Summer Book List – 2019

For those who love to read.


Summer’s still got some breath so if you’re looking for good books, try these:



Yes, as (the Buddha) said, pleasure is fleeting. And yes, this leaves us recurrently dissatisfied. And the reason is that pleasure is designed by natural selection to evaporate so that the ensuing dissatisfaction will get us to pursue more pleasure. Natural selection ‘wants’ us to be productive, in its narrow use of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.

(Buddhism says) that the things we see when we look out on the world have less in the way of distinct and substantial existence than they seem to have.

And then there is the famous Buddhist idea that the self – you know, your self, my self – is an illusion. In this view, the “you” that you think of as thinking your thoughts, feeling your feelings, and making your decisions doesn’t really exist.


…neither the world inside you nor the world outside you is anything like it seems.

Both our natural view of the world “out there” and our natural view of the world “in here: — the world inside our heads – are deeply misleading. What’s more, failing to see these two worlds clearly does lead, as Buddhism holds, to a lot of suffering. And meditation can help us see them more clearly.

According to the teaching of the Buddha, the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities, and problems It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations, In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world.

We feel that our conscious self is in charge of our behavior, deciding what to do and when. But a number of experiments over the past few decades have cast doubt on this intuition.

You think you’re directing the movie (of your life, minute by minute), but you’re actually just watching it.

In a famous series of experiments first done in the early 1980s by Benjamin Libet, researchers monitored the brains of subjects while they “chose” to initiate an action. The researchers concluded that the brain was initiating the action before the person became aware of “deciding” to initiate it.

I’ve loved just about every book Robert Wright has written: Non-Zero and The Moral Animal are two more great reads by him. I chose to read this book this summer because I’m more and more interested in meditation and trying to find peace within because there is so little peace without today.



…maybe her age didn’t matter to her, so she didn’t project any concern about it. Her greatest natural gift, though, was warmth. She delighted in all that she beheld, and it made you want to stay near her, to bask in her delight.

We stared at each other for a while. There was a good deal of information conveyed across the silence – a whole conversation, you might say. This is what flirtation is in its purest form – a conversation held without words. Flirtation is a series of silent questions that one person asks another person with their eyes, And the answer to those questions is always the same word: Maybe.

In my experience, this is the harshest lesson of them all. After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain – yet somehow, still, we carry on.

After a certain age…time just drizzles down upon your head like rain in the month of March: you’re always surprised at how much of it can accumulate, and how fast.

Eventually, all of us will be called upon to do the thing that cannot be done. That is the painful field…

…the world ain’t straight. You grow up thinking things are a certain way. You think there are rules. You think there’s a way that things have to be. You try to live straight. But the world doesn’t care about your rules, or what you believe. The world ain’t straight, Vivien. Never will be. Our rules, they don’t mean a thing. The world just happens to you sometimes…And people just gotta keep moving through it, best they can.

These random-seeming people were my family, Angela. These people were my real family. I’m telling you all this because I want you to understand that – over the next few years – I came to love your father just as much as I loved any of them. My heart cannot offer him higher praise than that. He became as close to me as my own, beautiful, random, and real family. Love like that is a deep well, with steep sides. Once you fall in, that’s it – you will love that person always.

Another author I just love! This is a really good story. It left me more emotional than I had believed it would. And if you ever have a chance to see Gilbert speak in person, she’s worth the price of the ticket.



It’s true that, in Vietnamese, we rarely say I love you, and when we do, it is almost always in English. Care and love, for us, are pronounced clearest through service: plucking white hairs, pressing yourself on your son to absorb a plane’s turbulence and, therefore, his fear.

It could be, in writing you here, I am writing to everyone – for how can there be a private space if there is no safe space, if a boy’s name can both shield him and turn him into an animals at once?

It’s in these moments, next to you, that I envy words for doing what we can never do – how they can tell all of themselves simply by standing still, simply by being.  Imagine I could lie down beside you and my whole body, every cell, radiates a clear, singular meaning, not so much a writer as a word pressed down beside you.

We try to preserve life – even when we know it has no chance of enduring its body. We feed it, keep it comfortable, bathe it, medicate it, caress it, even sing to it. We tend to these basic functions not because we are brave or selfless but because, like breath, it is the most fundamental act of our species: to sustain the body until time leaves it behind.

A flower is seen only toward the end of its life, just-bloomed and already on its way to being brown paper. And maybe all names are illusions, How often do we name something after its briefest form? Rose, bush, rain, butterfly, snapping turtle, firing squad, childhood, death, mother-tongue, me, you.

Yes, there was a war. Yes, we came from its epicenter. In that war, a woman gifted herself a new name – Lan – in that naming claimed herself beautiful, then made that beauty into something worth keeping. From that, a daughter was born, ad fro that daughter, a son. All this time I told myself we were born from war – but I was wrong, Ma. We were born from beauty, Let no one mistake us for the fruit of violence – but that violence, having passed through the fruit, failed to spoil it.

I am thinking of beauty again, how some things are hunted because we have deemed them beautiful. If, relative to the history of our planet, an individual life is so short, a blink of an eyes, as they say, then to be gorgeous, even from the day you’re born to the day you die, is to be gorgeous only briefly.

Beautifully written, more like poetry than prose, and disturbingly personal. You really feel this book, which has won almost universal acclaim.



The quilt of leaves and light and shadow and ruffling breezes might part and I’d be given a glimpse of what is on the other side; a stitch might work itself loose or be worked loose. The weaver might have made one bad loop of the foliage of a sugar maple by the road and that one loop of whatever the thread might be wound from – light, gravity, dark from stars – had somehow been worked loose by the wind in its constant worrying of white buds and green leaves and flood-and-orange leaves and bare branches and two of the pieces of whatever it is that this world is knit from had come loose from each other and thre was maybe just a finger width’s hole, which I was lucky enough to spot in the glittering leaves from this wagon of drawers and nimble enough to scale the silver trunk and brave enough to poke my finger into the tear; that might offer to the simple touch a measure of tranquility or reassurance.

Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it? And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty…

And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it.

I happened upon this book quite by accident and chose it after reading the endorsement of it by one of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson. It’s not an easy read, but it’s brief and lovely and moving.



If you want to see a man afraid just put him in a room with a sick woman who was once strong. See, I know now that this world is built up on strong women, built up and kept up by them too, them kneeling, stooping, pulling, bending, and rising up when they need to go and do what needs to be done. And when a man sees a woman like that sick and hurt, especially the kind of man who knows a woman’s strength but can’t confess it, when he see her sick or hurt, it terrifies him, like he’s witnessing a chunk of the universe coming loose and he knows he doesn’t have what it takes to stick it back together.

Listen to how God up there is supposed to make everything and everybody and everything’s due to turn out according to his will and all. And we get the wars and the people starving and people hurting people and animals the way Roland did, and I’m supposed to go down there to Ephesus on a Sunday morning and say, “Thank you, Jesus, thank you for the sunshine and the food on my table and all the birds singing and the likes of Adolf Hitler and Roland Stanley.”

No thank you! I’ll have no part of it! Beats the hell out of me why somebody’d want to sit up somewhere and think up hard, start it to going, then say, “Oh, let me make it up to you. Here’s this rainbow so you can remember how I can kill everything and everybody, but I swear I won’t again.” How would you like it if I slammed your fingers in the car door and then watched you standing there holding your hand and it throbbing and turning blue, and I said, “Oh, let me make it up to you. Here’s a quarter and I promise I won’t ever do it again”? How good do you think you’d be listening to somebody then. Especially somebody who ought to be hustling you in the car to take you to the doctor, not giving you a quarter to hold in a busted up hand?

I did want somebody to take care of me. I needed it. And when I felt all that goodness coming from Jack, it didn’t matter what the person looked like that sent it out to me. Maybe I did want a daddy, but that’s okay, too. I never heard any bells ringing and so forth, but look what’d happened to me when I did! The quiet kind of love is better than the other, lasted longer, been better to us. Oh, it’s no crime to want and need somebody to love and to be loved by and to go and do what you need to do to have that, but it’s certainly a pity when you want it so badly you’ll let it be anybody.

Another accidental read, I found it because of my wife’s Book Club. It’s short, but powerful and insightful.



Predators play an important role in the balance of nature, keeping the larger numbers of prey animals in check. Because predators tend to eat the weakest of a species they keep the remaining population strong. Without predators, herds become weak and disabled. In contrast, when humans hunt animals for trophies, they kill the strongest of the species, thereby weakening the herd.

Wesley changed my life. He was my teacher, my companion, my child, my playmate, my reminder of God. Sometimes I even wondered if he was actually an angel who had been sent to live with me and help me through all the alone times. He comforted me, many times I cried into his feathers and told him my troubles and he tried to understand. He listened and cuddled with me.

I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for Wesley at the end. I did take good care of him and I loved him completely. He was amazing, curious, joyful, strong willed, full of life, a huge soul. His eyes were indescribable. I saw eternity in them, and now at last he was free to fly. My last prayer is that we be reunited in the afterlife, and that he is with God now and that God is taking care of him.

My sister and I had made a vow when I was eight years old. We would live our lives not by staying in the shallow, safer waters, but by wading as deep into the river of life as possible, no matter how dangerous the current. We knew that we had only one chance at this life and we decided to try to make every moment matter.

Wesley taught me the Way of the Owl. In the human world, your value as a person is often intrinsically linked to your wealth or most recent accomplishment. But all the accoutrements of the material world were stripped away from me when I got sick. Wesley made me realize that if all I had to give was love, that was enough. I didn’t need money, status, accomplishment, glamour, or many of the empty things we so value.

A friend from my time at Singapore American School recommended this and I loved it. It is really emotional, but every word is amazing because the story itself is true and so unlikely you can’t really believe it’s all true at times. Highly recommended.



“I became intrigued by women who were outside my realm, with no blood or sexual motive.

She was inhaling the world around her. She wanted to understand every skill, everything people spoke about. With my silence I was probably a nightmare to her. She must have thought I was born with distance in me, secretive about what I feared, secretive about my family.

She was carrying her baby and used the child’s small hand to give me a half wave. She had meant me to see her son, not to talk to me. I left the small room and found myself in darkness again. Only a thin line of light under the door I had just closed behind me.”

I loved The English Patient, which Ondaatje also wrote. This isn’t nearly as good, as beautifully expressed as that book, but the story has a ring of truth to it, something all great fiction possesses.

I can’t tell you too much about it without revealing more than I wish. It’s the story of two children whose parents leave them, alone except under the seemingly loose oversight of a strange group of strangers, during World War 2.



I can’t really recommend this book, but I’m glad I read it. It’s very dense, filled with all sort of statistics and data and it covers hundreds of years of history in an attempt to predict what is going to happen based on predictable historical cycles. If you end up reading it, I would love to hear what you think about it.





This is a fantastic read, but it is very long, almost 1000 pages.

Horace Porter recorded the historic encounter between Lincoln and Grant: “Lincoln recognized the general at once from the pictures he had seen of him. With a face radiant with delight, he advanced rapidly two or three steps toward his distinguished visitor, and cried out: ‘Why, here is General Grant! Well, this is a great pleasure, I assure you,’ at the same time seizing him by the hand, and shaking it for several minutes with a vigor which showed the extreme cordiality of the welcome.”

The two formed a strange pair: Lincoln tall and rangy, loquacious with countrified good humor, wheras Grant was small and self-contained, as taciturn as Lincoln was talkative.

Lincoln was smart enough to see that he and Stanton had been forced to act as armchair generals, second-guessing military leaders in the field, whereas now was the time to recede. “You and I, Mr. Stanton, have been trying to boss this job, and we have not succeeded very well with it,” Lincoln said.

Grant was the antithesis of everything Lincoln had deplored in his predecessors — as eager to fight as they were reluctant; as self-reliant as they were dependent; as uncomplaining as they were petulant. Grant did not badger or connive for more troops or scapegoat others.

By now Grant had piled up so many victories that any lingering prewar insecurity had vanished, and he wasn’t fazed by the vast power delegated to him. He and Lincoln developed a deep mutual trust that transcended petty egotism or rivalry. Grant was not only the most competent of Lincoln’s generals but the most trustworthy, following no covert agenda.

“I was never interfered with,” Grant reminisced. “I had the fullest support of the President and Secretary of War. No general could want better backing, for the President was a man of great wisdom and moderation, the Secretary a man of enormous character and will.”


I love history and if you do as well, read this book. I knew very little about Ulysses Grant before I picked it up, recognizing the name of a Union Civil War General and later President of the United States. This book reveals the man behind the myth.

Why did Lincoln and Grant emerge just when our nation most needed them? It’s one of the great wonders I pondered as I read this biography.

Without both, it’s easy to believe America might be separate nations right now, and while it feels sometimes as if we are two separate nations today, we are not yet to the point that brought Grant and Lincoln to positions of leadership.

Each man was an unlikely choice when destiny called and Grant’s story may be even more unlikely than Lincoln’s.

America was truly blessed by their courage and leadership. It’s difficult not to see some divine purpose behind their stories, and it gave me hope that it may yet happen again, today, in our America.

One of my favorites this summer, but if you don’t enjoy holding a book this big (and it is heavy, believe me), get the Kindle version. And whatever you decide, don’t buy the paperback version: It’s simply too large a book to be read in paperback.


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