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Will's Reading on the Road

Traveling has provided me with ample time to read. When Maya isn’t talking my ear off (only kidding), any bus ride, flight, or day at the beach is an opportunity to put a dent in a book on my Kindle, and I almost always manage to knock off a few pages before bed.

As an aspiring writer, reading fiction is what fuels my creativity. Most writers will tell novices like me that the reading/writing balance should skew pretty heavily in favor of reading, and I’ve tried to take that to heart.

Usually, I like to be reading anywhere from 1-3 books at a time. Ideally, I’ve got one fiction and one non-fiction going simultaneously. That way, I can get my creative fuel and learn something new about history, business, politics, the environment, or some other subject of interest and take breaks by flipping back to fiction.

Below is a chronological list of what I’ve read in since we left New York all the way back on March 2nd, along with my brief thoughts on each book and a star rating.

1. The Fifth Risk - Michael Lewis (Nonfiction)

What would happen if an administration came to power that just didn’t care about all the mundane, critical nuances of running the American government? That’s essentially what Michael Lewis explores here, primarily using the Trump administration’s lack of interest in the Department of Energy to illustrate his point. A fascinating read for anyone who wants to get a better understanding of how crucial our government really is to our way of life, albeit slow at times. 4/5 Stars

2. We Are Legion - Dennis Taylor (Fiction)

In the present day, a man sells his successful business and uses the proceeds to ensure that his consciousness will live on forever. Then, he gets hit by a bus and dies. He wakes up more than 100 years later as an artificial intelligence slave to a theocratic American government and is soon sent into space with a directive to replicate himself and explore the universe. There’s more here, but if this is already starting to sound overly detailed and a bit too science-fiction-nerdy, I don’t blame you. It’s a very creative story, but it’s a little difficult to connect with the main character and his many replicas. Also, if you don’t love heavily detailed sci-fi, you don’t enjoy this book. It’s the first in a series of three and I probably won’t continue. 2.5/5 Stars

3. The Border - Don Winslow (Fiction)

The third and final installment in the Power of the Dog series about the history of the drug war is set in the present day against the backdrop of our current opiod and border crises. While very much a work of fiction, Winslow has spent his entire life researching and living out these subjects and weaves in a great deal of fact and real events, confronting readers with brutal detail. The characters are well developed, the sociopolitical and geopolitical themes are acute, and the pace is relentless. Read the entire series if you haven’t already. Some of my favorite books that I’ve ever read. 5/5 Stars

4. Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer (Nonfiction)

A well-known true story that I’d never gotten around to reading about a young man who gives up virtually all of his wordly possessions and the comforts of a modern life to live in the wilderness various parts of the US, Mexico, and Canada. Tragically, he meets his end in Alaska. Krakauer is a phenomenal writer and as a fellow adventurer, the story is clearly near to his heart. 4.5/5 Stars

5. The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides (Fiction)

A beautiful young artist is convicted of murdering her husband with no clear motive. At her trial, she offers no defense. In fact, she goes completely silent and never speaks again, even at the psychiatric facility that she is sent to. A psychiatrist familiar with the case makes it his business to get her to talk and find out why she committed the crime, but his intentions are not all that they seem. This was an awesome and quick read and will probably secure a movie deal if it hasn't already. Highly recommend for those in need of a page turner. 4/5 Stars

6. Doctor Sleep - Stephen King (Fiction)

The sequel to The Shining focuses on the life of Danny, the boy who survived the horrors of the Overlook. Danny takes a job as an orderly at a hospice, where his shining ability helps patients at the end of their lives. Meanwhile, an organization called the True Knot is hunting people who shine, sinister intentions. A story that’s about addiction, forgiveness, and overcoming one’s demons as much as it is a sequel to a classic, this book is very good but doesn’t quite match the power of the original. It’s a really impressive continuation of Danny’s story arc, but the villains didn’t quite do it for me and some of the “big reveals” at the end of the book are a little cringe-worthy. 3.5/5 Stars

7. Savages - Don Winslow (Fiction)

Oliver Stone directed the movie adaptation of this book, which is the story of two male surfers and their female companion who grow marijuana and take on a Mexican drug cartel. The movie was abysmal and the book was better. Very easy reading (if you can deal with gratuitous violence and sex), not the same kind of heavy, reality-laced impact as the Power of the Dog trilogy. 3/5 Stars

8. Hunting LeRoux: The Inside Story of the DEA Takedown of a Criminal Genius and His Empire - Elaine Shannon (Nonfiction)

Paul LeRoux isn’t a household name, but he should be. He created a criminal enterprise the likes and scale of which has never been seen. He did business with the worst of the underworld, from Colombian drug lords to North Korea and trafficked in drugs, heavy arms, commodities, people, and more. The story of how the DEA took him down is a very interesting one, but I honestly found this to be a poorly-written book. Read it if you’re into true crime and you’ll be blown away by the true events, but the book itself is far from great. 2.5/5 Stars

9. The Book of Night Women - Marlon James (Fiction)

This story of a Jamaican slave plantation around the year 1800 is among the most brutal and challenging books I’ve ever read for a number of reasons. The dialogue challenges you, the characters are beyond complex, and the savagery of slavery assaults you. Not for the faint of heart, but an incredible book that I couldn’t stop reading once I got into it. A masterpice. 5/5 Stars

10. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland - Patrick Radden Keefe (Nonfiction)

The true story of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, with a particular focus on the culture of silence that led to the disappearance of dozens of people who ran afoul of the IRA. If this subject interests you, you need to read it. 4.5/5 Stars

11. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller (Fiction)

I’ve tried to work in some classics, particularly those that I didn’t read in middle school or high school. Catch-22 (in case you didn’t already know) is a phrase that came from this antiwar satire. Set on a fictional island off the coast of Italty in WWII, the book focuses on an Air Force squadron bound by an unfortunate rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and must fly again. The satire is great, but I found this book to be a bit too long and to have belabored its points. 3/5 Stars

12. Dark Places - Gillian Flynn (Fiction)

Libby Day and her older brother Ben are the only survivors of the murders that took place at their farmhouse - Ben is convicted of the crime, Libby is the prosecution’s star witness. Years later, a group of true crime fans convinces Libby that Ben was innocent of the murder and that she should help them uncover the truth. Gillian Flynn is an incredible writer and this story was a ton of fun. A solid thriller. 4/5 Stars

13. The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu (Fiction)

During China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret government project attempts to broadcast signals to any form of intelligent life that it can find in space. The aliens, residents of a dying solar system, respond in the present day, leaving the nations of the world scrambling to deal with their impending arrival and its implications. I probably ventured farther into the sci-fi world than I wanted to go with this one, but this was a really cool book. If you only read one sci-fi book/trilogy on this list, don’t read “We Are Legion”, read this instead. 3.5/5 Stars

14. Shogun - James Clavell (Fiction)

This book is part of Clavell’s Asia Saga - a series of six books that he wrote about different places and time periods in Asia. Shogun is set in feudal 16th century Japan, after the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese and at the time of British and Dutch exploration. The story is epic enough, but the writing is nauseatingly bad at times. The story is mind-numbingly slow and reverses course multiple times. The characters mostly infuriated and alienated me. It’s a thousand pages and I put it down after about six hundred when I came across a particularly bad line of dialogue. Don’t waste your time. 1/5 Stars

15. Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America - Nancy MacLean (Nonfiction)

The title says it all here. The author focuses on how the radical right wing in the US evolved from slave-owners to the Koch brothers. I’m definitely doing some political editorializing here, but I consider it a must-read. It’s extremely eye-opening and made me realize that Trump isn’t the most nefarious political force in America today. 5/5 Stars

16. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming - David Wallace-Wells (Nonfiction)

Another one where the title tells you everything you need to know. Global warming is not coming, it’s here, and based on how we’re operating, it’s only going to get worse. Wallace-Wells explains all the ways in which it will impact every person on the planet and the implications are horrifying. Maybe the most important book I’ve ever read. 5/5 Stars

17. The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead (Fiction)

This book won a Pulitzer for fiction and it’s really good, but I had recently read The Book of Night Women when I picked it up. No question that TBNW was the better of the two. Whitehead takes us through slavery-era America in a world where the underground railroad is an actual train line. 3.5/5 Stars

18. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles - Steven Pressfield (Nonfiction)

A book about committing to the creative process for creatives of all kinds - writers, artists, musicians, etc. He’s got some good advice in here, but the author lost me when he started talking about angels and spirits. 2.5/5 Stars

19. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers - Loung Ung (Nonfiction)

When Maya and I visited the killing fields outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we learned a lot and were profoundly affected by what we saw. I had been kicking around an idea for a book for some time, and what we learned in Cambodia inspired me to write it. This is the first book that I read for research purposes for the story. First They Killed My Father is a true story of what happened in Cambodia from 1975-1979 told from the Ung’s childhood perspective. It’s gripping, horrifying, tragic, and heartfelt. In my opinion, other cautionary tales of human cruelty are far more recognized and remembered than the Cambodian genocide. Read this book. 5/5 Stars

20. Business Lessons From a Radical Industrialist - Ray Anderson (Nonfiction)

Anderson is the founder and former CEO of Interface, a carpet tiling company headquartered in Georgia. In the 1990s, he had an epiphany about sustainability and the environment, and set out to transform his carbon-intensive company into a carbon neutral enterprise by the year 2020. If you’re interested in business, environmental issues, and/or the intersection between the two, this is a fantastic read. It gets a little too in-the-weeds about the dull business of carpet tiling, but Anderson is a revolutionary. 4/5 Stars

21. The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt (Fiction)

The saga of Theo Decker, a boy whose mother dies in a terrorist attack on a museum. Theo survives the attack and, at the behest of a dying man inside the building, steals the painting that is the book’s namesake. I can’t possibly do justice to the entire plot here, but this is a fantastic book and I was in awe of the imagery, character development, and thematic interplay in The Goldfinch. At times, the dialogue seemed a little out of touch with contemporary speech, even given the world in which its subjects live, but this is a 700+ page book that reads like a 300 pager. 4.5/5 Stars

22. Recursion - Blake Crouch (Fiction)

A scientist, backed by a tech billionaire, creates a machine that allows human beings to travel through time and space by way of their own memories. Ulterior motives, unforeseen implications, blah blah blah. I liked this new release and I like Blake Crouch a lot (check out Dark Matter, which is a better book of his), but at the end of the day this kind of boiled down to a book about time travel, and that’s a well-worn road. 3/5 Stars

23. What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption - Rachel Botsman (Nonfiction)

This book came out in 2010, so it’s a little outdated, but still very good for understanding how the concept of collaborative consumption works. Collaborative consumption not only greens our environment, it supports our economy better than the traditional consumption-waste model and fosters community. Examples include Netflix, Zipcar, bike sharing services, and more. Well-written and brief enough to stay interesting throughout. 4/5 Stars

24. Lord of the Flies - William Golding (Fiction)

Kinda cheating here since I haven’t finished this book as of this writing, but I’ll have it done before we land at JFK on Friday night. Everyone knows this book and I’m just about the only person in the world that hasn’t read it. Early thoughts: it’s possible for a book to be aggressively British, and this is proof. I like what I’ve read (about halfway through) but I also understand why the people I knew who had to read it in high school mostly hated it.


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