Books We Should Chat About: January 2020
I read a ton, partly for research and prep for a book I’m writing (Every Startup is a Campaign — get excited to read it later this year!) but mostly because getting lost in a book is one of my favorite things.
This year, I’m committing to writing more about what I read. It’ll help me remember the books better, and I think it’ll be an important part of living up to another commitment I’ve made for 2020: intentionally expand the set of people I learn from, grow, and build with.
So, my first of twelve monthly musings on five books I’ve read in the last little bit. Holler if you’ve read them, too, and let me know what you thought. Holler if you’re inspired to read any of them and let’s chat after you do! Let’s also be friends on Goodreads, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m good-ish about keeping it updated.
A note: I don’t tend to read books when they’re on the bestseller lists, so expect no breaking news here. Two reasons I read older books: 1) I get most of my books from the library and despise a waitlist, and 2) I think “buzz” about books takes away some of the magic of discovery and creates a hard to ignore backdrop for reading — do I or don’t I like this as much as everyone else seems to? With that noted… My first 5 for 2020:
1.Lost and Founder, by Rand Fishkin
Rand (as he refers to himself throughout the book) is refreshingly, endearingly, compellingly honest about the realities of founding and running a startup. Whether he’s covering the financial tightropes and emotional swings of growth, the joys of victory, the lows of defeat and the low-level anxiety of the slog, or the lessons learned the hard way about leadership and decision-making, Lost and Founder is a treasure. It’s chock full of inspiration, cautionary tales, straightforward advice, and real talk about what it’s really like for founders who’s name isn't Zuckerberg.
Even if you have no intention of ever being a startup founder and don’t personally know any of those creatures, it’s worth a read to understand what daily life is like for those souls who are crafting the tech that shapes our world, and as a model for leadership, transparency, generosity, and vulnerability. Also, you’ll contemplate moving to Seattle so that Rand and his wife, Geraldine, could be your new besties.
2. The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
The Libary Book is true crime story about a fire at the Downtown Los Angeles Public Libary and the troubled man who may or may not have started it. Actually, scratch that. It’s a love letter to the DTLA Public Library in the guise of storytelling about its history, inner workings, and dedicated staff. Hmmm… scratch that, too. It’s in-depth reporting about the modern role of public libraries in our cities, especially Los Angeles, grounded in several compelling character studies. The Library Book is all of those things, and more. Organized like a library (by topic instead of chronology) it will make you laugh, make you think, and make you head to your local library branch for your own shiny new library card if you don’t have one already. At a minimum, it’ll make you want to visit the DTLA Public Library. (Let me know when you’ve got that urge — I’ll meet you there!)
Original, thorough, and compelling, The Library Book is a beautifully written page-turner about what you might previously have thought was a staid topic.
3.Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
I know… you’ve already read Into Thin Air. Because everybody but me has gotten around to reading it by now. And good on you because this is a tour de force of storytelling and reporting. For the three people who don’t know: Into Thin Air is Jon Krakaeur’s personal memoir of summiting Mount Everest in 2016 on an expedition that would ultimately cost five climbers their lives and a sixth his hand. I stayed up too late, rushed through work, left my husband to his own devices and might have rescheduled a social commitment to stay home and finish this book. After I finished, I read thousands more pages of commentary, follow-up reporting, and controversy, because I wasn’t ready to let go of the story or Krakauer’s voice. It’s that good.
4. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
Part science-fiction, part fantasy, part historical fiction, part comedy, and part romance, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is nearly impossible to describe, but trust me: you want to read it. Scifi icon Neal Stephenson and historical fiction writer Nicole Galland dive into time travel, witchcraft, Schroedinger’s Cat qua photography, the multiverse and more in this hilarious, well-researched, gloriously complex, richly imagined novel. The cast of characters is delightful, the story believable despite the mix of fantastical ideas in it, and the writing steadily excellent despite the co-authorship of two authors with very different styles. I love this book. I hope you read it.
5. City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert
I loathed Eat, Pray, Love, so if I’d fully clocked that the author was that Elizabeth Gilbert I might have passed on this excellent read, and that would have been too bad. Set primarily in an off-off-Broadway theater in 1940s New York City, City of Girls is the story of a young woman finding independence, adventure, friendship, and family in a time and place where all of those things were complicated for young women. Told in the first-person, it’s imbued with the personality of the main character and narrator and full of details that make it read as authentic and believable. It’s a long book you’ll power through in a weekend.
Bonus: The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
My brilliant 11-year-old bookworm niece recommended this gem. Some of the best modern fiction is YA fiction, and The Girl Who Drank the Moon is in that category. Barnhill delivers an inventive and heartwarming fairytale about a village trapped in the clutches of a cruel myth of an evil witch who demands an annual sacrifice of the village’s youngest child. Reality turns out to be very different than myth, and the power of chosen families, love of many sorts, ancient magic, and quiet courage makes all the difference. Thanks, Kiley, for the hot tip!