Commonplace: Reads

Books read by year: 202420232022, 2021


These are essays and articles that I try to read annually. In fact I will probably republish them in some web form at some point so I know they will never be lost to the ether.

Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness is a foundational piece for me. I am frustrated that the progress and efficiencies of the last 100 years have not led to a growth in valuable leisure being an option for most of the world population. Particularly in America, we should be able to enjoy a reasonable amount of work while pursuing leisurely versions of arts, sciences, and letters. I try to remind myself of this and live into it.

Scott Adams’s Career Advice is good for anyone early in their career journey. Or maybe better said, it’s good advice if you want to be useful – become very good at two things.


Dan Simmons’s Hyperion is a breathtaking sci-fi work. The thing will bring you horrors and tears in equal measure.

Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River depicts a search for a brother that leads to some of the most beautiful final chapters I recall reading.

John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War crashed onto the scene with a fresh sci-fi style combining humor with smarts. I was completely enamored with the whole book and as such I have basically read all of Scalzi’s books thus far. None have approached this debut for me, but I am thankful for the hours and hours of entertainment Scalzi has provided.

David James Duncan’s The Brothers K was recommended to me by a friend. He was certain I would enjoy it. I was not prepared for the epic tale woven through these pages. This was the first, and maybe the only, Epic Great American Folktale sort of book that I’ve read. It is truly a journey.

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer tells a fascinating story from the other side of the Vietnam war and its aftermath.

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is a beautiful, moving story set around France and Germany around WWII.

Hugh Howey’s indie darling, Wool, grabbed me by the collar and plopped me into this dystopian world whose pages I could not stop turning.


Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a powerfully written meditation on war and its mental impact.

Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped: A Memoir is wrestling out loud with the deaths of five young men in her life The reader is confronted with harsh realities that others are simply not allowed to ignore.

Douglas Adams’s Last Chance to See places the author’s legendary humor alongside tales of endangered animals. It is an engaging, if saddening, story. The follow up book and BBC series are worthy reads as well.

Richard Feynman’s Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! was a book that took me years to finally pick up. What follows is the conclusion to the little bit I wrote about the book… My favorite lesson of the entire book was what I’ll call Feynman’s Law of Play. This page covers it nicely. Feynman found an interesting problem, he studied it, he explained it. It wasn’t directly important at all. But it led to something. It was interesting to him and it led to bigger, more profound discoveries. Nobel Prize-worthy discoveries.

Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild is an unforgettable story exploring the reasons why a young man pushed himself dangerously into the Alaskan wilderness. Expertly written.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is a beautifully written, challenging work explaining to me a world view that I could not myself discover.


Derek Sivers’s Hell Yeah or No collects essays that convinced me to say yes to less, and to look for the things that make me go “Hell yeah!”


Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead brought an experience to me, viscerally, that I simply could not have myself. Watching them read their poems elevates their art even further.