I’m a notoriously slow reader. I always have been. And I’m mildly ashamed to admit that, throughout my schooling years, the agonizingly slow pace at which I read meant that I barely completed reading any of the books that I was assigned to read.
Even today, as a multi-published author, I sometimes struggle to keep up a healthy reading rhythm.
But last year, I decided that I should commit to improving reading speed and efficiency. So I started by buying a new Amazon Kindle Paperwhite for about $99. Even though I love the feel and mark-up-ability of paper books, these days, I’ve been completing more books than ever.
I still have paper books, too, but I love having a pocket-sized device that holds dozens of books with me, so I can choose on a whim what I feel like reading — especially when I’m traveling. Plus, the “Minutes Left in Chapter” feature acts as a little goal-setting trick to help me blow through pages.
However you prefer to read, here are the top 6 thought-provoking books that I’ve been loving lately.
Iron John: A Book About Men
Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly is a book about what it means to be a man through the lens of the Grimm fairy tale character, the Wild Man. Correlating this mostly-forgotten archetype from ancient mythology, the inner “Hairy Man” guides one boy through the eight stages of male growth.
Bly encourages men to examine their inner selves while calling upon society to return to important myths that help people everywhere learn how to embody their most noble selves.
In particular, Iron John revolves around guiding men of all ages to examine what it means to become a proper, whole man in modern day life.
To be totally honest, few things bore me more than men talking about being men. So books about masculinity and manhood are far from my usual reading.
However, I really enjoyed the internal conversation sparked by this book.
As a fan of myth and archetype, Iron John sparked imagination and drew a lot of parallels to my own “stages of male growth.” Ultimately, I think this may be a book that all men should read if only to illuminate self-reflections in a world that does need more men to be in healthier relationships to balanced masculine and feminine energies.
Walls: Travels Along the Barricades
Marcello Di Cintio’s Walls: Travels Along the Barricades invites you along a real-life journey to some of the world’s most notorious walls — those separating political boundaries, religious affiliations, and historical divides.
With grace, poetic precision and occasional touches of wit and humor, you see the world through Di Cintio’s eyes as you read this book — and meet dozens upon dozens of people who live in the shadow of walls to hear their stories and perspectives.
As you travel from Mexico to Jerusalem and Belfast to India with stops in between, Walls is a politically-appropriate book for group dialogue and personal consideration, especially during the current political atmosphere.
The book will challenge you to question the worth of walls that divide nations, peoples and religions — and also, wonder what walls we each hide behind, if only in our own minds.
Shantaram: A Novel
Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts is an emotionally-stirring semi-autobiographical novel that details one man’s journey to find himself — while hiding from his past.
You’re alongside Lin, a prison-escapee who searches for survival in what is Bombay (modern-day Mumbai), India during the late 1970s (I think!).
As someone who’s himself traveled to India twice (in the 21st century), I absolutely adored the vivid descriptions of what it is like to experience life and people in India — they rang true in many ways to my own experiences there.
Not much one for novels, I found Shantaram to be a book that I could not put down. I read it for hours at a time, savored its highs and felt all its lows. Its characters are wildly compelling and real. You’ll be ushered into a wild, yet somehow not “fantastical,” tale of crime and redemption, romance and heartbreak, and more.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan makes a big promise right in its subtitle: this is a re-telling of the history of human civilization through a new “center of the map,” the silk roads.
In Western and North American educational systems, we learn of the unfolding of history through our own perspective: revolving around the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, European Middle Ages, before drifting into Colonial America. It’s the history of us.
But is it the history of human civilization?
Frankopan contests that the silk roads — the ancient trade channels from Eastern Europe through the Asian steppes and into modern-day China — are the “real” center of the map in the history of the world. His book makes a compelling case.
As a history junkie, I adored this book, and found it deeply educational.
Frankopan also implies a certain perspective on human nature, too, that most of the major unfoldings and development in human history have not resulted from ideological and religious clashes — but, instead, from groups’ needs and desires for basic resources and economic interests.
The Silk Roads will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about the Crusades, the Holocaust, the modern Middle East, and where the world’s power may drift throughout the 21st century.
Man’s Search for Meaning
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is a world-renowned exploration of how a human survives through his psychology or perishes for it.
The true-life tale recounts personal the experience and lifelong vocation of psychologist and author, Viktor E. Frankl, against the bleakest, darkest backdrop in recent human history: his imprisonment at Auschwitz during the Jewish Holocaust of World War II Europe.
This book was a hard read. Gutting. Emotionally-depleting. And, so worthwhile.
The first half of the book is a very vivid, heart-wrenching recount of what Frankl saw and experienced in Auschwitz. His first-hand experiences — alongside thousands and thousands of men, who struggled to keep their strength along with their sense of humanity — inform Frankl’s later work as a logotherapist: a school of psychoanalysis that believes humans’ drive in life is for meaning.
If you believe the major driver of your life is for meaning — more than money, competition, or pure survival — you should read Man’s Search for Meaning, and be humbled by it, and incorporate that empathy into your mission to live with purpose.
José Martí Selected Essays
If you don’t know José Martí, you’ve never been to Cuba. His Selected Essays captures the width, breadth and depth of one of Latin America’s most revered (and, probably, most misunderstood) writers.
In Cuba, his bust is quite literally everywhere.
And although a nationalist and patriot, Martí’s collected essays paint a portrait of a much more complex and flawed journeyman, not a single-minded revolutionary.
I first learned about this revolutionary 19th century Cuban writer-poet, José Martí, while preparing for my visit to Cuba in January 2017, and fell in love with this writer’s story. A young, disenfranchised Cuban who loathed his Spanish colonists’ domain over his homeland, Martí found himself irresistibly drawn to dissent, using his pen to lash out at injustice in Cuba, Mexico, Spain, and throughout the world.
He himself admired contemporary writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and grew international acclaim as a journalist who documented in excruciating detail everyday life in budding “capital of the world,” New York City.
He expresses heartbreak at the distance of his former wife and child; he is unrelentingly demanding of his government (and of governments, everywhere); he is longing and romantic; he is curious and confounding.
Martí’s tale ends as dramatic as his writings — but I’ll let you discover the full arc of his story for yourself!
What thought-provoking books have you been lovely lately?
Send me a short note and let me know. I’d love to hear what books have been provoking your thought, imagination, and consideration lately.
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Happy reading, friend!
P.S. — If you’re looking for more book recommendations, check out these 15 mind-blowing books I can’t stop recommending, these 3 books for deepening your yoga practice, and these 10 travel-related books to inspire your next adventure.