To save me answering questions about the tools I use for various things, I have compiled this curated list. Here are some things which I recommend and which you might like. All bring something beneficial to my everyday life.
- Mail Chimp - my service for sending newsletters. Cheap, easy to use and never lets me down, plus there are some cool features. By using this link, you will get $30 credit to start with.
- Grammarly - a chrome extension which spell checks everything you type.
- Evernote - I use this for cataloging drafts, references, quotes and other bits of writing.
- Cold Turkey - The $25 I spent on this pays for itself pretty much every day in the amount of extra work I get done. I rank it as one of the best purchases I have ever made. Cold Turkey lets you block distracting sites (or the entire internet) on a particular schedule. Mine is set to block everything for 22 hours a day, aside from 9-11pm. The list of banned sites currently includes about 70 and I update it every few days. Anytime I find myself mindlessly scrolling a site, I block it. Cold Turkey is amazing because it's impossible to circumnavigate, unlike most similar apps. It also has a feature called Cold Turkey Writer where you are stuck with a blank document until you have either typed a certain number of words, or a time span has passed.
- Workflowy - My task management/planning software of choice. It's simple, minimalist and does everything I need it to do. I have tried dozens of apps and this is my favourite.
- Moleskine year planner - my current planner for 2017.
- Moleskine cahiers - I use these for monthly plans and taking notes.
- Lamy fountain pen - the nicest pen I have ever used which makes my handwriting much neater.
- The camera I use for all my photography. This is a BRILLIANT, inexpensive camera. It is lightweight, has a touch screen, powerful zoom and some very useful modes. The film footage it takes is also excellant and the integrated mic is surprisingly good.
- Photography lamp for indoor pictures (so, so useful in the winter when the light is terrible.) This model is cheap for how strong it is and not at all bulky.
- Tripod for self timer pictures. Essential for taking shots independently or if you have unsteady hands.
- Pixlr (my editing software of choice.) It is pretty much the same as Photoshop and is free. I strongly recommend taking a couple on one-to-one lessons in photo editing if you want to get good at it. Just two hours of training with a professional editor taught me all I needed to know for the work I do.
- On the Shortness of Life- Seneca. There's a reason this book remains popular close to 2000 years after being written. It is still relevant and more accessible than many Stoic texts. Seneca is a timeless genius with a remarkable awareness of what matters in life. Realising how little people have changed since the Roman era is somewhat reassuring. People have always procrastinated, worried about the future and been unsure of their own purpose. Reading Seneca always make me feel less alone on bad days.
Tiny Beautiful Things - Cheryl Strayed. I cried a lot at this book. I cried so much that I had to ration it out bit by bit because I have a rule about only crying once a week, maximum. For the uninitiated, Tiny Beautiful Things is a collect of agony aunt columns written by Cheryl Strayed. She answers letters from people grappling with love, loss and finding meaning - more often than not by reflecting on her own life. I read the letter where she describes rescuing two kittens on the night I brought Patti home and cried a bit more:
“It was an odd thing that happened to me during a sad and uncertain time in my life...Not how the kittens suffered during those weeks they were wandering inside the dark building with no way out—though surely there’s something there too—but how they saved themselves. How frightened those kittens were, and yet how they persisted. How when two strangers offered up their palms, they stepped in.”
Siddartha - Herman Hesse. - Herman Hesse. A beautiful, simply written book set in ancient India at the time of the Buddha, wherein Siddhartha (the son of a Brahmin) sets off from home looking for enlightenment. He travels the countryside, meets different religious groups whose teachings he ends up rejecting, falls in love, has a son who abandons him, becomes rich then gives everything away, becomes a ferryman and eventually sort of understands the meaning of life. The society in which it is set is an alien one, yet I think the appeal of this book lies in the universal resonance of Siddhartha’s search for meaning and the many mistakes he makes along the way. His ultimate revelations have a sense of elegant wisdom:
“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment, and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”
- On Writing - Stephen King. I found an abandoned copy of this in the street a few months ago and am super grateful to whoever left it there. This book is a masterclass in writing well by the best-selling author ever. His advice is simple, useful and not at all pretentious. Here's one of my favourite extracts; 'Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. It's about enriching the lives of who will read your work, and enriching your own life. It's about getting up, getting well and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.'
- Poke The Box, We Are All Weird and Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin. I've been on a bit of a Godin rampage of late, working my way through all his books. Choosing one favorite from them would be impossible. One of my rules in life is 'once you decide someone gives good advice, follow all of it.' Seth is one of those people and it's extraordinary how much I've learnt from his work. A digital version of SSD is available for free on his website.
- 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.
- Why We Make Things and Why It Matters - Peter Korn. I am reaching the point where it is hard to find adjectives to describe all the books I read. I loved this book because it's the sort I plan to write - an exploration of what creativity means and how people use it to find themselves. It also compliments Into The Wild (below) nicely as an account of someone choosing a divergent path. As a young, Ivy educated man, Korn decides to become a woodworker/carpenter/designer of fine furniture. I have always had a fascination with woodwork, probably because my grandfather was a carpenter and I grew up around his work. This book is about the why, rather than the how.
-Anything You Want - Derek Sivers. Concise, thought provoking and full of paradigm altering ideas. Sivers condenses years of experience running his business down to a few simple lessons. It is very different to the average business book, discussing emotions and relationships rather than numbers and tactics. A good strategy book is one with applications far beyond its specific topic (e.g. The Art of War) and this is not just relevant for business owners. I liked Sivers' honesty about his mistakes too.
- Deep Work and So Good They can't Ignore You - Cal Newport. These two books transformed the way I work. Many of my keys habits/changes - quitting social media, creating an autopilot schedule, single tasking etc - came from Newport's work. Read them both together for maximum benefit.
- The Productivity Project - Chris Bailey. I love it when a blogger I follow gets a book deal, and I pre-ordered this as soon as it was announced. This should be compulsory reading for all students. Bailey spent a year testing out productivity techniques to establish what works. The result is a book which focuses on the management of energy and attention, not time.
- Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell. This is an interesting book, full of fascinating research. I always love the fusion of science, sociology, psychology and other fields in Gladwell's books. I also recommend Tipping Point. He can turn even the most dull sounding topics (Korean etiquette, the spread of HIV, Hush Puppies) into an absorbing narrative. I favor them for long flights or train journeys.
- Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes - Daniel Everettt. 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.
- 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.
-Into the Wild - Jon Krauker. Another extraordinary read. This book covers the life of Christopher McCandless, a young guy from a prosperous family who donated all his money, dumped his car and possessions and headed off into the wilderness to live by himself (it's a true story.) Krauker traces McCandless' journey through the people he met and the impact he made on them. His journey ends in disaster (which is not a spoiler, it is mentioned from the start.) Krauker discusses his own experiences of taking risks at the same age and why solo travel is so compelling for most young people. It is eye opening in a way, a reminder that being young does not make you invincible. There is also an element, which proved harmonious with my Jack London readings this month, of the struggle between humans and nature. It is obvious that Krauker feels a strong sense of empathy with McCandless, which is what gives the book its emotional edge. Most books, even non-fiction, end up as a portrait of the author. This is no exception, yet that connection between the depictor and depicted turns a tragic account of a short, wasted life into something more.
- Walden - Henry Thoreau. This is required reading for all minimalists. My copy recently fell apart from being carried about and referred to several times a day. It's hard to explain how much I love this book, or how much it has altered my perspective. Just read it and you'll understand why.
- On the Road, Dharma Bums and Lonesome Traveller - Jack Kerouac. I don't doubt that Kerouac is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. A librarian told me that copies of his books always seem to get stolen, which is why many places don't stock them. I replied that stealing books is a rather Kerouac-esque thing to do. She was not amused. Borrow or buy these and don't steal them. Each is a glorious portrait of a long-gone era and the way people lived during it. They make me nostalgic for a time I never experienced. A time when one could hop in a car with a few friends, $10 and a bottle of whisky and drive across America. Expect lots of dialogue and little plot.
- Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov. Controversial, yes. Nonetheless, it remains one of my all-time favourite books. I also love Laura, the unfinished manuscript of his final book. Considering how meticulous Nabokov was with his editing, reading a draft is intriguing. Some versions include scans of the original pages- a glimpse of his unusual notecard system for writing.
The Third Policeman - Flann O’Brien. t probably ranks as my favorite fictional book. Although the exact plot is impossible to define in any meaningful way, the book takes place in a strange, surreal world which has its own peculiar logic. None of it makes much sense if taken out of context. Space and time are subverted, eternity can be reached via a lift, a color exists which sense people mad if they see it, bicycles are sentient, death is predicted by the color of the wind when someone is born. It is a book which demands to be read again and again because it is somehow too indistinct to feel like the same story each time. I was lent it by my friend Corrie who asked me to underline the passages which I found meaningful. She asks each person who reads it to do that in a different pen, to see if eventually every part of the book is underlined. The whole thing is so wonderful that I expect this will happen. It's hard to summarize the plot, so just read it.
- Portrait of a Man - Georges Perec. This was Perec's first novel, yet it was the last to be published. The original manuscript was found a few years ago and translated into English. I love how it flits between 1st, 2nd and 3rd person in a manner which keeps you on your toes throughout the book. It's about an art forger who kills his (sort of) manager and then has an existential crisis. Very little happens, it's mostly about his thoughts. Perec is perhaps one of the most creative writers imaginable.
-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.
-Martin Eden - Jack London. Perhaps London's most underappreciated work, I found this in Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris and couldn't believe I hadn't heard of it before. A common criticism is that London writes about animals better than people, yet this contradicts that. It's 500 pages of intense, well-crafted characterisation. Martin Eden is a sailor who falls in love with an upper class girl and seeks to 'better himself' in order to win her affection. He becomes obsessed with literature and attempts to become a writer. His slow progress through the gruelling process of self-education and finding a voice is almost exhausting to read. The book is semi (not quite intentionally) autobiographical and foreshadows elements of London's later life. (By the way, I have no idea why the edition on Amazon has Jensen Ackles on the cover. I highly approve though.)
Ada or Ardor - Vladimir Nabokov. Even better than Lolita. Published when Nabokov was 70, there is a clear sense of his maturation and development of a clear style. There are some elements which reappear in more detail within his unfinished final book, Laura. This was his longest book at 604 pages, long enough to make it immersive. Ada or Ardor is about an inecstous relationship spanning decades, laden with elements of a fairy tale, philosophical passages and constant analysis of the meaning of time. His portrayal of their relationship as adults feels more complete than that as children, no doubt due to his age at the time of writing. I have a fondness for dialogue which comingles different languages (being prone to it myself) and the interplay of English, French and Russian is gorgeous. There is no other way to put it. I found myself reading parts aloud to hear the sounds of the words. Nabokov's books demand a lot of attention. Losing focus for more than a few sentences results in total confusion. If you only read one of these books, make it this one.