in Books, Reading

Recent Reading: Rediscovering a Passion for Books

“You know what I miss?” Kim asked last night. We were sitting in bed, reading. “I miss the way we read The Martian together. That was fun.”

Last month, during our week-long quest to find a place to live for the winter, we read/audited Andy Weir’s The Martian as we drove all over Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Sometimes I read aloud to us, but mostly we listened to the audiobook. Kim’s right: It was fun.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “When you finish the book you’re working on, you can pick something else for us to read together. We can read it to each other. And if the audiobook is good, we can listen to that too.”

We’re both excited about this plan.

You see, Kim and I both used to be big readers. One of my first uses of the internet was to track my reading. When we were married, Kris and I used to spend our evenings reading together instead of watching television. And when I discovered audiobooks about a decade ago, I learned that listening to a book is often better than reading one.

Note: Is “auditing” a book the same as reading it? Folks who’ve never done it say “no”. But to those of us who’ve discovered the magic of audiobooks, auditing can actually be superior to reading. A great narrator reading a great book takes things to a whole new level. Even if the recording is mediocre, the reader still tends to retain more of the material. The biggest drawback? Audiobooks are linear, and there’s no way to take notes. With a paper book, things are more “random access” (which is great for nonfiction) and you’re free to mark the hell out of the pages.

When Kim and I first started dating in early 2012, we’d both been out of the habit of reading for a while. Things didn’t get any better during the next three years. But when we started our RV trip, things changed. Suddenly we didn’t have our old habits to fall back on. We had less access to easy entertainment. We had to entertain ourselves.

As a result, we both began reading again. (In fact, we made that a priority before we left Portland. We each brought a shoebox of paperbacks with us.)

Over the past six months, I’ve read (among others):

  • Colin Woodard’s American Nations. This is an interesting (if flawed) look at how the U.S. is a country made up of eleven smaller “nations”. Each nation is a cultural unit unto itself with it’s own political and social standards. Sure, we as a country share some commonalities, but there’s a reason Kim and I feel like foreigners here in the South. We’re from the Left Coast, and our values are very different from the folks we’re around right now. To my mind, the main flaw with the book is where the author divides his nations. To him, it’s an academic exercise based on statistics. It’s like he hasn’t really experienced the areas he’s writing about. If he had, he’d probably split things up differently. (When taken with Founding Brothers, American Nations has helped me understand that the U.S. was never actually “united”. We’ve always been divided — and probably always will be.)
  • James Michener’s Centennial. Michener is one of Kris’ favorite authors. The entire 23 years we were together, she tried to convince me to read him but I never made the time. My mistake. He’s great! I started reading Centennial as we approached northeast Colorado, where the novel takes place. Over about 1000 pages, the author explores the history of this region in a way that makes it come alive. Great stuff. I now plan to read Chesapeake before we explore Virginia in the spring.
  • Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This is a book I like to revisit every couple of years. I enjoy the whole fiction/philosophy subgenre, and books like Siddhartha and The Razor’s Edge always bring me back for more. (Apparently this genre is called bildungsroman. It’s a thing.) Kim and I listened to most of Motorcycle Maintenance as we drove across Montana and the Dakotas, where the story takes place. For hours at a time, the cab of the RV was quiet as we listened to Pirsig’s discussion of Quality. More fun than you might think.
  • Willa Cather’s My Antonía and O Pioneers!. While stuck in South Dakota, I re-read Cather’s amazing My Antonía, which explores what life was like for immigrant families on the plains of Nebraska during the 1800s. I followed that up with O Pioneers!, which is more in the same vein. I prefer the former with its many anecdotes of death and destruction. These books are bleak, just like the land they describe.
  • Charles Portis’ True Grit. Most folks only know this as a movie. That’s too bad. True Grit is one of the best books I’ve ever read. No joke. It’s fantastic. The main character, Maddie Ross, has one of the strongest narrative voices I’ve ever encountered, with a distinct worldview that just can’t be conveyed on film. This is a short book (I read it once in one sitting) and it’s hilarious. Like Jonathan Strange, the author is funny funny funny although many readers miss the humor by taking everything at face value.

I’ve also begun reading science fiction again after an almost twenty-year lull. I’ve read (or re-read):

Right now, I’m reading Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (fun space opera with excellent character observation) and auditing The Millionaire Next Door. (The latter is homework for future Money Boss articles.)

I’m pleased with how much I’ve read recently. And Kim has read even more than I have! (I sometimes get distracted by blogs and Reddit.) It feels good to re-enter the world of words.

One big difference between how I read today and how I used to read? Most of my current reading is done on the Kindle. Yes, yes. I love paper books too, and I’ll always have them. Paper books are especially good for nonfiction (for reasons mentioned above). But when traveling, my Kindle is a lifesaver. It contains hundreds of books — but is smaller and lighter than even one. In the eight years since the first Kindle was released, I’ve purchased 310 books for the device.

Note: I prefer the “old-fashioned” Kindle Voyage with a black-and-white screen and mechanical buttons for turning pages. I have the Kindle app on my iPad, of course, and I do use it, but when I’m reading for extended periods — especially for bed — I want to not be using a computer or iPad-type screen. The Kindle’s “digital ink” is easier on my eyes and doesn’t disrupt my sleep patterns. (If I read the iPad before bed, I have trouble staying asleep.) Plus, my Kindle Voyage is tiny and light. I love it. It may be my favorite electronic device — and that’s high praise, coming from me!

Also on this trip, I started listening to audiobooks while falling asleep. I generally don’t recommend this. If you listen to books at bedtime, you’ll nod off after a few minutes, and the next night you’ll have to struggle to find the last place you heard. But I sleep well while listening to books, so I’ve found a way to make it work for me.

My secret? I only listen to books I know very, very well. On this trip, for instance, I’ve listened to The Lord of the Rings three or four times. I know the series by heart, so it doesn’t matter where I fall asleep. (Plus it’s fun to wake in the middle of the night and hear more of the narration.) My other go-to is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is probably my favorite audiobook ever. So good!

There you have it: A run-down of my recent reading habits. Now it’s your turn. Based on what you see here, do you have any recommendations? Because it’s fun to read about the places we visit, I’m looking for books that are able to capture regional character. I also want to continue kindling my passion for science fiction. And, as always, I’m interested to hear about good financial books. (If you have recommendations for great books read by great narrators, that’d be awesome too.) What should I read next?

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  1. Highly recommend this audiobook: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

    It is a full-cast production with a number of voice actors. Loved it.

  2. While you’re in Georgia, you might like Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier (the audiobook is wonderful). It’s set in the wilderness of the Cherokee Nation, which spanned roughly from Georgia to North Carolina.

    Mostly non-fiction picks are coming to mind right now. Two of my favorite recent reads: A million miles in a thousand years: what I learned while editing my life by Donald Miller and This is how: proven aid in overcoming shyness, molestation, fatness, spinsterhood, grief, disease, lushery, decrepitude & more: for young and old alike by Augusten Burroughs (Get the tissues ready for the chapter on how to lose someone you love.)

    And these are not directly related to finance, but they are interesting books about mindset that can be related to money or habits: Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations by Chris Berdik, Little bets: how breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries by Peter Sims, and Scarcity: why having too little means so much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

    I’ve never read much science fiction, but I loved The Martian! So I may have to checkout your sci-fi picks.

  3. Though I didn’t love it, since you’re in Savannah I think you ought to read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

    But since you’re also in the midst of a road trip across America, and since you share my love of the fiction/philosophy genre, you should read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

    Also, I followed the link to your book and movie log from 1997/1998, and have to say I was working at a movie theatre during that same time period, and Contact and LA Confidential were definitely worth seeing multiple times each!

  4. Recent science fiction I’ve enjoyed:
    Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
    Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

    And since you are in the South, you might want to read some Pat Conroy…

    Personal Finance books: If you haven’t read “Get What’s Yours” yet, I think you would enjoy it.

    Are you on Goodreads? I’ve found it a great way to track the books I read and get recommendations from friends. It’s basically my reading social network.

  5. I would recommend Neal Stephenson, probably Reamde to start with.

    All of the Longmire books by Craig Johnson are great! Start with The Cold Dish.

    And for a classic, try Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Gray.

  6. Lord of the Rinds! Hahaha! Thats so funny.

    Neil Stephensons “Diamond Age”. It is about a very interesting book. Cyberpunk style SF novel.

  7. For a quick and easy financial read, I recommend Millionaire Teacher by Andrew Hallam. He gives much of the same advice as Mr. Money Mustache, but without the colorful language and face punches!

  8. I’ve recently been rediscovering my love of books too. It seems like blogs and articles on the Internet have completely eaten up the time I used to spend reading books, especially fiction books, so I’ve been making a conscious effort to put down the tablet and read a book.

    I just read To Kill a Mockingbird followed by Go Set a Watchman, and they were both very good. You might enjoy them since you’re spending some time in the South. Next on my list is Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. I also have a copy of Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital that someone gave me, but I don’t know if I’ll read it. It’s long and I’m not that interested in the subject, but I’ll at least start it to see how it is because my friend said it was really good!

  9. I love hearing book recommendations. Here are a few of my favourites: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, and A Guide to The Good Life by William B. Irvine (though I’d skip right to Part II on that one). Another fun read is Think, Act and Invest Like Warren Buffett by Larry Swedroe. It’s now my top recommendation for anyone looking for a primer on investing (and the artwork is by Carl Richards, which is a bonus). Happy reading!

  10. I keep a reading log online, too. Had been keeping a reading journal for years anyway, and decided to make it a regular item on my blog.

    A few recommendations:

    Nonfiction: Cheating the Impossible by Philippe Petit
    SF: Jumper by Steven Gould; Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines; A Flag Full of Stars* by Brad Ferguson
    Fantasy: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
    Mystery/Thriller: Loot by Aaron Elkins; Hot Money by Dick Francis

    *this is a Star Trek novel (one of my favorites) so if you hate Trek you probably wouldn’t like it. 🙂

  11. There’s a great book about Cumberland Island which is near Savanah: “Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America”. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

    Carol Ruckdeschel is the wildest woman in America. She wrestles alligators, eats roadkill, rides horses bareback, and lives in a ramshackle cabin that she built by hand in an island wilderness. A combination of Henry David Thoreau and Jane Goodall, Carol is a self-taught scientist who has become a tireless defender of sea turtles on Cumberland Island, a national park off the coast of Georgia.

    If you guys have time, you should definitely check out Cumberland Island. It’s beautiful!

  12. I highly recommend The Frontiersmen or any of Alan Eckhert’s books – mostly set in the Ohio/Kentucky area at the time of the revolution – his historical research is impeccable and his characters jump off the page. Don’t know if you’re heading back up Ohio ways.

    If you’re in Florida, check out Shadow Country, by Peter Matthiessen. Amazing story of frontier everglades life.