The Best Books I Read in 2019
Here are my 4 favorite books from 2019.
A British couple buys a farmhouse in the South of France and spends the next 12 months exploring the countryside, meeting the locals, renovating the house, and of course, eating and drinking well in A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle. For a premise that could come off as a little posh, the detail in this story is so rich and the storytelling so genial I couldn’t put it down. I recommend having Google translate closeby.
Despite the title, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is not merely “on writing”—Stephen King tells painful stories about his own alcoholism and the car accident that nearly killed him. Of course there is also no shortage of advice for writers.
Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.
The 3 best pieces of advice I heard in this book is:
- Write what you know. Start with your own experiences.
- 2nd draft = 1st draft - 10% (“just leave out the boring parts”)
- Situation comes first, then characters. And you don’t need to pre-plan every plot point before you put pen to paper.
I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can–I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course).
See my highlights here. If you like reading about writing craft, I also recommend Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee.
You spend a third of your life sleeping. You’ve read books about being better at your job, and self-help books about improving aspects of your life, but when do you get an opportunity to improve that big one-third?
Sleep might be the least understood and yet most potent way to a better life humans have. And yet it is so misunderstood by the mainstream. Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker is so full of useful facts and lessons that contradict popular opinions on sleep I could write a lengthy post just on it alone. See the shoutout for this book in my newsletter for some of those lessons.
This book changed my life more than any other I read this year. It helped me get my sleep schedule under control and understand how to set myself up for success and understand the root cause when I get bad sleep. I highly recommend this book.
Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic is a book about the rise of heroin in America. I enjoyed that it told the story not just from an American perspective, but also from the perspective of the Mexicans from rural villages who are drawn to the trade and build out its distribution networks, hoping not to melt into American culture but to make enough money to move back to Mexico for good and live a well-off life.
The book details how Mexican cells of heroin dealers arose, starting in the San Fernando valley and branching outward through the country like a franchised restaurant, relying similarly on just-in-time supply chains and focus on customer satisfaction.
A big takeaway is how freaking addictive heroin is. Its molecules are not water soluble so they stick around in your system—it takes 2 years to fully flush them out. The drug is almost poetic in its premise: you can experience the best feeling you’ve ever felt in your life, but in return you must trade your own livelihood, and potentially you life.
Like a lover, no other molecule in nature provided such merciful pain relief, then hooked humans so completely, and punished them so mercilessly for wanting their freedom from it