority. I do not see them as a luxury or as entertainment - as a writer, I need to read like an athlete needs to eat properly. It is nutrition for my mind and I would get nowhere without it. Secondly, I always buy second-hand books from Amazon or even thrift stores, so they never cost more than £10 (usually under £5.) I also always ask for books are birthdays/Christmas etc. Thirdly, I often read books which are in the public domain in PDF form for free. See below for more detail about that.
1. Memories of a Geisha - Arthur Golden. Pure magic. This is one of the most evocative, simply magical books I have ever read. It covers the life of a young Japanese girl who is sold by her father to become a geisha. The world in which she lives in predicated upon antiquated concepts of power and gender roles. Everything is dramatic, intense and steeped in tradition. Although it is a work of fiction (something I did not realize until I had finished it) every sentence is full of meticulously researched detail. I read most of it in one night, unable to put it down.
2. All Marketers Are Liars - Seth Godin. Totally brilliant. It changed many of my ideas about marketing. Even if that is not an area you are interested in, this is completely worth reading. In essence, it is an explanation of how marketing is based on storytelling, not facts. A favourite line of mine is this: we drink the can, not the beverage. Another is this: if consumers have everything they need, there’s nothing left to buy except stuff that they want. And the reason they buy stuff they want is because of the way it makes them feel.
3. The 48 Laws of Power - Robert Greene. Where do I even begin? This monster of a book is incredible. It has opened up whole new strata of understanding of the world for me. Every page provoked epiphanies. I have never felt more equipped to take on the world. The bibliography is also a goldmine of book recommendations, many of which I plan on reading. Power is an extremely topical concept and there is no better way to understand it than by reading this. It is 100% worth the investment of time and money. Greene's books are usually controversial, though I find that the people who criticise them miss the point. The 48 Laws of Power is more of an expose than a handbook, something which puts people on a more even playing field.
4. The Obstacle is the Way - Ryan Holiday. This is what I think of as a 'slow burn' book; one which takes a while to absorb. It has been on my mind a lot, mostly due to the historical anecdotes and quotes. Whilst it does lack any sort of technical directives, I appreciate books which allow the reader to use the advice in creative ways, rather than providing bullet points and meaningless 'life hacks.' All the advice is versatile and I have had some interesting insights as a result of reading it.
5. Permission Marketing - Seth Godin. Deals with the modern wave of marketing which is focused on permission, rather than on interruption. I am a nerd and love this stuff. Fellow bloggers and anyone who sells stuff online should read this. It is complimented nicely by the talk Alexis Ohanian (founder of Reddit and a fascinating person) gave at 99u. Seriously, listen to it. He is one of my all time favorite speakers.
6. Shortness of life - Seneca. Reread. I talk about this book nonstop, so I will not write about it here. Some day I will tire of rereading it, but that day has yet to come.
7. How to Live On 24 Hours a Day - Arnold Bennett. Absolute brilliance. This was published in 1910 and is concerned with teaching white collar workers how to actually live their lives, rather than just existing. It will come as no surprise that it is still very relevant. If you hate your job or feel as if you have no spare time, read this. Some books give you back 100x the time it takes to read them and this is one of those. Being over a century old, it is in the public domain and available for free in PDF or audio form online. Side note: please only look for free versions of books which are no longer under copyright. There are thousands of them available and it means you will not be denying the author their royalties. For more on this topic, I recommend listening to the Copyright & Fair Use episode of Let's Know Things. It taught me a lot about the topic which I recommend familiarising yourself with before you enter the world of free books.
8. Tools of Titans - Tim Ferris. I preordered this the moment it was announced (something I have never done before) and it has taken me 3 months to read (also a record.) It is such a valuable book, worth a lot more than what it costs- basically like being mentored by hundreds of the smartest people alive. Many of the interviews are with people I am obsessed with and the whole thing is my ultimate dream. Whilst there a few unnecessary bits which I would have cut out (mostly the personal anecdotes about their friendships and the self-centred passages), the whole thing is somewhat concise despite the length.
9. On The Road - Jack Kerouac. Reread. I read this often to remind myself how to live. It is especially poignant as I begin my own time on the road. It makes me nostalgic for an era I never lived through. I spent years being in love with Dean Moriarty, before I realized that he is kind of a terrible human.
10. The Invisible Man - HG Wells. I don't read a lot of fiction and tend to forget how fun it can be. I have had a few people ask which books I would recommend for non-native speakers who would like to improve their English, and this is a good one to start with. Simple, well-used language. I love the passages of in-depth description which bring to mind Alfred Hitchcock's maxim: show, don't tell.
11. Mastery - Robert Greene. This might be one of the most important books ever written. It has reshaped my worldview in new and crazy ways. Greene details the process through which people achieve mastery over a particular field, including beautifully described passages about figures such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Temple Grandin. Seriously, this is now one of my all time favourites and it is beyond mind-altering.
12. Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt. I actually surprised myself with how much I enjoyed this. It is a rare character who can write a 500-page autobiography which is engaging, interesting and not slow. The chapters about his time as a cowboy are fascinating in particular. Some parts are timeless, others are a relic from a bygone era. Even if, like me, you can think of nothing duller than reading about the life of a politician, give it a go.
13. The Art of Money Getting - PT Barnum. I have been fascinated by PT Barnum for a while and this book cemented that. For the uninitiated, he was one of the original marketers and used ingenious tactics to promote his freak shows and circus. This book deals with his attitude to money and his views on life in the philosophical rather than practical sense. It is surprisingly modern and rich in witty insights. It really exemplifies how ahead of his time Barnum was.
14. Growth Hacker Marketing - Ryan Holiday. I kind of love reading about marketing. Something about how it blends a variety of disciplines is unusual. This book is a short introduction to growth hacker marketing and his given me so many new ideas. It focuses more on the mindset required than on specific techniques. This is a wise choice because marketing in itself is too fast evolving for technical guides to stay relevant for long.
15. Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes - Daniel Everett. Oh man, I love this book. I read it in pretty much one sitting, staying up all night. It is so damn good. Everett is a linguist who spent 30 years living with the Piraha people in the Amazon. This book is part memoir, part linguistics, part anthropology. It's funny, endearing, eye-opening and always respectful of the people described. If you want to alter the way you view humanity for good, read this.
16. The Tiger - John Valiant. This was SUCH a good month of reading. It is difficult to even explain this book. A man-eating tiger terrorises a village in Siberia- a true story. Yet it covers so much more; the relationship between humans and predators, the tenuous boundaries between us and them, the strange almost post-apocalyptic part of Russia and much more. Russia, in general, tends to be a huge blind spot for most British people. This is a country where people consider a three-hour drive to be an epic voyage, so the size and scope of Russia give it a mythical quality. If I hadn't become a writer, I would have studied biology and books like this indulge that interest.
As always, feel free to comment with what you think I should read in March. I have written about how I find time to read this much here and how I remember it all here. If you would like access to hundreds of pages of my private notebooks where I make notes from what I read, this is possible via Patreon.