Reading Stack for March 2023
A Western Epic, A Polish Jewel, Two Monastics, a Modern Stoic, a Brilliant TV Series
This month was fairly on-the-go for me, which isn’t always my favorite, but it does mean one thing: 🛫 airplanes.
When I was younger, planes were the ideal place to write.
Now they’re my ideal place to read.
There’s sad irony in the fact that flying through the sky at 30,000 feet, hunkered in a building-sized metal tube, is the only time I can sit in one place and read for three or four hours without distraction.1 Some people complain that books are too heavy to travel with, especially if they’re reading a few at a time. Fair point, but an easy solution: e-readers.
While I may be the rare elderly 20-something whom has dedicated himself to books, I’m not allergic to reading digitally. Frankly, I’ve become so attached to my Kindle that I think I would be more upset at losing that $70 slab of plastic than my $1000 dollar iPhone (I also invested in a digital notebook and am no less than obsessed.)2
Anyway here are this month’s five books…and one excellent TV series 📚🎬🤌🏼
FYI! The Oldsletter 🌍 📚 🧠 💡 is a reader-supported publication. Jus sayin’ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Books 📚
You might recognize this novel from the October 2022 Reading Stack. For the final episode of Season 2, Dan and I re-read what is widely considered the best book by arguably the most talented living novelist. Blood Meridian is a true “epic.” Set in the west (as most of his work is) the book underscores the sheer brutality and violence which coincided with the westward march of America. It’s loosely on historical events around the Mexico-Texas border in the 1850s and follows the story of “The Kid”—a fourteen-year-old Tennesseean who falls into the genocidal world of American Indian extermination. While described as a “western,” McCarthy does a magnificent job of thwarting traditional cowboy tropes, forging a brilliant and original work. It may be the darkest book you read this year, but this one is a masterpiece.
If you want a companion, we discussed Blood Meridian here.
I believe that originality comes from:
form (the way art is expressed)
content (what is being expressed)
Both in form and in content, Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel prize winning novel is one of the most original books I've read in a long time.3 Flights (which I ironically read on two airplanes) is part travel-reflection, part exploration of human anatomy, part philosophical treatise on life, death, migration, and motion. Through a series of vignettes—roken up by the narrators dark, fun, and provocative musings—he novel reframes common “hostel questions” (Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you going? ) into philosophical ponderings. Jarring, mesmerizing, and fiercely unique, Flights is a one of a kind read.4
If you want a companion, the Flights episode of Good Scribes Only drops next month
When it comes to books on mindfulness and buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh is unrivaled. What I love most about the late Vietnamese monastic is how humble he is, how accessible to people of all backgrounds and spiritualities—so palpable you can feel the smile on his face as he was writing. Reconciliation is based on a series of his Dharma talks and centers around healing the inner child within us all. Before anyone discounts talk of inner-child as woo-woo yogi nonsense, they should consider this question. Why do you believe what you believe? It’s a harder question to answer than one would expect, and shows how much our childhood experiences inform our adulthood.
In Reconciliation, Hanh explains with soft yet striking language how anger, sadness, and fear can become joy and tranquility. He posits that, by learning to breathe with, explore, meditate, and speak about our strong emotions, we can transform the hurt that many of us experienced as children.
I listened to this book on audio, and that was a mistake. While it was interesting to hear the delightful and quixotic poetry of Zen’s quintessential free spirit, Master Ryokan Taigu (1758-1831), this book was less philosophy than biography of the Japanese monk’s life.
Ryokan comes from the Japanese Zen lineage and spent much of his life as a hermit, writing poetry, playing with children, and creating simple and exquisitely beautiful calligraphies. He never headed a lineage nor did much teaching outside his poems and art. Thus, this book was more a sketch of one quirky artist’s meanderings around Japan. He was certainly an interesting, idiosyncratic fellow and I’m glad to be acquainted with his anecdotes, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend the book.
Courage has been a theme for me over the last few months.5 I am generally skeptical of the "now more than ever" sort of comments that luddites adore, but this one is worth considering: are people less courageous now than ever before? More fearful?
Written by one of the most popular modern non-fiction authors, this book breaks down the components of fear and cowardice, contrasting them to those of courage and bravery. By way of history’s great leaders and trailblazers—Charles De Gaulle, Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale, and Martin Luther King Jr—Holiday explores how people can conquer fear and practice courage. What I like most about Ryan Holiday, and his mentor Robert Greene, is the way they use history as evidence for what they propose. Every idea they put forth is something they have gleaned from their insatiable reading habits. Still, while I admire Holiday (and totally understand why he does it),6 I don't love the book’s occasional self-helpy language. Regardless, the lessons about fear, and having the courage to rise above it, are timeless and make Courage is Calling worth a read.
The Show 📺
The Bear (2022)
If you are a fan of Shameless you’ll recognize the lead in this new Hulu series. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, after this show, I think Jeremy Allen White will start landing serious film roles—and maybe even win a few awards.
As far as The Bear goes, my roommate is a sous-chef and said this show is “the most realistic show about a kitchen he’s ever seen.”
I don’t preach much about television but, if you are interested in food, this drama is fast and addicting and one you won’t want to skip.
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 of all kinds. Reading time gets more scarce every year, and this relationship has led me to view reading as a privilege and a practice. Now, I read whatever sounds compelling, and write whenever I can free up a moment.
Remember, books are magic. Learning is magic. And my biggest wish is that you treat your mind with the books it deserves.
It’s worth mentioning that we talk about most of these books on Good Scribes Only.
Ok, bookeroos, that’s all for now. As always, reach out if there’s anything that I can be helpful with.
The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi, Fumatake Koga
The Way of Effortless Mindfulness by Loch Kelly
The Meaning of It All by Richard Feynman
Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah
Thanks again for reading + for your continued support.
Até a próxima ✌️
I almost never buy wifi or watch movies ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Shoutout to Brendan McKenna and David Casey for this…
So original, in fact, that I’m not at all sure how to rate it
Particularly for those interested in form
The reasons for this will probably be outlined at some point and you’ll maybe have a nice “OOOooooou I get it now…” moment
Plus, will likely never sell as many books as him