Six Books I Can’t Stop Reading

I go absolutely crazy when I have free time and don’t have a book in my hand. Over the years, some books have risen to the surface as important enough that I have revisited them over and over. I wanted to write “Books That Have Changed My Life” but sometimes that is a matter of timing – the right book at the right time. The following books are the ones that have stuck with me over the years, through numerous rereads. These are books that I not only enjoy, but relate to on many different levels.

Three of them are written by certified drunks, two have the word “war” in the title, and one has the word “peace”. I’m not sure what that says about the me, but it may be worthy to note. I hope they speak to you as well.

The 33 Strategies of War – Robert Greene

On the surface this is a book about war, but it has taught me many valuable life lessons. How to make quick, effective decisions (“Develop finger tip feel”). How to rise above the whims of the moment and plan long term goals (“Grand Strategy”). How to kick yourself in the ass and get moving (“The Death Ground Strategy”). I keep this book by my bedside and when confronted with a problem, I open it to the relevant chapter and start reading.

We often wait too long to act, particularly when we face no outside pressure. It is sometimes better to act before you think you are ready – to force the issue and cross the Rubicon. Not only will you take your opponents by surprise, you will also have to make the most of your resources. You have committed yourself and cannot turn back. Under pressure your creativity will flourish. Do this often and you will develop your ability to think and act fast.

John Barleycorn – Jack London

Like a sports star looking back on the ups and downs of his career, Jack London wrote this book about his life as an alcoholic. From his first drink, to his mishaps on the docks of San Francisco, to his slow descent into dependency, he regales us with tales debauchery and adventure. He maintains a casual and at times comical tone, but it is not without a stern warning or two. Something about the way he lived his life, always looking for the next adventure, resonates with me. Like an addict, I keep picking it back up time and again.

And now, of all this that is squalid, and ridiculous, and bestial, try to think what it meant to me, a youth not yet sixteen, burning with the spirit of adventure, fancy-filled with tales of buccaneers and sea-rovers, sacks of cities and conflicts of armed men, and imagination-maddened by the stuff I had drunk. It was life raw and naked, wild and free – the only life of that sort which my birth in time and space permitted me to attain.

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

Have you ever dreamed of accomplishing more with your life but lacked the required follow through? This book will serve as a swift kick in the nuts. Pressfield (author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) uses a no-holds-barred approach to motivate you to finish that painting, develop that app, or write that song you have been talking about for years. What he calls the Resistance is something that I have been battling my whole life – it is the doubts, the fear, the distractions in life that all conspire to block you from accomplishing your goals. Resistance is beatable and I reread this every time I need a reminder.

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Ham on Rye – Charles Bukowski

I always wonder why more people of my generation haven’t read Bukowski because I am sure they would enjoy him. While his books are technically “novels” they are really thinly-veiled memoirs that narrate the struggles of a young man. As the “laureate of American lowlife” he wrote about very real and gritty aspects of life that others barely touched on. He was so open about his shortcomings and insecurities that I have always admired him. Whenever I suffer from shame or embarrassment in my personal life (all the time), I remember Bukowski’s writing and receive a kind of vicarious catharsis.

A whole goddamned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves. I had no interests. I had no interest in anything. I had no idea how I was going to escape. At least the others had some taste for life. They seemed to understand something that I didn’t understand. Maybe I was lacking. It was possible. I often felt inferior.

Being Peace – Thich Nhat Hanh

I discovered this book at a time when my world was falling apart and it helped me rise above the noise. The writings of this Buddhist monk taught me to relegate that which is not important to its proper place and to appreciate the little things in life. Whenever I am stressed or in the midst of a crisis, I open this book to a random page and start reading, and the feelings start to melt away.

We tend to be alive in in the future, not now. We say, “Wait until I finish school and get my Ph.D. degree, and then I will really be alive.” When we have it, and it’s not easy to get, we say to ourselves, “I have to wait until I have a job in order to be really alive.” And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don’t know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive at all in our entire life.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

It is a shame that Hemingway didn’t write more nonfiction because his first person narratives are amazing. This book covers his time living in Paris trying to make it as a writer. He captures the romance of living abroad and adventures to be had. His simple and understated language is always refreshing. When I need inspiration, I pick up this book and continue reading where I last put it down.

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

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