“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.”― Jim Mattis, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead
I have not always loved books. Growing up, reading felt like a chore and I preferred other diversions like watching TV or loitering with friends. Today I love books. They are capsules containing a synthesis of time and experience for one individual and the thing he or she learned. This is true of fiction and non-fiction. Here is my list of favorites in no particular order.
I started journaling again after I read The Diary of a Young Girl. Like many kids growing up in the U.S., I learned about Anne Frank’s diary in school and even read excerpts, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I read the whole thing. It was not what I expected. Anne Frank was a hilarious, thoughtful girl just trying to make sense of growing up as the world fell apart around her.
On a thematic level, Americanah is about returning home. Adichie’s protagonist, Ifemelu, is a Nigerian woman who immigrates to the U.S. and finds herself a foreigner, defined by the color of her skin. By the end of the story, I learned that differences matter though we’d like to think otherwise. I left this book with the notion to respect others for how we might be different as well as how we’re alike.
Recently, it dawned on me that something big was missing from my life, but I could not place it. And then I read Big Friendship. Friendships have an important place in adult life just as they do in childhood and adolescence. Why? Because we’re never done growing up. Teens with loving families still need an identity separate from them. They still need friends. This doesn’t change as we get older. We live richer lives when we keep Big Friendships throughout.
The Passion of Command is best described as a manifesto on leadership. It’s a cult classic in the Marine Corps, existing off-and-on as required reading and passed among Marines in remote places and on-base classrooms alike, mostly among the officer ranks, mostly infantry. In describing the passion required to lead men and women in the most dangerous circumstances, Colonel B.P. McCoy paints a picture of how a person can care deeply about something without falling apart.
Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is another by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I prefer this one to her other book, We Should All Be Feminist because in this book she offers two rules for how to think about equality when it comes to gender. She covers important ground, from biology and clothing, to the use of the word princess. It’s feminism for the rational woman.
I revisit The War of Art every so often, anytime I feel like my writing is too precious, or too epic, or too me. That’s when I need Steve Pressfield to tell me to quit it. This book is about any passion pursuit (not just the arts) that demands a degree of courage and grit to do the work in overcoming Resistance that stands in our way.