A week ago, while proofreading a draft of Jerry Colonna’s upcoming book, I noticed a few sections where he mentioned Ani Pema Chödrön. When he referenced her book How to Meditate, I went on Amazon and bought a physical copy to read.
Last night, as Amy and I laid on our respective couches reading, I flowed through How to Meditate. With Brooks the Wonder Dog at my feet, I relaxed into what was a wonderfully written book on Meditation. It’s less about the mechanics of meditation (although there are some described) but more about the philosophy of meditation. And, as a human, how to relate to what meditation is, and what it can do, for and to you.
The book reinforced a lot of what I’ve experienced with meditation while giving me some new thoughts about it. Recently, I’ve been doing the Headspace pack on Pain Management as I work through all the pain linked to my summer of misery. Ani Pema’s book gave me the insight to try doing the 20-minute Headspace pain session first thing in the morning while sitting in my hot tub, outside, with my eyes open (but with a soft gaze.) I did this for the first time this morning and it was glorious. I’ll be doing it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day …
If you meditate, are curious about meditation, are interested in mindfulness, or notice that your mind is all over the place these days, How to Meditate is worth a quiet two hours of your life.
“How did your book end?” asked Amy from her position reading on the couch across the room.
“Perfectly,” I answered.
A Gentleman in Moscow was magnificent. While there’s still a chance I’ll read something better in 2018, for now, I’m declaring it the best book I’ve read this year.
I started A Gentleman in Moscow earlier this week after finishing Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House, which was also excellent, but of a very different nature. Several people had recommended it to me (including, I think Maureen, so this may count as a women’s book club recommendation). According to Amazon, I’ve had it on my Kindle since I purchased it on 9/5/16. After consuming it two years later, it seems fitting that I let it age a little.
I didn’t really know what to expect, so I was startled to begin in Moscow on June 21, 1922. After the first few pages, we spent almost the entirety of the book in the Hotel Metropol. If I ever visit Moscow, I think I’ll stay in Suite 317.
I won’t ruin this one for you. If you like novels, especially with tasty historical backdrops, this one is delicious.
A few months ago Andy Sack got me a subscription to The Next Big Idea Club. Every quarter, a box with two books in it shows up. These books were chosen by Adam Grant, Susan Cain, Malcolm Gladwell, and Daniel Pink – several of my favorite contemporary writers and thinkers.
A box showed up at the end of last week. On Saturday, I read one of the books in the box – Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America by Zachary Wood. I was pleasantly surprised that it landed squarely in the memoir category even though Zachary is only 22.
While Zachary is clearly an incredible human, his story is even more remarkable. The first 75% of the book is his story of growing up in poverty, with an abusive mother, an emotionally distant father, with time split between Detroit and DC, while – at a very young age – falling in love with books, reading, learning, and ideas. Against an extremely challenging backdrop and even more challenging odds – ones that many people grow up in – Zachary developed discipline, grit, and determination that caused me to be awestruck.
When I took the backdrop of his childhood out of the equation, many of his intellectual pursuits and academic achievements were similar to what I experienced growing up. To do this though, I had to delete at least half of the time and energy he put against just surviving day to day, getting to school, having enough to eat, finding money to do pretty much anything, and avoiding endless emotional and psychological pits. Then I had to delete another 25% of the stress he faced being different – both from his academic peers and the kids he lived around. Then I had to delete some more, which was the result of my nurturing parents, in the comfortable middle-class neighborhood, with the safe house, in my own bedroom, surrounded by friends who looked like me and acted like me. There’s a lot more that I kept unfolding as I turned each page, getting a feeling for an entirely different type of struggle than the one I had growing up.
Halfway through the book, Warren Buffett’s famous phrase about winning the ovarian lottery was echoing in my head. While I’ve worked hard all my life, I know I had an enormous head start being born in America, male, white, in the 1960s, healthy, with a good brain, to two loving parents who were both well educated, surrounded by lots of resources.
If Zachary and I were racing in a marathon, I got to start at mile 25 with clean clothes, a Clif Bar, and a water bottle. He started at mile 0 without shoes, wearing jeans, after having stayed up all night.
The last 25% of the book is about his time at Williams College, with a particular focus on his journey with the Uncomfortable Learning organization. To get a sense of the intensity and intellectual commitment of Zachary, take a look at his Senate Testimony from June 2017 titled Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses. To process any of this stuff, you have to put all of your biases (of which we all, including me, have many) on the shelf, in a box, and hide them in the corner. Then, while pondering what Zachary is doing, reflect on the intense negativity, anger, hostility, and ad-hominem attacks that are endlessly directed at him. And, rather than fight them, he embraces the conflict, while trying to elevate the discussion so that learning occurs, even though it’s uncomfortable.
I went to bed Saturday night with a lot of new thoughts in my mind. My dreams were strange, which is always a signal that I’m processing something new.
Andy – thank you for the gift. It’s a perfect one.
“an autobiography is a chronological telling of one’s experience, which should include phases such as childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc., while a memoir provides a much more specific timeline and a much more intimate relationship to the writer’s own memories, feelings and emotions.”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve read Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, Lisa Brennan-Jobs Small Fry, Mark Epstein’s Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself, and Gail Honeyman’s fictional Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.
While it can be argued that each of these (other than Small Fry) belong in a category other than the memoir, reading each of them resulted in a lot of self-reflection on my part. Front and center was the notion of “an intimate relationship to the writer’s own memories, feelings, and emotions.”
Each had something special in it for me. While I was struggling with my bacterial infection, I had a heightened sense of my own mortality. While I only had one 24 hour period of existential dread, Amy was there beside me and let me talk openly about how I was feeling. I was reading Mark Epstein’s book at the time that I had this feeling, and many of the messages in it became more precise – and poignant for me.
As I sit at home, on a sunny day in Boulder, I realize how incredibly fortunate I am on many dimensions. It’s a cliche, but the human condition is extremely complex. Reflecting on other people’s struggles, especially in comparison to my own, generates enormous perspective for me. It is in this way that I find memoirs different (and more enriching) than autobiography.
For me, it’s not about the meaning someone else ascribes to their life, or the history a third person tells about someone, but how one’s self-reflection helps inform, enhance, and evolve the meaning I give to my life.
Our longtime friend Lura Vernon wrote a really fun book last year titled Cool Dogs and Crazy Cats. It’s a coffee table book that is a combination of hilarious dog and cat haikus along with epic dog and cat photos.
I’m a dog person. During my first marriage in the 1980s, I had a gigantic cat named Tiny. It was evil. You’d be lovingly petting it and it would suddenly sink its teeth into your arm. Actually, when I reflect on it, the cat only attacked me regularly. But then I tossed milk bottle caps across the bathroom which it chased, right into the bathtub, which was full of water. Yeah, I contributed to the dynamic we had.
Fortunately, Amy is a dog person. We currently have two giant golden retrievers (Cooper and Brooks) which are #4 and #3 in our life (Denali was the first, followed by Kenai.) They are the coolest of the cool dogs.
I’m a marathon runner, but not an ultrarunner. I’ve only done one ultra (the American River 50 miler) and the combination of the training, race, and recovery was too much for me. But I love the idea of ultras.
I have several close friends who run ultras so I live vicariously through them. I love to watch documentaries about ultras, like the insane Barkley Marathons.
There are lots of ultra runners in Boulder. While I’m not part of the scene, I follow them from a distance.
Scott Jurek is one of my heroic ultra characters in Boulder. I find his running accomplishments completely mind-bending. He is a great writer and I thoroughly enjoyed his previous book Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. So, when I noticed his new book, North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail while wandering around in the Boulder Bookstore Saturday night, I grabbed it.
I read it Monday and Tuesday night, finishing it last night right before bedtime. I was simply awesome. Jurker (Scott’s nickname) wrote it with his wife Jenny. They used a really fun format – alternating sections within each chapter. The first half of the chapter was Jurker’s view of what was going on (in his voice). The second half of the chapter was in Jenny’s voice. Each of them covered a wide range of experiences during the 47-day journey, including lots of fascinating characters along the way.
I have a secret dream of running the Colorado Trail. Please don’t tell anyone, especially Amy or my parents. It’s only 486 miles (vs. the Appalachian Trail which is officially “about 2,200 miles.”). Since it’s a secret dream, I’m going to keep it locked away there, while reading about amazing feats like what Jurker did on the Appalachian Trail.
If you are a runner, endurance athlete, or just love great human adventure stories, you’ll love this book.
Aaron Edelheit recently came out with a great book titled The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle.
He interviewed me as he was writing it so I show up a few times, along with a few friends that I sent his way. The subtitle is a good hint – instead of a 24/7 life (where you are always on, especially in a work context), Aaron suggests 24/6, where there is a full 24 hour “hard break” each week.
Long-time readers and friends will know that I generally take a digital sabbath for 24 hours starting Friday night and ending Saturday night (and often Sunday morning.) I’m off my phone, email, text, vox, and other digital channels. I read hard copy books or on my Kindle, but try to stay completely off the web. I’m not religious, nor am I religious about doing this, but I’m pretty consistent. And I have a good
enforcer encourager in Amy, who I’d rather spend Friday night and Saturday with instead of my computer.
Aaron does a great job challenging the conventional entrepreneurial mythology around how you have to work all the time, burn the midnight oil, grind it out, and be comfortable with the idea that great entrepreneurs work all the time. Is burnout really a right of passage as an entrepreneur? Do you actually have to push yourself to the absolute physical and emotional limit to be successful?
I believe the answer to this is no, as does Aaron. He asserts that each of us needs time away from work and technology and makes a compelling case that time away from work can actually make us more successful and productive in the long term.
Aaron weaves his own personal story into the book, which, rather than reading like a memoir, supports the points he’s making and reinforces the stories and examples of others. His own journey is one, like many, of a series of key moments of personal and professional success and failure that generates his current viewpoint. In addition to being a provocative book, it’s a personal book.
Aaron, thanks for putting your energy into advocating the benefits of taking some downtime on a regular basis. If you are an entrepreneur, feeling exhausted by the pressure of always being on, or feeling external pressure to never take a break, I recommend you grab this book, curl up on the couch tomorrow, and turn off your phone.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I adore Eliot Peper. We met randomly (he sent me an email), which turned into a long-distance relationship, culminating in FG Press (our now defunct publishing company) publishing Eliot’s first book titled Uncommon Stock (and being the first book that FG Press published).
Eliot went on to publish several other books with FG Press. When FG Press failed, we revered the rights back to him (and all of the other authors) for their books, which Eliot went on to self-publish. He followed it with a number of other books, including Cumulus and Neon Fever Dream. He also wrote a clever short story about discrimination which was inspired by David Cohen.
Eliot recently signed a deal with 47North (one of Amazon’s imprints). His first book under that imprint, Bandwidth, just came out. I read an early pre-release version and loved it. So did, apparently, the NY Times Book Review.
“In a setting that could be a prequel to “Trail of Lightning,” Eliot Peper’s BANDWIDTH (47North, $24.95) is a thoughtful meditation on the ethics of power among those who broker it. Not far in our future, San Diego is a perpetually burning wasteland, the Arctic has melted and Dag Calhoun, a partner at a lobbying firm called Apex Group, helps rich people get richer from catastrophe.
But while working on behalf of Commonwealth, a company that provides internet to most of the planet, Dag is recruited by a secret organization called the Island. Their ability to hack into people’s feeds — the augmented reality through which everyone experiences the world — grants them unprecedented powers of surveillance and persuasion. But while Dag’s in the business of breaking the world, the Island’s in the business of saving it — and they want Dag to be their double agent.
“Bandwidth” is a book that savors everything: Dag dwells as much in the scents and tastes of coffee and tequila as he does in philosophical problems of means justifying ends and the limits of ethical persuasion. Peper manages a great deal of complexity without sacrificing clarity or pace, and I read it all in a single fascinated sitting.
That said, the book gives me pause where its women are concerned. A portion of the plot hinges on the premise that one’s sexual predilections can be deliberately and artificially curated, and while I could see the effort made to embed that premise in the novel’s context, it still left a bad taste in my mouth; similar logic underpins rhetoric about “turning people gay” or “curing” homosexuality. Still, the depth and vulnerability of Dag’s perspective, his loneliness and the value he places on his few real friendships, kept “Bandwidth” feeling real and urgent.
In an afterword, Peper observes that “in an age of acceleration, contemplation is power.” It’s a good note on which to end — perhaps with an exhortation to digital readers to seek this column in print, where you can linger and contemplate to your heart’s content.”
As any writer knows, it’s a huge deal to get a review in the NY Times. As my GPS often says, Eliot, “you have arrived.”
I took Saturday off, slept a lot, and read What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen.
Kate Fagan has written a must-read book for every parent of a high school or college athlete.
The story of Madison Holleran is a heartbreaking one. Maddy was a star athlete in high school, in a big (five kids) happy family with two engaged parents. She played soccer and track and, after almost going to Lehigh for soccer, ended up going to Penn for track.
And, that’s when everything started to go wrong.
Maddy committed suicide a few days after returning for the second semester of her freshman year after trying, unsuccessfully, to quit the track team.
Maddy’s family gave the author, Kate Fagan, incredible access, which allowed Fagan to write a powerful book. Many different themes are explored, against the backdrop of Maddy’s development as a teenage athlete, the internal pressures of today’s teen, the struggle of entry into college and separation from home, and how depression can take hold of someone. While Maddy’s story is central to all of this, Fagan includes her own experience as a college athlete in areas, that make the writing incredibly relatable.
It’s not an easy book since you know the ending when you start it. It’s simple to fall in love with Maddy – she’s a delightful American kid. The joy in her friendships and experiences start off rich and light. You see the turn into darkness happen slowly. And, because it unfolds against the backdrop of Fagan’s analysis and intellectual exploration, it makes it more accessible.
On Sunday, I came across a full-page ad in the NY Times with Michael Phelps talking about his own depression for a new product called TalkSpace. I found a short video for it, which is below.
As a bonus, there’s a section in the book about Active Minds with some interviews with members. This is an organization for mental health in college students, which Amy and I support through our Anchor Point Foundation and that I wrote about in the post Mental Fitness, the NFL, Active Minds, and the Competitive Workplace.
If you are a parent of a teenage or college athlete, read this book. If you want to learn more about mental health and depression, read this book. And, if you want to get involved in organizations like Active Minds, just drop me an email.
Amy and I took a much needed 10 days off in Aspen.
The first five months of the year was intense for both of us. Lots of travel, work, and stuff. Not a lot of self-care, time alone, or reading. And very little running since my calf was injured.
The last 10 days were lots of together time, running, reading, and sleeping. I gobbled up a bunch of books, all of them worth reading.
Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear: I started with a short book by Carl Hiaasen. I’m a fan of his fiction, so this caught my eye in Explore Booksellers (the local Aspen bookstore where we always load up whenever we come here.) It was cynically wonderful, and great advice.
Adjustment Day: Ever since Fight Club, I’ve been a Chuck Palahniuk fan. His fiction is cloudy, complex, challenging, contemporary, and cynical. He’s basically the C-Man of fiction (go Chuck, go …) Adjustment Day was the perfect fictional setup for the next book I read, which was …
Fascism: A Warning: Amy and I have been fortunate enough to get to know Madeleine Albright through our collective relationships at Wellesley. Amy knows her better, but I had an amazing dinner sitting next to her one night where I walked away thinking “I wish she had been born here so she could run for president.” The word “fascism” is once again being used so often as to mean nothing, so Albright spends 250 or so pages walking the reader through real fascism, how fascists behave, what they do to their countries (and societies), and what – as a citizen in a democratic country – to pay attention to. She covers the famous ones, but also some not so famous ones, especially those who came to power in the context of a theoretically democratic society.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup: Every entrepreneur and VC should read this book. John Carreyrou has done something important here. Maybe this book will finally put a nail in the phrase “fake it till you make it”, but I doubt it. The amount of lying, disingenuousness, blatant and unjustified self-promotion, and downright deceit that exists in entrepreneurship right now is at a local maximum. This always happens when entrepreneurship gets trendy. Carreyrou just wrote a long warning for entrepreneurs and VCs.
Imagine Wanting Only This: I love graphic novels. I don’t read enough because – well – I don’t know. Amy bought me this one because she loved the cover. Kristen Radtke wrote a beautiful, provocative, at times extremely sad, but also uplifting story that is auto-biographical. I wish I could write this well. And, when I read a book like this, I really wish I could draw.
The Painted Word: The world lost a great writer recently when Tom Wolfe died. So I bought the Five Essential Tom Wolfe Books You Should Read. I hadn’t read The Painted Word so I started with it. It’s a deliciously scathing criticism of modern art, circa 1975. I loved it.
Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto: If you read one book from this list, read this one, especially if you live in Boulder. Alan Stern, the PI on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, wrote – with David Grinspoon – a riveting story that spans around 30 years. Both Alan and David are at CU Boulder, which plays a key role in the exploration of the last planet in our solar system (there – I said it – Pluto is a planet, the IAU be damned.) This book is a page tuner and will cause you to fall in love with Pluto. And, in late breaking news, Pluto may actually be a giant comet (ah – clickbait headlines …)
Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger: I’m a huge Charlie Munger fan. For some reason, I’d missed this biography of him. I learned a few things I didn’t know and got to travel back in time to a book written in the context of Charlie Munger about 20 years ago.
It was a great vacation. I’ll be back in Boulder tomorrow …