Reading Stack for January 2023
Consciousness, Obama's choice, Alan Watts, a Magnum Opus
People seem to like these lists, so I’m going to be more consistent with them in 2023. If you’re one of those who does, you might check out the podcast I co-host called Good Scribes Only with my good friend Dan Breyer. Dan reads 100 books every year, and is the reason I read 52 in 2022. Planning to do so again this year.
The January Reads
Conscious by Annaka Harris
You may be familiar with the neuroscientist and meditation teacher, Sam Harris. Though Sam may have more notoriety, I have a hunch his wife, Annaka Harris, is dually important to the Waking Up Org’s success, and at least equally brilliant. She too is a Stanford-trained neuroscientist and she too teaches meditation—as Dan put it, they’re as close to a super couple as it gets. Conscious is a wonderfully accessible book, in which Annaka guides us through the history of ‘consciousness’ as a concept, plus its ever-evolving definitions, philosophies, and the scientific findings that probe its limited understanding. It’s worth noting that she is leading the charge on reclaiming pan-psychism as an intellectual premise, and I’m intrigued to read more from her. This is a short book that I would recommend to anyone who wonders what consciousness is, how it arises, and why it exists.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“A true classic of world literature . . . A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.” —Barack Obama
If I were to urge you to read any of the January books, it’s this one. Things Fall Apart is unlike any book i’ve ever encountered, and is every bit deserving of the label ‘masterpiece.’ The first of the trilogy, Achebe’s classic narrative about Africa's devastating encounter with European colonialism is told through the fictional perspective of Okonkwo, a wealthy and fearless Igbo warrior in the late 19th century. Things Fall Apart explores the deterioration and capitulation of tribal community traditions on the back of the cultural, economic, and religious forces ushered in by encroaching European powers. The novel captures not only life in a pre-colonial village, but also the tragic essence of how it feels to lose control of one’s past, present, and future. With more than 20 million copies sold worldwide, Things Fall Apart is an illuminating, captivating, and exquisitely written monument to the traditional African experience.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Want to read a banned book? When published in 1955, due to its hideous content, Lolita was an immediate cause celebre. Yet it is still read to this day because Vladimir Nabokov is an absolute master. The concept of Lolita is hard to stomach, yet the prose is wise, hilarious, elegant and worthy of its status as one of the 20th century's most seismic novels. Shocking in its beauty and tenderness, the story of ‘Humbert Humbert’ (not a typo, lol) and his adoptive step-daughter, Dolores, is a tale of twisted romance, but also an indictment against hyper-civilized Europe and its collision with cheerfully barbaric postwar America. Despite all its grotesqueness, this book is a discourse on love and its mysterious backbone—rage and obsession, madness and change, hallucination and reality. If you have the stomach for something twisted, Lolita is your novel.
Tao: The Watercourse Way by Alan Watts
At first I wasn’t sure how to feel about this book. Alan Watts is called the “father of the flower children” and, though I have more than a fair share3 of this in my own personality, there's something about the overt demonstration of hippy behavior that has always scrubbed me as disingenuous and performative. Say what you will about Watts followers, however, there's no denying that the man himself was an authentic believer in the value of eastern philosophy. Drawing on ancient and modern sources, Watts is something of an interpreter of eastern disciplines for the contemporary west. This book begins with scholarship and wit and continues to the frontiers of spirituality with the artful, flamboyant eloquence for which Watts is famous. A lucid reflection on taoism, language, and Chinese culture, The Watercourse Way is Watts last book and perhaps the brightest ruby we have to remember him. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but if you have an interest in these sorts of ideas, this short book might be worth a read.
A long time ago
I came to realize that I even if I read non-stop from birth until death I still would not come close to reading all the greatest books ever written. Surprisingly, it took the pressure off trying to read only the ‘greats’. So, in my early twenties, I committed to a life filled with books. It gets harder every year, but reading and writing remain in the top tier of my priorities. Now I read whatever interests me at a given time. And this relationship has led me to view reading as a privilege and a practice.
Books are magic. Learning is magic. And my biggest wish for 2023 is that you will treat your mind with the books it deserves.
As always reach out if there’s anything that I can be helpful with.
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Full story of that debacle to come soon
Most of you are better at finding movies, podcasts, and shows to stream than I, so I won’t clutter your inbox with that. Instead, I’ll stick to what I know best. Books.