What I’ve Been Reading

Here are some books I've been reading.

A reader suggested to me some months ago that there might be interest in what I’m reading. Many moons ago, I did start the annual reviews of books on “The Scholarly Kitchen,” and I do read a wide variety of books, always juggling a physical stack on my nightstand and a virtual stack on my Kindle. Yet, I remain skeptical anyone cares.

There is one way to find out — give it a try.

So, here goes nothing.

These won’t be reviews per se. Instead, I’ll give you a bit of my opinion in each brief description.

For my own convenience, a link to each title will go to Amazon. If you want to order from another source, you’ll have all the information you need to track it down locally or from another online retailer.

And, who knows, maybe there’s a gift idea or three in here . . .

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones,” by James Clear.

My son requested this one some months ago, and then raved about it to me. A lot of the content is familiar, as I’m a big fan of habits, and Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” came out of the same insights. But Clear’s story is itself compelling, and the book is both fun to read and a useful reminder. Is reading a book about good habits every so often itself a good habit?

You Are What You Watch: How Movies and TV Affect Everything,” by Walt Hickey.

I love Hickey’s e-newsletter, “NumLock News.” Before I got this book, I didn’t realize he’s also a Pulitzer Prize-winning data journalist. This book reinforces my own optimistic view of media consumption with scads of data — how baby names reflect the emergence of characters in film, how watching superhero movies makes us happier and more confident, and how we benefit psychologically and physically from a good media diet. The illustrations are excellent, and the book is a lot of fun to read. Ever wonder how the air in theaters change during a screening? And how that differs depending on the type of movie? How your body reacts physiologically, and why it’s so important that there are characters you care about? Lots of insights for movie, music, and TV buffs.

My Effin’ Life,” by Geddy Lee.

In addition to being a legendary bassist and part of the band Rush, the author is also an avid birder, so he named his book in honor of a well-loved birding guide. Lee’s memoir is what you’d expect from a member of Rush — unique, exceptional, well-done, and memorable for how Lee again and again has had to transmute tragedy into life-affirming music. Telling some incredible stories from his parents’ experiences in and after concentration camps, the family’s life in the suburbs of Toronto, the rise of the band, the highs and lows of a life in music, the prices paid and wounds sustained and healed, and the three-part tragedy that suspended, reshaped, and ended the group, Lee tells a story that is at various times moving, hilarious, and reflective of the deep humanity of a band that served as a model of the nice guys finishing first.

Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet,” by Taylor Lorenz.

Looking back across the rise of the consumer Internet (Netscape onward), Lorenz uses her reporting over the years and knits together a story that reminds you of all the weirdness that made the Internet so much fun at first, and then ultimately a real problem as power and money collected in too few hands. I put this one down about halfway through, as the focus on the glitzy stories we all remember or know grew tiresome. To me, the story after ~2010 was less about the movers and shakers and more about victimization and exploitation. Lorenz still seems dazzled by the Internet, while I think more and more people are worried. Maybe she gets there, but I’m on hiatus from this one.

The Secret: A Jack Reacher Novel,” by Lee Child and Andrew Child.

Years ago, I resisted reading Jack Reacher novels. They seemed stilted and strained. Then, upon revisiting Child’s invention, I realized what a great character and muscular, merciless writing style I could enjoy. Now a family writing affair (Andrew Grant is Lee’s younger brother, using a pseudonym as he takes over writing), the style has changed to some degree, is still eminently readable (and becoming more like the original), and the character continues to supply everything needed for a rip-roaring yarn. Mental fast food, but sometimes you just want a perfect cheeseburger, some hot, salty fries, and a thick chocolate shake.

Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime,” by Sean Carroll.

I loved this book. I like reading about astronomy, physics, and quantum mechanics every so often to generate the sensation I get looking through a telescope — that while we’re tiny, egocentric, and boisterous, there are forces we barely appreciate acting on and around us all the time. Carroll does a great job of keeping the reader engaged, and his discussions of basic and leading-edge quantum theories seemed clear and excellent.

Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More With Less,” by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz.

From the editorial team at Axios, this book starts out strong, and then starts to feel like a sales job. Still, decent insights about how Axios has honed its newsletters, and the power and importance of brevity. Small, inexpensive, and readable.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,” by Jack Weatherford.

I finished this over the summer, but I want to mention it because it opened my eyes again and again, and is so well-written and constructed as a history that I devoured it, and may even re-read it someday. The beauty of discursive reading also became evident, as after reading this book, I now appreciate Rush’s song “Xanadu” a lot more deeply.

The Singer’s Talk — The Greatest Singers of Our Time Discuss the One Thing They're Never Asked About: Their Voices,” by Jason Thomas Gordon.

Written by the grandson of Danny Thomas and creator of Music Gives to St. Jude Kids, a campaign that raises funds and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through music-based initiatives, we get to read as singers respond to a stock set of questions, and then usefully or playfully diverge from the script in insightful, funny, or quirky ways. The list of singers is long, and when the singer in question has passed away, a producer, bandmate, or close confidante is asked instead (Steven Van Zandt’s analysis of Little Richard is a tour de force). Singers who were interviewed include Bryan Adams, Tony Bennett (before he died), Chuck D, Roger Daltrey, Joe Elliott, Emmylou Harris, Brittany Howard, Chrissie Hynde, Norah Jones, Simon Le Bon, Geddy Lee, Willie Nelson, Stevie Nicks, Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Perry, Lionel Richie, LeAnn Rimes, Smokey Robinson, Robert Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples, Rod Stewart, Michael Stipe, Jeff Tweedy, Roger Waters, Dionne Warwick, Ann Wilson, Thom Yorke . . . the list goes on. Released this October, the book is fresh and fun, and each singer’s entry is great bedtime reading — just long enough to finish before lights out.

The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial,” by David Lipsky.

This is a strong book, from beginning to end. It comes together in an interesting way, with broad, historical brush strokes at the start and almost pointillism as we approach the present moment. Lipsky is a great writer, and the narrative whizzes along as he drops the perfect word at the perfect moment again and again. The framing is fascinating, and the frame holds.

There, that’s what I’ve been reading.

I’m open to suggestions, so comment away with your recommendations as 2023 winds down.