Reading List

Here is a list of books and stories I recommend, sorted by title of the work in alphabetical order. Works in bold are ones I strongly recommend. I mostly read fiction. I have read more works than those listed here, but these are the ones I feel are the most worthy of my recommendation or maybe just my praise :).

Book Author Why I recommend/like this Favorite quote?
12 Rules for Life Jordan B. Peterson This book provides a solid set of rules to follow in order to live a life one may be proud of. While I consider it worth reading, I think Dr. Peterson's podcast, especially his older episodes in which he presents his lectures, are even more valuable. I know not everyone who knows Jordan Peterson is a fan of him (in fact, I'm not as interested in his works as I used to be), but I think this work is still solid. It helped me better understand myself during undergrad, when I was not as mature as I (like to think) I am now. Tell the truth - or, at least, don't lie.
The Alchemist Paulo Coelho This is a story about following your dreams, and the interminable quest for excellence. If you feel like your life is "stuck in a rut", read this book! It may inspire you to chase after what you consider to be alchemy. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should live their lives, but none about his or her own.
Animal Farm George Orwell Orwell's fabulous allegory about farm animals that rise up against their master warns against the centralization of power. A good reminder not to blindly trust authority. Donkeys live a long time.
Autoportrait Edouard Levé This book provides a novel insight into the mind of a person suffering from depression. In truth it is difficult to recommend, because each sentence is a completely disparate and unique thought. If you decide to read this book, then I request that you reserve your judgment until completely finishing the main text and afterword. The best day of my life may already be behind me.
Can't Hurt Me David Goggins Goggins's account of his journey to become "the hardest man on Earth" is extreme. I listened to the audiobook, which Goggins narrated himself, while going on a normal jog. His words really got to me though, and what was supposed to be a 4-mile run turned into a 17-mile test of endurance. This book will make you seriously consider your true potential, and whether you are taking the right steps to reach it. What if?
Catch-22 Joseph Heller A surreal and at times hilarious study of the lives of several fictional officers and enlisted men of WWII. The story can be hard to follow at times since it is not told in chronological order, and shifts perspective between over a dozen characters. Heller's diverse choice of words and sense of humour, along with the occasional nuggets of wisdom he throws in throughout the book, make this a great read. Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it’s to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger This used to be my favorite book, mainly because of Holden, the story's protagonist. I understand his contempt for societal norms, and disdain for "phonies". Yet this book also speaks to the value of maturity, and how in order to live a healthy life one cannot alienate themselves from broader society - no man is an island. The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.
A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess I like this book because it really makes you question whether or not an evil person should be granted free will. Most of the book is about this evil gangster named Alex, who does quite a few bad things. Towards the end of the book, Burgess "fixes" Alex and makes him permanently good. The way he does this though is so horrible that I found myself wondering if it would be better if Alex just remained evil. Also, the book is full of made-up slang words that are fun to learn.
Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank A grim reminder of why humanity should never allow a tragedy like the Holocaust to happen again. If you read this, I encourage you to look up what happened to each person Frank mentions in her diary. The copy I read contained an afterward providing this information. It made me sad, to say the least.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick Can artificial intelligence ever become conscious? If so, how will we be able to tell artificial intelligence apart from human intelligence? Dick asks these questions and more in this book, which has a mind-blowing twist half-way through.
Don Quixote de La Mancha Miguel de Cervantes Cervantes' story about an insane man who tricks himself into believing fiction is reality is hilarious yet insightful. The traditional analysis of this story says that it is about the dangers of becoming too obsessed with fiction, and allowing fantasy to consume one's life. The more modern interpretation claims that the story is instead about a man staying true to his beliefs in the face of a society that tells him he is crazy for doing so. In either case, the story remains relevant today. This is currently my second favorite book.
East of Eden John Steinbeck I really enjoyed this story. There are a lot of great characters; I liked Lee in particular. The book often digresses into side stories that aren't really relevant to the main plot, but I liked them all.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Hunter S. Thompson This crazy tale about two journalists' drug-filled quest for the American dream (whatever that exactly means) is worth reading just for how ridiculous it is.
The Giver Lois Lowry This book really makes you grateful to be alive and free. I remember reading this in the 5th grade, and bawling my eyes out afterward because I couldn't fathom living in a world like the "utopia" that the people in this story reside in.
Gravity's Rainbow Thomas Pynchon Gravity's Rainbow is by far the best-written story I've ever read, but after reading it I can't tell you what it's about. This is because the story is, by design, extremely abstruse.

One of the reasons this book is so complex is because of its many plotlines. Pynchon weaves myriad plots and characters together in an onslaught of (mostly) unlabeled sections, separated into four parts. Most of the book's plotlines span several of these sections, which are often highly disjointed (e.g. the first section of the book focuses on Captain Pirate Prentice, and the next section to focus on Pirate comes several hundred pages later). Some sections are self-contained though, such as the story of the Byron the immortal light-bulb. A few sections start suddenly and end just as abruptly, such as the one about an American soldier who gives his captain a haircut, and is secretly plotting to kill him. Pynchon often also digresses into sub-plots and imaginary scenarios that may span several pages in length, making these sections even harder to follow. Pynchon will reference the plots, sub-plots, characters, and even literary devices he establishes in an earlier section in a later section, even if the two sections don't belong to the same plot line. Sometimes he will even do the reverse, and allude to the events in a later section from an earlier section. It's like Catch-22, but 10x more confusing. These cross-referenced plots make Gravity's Rainbow more difficult to read, but also much more rewarding.

Another reason that the work is so difficult to follow is because of the wide range of topics it encompasses. If Pynchon were to have just written this story in plain English, it would have still been one of best-written books I've read (and maybe still the best), because of his exquisite mastery over the English language. However, Pynchon couples his superior writing with the knowledge of a variety of subjects such as math, music, psychology, and history. For example, the sections about the statistician Roger Mexico discuss Poisson distributions, and the sections about the Nobel-prize hungry psychologist Pointsman often feature Pavlovian conditioning. These aren't just superficial nods to these concepts either; for example there is one chapter where Pynchon spends several pages philosophizing about integrals.

Finally, some may find Gravity's Rainbow difficult to read simply because it is too obscene or flat-out weird. Most of the characters spend a lot of time thinking about either their job or about sex, and many characters have strange, revolting fetishes. If you have a light stomach then you may not be able to read this book. On other hand, the book also features stories that are just gross or strange. These stories include one about a giant adenoid, one about cowboys that takes place in a toilet, and one about alien pinballs that are traumatized by a malfunctioning solenoid.

To conclude: if you like literature and are looking for a challenge then I strongly recommend reading Gravity's Rainbow.
House of Leaves Mark Z. Danielewski Quite unlike anything else I have ever read, and probably ever will read. Where do I begin? It's a frame story that goes about 4 levels deep. It's a psychological horror story. It's a mockery of academic writing. It's a puzzle and a maze; a modern retelling of the myth about Theseus and the Minotaur. There's so many ways to interpret this book, and I strongly encourage you to check it out for yourself. Little solace comes
to those who grieve
when thoughts keep drifting
as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves
moments before the wind.
The Idiot Fyodor Dostoyevsky I imagine that Dostoyevsky asked himself "Is the world ready for a pure and simple man?", and then tried to answer this question by writing this book. Beauty will save the world.
I Will Teach You to be Rich Ramit Sethi I've read a few books on personal finance, and this one contains the most practical, concrete advice on how to accrue wealth and remain wealthy. Sethi explains concepts like 401Ks, HSAs, and Roth IRAs in an approachable and often humorous manner. If you want actionable advice on how to begin investing for the future, I would recommend just reading this book.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull Richard Bach This short story about a seagull who wants to improve his flying skills is surprisingly full of insight. This story has very similar themes to those of The Alchemist. Why does one strive for greatness in their field? And what does that path to greatness entail? This short story addresses both of these questions.
The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseine Hosseine's take on the hostile brothers trope is excellent. The story centers on the son of a wealthy man in Kabul, and how he betrays his poorer friend in increasingly worse ways. Years later, he is given a chance to redeem himself, but it's not an easy road. There is a way to be good again.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Marie Kondo A neat little book on how to tidy up your home and unlock a new level of self-awareness. Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go.
The Machine Stops E.M. Forster Forster's short story about a future in which humans live in caves of mountain-like buildings and spend their days listening to and giving each other lectures, while machines tend to their every need, is actually too close to reality for comfort. Just replace the caves with suburban houses and apartments, and swap the lectures for YouTube and podcasts, and we're 90% of the way there. And, just like in the story, if all that technology were to suddenly stop working the consequences would be horrific.
Meditations Marcus Aurelias It's neat to read the insights of a Roman emperor. Sometimes he's just so relatable. The best kind of revenge is, not to become like unto them.
Musashi Eiji Yoshikawa When I first started reading Musashi, I wasn't too impressed. The prose was somewhat boring and the jokes fell flat; probably because the story was originally written in Japanese and I was reading an English translation. However, as I kept reading, I found myself increasingly invested in Takezo and his journey to become Musashi, the legendary swordsman. He puts his life in danger many times, gives up all worldly pleasures, and even turns down someone who loves him, all in pursuit of his goal. He's insane in the same way that David Goggins is insane, yet at the same time also admirable. In time I grew to appreciate the book's simple prose, because its austerity mirrored that of the novel's protagonist. Toward the end of the book many of the characters lives have turned around for the better, all thanks to Musashi and his sacrifices. However, this comes at the cost of much human life. This is presently my favorite book, though I don't think it's for everyone. There are people who die by remaining alive and others who gain life by dying.
Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood Nowadays, most dystopian future novels focus on the potential dangers of artificial intelligence, or on government censorship. Atwood's story is different in that it warns against artificial selection and bio-engineering, along with the dangers of consumerism. I think the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic makes this tale even more believable. "Oryx has told us that the ground is our friend."" "It grows our food for us." "Yes,"" said Snowman. "But Crake made the ground hard. Otherwise we would not be able to walk on it."
Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov In truth I find it difficult to describe Pale Fire, but I'll do my best. The book Pale Fire consists of four parts: a foreword, a 999-line long poem (also called "Pale Fire"), a commentary on the poem, and an index. Most of the book is devoted to the commentary, and you'll have to flip back and forth between it and the poem to progress through the book. This already makes Pale Fire harder to read than most books, but it gets worse (or better, depending on your perspective): the commentator is a complete narcisist that may or may not be the runaway king of a mystical northern land called Zembla which, in the fictional setting of Pale Fire, may or may not actually exist. For this reason, some herald this book as the ultimate example of the unreliable narrator trope. This book is very funny at times, though you'll have to be a bit clever to recognize some of the jokes (the one about hallitosis, for instance). If you like Don Quixote or House of Leaves, then I would recommend picking this book up. While it's less approachable than either of those two books (and that's saying something considering how old the former is and how medium-breaking the latter is), I think it's technically better than either of them as well. Help me, Will! Pale Fire
The Prince Nicollo Machiavelli I recommend reading this for two reasons. The first reason is that I find Machiavelli's advice on personal integrity and self-improvement to be sound. Machiavelli wrote this essay for royalty, and encourages them to set high standards for themselves and their subjects. The other reason I recommend this work is to be able to recognize those who would try to use Machiavelli's advice on manipulation to control you. It disturbs me to think that there may actually be people out there who try to psychologically manipulate others using some of Machiavelli's tactics, but since it is possible, you should arm yourself with this knowledge as well so you can defend against it. A prince ought also to show himself a patron of ability, and to honour the proficient in every art.
The Road Cormac McCarthy This story about a father and sons' hard journey across America after a nuclear war is as soul-crushing as it is inspiring, and McCarthy's unique writing style suits it perfectly. There are some moments of peace, but they are few and fair between, and over the course of the story the two of them endure so much physical and emotional trauma that it's a miracle they have they will to keep going (although sometimes they barely do). Although this story is at times depressing, I believe it is a testament to the human spirit.
Sapiens Dr. Yuval Noah Harari Harari's overview of the history of the human race is comprehensive and contrarian. From claiming that money is the greatest fictional story humanity has ever told, to arguing that the invention of agriculture was a bad idea, to questioning what the exact definition of religion is, Harari will almost certainly challenge you. Reading this book gave me a broader outlook on life, and made me realize that I wasn't as open-minded as I thought I was.
The Stand Stephen King This book challenges the assumption that it is possible for people to form separate societies that can to coexist peacefully. This theme is packaged in a story that is sort of like a demented East of Eden: it has a large cast and biblical themes, and involves the battle between good and evil. However unlike East of Eden it takes place in post-apocalyptic America. I enjoyed this, but disclaimer I'm a big Stephen King fan so maybe I'm biased 🤷 The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there... and still on your feet.
Stoner John Edwards Williams This story is a reminder that life is beautiful and should be cherished. It follows a farm boy, William Stoner, who becomes an English professor. To be blunt, most of his life sucks: his wife hates him, his boss has it out for him, and his daughter becomes an alcoholic. However, underneath all the apparent suffering are undertones of love: his love for his parents, the initial love he had for his wife, his everlasting love for his daughter, and the short-lived but genuine love affair he has with one of his students. The story ends in death, but it's really about life.
Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe The primary reason is I like this book is because of its main character, Okonkwo. He commits acts of violence due to a misguided sense of virility, and then feels so remorseful about doing so that he enter a near-catatonic state. He is a perpetrator and victim of "toxic masculinity". I feel more conflicted about him than any other fictional character. I also enjoy this book because it provides a view into African culture, of which I knew nothing before reading this story. Achebe does an excellent job of making the reader realize that what may be considered bad by one culture may be considered good by another, and vice-versa.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains Neil Gaiman This story left a mark on me, and is a bit different from anything else I've ever read. One reason it's so memorable is because its narrator is so mysterious. He reveals more about himself as the story goes on, but by the end I may have had more questions about him than answers. Besides that, the story itself is just dreamlike, and slightly terrifying. The truth is a cave in the black mountains. There is one way there, and one only, and that way is treacherous and hard, and if you choose the wrong path you will die alone, on the mountainside.