What We’re Reading #3 | Essentialism, The Neapolitan Novels, and Real Artists Don’t Starve

The AoC team is a well-read bunch. Each month, I’ll share what I’ve been perusing and try to get the others to put their books down long enough to do the same. If you’ve got any suggestions for books you think we should be reading (or comments about what we’ve already read), drop us a line at our respective Twitter feeds!

Jordan Harbinger (@theartofcharm)

The Plot to Hack America: How Putin's Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election by Malcolm NanceJordan has been traveling in Europe this month and has had less time to read but has still continued his studies on President Vladimir Putin with a book called The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election by Malcolm Nance.

Nance is a career intelligence officer and hence the book isn’t written politically, strictly speaking. He’s focused on Putin and his rise through the KGB and speculates on what Russia’s role might have been in the 2016 Election.

Producer Jason (@jpdef)

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Hardcover by Greg McKeownAs usual, Producer Jason puts all of us to shame with his prolific reading. This month he got to Greg McKeown’s deservedly famous Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

“It’s a must read for everyone,” he says. “It’s about doing only what is required and saying no to things that don’t matter. I wish I’d have read this book when I was 18.”

For those who crave stories starring a protagonist named Bob, The Laundry Files and Bobiverse series each have new installments and Jason finds them “fantastic.” The Laundry Files series might be up your alley if you’re looking for something in the supernatural and the Bobiverse books are great if you want to read about a superintelligent A.I. that’s protecting the universe in a very funny way.

In the “don’t bother” category, Jason files Walkaway: A Novel by Cory Doctorow. It is the author’s first non-young adult novel in years, and this work is a near-future sci-fi book about going off the grid and living forever by uploading your consciousness. “Unfortunately, the only thing that differentiates this novel from his YA work is that the sex is more explicit,” says Jason. “The ideas in the book are tired but it’s probably great if you’re a 15-year-old geek. More manifesto than novel, this one goes directly in the ‘skip it’ bin.”

For the geekiest of the geeks (what do you expect from a guy who hosts a podcast called Grumpy Old Geeks?), some hard sci-fi recommendations include Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel. They are the first two books in a series called The Themis Files and are “a great light read about aliens and ancient giant robots.”

MJ (@MJ_Arcade)

My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One by Elena Ferrante

She also happens to be big fan of Italy and its culture and she’s just finished the four-volume Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. She didn’t set out planning to read all four of the novels, but once she got started she couldn’t really stop.

The story follows the the life of two friends from childhood to adulthood, and their struggle to change the violent culture in which they’ve been raised: a poor neighbourhood in Naples in the 1950s. These novels revolve around power: who holds it, who’s winning it and who’s losing it, and what happens when it shifts. There’s a great deal of introspection and almost an obsession about the way women are shaped by family, by society, and by themselves.

Even if you don’t choose to read these novels, they will be coming to you soon enough, as HBO is creating a new show based on the series in Italian with English subtitles.

Stephen Heiner (@stephenheiner)

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim FerrissWhile Jordan has been traveling in Europe though he normally lives in America, I have been traveling in America though I normally live in Europe — and this cut down on my reading as it did for Jordan. However, I did manage to find time to read Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, Tim Ferriss’ newest book, and Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins. Both of these men have appeared on AoC (Tim here and here, Jeff here and here), so if you haven’t heard Jordan interview them, checking out these episodes might be a clincher for you to dig further and read these books.

Tools of Titans is simply a distilled and written version of the best of the famous Tim Ferriss Show, which has been the #1 iTunes business podcast for years now. He’s curated the best of his interviews and arranged them into three parts: “Healthy,” “Wealthy,” and “Wise.” Because the “chapters” are so short (some as short as three pages, the longest are close to ten) it’s something that you can move fairly quickly through, despite the fact that it weighs in at over 650 pages and can intimidate the heck out of you. While I was an avid Tim Ferriss Show listener back in the day, over time the show length wore on me, even at 2x or 3x speed, so it was great for me to catch up on episodes I have never listened to (and probably never will) by reading the book. Well worth it. If there wasn’t enough TFS/AoC crossover for you, Producer Jason edits Tim’s shows and Bob writes the show notes — and both Jordan and Jason are thanked in this book.

Jeff Goins fundamentally changed the way I view work via his first book, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. In a way, this is a follow up to that book by challenging the notion of “the starving artist” and exploring just how many ways creatives can not just make a living, but thrive in today’s new economy. At just over 200 pages, you’ll read it much faster than you’ll read Tim’s.

Stephen Heiner - author of 36 posts on The Art of Charm

Stephen Heiner was born in Singapore and moved to America just before his ninth birthday. He's stepped foot on every continent except Antarctica, served in the US Marine Corps, and is living the charmed life of a writer in Paris. He has a passion for running small businesses and storytelling. More than anything he enjoys getting people to think differently about the things they take for granted. Here at The Art of Charm, Stephen matches his life experience to our content to extract key points in written form for our students and clients to ruminate and act upon.


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