Things I read often

When talking to some of my friends, I have often discovered that they, like me, keep a list of things to read every now and then. I thought I would post mine here in case anyone else is interested. It is of course a work in progress. Some of these I have linked to in my past posts.

1. David Foster Wallace - “This is water.”

DFW’s classic speech makes the concept of enlightenment concrete in our daily lives. He asks: What is the value of a liberal arts education? How do we response to the grind of adult life? His answer is a fantastic exposition of how to live.

2. Dave Eggers - “Interview with the Harvard Advocate.”

In this interview Eggers reminds us why we shouldn’t worry about what other people think and, even more importantly, why we shouldn’t be dismissive of others. He shows us what it’s like to embrace and to love life. If you like music or literature, you’ll love his references. Feel free to skip right to the addendum, which is where the meat of this article is.

3. Oliver Sacks - “The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)”

Oliver Sacks is a wonderful writer. He is full of awe and optimism. His writings help you marvel at the world we live in. He reminds us that there is always a silver lining. One can always find beauty even in what may seem to be dark and difficult situations. This is a lovely piece that I want to revisit as I age.

4. Paul Graham - “How to do what you love.”

I read and reread this article in the past few years as I tried (and still try) to figure out what the heck to do with my life. The key insight of this post is that it is actually very difficult to know what you love. He has a lot of astute observations about how people fail to find what they love. I recommend this for people who are still looking for their purpose in life. It is a great reminder of the effort necessary to be fulfilled.

5. Clay Christensen - “How Will You Measure Your Life?”

Christensen is the kind of academic I’d like to be. An excellent thinker and teacher and human being. He is committed to his family, his Church, and his students. He observes that a number of his classmates at HBS and his fellow Rhodes Scholars ended up in jail. He asks why. He spills his secrets for having a fulfilling and purposeful life. The key? A year of daily hour-long reflection. A constant quest to maintain perspective and see the bigger picture.

6. Radhika Nagpal - “The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc.”

Nagpal gives the best advice about how to navigate high pressure environments. It is surprisingly simple. Stop worrying. Find friends. Have fun. A must read for anyone considering an academic career.

7. Youtube - Interview with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem about how to deal with Failure.

This is a video interview of James Murphy talking about his failure as a fledgling artist. He talks about his fear and depression. He talks about taking steps to engage culture.

8. Joel Lowell (NYT) - “George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year.”

Saunders writes powerful, compelling, deep, transforming stories. He teaches you how to be kinder, how to be more vulnerable, how to find beauty all around us. But he’s not always easy to read. I have found this review very useful in summarizing up some of his ideas. It’s not enough, of course, and someday I might supplant this link with something Saunders himself wrote. For now I’ll leave you with this New York Times review wherein you will find many quotations.

9. Thich Nhat Hanh - On Love.

I learned about this little book from my one-time housemate Jamie. In my mind this book captures the secret to having a life full of meaningful, loving relationships with others. It talks about being aware and present for our romantic partners, our friends, our parents and children. It teaches us what it means to love someone, how to understand someone, and how, by understanding them, we can stop hurting them. Indispensible.