Hey gang, here’s my mostly-in-order 2021 reading list (last updated in August). This pandemic sure offers a lot of time to hang solo and read… I would abso love to learn what you think belongs here and in my head. Let me know!
Show Your Work – Austin Kleon
So highly recommend this to any/every artist or human who thinks about how we share and communicate life and art. I keep it handy for times when I’m overthinking and need straightforward advice about what to share. I still take it all with a grain because: stay weird forever! Also though, weird folk, share your stuff 🙂
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris
Listened to the audiobook read by Sedaris (my only audiobook this year for whatever reason). So good! Love when he takes the liberty to fictionalize hateful folks like those against gay marriage at the end. More of the same raddness from him which I can’t get enough of.
The Peaceful Stillness of the Silent Mind – Lama Yeshe
Learning to meditate, to ditch attachment, and to not be so into judging everything. Like how someone can be both friend and enemy (or neither). So happy I randomly came upon Lama Yeshe thx to my mediation folks. Kind of like a headier (or less-easy-to-grasp) Thich Nhat Hanh.
Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler
Like a survival guide embedded with mindfulness and community. Incredible. Why wasn’t this required reading in high school or college??? Such a is life-changing work.
Thanks to my wife for the recommendation. And thanks to her and our bud Nisey for showing me the Octavia’s Parables Podcast with adrienne maree brown & Toshi Reagon. Every episode changes how I think and who I am and I’m not even halfway through. The hosts reflect on the book and offer tangible elements from Octavia Butler’s work we can incorporate into our lives and communities. Can’t hype this up enough!
Also noticing it’s fun to read stuff that came out in the ’90s. Usually, I feel like I’m reading books from forever ago or more current stuff. Reading books (and listening to music) from the ’90s is like digging into my past, or the era that shaped me a bit. I mean I was a person then. Far from grown, but alive.
What It Is – Lynda Barry
“We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay.”
This book is a lovely journey through ourselves via art and thought exercises. It’s a kind of book I had no idea existed, and so grateful it does!
Aftershocks – Nadia Owusu
Good god wow what a poetic and detailed description of trauma and depression told through weaving tales of growing up in every corner of the world. Reclaiming narratives taken away by systematic hate and BS. I attended an online Q&A and they spoke about the work being a way to process. They looked at all their raw material, journals, their past, and asked — can I make art of this? So highly recommend <3
The Stone Sky – N.K. Jemison
The last book of the incredible Broken Earth Trilogy.
How was I able to read these 3 amazing works without thinking of oppression as the forefront – because I was watching – because I get to – because I always have. I was able to read this trilogy as fantasy. And while it is, it’s not.
It’s brilliant and real. And only in reading interviews with N.K. Jemison and watching her amazing Hugo Awards speech am I coming to terms with what I actually just read. In the speech, she describes the trilogy as exposing, “What it takes to live and thrive in a world that seems determined to break you.” But she also adds the hope that the trilogy also embodies. “Life in a hard world is never just the struggle.”
The Listening Path – Julia Cameron
More of the Julia Cameron I love. The person who taught me the value of journaling and artists dates and defines success as “Joy.” I particularly love the attention she gives to walking in this book, as well as sharing an excellent breakdown of how the Artist’s Way practices can help us feel whole.
Real Life – Brandon Taylor 🏆
Using fiction to get across facts and deeply personal stuff. I know this isn’t new but damn he does an amazing job of it. Sticking with me as amazing months after as if I’ve found someone or something that was missing. After reading Real Life I realized I have a favorite book of the year, which I can’t say I’ve ever had before. Way highly recommend!!
How to Ruin Everything: Essays – George Watsky
Rad. Reading George’s work taught me a lot about writing essays. Purchased on an artist’s date thanks to a recommendation from staff at the amazing Antigone Books in Tucson. It questioned my ego to the core and allowed me to be ok with myself —very much a mirror and not always an easy one to look at.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold – C Pam Zhang
Brandon Taylor recommended this in the acknowledgments of Real Life. He and C Pam Zhang were classmates. All I needed to hear and so happy to have experienced this beautiful and real journey.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
Thanks to my friend Emily for sharing this! So much inspo to do you, highly recommend. I accidentally read the updated version that includes the last chapter which was apparently left out of the OG. The author added it after a few decades of the book being released and widely loved. I think they said it was literally typed on paper and in a box somewhere.
99 Nights in Logar – Jamil Jan Kochai
Another Brandon Taylor (Real Life) rec and again wow. Another classmate of Brandon and C Pam I think… Learned so much about Afghanistan. Felt like after watching a great film or doc. So so dope. Raw. Funny. Real.
The Unreality of Memory: And Other Essays – Elisa Gabbert
I’m obsessed with how dope Elisa Gabbert is. This book is full of deep topics I love to think about or never thought to think about—the types of conversations I wish I was having with friends over coffee… heavy, real, and funny.
How do we deal with news and crisis? And how does our memory play into what we exp or how we remember and relate to stuff — what we experience? What’s up with pandemics? (She happened to have written a piece about pandemics including quotes from Fauci a good year or so before we first learned about COVID).
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong
- Possibly my fav fiction ever (is it fiction?)
- Blurts lines of essay fiction non-fiction and poetry — he talks about this a bit more in the acknowledgments
- So real so beautiful
- Love the way it’s cut up and takes turns but keeps you right there
- Epic mortality blanket
- Makes life feel so f’n visceral and real
Intimations – Zadie Smith
- A perfect quick afternoon read with all the author’s profits benefiting charities
- A deep look at individual experiences during the pandemic, specifically in terms of writers and POC
- A brilliant tie in of racism as a virus and herd immunity and COVID
The Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo
Rad lil read I picked up on a staff recommendations shelf at an indy bookstore in BK. So dang creative with a dope and very feminist turn at the end. Super powerful!
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
Wow. Had me hyped with wet eyeballs at the end. Probably the funniest book I’ve ever read. Probably one of the most helpful too. I don’t know if it would be the same for folks who aren’t writing or working on a craft but I think it could definitely still work. The ideas of inspiration and rejection she brings up exist in artist studios and “regular” life alike. So so highly recommend and def buying this for all my artist buds.
Also a funny vibe because as hype as it is — now it’s time to get to work. All this love and humor and motivation to stare at a blank page or screen. It’s another version of finishing some big project and realizing that, ok now you can start.
Parable of the Talents – Octavia Butler
Dannnnnngggg. The continuation of Parable of the Sower (listed above). So ridiculously raw and scarily/weirdly poignant (genius). I read this mostly in the evenings and I knew every night before bed something epic would happen. Octavia doesn’t waste time in her chapters. Every single one is pivotal. So love so recommend (but read Sower first!).
And one more shoutout to the incredible podcast you can use to follow along if you want. I’m still getting through the Sower episodes and can’t wait until I get to hear adrienne maree brown and Toshi Reagon’s thoughts on this one.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy – Jenny Odell
My first book in the Austin Kleon online book club. Had really high hopes for this based on the title and it being a fav of both Austin and Obama(!). Truthfully it’s the only one this year that I stopped about 2/3’s of the way in.
It’s a very academic feeling read. I love pretty much everything the author brings up, but I got bogged down by the number of names and studies dropped. I enjoyed her talking about her relationship with neighborhood crows the best.
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
The second book in Austin Kleon’s book club. Sounds like he heard folks in the chatroom not fully loving the above book and went real nice and simple with this one. I liked this book a lot. It’s a series of short tales mostly concerning a grandma and young girl living on the beach somewhere in Europe. It’s kind of Seinfeld-y since sometimes nothing really happens. A great simple escape, but not in the sci-fi sense.
How to slowly kill yourself and others in America – Kiese Laymon
One of the most honest books I’ve ever read. Highly highly recommend. Kiese is so smart I ended up feeling lucky to be there—like the book was him sharing vast knowledge and I was allowed to be a fly on the wall. Love. Now to catch up on his fiction and memoir.
The Life and Zen Haiku Poetry of Santoka Taneda: Japan’s Beloved Modern Haiku Poet – Sumita Oyama
I was working in San Jose earlier this year and my hotel happened to be across the street from Kinokuniya, an amazing Japanese bookstore full of a million things I needed to try and fit in my luggage. I legit almost couldn’t fit everything after a second night of shopping here!
This book caught my eye. I knew nothing about haiku before reading it and thought it would be a fun to have on the shelf and pull out to read a poem from time to time. What I ended up discovering was an incredible narrative/journey of Santoka’s life of travel, begging, writing, and his love/struggle relationship with sake. He’s kind of like a nicer, Zen, Bukowski.
More to come. Last updated Aug 14, 2021.
Peep my 2020 reading list here
Peep my 2019 reading list here