August and September Books: lots of fiction and a few audiobooks

Thanks to Yujin, I’m addicted to Farnam Street. It’s the blog I wanted to start :)

Here are the books I read in August and September. I’m using a simpler format, with the hope that less work = more consistent updating.


I drove from LA to San Francisco twice in August, hence the 3 completed audiobooks. Oh, and plenty of podcasts.

The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator by Randall Stross

I kept putting off reading this book, but after unabated nagging from a few friends, I took the plunge and got through it pretty quickly. Stross provides a great refresher of YC lessons learned, and his behind-the-scenes access unlocked plenty of new insights and stories.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (audiobook)

Did you know Stephen King had his first short stories published at the age of 18? And that his ironclad rule is to write 2000 words a day, every day (holidays and weekends included)?

It reminds me of that Somerset Maugham quote,

I write only when inspiration strikes me. Fortunately it strikes me every morning at nine o’clock sharp.

Stephen also dislikes adverbs, for example “he aggressively jumped” or “she silently tip-toed”.

Thanks Magic Ming for the rec.

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey (audiobook)

It’s nominally an investigation of how average tennis players like myself can perform at their highest level, but its lessons can be abstracted into a life philosophy on how to overcome obstacles, face competition, and be your best self. Some of Timothy’s lessons are trite and of the self-help variety, for example his belief that opponents are blessings in disguise, but overall I enjoyed reading the book and understanding the difference between my conscious and subconscious self.

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein (audiobook)

You know you’re a big poo-bah when the title of your book can follow the format “[your last name] on [some topic]”. Like “Jordan on Basketball” or “Santana on Guitar”. I guess that’s where Stein fits in the pantheon of book editors, having published the works of David Frost, Elia Kazan, W. H. Auden, and Jacques Barzun. I learned so much from the audiobook that when it was finished, I immediately started over and listened to it again. For example, the best dialogue should be oblique, as in:

Harry: “Did you like that new movie Gravity?”
Sally: “How can you not like a movie with George Clooney AND Sandra Bullock?”

The dialogue is oblique because Sally doesn’t just say “Yes” or “No”. So yeah, many nuggets like that.


Dominated by fiction.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Yes, I read this book in middle school and I think it’s really meant for on-the-cusp adolescent boys. Where the re-reading urge came from, I can’t tell you. But I’m glad I re-read it, particularly the first half which focuses on how Jonas discovers his gift and how it changes both his relationships and his view of the world. I find it amazing that an adult author can write something which touches both children and adults, sort of like Pixar does today with its movies. The Giver profoundly affected 12-year old me, and it’s probably changed the lives of millions of kids and will continue doing so. Powerful stuff.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

As I’ve mentioned too many times before, I love Murakami’s writing. Like going on a run with a really fit friend, it pushes you beyond the limits of what you thought possible, and you’re left better for the experience with an undeniable reader’s high.

Not all’s perfect in Murakami-land, though. His sometimes bizarre, usually unpredictable endings can be aggravating, because I like to have my literary i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Those endings can feel like a girl who careens into your life, crashing through the emotional boundaries that you’ve carefully built, and then vanishes without a warning, leaving you with questions that your heart keeps asking but your brain knows will remain unanswered.

…or something like that, I imagine.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

The 2 books are so different that it doesn’t matter what order you read them in. Hard-Boiled was more…cerebral. And Kafka left me with a melancholy that is I wouldn’t try to explained.

If you do read them – or any of the other books – I’d love to hear your thoughts. Always open to recommendations as well. Cheers!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.