Books that inspire me.
1. Sum – David Eagleman
You will read this book in one sitting. A look into 40 possible afterlives that are not meant to be taken literally and instead allow us to reflect on what makes this life valuable and magical. Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor studying the brain’s many secrets. It’s the most fun I’ve had reading and I laughed at the end of each chapter in amazement and disbelief. I keep giving this book away only to realize that I always need it on hand … so I’ve bought it many times.
2. No More Prisons – William Upski Wimsatt
Hip hop. Urban life. Self education. Hitchhiking. The Cool Rich Kids movement and philanthropy as the greatest art form. Wimsatt, a graffiti writer and grass roots organizer, talks his slick style through many social and economic problems, but this book is more about solutions.
3. In persuasion nation – George Saunders
A collection of short stories from the Syracuse Creative Writing instructor, now known for one of the greatest commencement speeches on kindness and regret. The stories are dreadful and hilarious at the same time. Sympathetic and satirical, Saunders will display his genius within a few lines.
4. My name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok
“As an artist you are responsible to no one and to nothing, except to yourself and to the truth as you see it.” This is what Asher Lev is told as he walks through the challenge of being a painter and a Jew. Potok himself was a writer and a rabbi, and the tension between faith and art for him, was lifelong.
5. Jesus’ Son – Denis Johnson
There is a short story in this collection that changed the way I think about writing. I feel like Denis Johnson is part of my family. He’s my Vietnam-vet uncle who taught me how to shoot skeet and pick up girls. With a cigarette hanging from his lips, he saunters in to any pool hall and dares meathead, frat boys to mess with him.
6. Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller
Donald Miller is a man after my own heart. The things he struggles with. The doubts he has about God. His history with women are all very familiar to me. It feels like my own subconscious is penning the pages. This book seems to reach the hands of young men and women who are having a coming-of-age crisis. Just like all struggling with mental illness find underground hip hop, so do church burnouts find Donald Miller.
7. The girl in the flammable skirt – Aimee Bender
“My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month and now he’s a sea turtle.”
8. and still I rise – Maya Angelou
I love poetry. I write poetry almost every day. I will say I love to write it more than I love to read it. But not when it comes to Maya. Her poetry rings in my mind for days after. In fact, if I am quiet, I can still hear it now. Her work is like a big “Fuck You” to anyone who practices oppression in all its various forms. But this “Fuck You” is so eloquent and elegant that it stings even harder. Kill them with kindness yes, but I would also add: she kills them with hope.
9. The things they carried – Tim O’Brien
You don’t know war until you are a soldier, but this book is as close as a civilian will get. Honest, gut-wrenching, thought-provoking, deeply sad, deeply brave all at once. I read this book in high school and the imagery is just as real 10 years later. I was totally heartbroken by a scene, but I am a better, more compassionate man for having read it.
10. The prophet – Kahlil Gibran
Almustafa is set to leave town and knows the ships that come to take him away are close to shore. Before he leaves, the townspeople gather by the docks to bid him farewell and ask him one last time to speak to them about love, marriage, friendship, money, work, death and many other topics. Almustafa answers each of their questions, all the while lamenting that he must leave them. The book is almost like a collection of speech transcripts. With such beauty, Almustafa speaks in poetic language that allows the people (and the reader) to understand complex topics and relate to them with such ease and depth. A book you will finish in 2 hours.
My nose is pressed to the window. The glass keeps fogging and that’s alright because this way the paramedics can’t see my tears. I’m standing on tip toes dug deep into the tan carpet. I’m watching him leave on a stretcher begging God not to take him. He sees me and smiles and with an outstretched arm, signals thumbs up like a beloved quarterback injured in the middle of a playoff game. A 70s gunslinger. Terry Bradshaw even.