Books I read in May 2015

Happy summer! I’m still taking a small break from the podcast while I sort through some “big-picture” things with the show. We should be back up and running within the next few weeks. I’ll keep you posted. I’m trying to continue reading widely, which, for me, means venturing into the fiction world. More on that next month. If you haven’t seen them already, here are my books for JanuaryFebruaryMarch, and April. And here are my Top Books of 2014. For May, I read three fantastic books:

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

I came across this book randomly while meandering through a Barnes & Noble in Battery Park City in Manhattan. That day, I decided that rather than only pay attention to books with interesting titles, I would dig a bit deeper–pick up a few books with obscure titles and figure out what they’re about. Well, I found this book called “Zeitoun.” Obscure enough, right? The cover depicted a drawing of a man canoeing through flooded neighborhood streets. I quickly learned that the book tells a true story of one family during Hurricane Katrina. The family voluntarily split up during the storm. The husband, Zeitoun, stayed behind to watch over the house while his wife and children head to stay with family. The story is spoiler sensitive, so I won’t say much more. But I will say that it’s an absolute page turner. I will also say that, whatever you do, do not google “Zeitoun” before you read the book. You’ll thank me later.

Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

About a month ago, the clouds parted and I found a first edition copy (1989) of Michael Lewis’s debut work at Central Book Exchange in SLC. I have been a longtime fan of Lewis’s, but had never read Liar’s Poker. He was 29 years old when this book was published, and I must say–this stuff is on par with Moneyball or The Big Short. In a semi-autobiographical nature, Lewis writes of his experience working at Salomon Brothers during the 80s. He captures the frat house culture of wall street with its ruthless profiteering, profanity, and politics. The parallels between Salomon Brothers and a high school weight room were uncanny. Throughout the book we witness the boom and bust of the bond market, thrift managers being taken for a ride, and the creation of mortgage bonds (Salomon’s claim to fame at the time). I found it striking, and somewhat self-redeeming, that Solomon’s downfall was (at least partially) attributed to its hesitation to enter the junk bond market. If you have even an inkling of interest in finance, read this book. And then after that, go read The Big Short and Boomerang.

Buddha by Deepak Chopra

This is another book randomly spotted in B&N. I’m not much of a Chopra fan, although it is fun to kick back on a Friday night and watch him pick twitter fights with random people about the nature of god. But seriously, I like Buddhism. Admittedly, I like more of the Zen Buddhism, non-attachment, feel good stuff more than anything. So no, I’m not really a Buddhist. I have devoured Buddhism-related Western-ish texts in the past (Siddhartha, The Dharma Bums, Modern Buddhism, and Zen Mind, Beginners Mind) and was excited to have come across this book. Buddha (the book) tells the story of… Buddha in a historical fiction fashion. Chopra takes the traditionally believed story and fills in the gaps, adding love interests and enemies here and there. The book is broken up into three sections to match Buddha’s three distinct lives. First, he is known as the prince, Siddhartha, who ultimately turns down the throne to become a monk known as Gautama, which comprises the second section of the book. The third and, disappointingly, shortest section of the book covers the Buddha years, the result of Gautama’s transition from mere monk to enlightened Buddha. This sort of historical fiction has been done before–most notably in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, which I would strongly recommend over this one. Chopra’s version felt a little bit like, I don’t know, Dragonball Z-ish? Whereas Hesse was able to capture the spirituality of the story quite well, Chopra’s seems to focus more on the fantasy than the spirituality, which I suppose is fine for some, but left me wanting. If you are looking for a good Buddha story, skip this one and head straight for Siddhartha.

What I’m reading this month

I just finished two fantastic works of fiction (wait, what?): The classic, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller; and Pines by Blake Crouch (of which the new TV series Wayward Pines is based). I just started Complications by Atul Gawande. Beyond that, I’m not sure what else I’ll read in June. I guess you’ll have to check back in a month!


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