What I’ve Been Reading

by | Oct 1, 2018 | Beliefs, Life

Quote

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Summary

Ever since becoming an adult, I’ve made a concerted effort to read more—as I drifted away from my younger habit visiting the library religiously, and reading two or three books a week.

This post will go through what I’ve been reading, why I’ve chose to read these books, and reviews of the many titles.

The Opening Thoughts

As much as I enjoy making posts that discuss abstract concepts, or current events, I also have yearned to discuss more personal topics.

I have mentioned to many of my friends, my primary intention in writing this blog was to create content that I myself would enjoy consuming. Secondary intentions included: inciting discussion amongst friends, practicing my writing skills, and creating writing samples.

If you scroll through all my previous posts, you will get a genuine sense of the kind of content that I like to consume on the internet—along with the style of content that I prefer.

This is why my posts are broken up into clear headings, and generally tally at minimum 2,000 words, but can span up to over 4,000. I like longform content that is broken up into easy digestible sections.

A particular type of post that I enjoy reading from other blogs/publications is posts related to reading lists—whether they be: If You’re Interested in X, Read These Books, or just personal recaps.

This past weekend, I recently finished the longest book I have ever read: The Master of the Senate by Robert Caro. This is the third of a five book series chronicling former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s life, all the way from his family history pre-birth, until his passing.

This particular edition detailed LBJ’s time in the Senate, and clocked in at 1,040 pages. I started reading this book in late June, and have read it on and off until finally finishing it in late September.

If my younger self knew this, I’m sure he’d be ashamed. As my mother frequently reminds me, I used to eat books up as a child.

Once I learned how to read, I spent a great deal of time everyday just immersing myself in whatever my current novel was. I also visited the local library constantly, as my mother would tag along and sit next to me as I read.

There were weekend visits where I would literally pick a mid-sized book of a shelf, and spend the entire morning there reading it alongside my mother, until I finished it, and then started hunting around for the next titles to take home.

I would purposely scramble to finish my homework quickly, so that I could dive into the latest book. I read so much at a young age (4-6) that I began to grow bored with the material that was for my grade level, and soon started to pick out more ambitious choices.

I really can’t stress this enough—I loved reading. I read every single day, for hours on end. I’m not sure if it was the reading that made me a fast reader, or it was something genetic (probably both), but I ended becoming such a quick reader that my appetite grew insatiably.

It grew to the point that I would look forward all week to Sunday’s, which is when I would travel to the library, and pick out my next few books for the week. I started purposely overestimating my abilities, and picking out more books (or larger books) than I thought I could handle in a week, only because I knew that I’d actually end up devouring them in time for the next trip.

I would take books on the subway, read them as I sat, and also read my books as I walked around holding my parent’s hands. I didn’t ever mind tagging along to run any errands, because I knew that I’d just find a place to sit down and read.

It was not before long that I channeled my love for reading into a passion for writing. My mother stills has boxes and boxes in the garage with over thousands of pages of my early writings—plays, poems, short stories, unfinished books etc.

My after school schedule as a child consisted of coming home and eating, doing my homework, reading for about two hours, writing for another hour, and finishing up with some sort of physical activity with my dad and/or kids from the neighborhood before crashing in bed.

As I’m sure many people did, if my book was especially interesting, I’d sneak a flashlight under my sheets to read before dozing off. When my mom found out I did this, she reacted simply by buying me a booklight that attached like a bookmark. Yes, she’s quite the enabler.

I didn’t actually have my first video game system or computer until I was in middle school, which is right around when I started reading less. I didn’t have a smartphone yet, so the decline was gradual.

I also became more interested in sports, and would spend hours with my neighborhood friends playing basketball, soccer, or football in our cul-de-sac, which also cut into my reading time. Still, I managed around two books a week in those years.

Finally, high school arrived, and with it, I now had the distraction of puberty, an iPhone, and more homework (never challenging, just time consuming).

We were also often forced to read books in high school, many of which I was not a fan of. By this point, I was lucky to read two personal books a year.

The summer between high school and college, I realized how far I had strayed from my previous habits. This was not something to be proud of.

Therefore, I made it my mission to re-cultivate my reading appetite. Given that my personality had evolved, I sought out more non-fiction titles, as opposed to the fiction frenzy of my childhood.

It was not until this past summer that I resolved to keep track of my reading habits since that summer (when I turned 18), and create a Google Sheet, shown below.

I was able to divide the books up by year in retrospect only because I place all my finished books in order on the bookshelf in my room. Therefore I was able to take a quick glance and rely on memory to identify the time frames.

The column headings should be fairly self-explanatory, but heres a quick rundown of the subjective ones:

Rating: Personal rating out of 10, and I treat ratings as a percentiles. So, a 9 means that I believe it is better than 90% of the books in the world (with bias from my own interests of course). I purposely seek out top-rated or recommended books, which would explain why most books are in the 7-9 range.

Notes: Just quick notes to remind me about what the book is about, and sometimes a short personal review.

Tags: General categories.

The sheet tabs show the year in plain text, and my age in parentheses.

The rest of this post will go through each year one by one (but not each book one by one), to give a simple run-through of what I have been reading as an adult, and will finish with a look to the future. Enjoy!

2015-16

Here is the list for reference, in case you don’t want to scroll up to the embedded sheet.

Thus far, this was the time that I read the most books (although not the most pages). Part of that was driven by the large gap between my final week in high school and my first days in college. Part of it is the fact that this spans from my high school graduation to my first semester of sophomore year, as opposed to just one calendar year like the rest of the entries.

There were also a few books on there that were on college class reading lists, but even though were only instructed to read passages, I ended up reading them whole on my own time.

The first book I read was an early birthday present, given to me by my good friend Connor. Him and I are big fans of the FX cartoon Archer, and this was a good starting book, because it was a humorous easy read.

I finally read the God Delusion, a book which had been thoroughly hyped on Reddit, and that I had purchased a year before but had not opened. I was sorely disappointed, as Dawkins’ tone was not particularly enjoyable. I also expected more, and was surprised that the book did not contain deeper arguments.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer, but I believe this is undeserving. His other novel, This Is How You Lose Her, is far more enjoyable to me (one of my top ten favorite books of all time), and I’m surprised that Oscar Wao is hailed as the better of the two.

From then on, you can clearly see that I dove into my budding political and religious interests.

If it’s any consolation to my more moderate and right-wing readers, it was reading these leftist texts that made me move more towards the center and reject the hysteria of the present-day American left wing.

I will give credit to Saul Alinsky however—even though I don’t agree with his political leanings all the way, the man is clearly a genius in his craft. More importantly, Rules for Radicals teaches lessons that can be effectively applied outside of the political arena, for any situation where you are an underdog.

I have little to add about Animal Farm or 1984, other than that I should have read these two a long, long time ago.

The Trial and Death of Socrates was assigned to us in my Intro to Political Science, and is one of the most brilliant pieces of political thought. It primarily focuses on the dangers of majority rule, and starts from the very ground up.

You have to read this if you want to have a solid understanding of Western political systems. I also read long passages of the other classics in my Intro class, including the Republic, Leviathan, On Liberty, A Theory of Justice, and the Second Treatise of Government (amongst others).

You’ll notice I also purchased and proudly read the entire U.S. Constitution front to back towards the end of this time period, as I realized I had only read or heard snippets of this historic document.

It ought to be required reading for all U.S. citizens, not only because of its historical significance, but also because you can get a real sense of the original values and principles this country was founded on—in a direct and carefully crafted manner.

For those of you that saw the Quran and the God Delusion on there, don’t be alarmed that I don’t have the Christian viewpoint. I read large portions of the Bible in my Text and Ideas course, and even though I did not read it cover to cover, I can confidently say that I enjoyed it far more as a piece of literature than either of the other two texts. From a religious standpoint it also spoke to me more than the other two.

2017

This was arguably my worst year.

Even though I read more pages than the previous year (year and a half really), three of the books on the list were re-reads, as indicated by the R’s in the tag column.

The first book, The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People, was a book that I probably never would have bought on my own. I don’t mind reading blog posts like that every once in a while, but I’m not the biggest fan of self-help/motivational/inspirational content.

Granted, my dad had it out on his desk, and the cover art was nice, so I gave it a spin. Again, a bit cheesy for my liking, but an entertaining read filled with some numerous memorable one-liners. Overall, the book leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, so I can’t complain.

I came across the two Max Brooks books while cleaning out the garage, and given that they are some of my favorite books of all time, I just had to sit down and re-read them both.

We had read an excerpt of Path to Power in my Intro to Public Policy class in the fall of 2016, and I ended buying the book and reading the whole thing in the spring of 2017 (when I was studying “abroad” at NYU DC). This is where I began my adventure reading this famed Caro series.

Shoutout to my 11th grade English teacher Dr. Philpot for my copy of 100 Years of Solitude. I checked it out of her library with the intentions of completing an an extra credit assignment, but did not complete the assignment or return the book.

My mother is a huge fan of Marquez, so when she came across my lost copy, she pretty much forced me to read it. I do feel like it dragged on for a bit much, and I read the novel on and off in between Path to Power, but I did appreciate Marquez’s genius.

The next two books (Hillbelly Elegy, and Shattered) were the hottest trending post-2016 election works, and they were profoundly entertaining but less illuminating/insightful than the average person claimed them to be.

I continued my re-reading spree with a book I have already mentioned, This Is How You Loser Her, which I recommend to anyone, but especially to young Latin men. I don’t want to elaborate further, as the book is a lot to unpack, but you’ll be surprised at how eloquent Diaz is when it comes to describing your own actions and thoughts towards the many women in your life.

I ended the year cementing my turn towards centrism with a libertarian classic, Anthem. In a way, it reminded me of Animal Farm, both in its length, and its use of allegory to explore political thought. I have a copy of Atlas Shrugged (shoutout to my 10th grade English teacher, Ms. Scala), that I will get around to reading soon.

2018

Perhaps its the recency effect, but I believe this has been the best year thus far.

I have not only read the most pages, but have read some of the best books of my entire life. In general this has been a year of serious growth and revelation, so that may be biasing my opinion as well.

I began the year reading the second edition of the LBJ series, the Means of Ascent. This book wasted little time on the slow (but interesting) background of LBJ’s heritage, and jumped straight into his quest to make it to the U.S. Senate. It also was not too long of a read, unlike The Master of the Senate.

The 48 Laws of Power was a book I had often seen recommended in my Internet circles, and I only regret not reading this book sooner. This book was chock full of extremely valuable real life principles and strategies to maximize your positive outcomes and interactions. A good chunk of the book included things that I already put in to practice or was aware of, but simply did not have a name for.

What made this book exceptionally great was that not only did it directly teach you these laws in clear, concise terms, but it included several real life historical examples to brilliantly illustrate its claims.

Look—this book is so good, I revisit several of its passages weekly. Reading this book will cause you to observe a whole host of interesting trends in your day to day life, and upgrade your mindset.

In line with my reading of 48 Laws of Power, I’ve seen many recommendations for the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, and its classic texts. This is why I read Meditations, and Enchiridion, and again, like 48 Laws of Powers, I was impressed that these texts could so properly articulate philosophies that I already have been applying to my life. Reading both of these texts has given me a clearer focus, and validated the worry-free approach that I’ve always taken.

Given that I have had more interest in finance and business in the past year, I decided to finally read a book in the field. I regularly browse finance related subreddits, and blogs everyday, but had yet to read something of the proportions of longform prose.

Fooling Some of the People All of the Time was a solid introduction to the topic, and although Einhorn does ramble at times, I would recommend this book to people interested in the general area. The book specifically focuses on hedge funds, private equity, small business loans, fraud, and short-selling. The amount of detail that Einhorn pours into his analysis is captivating, as is the underlying combative narrative that keeps you rooting for Greenlight Capital against Allied.

Jurassic Park is another top book of mine, and I had not read any other of Michael Crichton’s works, so I picked Andromeda Strain to sample. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had not compared it to Jurassic Park, but it was good enough to not deter me from wanting to read more Crichton novels.

The Master of the Senate, which I already previously mentioned, is a real work of art. I believe it is too long, but even though I criticize its length, I cannot deny the magnetism of its content. If you’re a political idealist, the book will surely ruin you, but if you’re interested in the inner machinations of political (and all around) power being put in to practice, this is a page turning manual.

The book charts LBJ’s entire Senate tenure, and displays the cunning and masterful calculation of LBJ at its finest. I don’t believe there have been many human beings in history that have equalled or surpassed his social intelligence and self-belief. There’s a good chance you might hate LBJ by the end of the book, although you will not be able to deny his innate talent for bending everyone and everything to his will.

The real reason it took me a while to read this book is that in between finishing it, I moved to a new city, started a six month internship, and have contended with the day to day realities of working a 9-5. I’m not making excuses at all, as I will admit that I have definitely have not been optimizing my time 110%, and have had a host of competing priorities.

The Closing Thoughts

The good news is that I have firmly settled into a stellar rhythm, and I’m looking forward to finishing the year strong.

As I type this on Monday afternoon, I currently have my newest read in my backpack. In the past two months, I’ve made guaranteed reading time during the week by taking my book along when I do cardio at the gym.

I normally go to the gym straight after work before heading home, so it makes for a nice way to unwind and still be getting things done. Plus the comfort of an interesting book makes cardio a little more tolerable (but only marginally so).

As anyone who has spoken to me recently knows, I have taken a real entrepreneurial turn in my interests and career path, and have heard great things about this book in regards to cultivating the right mindset to found and lead a tech startup. Peter Thiel is a legend in the tech community, so I have high expectations for this.

I do have some personal startup experience in a sophomore year venture that I embarked on with two close friends and my brother, so I’m excited to not only read this (and more books on the topic), but to actually get back in the ring with a new venture.

This book is just shy of 200 pages, which is absolute cheese compared to the 1,000+ page behemoth I just slayed.

In the pipeline I for sure have at least one other book: Dancing with the Gods—which was given to all Twitter employees by our CEO, Jack Dorsey—and is about exploring artistic fulfillment, to allow your personal creative spirit to flourish in your work.

After that, I still have a bookshelf filled with books I’ve bought and planned to read, so I should work my way through that before buying anything else on my Amazon wishlist. But I might end up succumbing to my desires, and purchasing and reading another startup related book. We’ll see.

UPDATE: Zero to One ended being written in a fairly large font, and was extremely conversational, so I breezed through it in two days. The Google Sheet has been updated accordingly. I wish Thiel had included more actionable and granular startup advice, but the book was insightful in terms of painting the broad strokes.

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