🦊 Favorite Books of 2022
#97 — The best philosophy, creativity and fiction books I read this year, along with a few thoughts on my book reading habits.
It’s that time again! Today I’ll share my favorite books I read this year. I picked a handful of favorites and put them into loose categories of philosophy, creativity, and fiction.
Feel free to skip ahead to the list below, but for those interested, I wanted to share a few quick thoughts about my reading habits:
I now primarily read physical / print books rather than digital (Kindle). I also read most of my books in the morning rather than at bedtime. I still read my Kindle before bed, but I’ve found that I’m more able to absorb and enjoy the material when I read a physical book in the morning. There’s something about sitting in my backyard and reading with the background of chirping birds and blue skies—it elevates the experience, and it makes the stories come alive. I also have the most energy in the morning, which helps with focus and attention span.
For the last few years, I’ve read about 30 books each year. I’m not sure why it ends up being that number, but that pace has been surprisingly consistent for me. My progress is spiky, with months going by with no finished books, followed by an avalanche of completion. When I find a book I’m excited about, I usually spend months reading it slowly, absorbing as much out of it as I can. So, each year will have a few ‘big slow’ reads, and the others tend to go pretty quick. I also try to return to books a second or third times—often the first read unlocks a new perspective that changes how I perceive the ideas in the second read.
I don’t try to read a ton of books. My goal is to find books that I deeply love. That means lots of trial and error. I’m not afraid to drop book if it hasn’t captured me by the first chapter or two. Some people say you should finish a book because the author put a lot of effort into it. I don’t agree. I’ve put tons of work into writing my own book, but I don’t see that on its own as a reason for people to to read it. If they read it, it should be because it captures, inspires, and/or entertains them. The author’s effort alone is not a reason to read a book. Also, life is short. Consider all the amazing books out there that are perfect for you, waiting to be read. What if you never get a chance to read them because you’re busy finishing books out of obligation? A single book you love is worth trudging through twenty dropped books.
A fun added benefit to physical books is that I can stack my favorites together for a nice little photo:
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Let’s get into that list, shall we?
Pathways to Bliss by Joseph Campbell — This book was my introduction to Campbell’s ideas, and I was completely blown away. The feeling I had reading the introductory chapter reminded me of when I first listened to Alan Watts. The premise of this book is that myths, legends, folklore are a source of personal transformation. In other words, we process and pass along the stories and rituals prevalent in our society as a means of understanding our world, and finding ways to thrive in it. His ideas shifted my lens a lot on how I view all the fables I’m reading, as well as the ones I’m writing. It also made me rethink about my own life’s history, what I learned as religion growing up, and how much of that is imprinted myths and rituals that are now imbued in my being. I later watched his excellent PBS interview series, Power of Myth, in which he expands on many of his ideas around mythology.
Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu (A Contemporary Translation by Joseph Lumpkin) — Over the years, I’ve tried reading a few different translations of Tao Te Ching, and with Lumpkin’s translation, I’ve finally found one that I really connected with. The challenge with translating a work like the Tao is that much of the language references ideas and concepts in ancient Chinese culture (consensus suggests it was written around the year 400 BC.) If you translate it literally, it’s hard to grasp what they’re trying to say unless you have the context of the culture at the time. In Lumpkin’s translation, he took the meaning of the words based on their context and interpreted them using phrases rooted in modern understanding. From what I can tell, he’s done a fantastic job making the Tao approachable while still maintaining the spirit of the original ideas. I’ve now gone back and started reading other translations, and they make more sense to me thanks to Lumpkin’s translation. If you’ve been wanting to read the Tao, Lumpkin’s translation is a great place to start.
Talking Zen by Alan Watts (Edited by Mark Watts) — A collection of Alan Watts’ lectures delivered throughout his life, edited by his son Mark Watts. I’ve listened to a lot of lectures by Watts, but struggled to finish his books. This is the first Watts book I’ve read end-to-end. The book is divided into chapters that make it easier to approach and absorb Watts’ ideas. I still think the best introduction to Watts is to listen to random lectures of his on ideas that interest you, but this book might be a great way to go a bit deeper into the ideas. I’m working on sharing notes from this book, and hope to publish them soon.
Hell Yeah or No by Derek Sivers — I love this book. This was my second full read of the book. I savored the wisdom on each and every page. It’s packed with excellent advice, perspectives and thoughtful questions on how to think about your work, creativity and life. I hope to publish more of my takeaways from it in the future, but for now I’ve shared a note about my favorite chapter in the book, “The public you is not you.”
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard — Dillard’s essays offer a wonderful insight into her writing process. This book has been a companion for me over the past year and a half as I have worked on my own book. Her words guided me through the difficult process of revision, and the struggle of trying to take on the behemoth undertaking of writing a book. I’m nearing the end of reading this book, just as I’m approaching the last leg of editing my book. I think I’ve subconsciously kept the reading slow, pacing it such that I’ll have this partner in process until the very end.
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn — One of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read. This book was written in the 1970s, but its message is more relevant than ever. On the surface, this book is a fictional wake-up call to the pending ruin that climate change can bring us. But it’s also much more than that—Ishmael is a book that highlights the folly of the story we’ve been perpetuating as a global society. It offers us a new lens on the story of man, how we live, and how we came to be this way. The scope of this story is immense. Although it is a tale of fiction, it is grounded in historical context that ties religion to the advances of man, and tells a new story that ties them together. By the end of it, you will likely feel overwhelmed, disillusioned, and unsure of what to do about the seemingly inevitable crisis with which we are barreling ourselves toward. Thankfully, in the final pages of the book, Ishmael gives us a path for optimism. He reminds us that people can change their behavior, if enough people strive to change the minds of their peers, through stories of hope.
Zen Inklings by Donald Richie — I deeply enjoyed this collection of Zen short stories. Each tale is expertly crafted with compelling narrative and profound lessons. My favorite story in the book is Holy Demon. I’ve read that one time and time again, and I’ve told my own version of it to friends at parties. As a writer of stories, I also enjoyed how at the end of the book, the author shared the old tales which inspired each story. I hope to one day follow that example—I want to share more of the old stories I encounter, in addition to my own fresh fables. (Note: The book is out of print, but you can still find used copies out there.)
Nine Lives by William Dalrymple — Dalrymple has authored some of my favorite books on the history of India, including The Last Mughal. This book is a fantastic collection of stories that takes you on a journey across India, sharing nine powerful and moving stories from different villages, religions, and cultures within India. From the back cover: “Together, these tales reveal the resilience of individuals in the face of the relentless onslaught of modernity, the enduring legacy of tradition, and the hope and honor that can be found even in the most unlikely places.” I stumbled upon this book serendipitously, while on vacation—it sat on the bookshelves of the residence apartment we stayed in. My wife had pointed it out as she knew I was a fan of the author. But the book had doubly-perfect timing in its appearance to me, as it was an exploration of myth (which, as I’ve noted above, has become a major focus in my life through reading Campbell and writing fables.)
Hope you enjoyed the list! For more of my book recommendations, check out my website’s bookshelf section, where I publish these lists every year. Or, you can jump straight to one of the lists from past years: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017.
What were your favorite reads this year?