I [try to] read a lot. When I do, I usually write a lot about what I read, and share those thoughts with The Fraction Club and LTP Weekly subscribers. I thought it'd be fun to add this page to my site after seeing someone else do the same. Steal Like An Artist, right?
Below, you'll find recommendations of books that have taught me invaluable lessons, inspired my creative journey, or – simply – stories that I've loved.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
Part irreverent coming-of-age story, part post-adolescent art appreciation piece, and all of colors that pull you into the narrative between, The Goldfinch is one of my favorite novels. I have the book on my shelf, but used Audible to listen to it (the narrator is wonderful to listen to). When Stephen King praised this novel as "A Triumph," I was in. It reminded me of youth's chaos, and the strange attraction I continue to have for all of that Polluck splatter.
Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
Writing in one of the most unique ways that I've had the pleasure of experiencing, James Frey tells four simultaneous stories that somehow interconnect in the city of dreams: Los Angeles. His style is that of fragments and run on sentences, intentionally misplaced punctuation and almost-real factoids, and the novel opens with the disclaimer: "Nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable," followed by an entire book filled with facts that are[n't?]. You decide.
Fat Kid Rules The World by K.L. Going
I've never quite grown beyond the Young Adult genre, and Fat Kid Rules The World (alongside books like M.T. Anderson's Burger Wuss, Walter Dean Myers' Monster, and Chris Lynch's Blue Eyed Son trilogy) is one of the best it has to offer. Friend of the iconic Kurt Cobain, Going wrote a wonderfully grungy story about an overweight and suicidal teenager – saved from himself by a Nirvana-esque dropout who invites him to start a punk band together.
New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
Each January morning in Mill Valley, California began beside a fire, coffee on the mantel, with warm, dawn sunlight floating through the redwood trees outside the window, and Merton's wisdom in hand, followed by a Headspace session. I'd venture to call it magical. New Seeds... was a healing read for me, especially as contrasted against my experiences one year prior, when I was at a personal low of lows. The mystics have been particularly life-giving, and this was my first introduction to Merton's world.
Water To Wine by Brian Zahnd
"A memoir of my spiritual journey out of Americanized pop Christianity into a deeper, richer, more substantive Christian faith..."
Need I say more? Zahnd gave me a copy of his book following a conference we participated in together a few years back, during what may have been the height of my anxiety-laden deconstruction process. I've since given / recommended it to countless people, as I found myself in every page, and began to take comfort in what was an otherwise terrifying journey.
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Ed Catmull's insight, direction and managerial wisdom as one of the founding members of Pixar are bar-none. His philosophy on art and creativity, and where it comes from, are fascinating. The lengths to which he and the animation-studios team go to in order to foster healthy, gracious working environments is a model all organizations – from corporations to churches – should consider when structuring their own. This is a book whose influence is ongoing.
Essentialism by Greg Mckeown
"If it's not a 'hell yes' it's a 'no!'" That quote most accurately summarizes McKeown's premise for his book on productivity, choice, and "the disciplined pursuit of less." This book has helped me narrow down my choices and make a decision on them (something I am notoriously bad at). I want to be committed to the essentials more than I want to keep dancing with peripherals, and this book helps people figure out which is which in their own lives.
"The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials."
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Conner
My friend Jesse Brian recommended O'Conner's journals to me following the collapse of our church in 2014, saying that I would resonate with her spirit's groaning, which somehow made its way out of the deep and onto paper in the form of beautiful, honest prayers. She is – as Brennan Manning would go on to say in his Ragamuffin Gospel – a "bundle of paradoxes" in the most resonant and gorgeous ways.
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
Many people have recommended this book to me throughout the years, but I avoided it for as long as possible – truth be told – because I thought the title was so stupid. It reminded me of phrases like "hedge of protection" and all things kitschy that annoyed me. But I'm glad I got past my own arrogance. Lamott's style reminds me of all that I loved in Donald Miller's writings, growing up. Her unabashed forwardness and socially liberal bent, coupled with a candid honor paid to the God who saved her from herself, is refreshing to read.
"Life does not seem to present itself to me for my convenience, to box itself up nicely so I can write about it with wisdom and a point to make before putting it on a shelf somewhere."
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
I bought Haig's memoir in December 2016, when I was struggling to find reasons, myself. Jamie Tworkowski and To Write Love On Her Arms worked in conjunction with the author to launch a successful suicide-awareness campaign for their organization, in which I participated it. It's a quick, candid read, and one worth taking a bit of time for. Whether or not you struggle with depression, this book will give helpful insight as to what it's like to live with – and through – it.
Counting It Joy by Jody Macallister-Humbles
My mom wrote this book – "a personal testimony to the lavish love of God amidst our darkest hours..." – and my sister and I each contributed a chapter. This is the story of my parent's marriage, and our family, as plagued by the tentacles of my father's mental illness, depression and – ultimately – suicide. I'm always blown away by my mom's unwavering faith, and the hope that she's maintained throughout her life, and I'm proud of her for writing this memoir about our experience.
Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald
In short - "the essential elements of the best storytelling." For some reason, this book is only available on Audible, unless you want to pay a lot of money for an out-of-print version of this classic from Brian McDonald. My friend Dustin told me about this book the last time his band was in Albuquerque, and I bought it and listened to it the very next day. I think that Dustin is one of the best lyrical storytellers out there, and knew his word counted for something when it came to recommendations on tools for the craft. This book contrasts "visible ink" with "invisible ink" – that is, what is readily accessible to an audience according to their senses versus the storytelling structure that is invisible beneath what one hears or sees in the movie, play, or narrative.
Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer
Bandersnatch is written by the leading expert on Tolkien and Lewis, and the Inklings – a group of brilliant minds at Oxford University, which included the authors, who regularly met to read and critique one another's work for nearly two decades. Glyer has spent over 40 years studying the both of them, and details the ways in which encouragement and criticism contributed to their creative process. Reading Bandersnatch has only fueled my love of and appreciation for their influence.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi was a writer and a neurosurgeon, and his love for / study of literature is evident in the way that he turns medicine into poetry, and merges metaphysical unanswerables with the calculated decisions that his life demanded of him. There's no other way to say it: Paul's writing is superb. His worldview is full of hope even in the face of death, and his compassion and integrity as a doctor are above reproach. I've had good friends move away to study medicine and become doctors this year, and have an incalculably greater respect for their passion, and their profession, and their art because of this book.
"What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away?"
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
My friend says that there are some words which find us like friends, and Brene Brown's are such that wrap arms around my body, and warm me, and speak as though they've known me since birth. It is the type of book that read me more than I read it. I learned more about who I am through this powerful vision on what it means to practice vulnerability, to allow oneself the freedom of emotional exposure, to be courageous and generous in a world of fear and scarcity, and to Dare Greatly.
Full Disclosure: this page contains what are called "affiliate links," meaning that if you decide to pick one of my recommendations up using the links I've provided for you, I may receive a small commission off of your purchase from Amazon.
Full-er Disclosure: I will only post recommendations that I believe in, or feel as though there is something valid (which I will explain in my summaries) to be learned from. You will not see garbage here for money's sake, because I want you to trust me, and that idea sucks.