I read eleven books over the past two months. One hardback, two paperbacks, three Kindle ebooks, and five audiobooks. For me, that’s a lot of books, so here was my method:

  1. I listened to Audible books while running or lifting, which I typically do six days a week. This kills two birds with one stone. I’ve found it’s important to chose a book that’s conducive to working out. For me, this is a high-interest nonfiction book with ideas that inspire me.
  2. I read fiction on my Kindle after getting in bed for the night. The light from my Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t seem to negatively affect my sleep. On the contrary–I find that reading novels on the Kindle helps me fall asleep.
  3. When I have time to myself, I read in the front room of my house near my personal library.

The following list is possibly the most eclectic I’ve shared, so there’s bound to be at least one book for most readers. It includes fiction and nonfiction… Positive thinking and hardboiled, unsentimental plots… How to be an effective leader and westerns that make your skin crawl… Yeah, that’s all below. Here we go.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek (Paperback)

Simon Sinek put a lot of work into writing Leaders Eat Last, and even though it’s a long book with many interesting tidbits, it falls short of his TED Talk, which is how I first came across Sinek. He meanders across various topics so chapters read as individual blog posts that have been cobbled together under the main idea, which can be summed up as so: leaders must take care of those in their charge.

The portion of the book I found the most interesting happened to be one of those meanderings in which Sinek describes the chemicals in the body: endorphins (which mask physical pain), dopamine (goal oriented, addictive), serotonin (reinforcing bonds), oxytocin (love, friendship, trust), and cortisol (stress). I’ve found it worthwhile to think about how these chemicals affect both the leader and the people they are leading.

I also enjoyed the portion about boomers and millennials because I find it entertaining to read about how different generations approach life.

The Unfinished Leader: A School Leadership Framework for Growth and Development by Michael Lubelfeld, Nick Polyak, and PJ Caposey (Paperback)

The only thing that’s permanent in life is constant change. The authors of The Unfinished Leader write, “Society continues to change at an exponential rate. As society changes, families change. And as families change, children change and have different needs. As children change, so too must the schools that serve them. So, no matter how fast you feel you are leading change, be aware of the fact that your school is changing slower than the world our kids live in, and therefore we need to pick up the pace.” In the four years I’ve been a principal, I can vouch that children and families are rapidly changing, and I concur that, ideally, schools must evolve quickly to meet these ever-changing needs. But change is hard. The authors explain why:

“Let’s start off by acknowledging why change is so hard. Change is incredibly hard for four reasons. First, change represents loss. Second, our brain desires certainty and is risk-averse, and change is anything but. Next, leading change is expensive. It creates a large emotional toll and is costly to the political capital you have worked so hard to earn. Lastly, in order to lead change, you must have the talent or skill to see things for better than they currently are.”

Sense of loss, lack of certainty, expense, and talent… These are legitimate reasons for why change is difficult; especially for a large organization.

Near the end of the book there’s a great summation of being a school administrator: “We would like to believe that the role of a school leader is more like an orchestra or band director rather than a ‘boss.’ The leader works to get large groups to ‘play’ together in beautiful ways. Perhaps an architect is also an appropriate analogy.” This is so true. A topdown approach doesn’t get people to play well with each other. You can’t mandate for coworkers to agree, and you definitely can’t will your staff into getting along. As the authors state, being a leader at a school is very similar to being a conductor, and you have to elegantly guide the different instruments and harmonies into music conducive to student achievement.

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor (Audible)

Shawn Achor does a great job synthesizing a lot of ideas about happiness and positivity that I’ve read in other books. He has a data-informed approach, which I appreciate, and his main thesis is this: Happiness must come before success. Most often, young people are told to work hard and happiness will follow. As Achor points out, it’s more beneficial for a person to focus on happiness and positivity, because it is these factors that will cause success in life.

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni (Hardback)

I read The Advantage about five years ago and revisited it this past school year with my Admin Team. What I appreciate about the book is its focus on the importance of organizational health. We can have the most skilled and knowledgeable people on our team, but if good communication is lacking, everything will fall apart. Patrick Lencioni doesn’t just say an organization needs clarity, he repeats that leaders must over communicate clarity. Oftentimes leaders don’t over communicate the message because of various reasons: time-restraints, boredom, apathy, etc. What’s important is having a clear purpose, sticking to the purpose, and continually communicating the purpose.

Richer, Wiser, Happier: How the World’s Greatest Investors Win in Markets and Life by William Green (Audible)

I love reading the wisdom from investors such as Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. Richer, Wiser, Happier definitely shares principles from Buffet and Munger, but it also shares truths from many successful investors. Some of these lessons include: don’t chase fads, buy low-cost index funds, don’t try predicting or controlling the future, buy low/sell high, avoid instant gratification, only invest in what you understand, take care of yourself both physically and mentally, and love trumps all.

Richer, Wiser, Happier would pair well with Poor Charlie’s Almanack and Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger.

This is the best book I read over the past two months.

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill and Dan Piepenbring (Contributor) (Audible)

At 528 pages (which translates to 16 hours, 15 minutes as an audiobook), Chaos is overly long. I appreciate the decades Tom O’Neill devoted to this book, and while I’m a fan of true fiction, Chaos revealed to me I have little patience for conspiracy theories. There were multiple times I almost stopped listening to the book altogether because of O’Neill’s meandering narrative.

Chaos is a worthy addition to the Manson canon, but you have to be pretty interested in the history of Manson and his “family” in order to find this long read worth your time.

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann (Audible)

After finishing one of the Zahler books described below, I searched on Twitter for other horror books and read a tweet in which someone recommended You Should Have Left. What I should have done is kept scrolling, because I found this book insipid. Fortunately, it is very short–basically a novella–so I finished listening to it without wasting too much time.

Books by S. Craig Zahler

I always recommend S. Craig Zahler with a grain of salt. His novels are brutal and not for the faint of heart. In March I read his Wraiths of the Broken Land, which was pretty intense.

The violence in Zahler’s books and films is either a result of a character’s bad choices or to show the seemingly capriciousness of evil in the world. He describes scenes most authors wouldn’t dare, and I appreciate that he pushes the envelope by making books you can’t put down (for the most part).

I wrote my thoughts about each book after letting some time pass so I could process what happens to the characters. With stories like the ones below, it’s important for me to allow the stories to settle before trying to make sense of them. Bottom line: if you like Stephen King and are up for some horror and gore, Zahler will fit the bill for your summer reading.

A Congregation of Jackals by S. Craig Zahler (Kindle)

I read this while in San Luis Obispo for spring break and could barely but it down. It builds and builds until a harrowing conclusion where all debts are paid. If you like westerns, pair this with Wraiths. Also, you can never go wrong with the Lonesome Dove Saga by Larry McMurtry (which is possibly the best series of novels I’ve ever read).

The Narrow Caves by S. Craig Zahler (Audiobook)

The description on Amazon states this is an Audiostate production in which Zahler’s words are read by actors, music is included, and the listener is provided an “ear-movies” experience. I found it effective. The quality is top notch, and the the cast includes famous actors including Vincent D’Onofrio, Will Patton, and Lili Simmons. I listened to portions of The Narrow Caves while running early in the morning while it was dark outside. There were times when chills ran down my back based upon what was being described, and the music is unnerving. I used this shot of adrenaline to propel me forward through the darkness, but I was definitely scared as hell about what was in the shadows. A stray cat would have probably given me a heart attack.

(Note: I used an Audible credit to purchase The Narrow Caves, but I believe you can download every chapter for free on the Apple Podcast app.)

The Slanted Gutter by S. Craig Zahler (Kindle)

The novel is titled appropriately: the plot is designed as a slanted gutter, and the characters are on an inexorable slide toward horrible fates. The fact there aren’t any likable characters makes each demise more palatable, but not by much. Before reading this novel I saw a review on Amazon in which someone asked who hurt Zahler to influence him to write a book like this. I wondered the same thing toward the end of the story.

Mean Business on North Ganson Street by S. Craig Zahler (Kindle)

This is the slowest burn of the four Zahler books I read over the past two months, and I really didn’t like it, although, it does have a pretty cool title. At times it was boring, and at others it was horribly violent. Maybe reading four Zahler books in quick succession was just too much for me; they’re dark, dark. dark. I need a break. As Nietzsche wrote, “if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

That’s it–hopefully there’s something above you find interesting. Happy reading!

Books I’ve Read, February and March 2023

It has been two months since my last post, and during those two months I’ve finished reading six books consisting of one hardback, one Kindle ebook, and four audiobooks. As I’ve stated in the past, I find a lot of value in all three formats. I usually listen to audiobooks when I’m working out (two birds with one stone), physical books when I’m relaxing during the day, and ebooks when I’m in bed about to fall asleep. Maybe that’s a lot to manage, but it works for me.

Per the norm, the list below is pretty eclectic. I’m not sure if there’s a connection between the books–at least that I’m aware of. I liked them all, and I gladly recommend each one. Warning: the fiction is not for the faint of heart, but I found the nonfiction beneficial and thought-provoking. At any rate, if you see a book below that looks intriguing, I recommend giving it a read.

Never Finished: Unshackle Your Mind and Win the War Within by David Goggins (Audiobook)

If you read Goggins’ first book, Can’t Hurt Me, then you already know what to expect from Never Finished: profanity, tales of physical pain, and a lot of tough love urging the reader to push through adversity to attain seemingly unreachable goals. Never Finished provides additional insight into Goggins’ life and the progress he made since finishing Can’t Hurt Me in 2018.

I respect Goggins. His work ethic and the way he won’t let his past trauma determine his fate is highly commendable. I find much of his writing inspirational, and I highly recommend listening to his books while running or lifting because they will give you an extra dose of motivation. Goggins is gifted at retelling his successes and how he learns from failure, and if you’re reading his book for pure motivation, then you’ll find what he shares beneficial. If you’re looking for a way to balance professional successes along with raising a family, then Goggins’s musings aren’t for you. After reading two of his books, I’ve found that I can adopt certain aspects of his thinking such as the 40% Rule, while keeping in mind I need to be present for my wife and children.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino (Audiobook)

As time has passed since the film version of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was released, I find it to be more and more of a masterpiece–particularly Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances. DiCaprio is quite amazing in the film, and I think it might be the best performance he’s even done.

The novel version of the story contains many of the same scenes as the movie, but it also fleshes out many other parts the film doesn’t cover: How Cliff procured his dog, Brandy; Pussycat terrorizing an older couple in Pasadena; and Sharon Tate’s journey from Texas to California all contribute to bringing a more epic feel to the story. It even answers the question as to whether or not Cliff killed his wife. Spoiler alert… The Manson Family’s attack at Rick Dalton’s house in the movie is only mentioned in passing about a quarter of the way through the story, so if this is a novel in which you’re interested, it might be helpful to know the climax of the film is missing.

As a side note, I really enjoyed Jennifer Jason Leigh’s reading of the story.

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin (Hardback)

This is a beautifully made book containing inspiration for artists. One Sunday morning while reading The Creative Act I was filled with so much excitement regarding the possibilities of what I could create, I began to (poorly) dance around the house with a measure of levity I don’t normally experience. I know art is good when it makes me want to create art.

Less Than Zero by Brent Easton Ellis (Audiobook)

I had never seen a full movie or read a book by Ellis before Less Than Zero. However, I had read a lot of articles about, and interviews with, Ellis, so I felt familiar with his work. Less Than Zero is dark, dark, dark. I’d say it’s even more nihilistic than Cormac McCarthy’s bleakest work. That said, I really enjoy stories about Los Angeles. The Day of the Locust & Miss Lonelyhearts, Chinatown, and Less Than Zero all depict a place where the bright lights can’t mask the emptiness fame and fortune are unable to fill. That doesn’t mean people try to vill the void with attaining stardom, or at least status. Even La La Land‘s song City of Stars reveals a hope the main character longs for LA to provide: City of stars/Are you shining just for me?/City of stars/There’s so much that I can’t see./Who knows?/Is this the start of something wonderful and new?/Or one more dream that I cannot make true?

In Less Than Zero, the characters are so detached, apathetic, and amoral, it wouldn’t even matter if their dreams come true. They still wouldn’t feel much, and the possibility of being happy is about as likely as thriving on Saturn. Nevertheless, Ellis is a gifted writer, and although the vapidity of the characters can be numbing to the reader, the novel is mostly entertaining.

What’s Our Problem?: A Self-Help Book for Societies by Tim Urban (Audiobook)

What’s Our Problem is only available to purchase as an ebook and audiobook. If you aren’t a fan of those formats, I still strongly encourage you to consume this book. It’s a tonic to much of what we’re experiencing in this complex country. Tim Urban has a unique voice. I’ve enjoyed reading his blog, Wait but Why, for years, and What’s Our Problem? is a clarion call cutting through the absurdity of American politics.

Wraiths of the Broken Land by S. Craig Zahler (Kindle)

Zahler has written and directed three incredible movies that have stuck with me over the past few years: Bone Tomahawk (a western horror), Brawl in Cell Block 99 (a grindhouse prison movie), and Dragged Across Concrete (a criminal underworld movie). Each of these films are violent and visceral in a way many movies fail because Zahler makes you care about his characters. They’re real people, with real motivations, and oftentimes really bad things happen to them. Wraiths of the Broken Land is no different.

This is a mean novel, but that’s not meant as a dis. It’s the first novel that captivated me since The Streets of Laredo, and I’m always so thankful for the experience of being excited to read a book. If you like westerns that verge slightly into the realm of horror, look no further. Before finishing Wraiths, I purchased one of Zahler’s other books, which I’m sure I’ll write about in my next post.