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Craft, Adventure, and Imagination: My Favorite Books of 2015

I went through extremely long stretches of time in high school and college without reading. I’m not saying this as an excuse, but school doesn’t make you want to read. School can make amazing books seem so dull you don’t even give them a chance. It’s a tragedy of today’s school system, and takes a great teacher to battle it. I read in varying degrees through my childhood, but as I went through college I increasingly learned of its importance. I realized what I had been missing and started reading more, searching out books I was interested in.

Reading is an amazing way to satiate curiosity in any topic. Business, art, music, history, military strategy, cell shaded video games, computers, you can find a book about anything. Looking back I wish I would’ve read more when I was a kid. What a way to grow. Whether you are reading for leisure or career growth, the benefits are endless.

My struggle with reading (which continues today) always comes down to time. I go to the library with the intention of really sticking to my reading habit this time. I get three or four books and say I can get at least two of these done in the three weeks they are checked out. Then I get the email from my library saying the books are due in two days, look down, and see all my books sitting there with a bookmark 50 pages through the first one.

Welp.

I bet you’ve done the same thing.

I’ve realized that reading, like anything, requires you to specifically set aside time for it. If you don’t, it won’t get done. Going into 2015 I told myself I would make reading a priority. In my 2015 goals post I said I wanted to read 20 books. Unless I forgot about any, I read 10. But the books I did read I really enjoyed. That fact only spurs me on to read more this coming year.

I’ve chosen three of my favorite books I read in 2015. My thoughts are below along with a select few of my Kindle highlights from them.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

A great writers take on writing. In general, I am super fascinated by the processes and habits of top performers. Maybe it’s why I enjoy listening to the Tim Ferriss Show so much. But writing and other creative endeavors are an enigma, and I love it. There is such a uniqueness about the minds of creatives that draws me in, I love hearing what they have to say about their craft.

Confession: I haven’t read a single Stephen King novel. Is that bad? I did mention I haven’t been a huge reader up to this point. Anyway, yes I haven’t read one of this books until this one. An interesting place to start with considering the huge selection of popular books he has penned. But I want to become a better writer, so I’ve searched specifically for books on said subject.

Even if you aren’t a writer this is an amazing book. Anyone who has works to master a skill or craft can get a lot from it. Even if you are none of those it’s just an interesting read. The stories of how he became a writer and what has influenced his style create great context for his books and advice. I have it saved on my Kindle so I can read it again in the future.

Select Kindle highlights

  • Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.
  • Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
  • I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. If one is writing for one’s own pleasure, that fear may be mild—timidity is the word I’ve used here. If, however, one is working under deadline—a school paper, a newspaper article, the SAT writing sample—that fear may be intense.
  • If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
  • I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book—something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.
  • Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.
  • Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.

If interested, read my full highlights from On Writing

Jack London: An American Life by Earle Labor

You probably read a Jack London book when you were a kid and don’t remember. He wrote Call of the Wild and White Fang among numerous other classics. I’d heard this biography of him was an incredible read, and I was not disappointed. Jack London lead one of the most adventurous and full lives of anyone I’ve ever heard of. The places he travelled, experiences he had, and writing he published are a massive testament to human achievement.

It was coincidental that I read this book while on a 5-week backpacking trip through Europe. The sense of adventure I was feeling, coupled with reading this book was incredible. It’s a beast of a book, but he led such an interesting life that it was an easy read. It delves into his childhood, writing, personal life, and eventual death. One of my favorite aspects of the book was Labor’s use of London’s own writing to tell his story. He would take pieces from his novels and relate them to his real life experiences. I took the time to re-read Call of the Wild and White Fang after I finished this biography and it shed a whole new light on his writing. It made it personal and you could see how thoroughly his work was influenced by his life experiences. I highly recommend going this route, as you’ll gain a higher level of appreciation for all his works, and there are a lot of them.

Select Kindle highlights:

  • But what that editor failed to appreciate were those three essential factors that would distinguish London’s contribution from that of most of the others: human interest, romantic imagination, and sympathetic understanding. Fueled by creative genius, these qualities would make him one of the most popular writers in the world.
  • “I have reached a conclusion,” he said to Mabel: “there is no such thing as inspiration. I thought so once, and made an ass of myself accordingly. Dig is the arcana of literature, as it is of all things save being born with a silver spoon and going to the Klondike.”
  • No longer working nineteen hours a day, he settled into a more professional routine, one he would follow the rest of his career: a minimum one thousand words a day, six days a week.
  • “Have to get in a dig now,”
  • Every man, at the beginning of his career … has two choices. He may choose immediate happiness, or ultimate happiness … He who chooses ultimate happiness, and has the ability, and works hard, will find that the reward for his efforts is cumulative, that the interest on his energy is compounded. —LONDON TO CLOUDESLEY JOHNS
  • “I carry my office in my head, and see the world while I earn the money to see it with.”
  • They delighted in climbing high up the masts—even up the mainmast, swaying dizzily with the deck ninety feet below: “Here, remote, ecstatic, above the ‘wrinkled sea’ and the slender fabric of steel, we lived some of our finest hours, enthralled by the recurrent miracle of unbored days, love ever regenerate, and contemplation of our unwasted years.
  • “Yes, indeed, the game is worth the candle.”

If interested, read my full highlights from Jack London: An American Life

Dune by Frank Herbert

Widely considered the greatest science fiction novel of all time, Dune had heavy expectations to live up to. It was written back in the 1960’s, so the writing style in itself was something to get used to. Herbert had a very unique voice and storytelling ability. As I read it felt like the whole book had a mystique about it I was constantly grabbing for. Like if I just understood a little bit better I would be accepted into some secret group.

It was an odd book to read, and it took me a while to get into it. Herbert throws you into the story and gives backstory as you go, filling you in just as you get frustrated at a lack of knowing the context of what is happening. The story moves fairly slow, partly because there is so much depth and detail to everything in this book. Each intricacy of this world he created is supremely developed and thought out. This book is called a testament to the human imagination for a reason. It’s stunning.

I was a bit let off by the ending, I felt like I wanted it to keep going past the point where it ended. It felt like Dune was meant to give you context to a much larger storyline. But there are follow up novels so I can at least look forward to the continuation of it.

While it can be a tough read at times, I thought it was well worth it. The world, the characters, the mystique all make for a memorable tale.

I don’t have many Kindle highlights, as I usually just let myself read fiction without stopping for notes. I like to be consumed by the story and look up two hours later thinking five minutes had passed. Dune definitely provided moments of that. Not constant, but they were there.

If you are a science fiction fan, it really is a must read.

Looking ahead to reading in 2016

The three books above were my favorites of the past year, but I read others that were incredible in their own right. Books like Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau, and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi were all great reads. There are so many books I want to read it’s overwhelming.

I have to be committed to making reading a regular habit in 2016, or else I’ll continue the trend of disappointment that I didn’t. I’ve been keeping track of books I want to read by creating an Amazon Books wishlist that now has well over 100 books. When I come across one I’m interested in I add it to the list so I can come back in the future if I ever need a new book. This is a great way to compile your own reading list if you haven’t yet.

Are you going to commit to reading in 2016? Have you read any of my top three from this year? Let me know in the comments below along with any book you think I should read this year.

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