Reading

9 of the World's Best Email Newsletters (Actually Worth Clogging Your Inbox For)

Your attention is for sale.

Detergent jingles blare before YouTube videos, podcast hosts can’t stop yapping about sweat-whisking undies, and spammers are even weaselling their way into our text messages.

I feel like these days we need to make sure our personal email inboxes become even more of a safe haven. Bunkers! Last vestiges of quiet in this loud, loud, loud world. You open it up and you want substance. Value. Gold. And if you don’t get it? Vamoose!

So protect your digital home.

Dig a moat around it. Ready the archers. Fill the cauldrons with boiling oil. And then, just before you raise the drawbridge, make sure you invite only your most interesting friends — the fascinating, provocative, enlightening ones — to join you for a celebratory feast in The Great Hall.

Below are the nine people I’d invite to my Great Hall feast.

And all nine pass my 3 key principles of:

  • Real Human: The email must come from a real human with a real name and a real face who I can actually reply to and (ideally) get a response back. (Sidenote: If you want to see why I think “humans over algorithms” is crucial, check out my SXSW Speech “Building Trust In Distrustful Times”)

  • Super Value: Time is precious so the emails I’ve recommended need to offer a depth and richness that jars my brain with incongruent ideas I can thoughtfully apply to ultimately living a more intentional life.

  • No Ads: “I feel monetized” is the new “I need a shower.” I’m not recommending any clothing companies with pics of sexy people wearing $800 rainboots traipsing through orchid swamps. And if any real human delivering super value is insidiously dropping in ads (and tons of the big ones do), they’re out on my list. Man’s gotta have a code.

And now: onto the list!

9. Barking Up The Wrong Tree by Eric Barker

I’m not sure how he does it but Eric Barker seems to suck up business and self-help books like a vacuum cleaner. A turbo-powered vacuum cleaner. But then, unlike the rest of it, who sort of leave it at that, Eric Barker does not leave it at that. He pulls off a magic trick something akin to opening up the dusty vacuum cleaner bag, sneezing a ton while wading through dust balls and cat hair, and then pulling out three valuable things sucked up in there — a tiny doll’s comb, the back of an earring, a couple of coins — and then tells us all about those three valuable things in a warm and witty way. And the best part? We don’t have to vacuum!

  • Frequency: Sporadic (approx. 1–2x / month)

  • Perfect for: Business and self-help book lovers looking to inject more into their brain and anyone looking to stay on top of “thinking trends”

  • Number of subscribers: >320,000

  • Signup Form: https://www.bakadesuyo.com/ (Wait for the pop-up)


8. Austin Kleon’s Newsletter 

I like the idea that success blocks future success. Are you killing it as a real estate agent? Great. But… what if you hadn’t quit ballet when you were twenty-two? Would you be on Broadway right now? Hard to know because you’re selling so many condos. Are you a great Vice President Of Something at your company? Fantastic. But what artistic itches remain inside you’re always thinking about scratching? Austin Kleon’s newsletter helps me scratch those itches. He’s a former reference librarian turned bestselling author (Steal Like An Artist, How To Keep Going) who points my brain at all kinds visual art, “ear candy,” quotes, and artistic ideas every Friday morning. A great way to keep challenging my own ideas and helps me explore lots of little “what if I dids.”

  • Frequency: Weekly (Fridays)

  • Perfect for: People who want to rock themselves out of stasis, those who like getting their brain poked with art, and those who feel a bit uncultured (like me) in big broad areas like music and painting and film

  • Number of Subscribers: > 60,000

  • Signup Form: https://austinkleon.com/newsletter/


7. Aha Parenting by Dr. Laura Markham

I am trying to be a better dad. Sometimes I yell at my kids and then feel a huge wave of shame. I get frustrated when it’s taking fifteen minutes to put on rainboots because we’re late and it’s not raining, even though my kids aren’t doing anything wrong. They’re kids. So often I find what I’m lacking are the words. The phrases. The child logic brain to know what to say and how to say it in a way that’s meaningful to them. And that’s exactly what Dr. Laura helps with. Her emails are simple, clear, and, I like to remind myself, aspirational. So, what do we do now to get ready? Make it a game. “You can’t put your boots on! No way, nooooooo wayy!” And my wife Leslie’s new technique of playing a song as a countdown to get going. (“Bust A Move” by Young MC works great. Yes, I put that link to their live 1989 Arsenio Hall performance, just because.) Plus, lots of other things. Some days are frustrating. But Dr. Laura’s email is helping me (slowly) become a better dad.

  • Frequency: You choose between weekly or weekly + two blog posts

  • Perfect for: Parents who want to be better parents, those fascinated by language and communication, and (for the same reason) managers and leaders of teams

  • Number of Subscribers: > 130,000

  • Signup Form: At the bottom of https://www.ahaparenting.com/


6. Granted by Adam Grant 

Adam Grant is the nerd’s Superman. Youngest tenured faculty in history of Wharton. (I was still in school when he got tenure.) Writes a New York Times column. Gives TED Talks. Drops an award-winning podcast. And, you know, debates Malcolm Gladwell in his spare time. I think it’s safe to say he’s at the top of the social sciences Pyramid of Influence. Every month his Granted newsletter gives me a little peek at the world through his eyes. I always find at least one article to share with friends and family. (I really liked this profile on Adam from Philly Mag.)

  • Frequency: Monthly

  • Perfect for: Business book junkies, leaders looking to become better leaders, those looking for new ways of thinking about same old things …

  • Number of Subscribers: >100,000

  • Signup Form: https://www.adamgrant.net/newsletter


*** Ahhlife.com 

This one isn’t a newsletter so I gave it three asterisks instead. But it’s gold. And it’s one of my faves. Let’s start with this: Do you journal? You should! It’s good for your brain. Good for your body. Research shows it makes you happy. I talk about journaling, I make YouTube videos about journaling, I even make actual physical journals, but guess what? I suck at journaling. That’s why I’m always preaching about it. I’m preaching to myself. Here’s what happens: I snap myself into the journaling habit! I get there! I’m there! I’m doing it, I’m journaling, for a day, a few days, for maybe a week. And then I fall off. Bam. Right to the ground. So now I’ve come up with a patchwork journaling system that has been working for a while. How does it work? Well, first, I surround myself with journals. Two-Minute Mornings in the morning. A longform journal of blank pages on my bedstand to squeeze out late-night anxieties. And… what else? This puppy. Ahhlife.com. What is it? A great little free email journaling subscription that helps me supplement my constantly floundering home journaling efforts. A little plug for the drug. They send me an email on the dates and time I picked and I just reply back with my entry … and I’m done. Super quick. Super easy.

  • Frequency: You pick your own date / time frequency. (I do Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays at 9pm.)

  • Perfect for: People who already know the benefits of journaling but are having trouble getting into the routine…

  • Number of Subscribers: (Not listed)

  • Signup Form: https://ahhlife.com/ (Click “Start your journal now”)


5. Seth Godin’s Blog Posts

Seth is best known as a marketing guru who’s written 19 (!) bestselling books. But I think of him as this deeply enlightened Yoda spouting pithy and almost coded bits of wisdom that sometimes fly way over my head and other times hit me with a ton of bricks and help me completely re-orient myself in the machine. I absolutely love listening to him.

  • Frequency: Daily (!?!?)

  • Perfect for: Anyone interested in human nature, entrepreneurs and those working without a safety net, and, of course, marketing folks…

  • Number of Subscribers: (Not listed)

  • Signup Form: https://seths.blog/subscribe/


4. The Ryan Holiday Reading Recommendation Email

Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents harped on you to read all the time? They got you a bookshelf. They read to you at night. Do you still live with them? If not, who harps on you to read now? Well, Ryan Holiday will. He’s happy to! Every month he sends out a list of the 5–10 books he’s consumed together with the not-so-subtle plotline to “Read more books, dummy!” He preaches about how it’s work, your job, your education. His tastes veer towards classics, Stoic philosophy, biographies, translations. “Smart books for smart people.” Yes, I feel really dumb reading his list sometimes. But it always, always gives me a good push. (By the way, I liked Ryan’s email list so much I completely copied it, with his permission, and started my own Monthly Reading Email)

  • Frequency: Monthly

  • Perfect for: Readers looking for the next great book, booksellers and librarians and book industry folks, anyone aspiring to be a better writer or reader…

  • Number of Subscribers: > 100,000

  • Signup Form: https://ryanholiday.net/reading-newsletter/


3. Brain Food by Shane Parrish

Shane Parrish is a former Canadian spy whose weekly Brain Food email aims to break through the “fast food noise” of the world with a grounded, thoughtful reflection of how we’re seeing the world right back to us. Super high level. Way above the fray. Thinking about thinking. A fantastic zoom-out and perfect way to start your week. He’s a kindred spirit on reading more books, too. (Note: Although Shane’s email is the only one on this list with a sponsor, I’ve chosen to include it because of the Ethics he shares on his About page.)

  • Frequency: Weekly (Sundays)

  • Number of Subscribers: > 200,000

  • Perfect for: Anyone who feels too micro wanting to get more macro, people looking for an edge, and I know this will sound like a contradiction, but those also looking to slow down their thinking and mentally chill more …

  • Signup Form: https://fs.blog/newsletter/


2. Take 5 with Mel Robbins

Whenever I open up Mel’s email I feel like I’m hanging out behind the scenes with an A-list celebrity who’s somehow radically self-aware, authentic, and even self-critical. Her weekly email sounds like a long email from a friend who shares the shame she felt visiting her grandmother after not visiting for years, the pain of her son being bullied at school, and even being a mom of three deciding she needed pelvic physio and encouraging everyone to look into it. I love Mel’s sharp, insightful, empathetic tone on how to build your best life. Makes sense she’s one of the world’s most booked female speakers, has sold more books on Audible’s self-publishing platform than anybody, and why one day last year every single recommended video on my YouTube sidebar featured Mel Robbins. YouTube knows something. And TV execs watch YouTube! Makes sense she’s hosting a national talk show debuting this fall. I’ve already heard people calling Mel the White Oprah. She is three big flame emojis.

  • Frequency: Weekly (Thursdays)

  • Number of Subscribers: > 350,000

  • Perfect for: Anyone looking for post-modern self-help, a no-BS kick in the pants, and a strong passionate friendly voice whispering in their ear once a week…

  • Signup Form: https://melrobbins.com/


1. Raptitude: Getting Better At Being Human by David Cain

Ten years ago David Cain wrote an article on Raptitude mentioning my blog 1000 Awesome Things and I noticed a traffic spike and hyperlinked over to say hello. I wrote that blog for four years. David’s been writing his for over ten (ten!) and has been constantly getting deeper and deeper into what it means to (yes) get better at being human. David is a fortysomething guy from Winnipeg and he’s one of the best street-level philosophers out there. He writes about The Elegant Art of Not Giving A Shit and how Everything You Own Is A Relationship You’re In and about The Simple Joy of “No Phones Allowed.” (I like his writing so much I got permission to quote him a bunch in The Happiness Equation.) My wife Leslie and I often swap Raptitude posts back and forth over email with our thoughts on top. Because I know so many “thought leaders” who read David’s writing I sometimes think of him as a bit of a thought leader’s thought leader. His writing is crisp and thoughtful and occasionally veers into challenging and cerebral waters. David Cain isn’t on the lecture circuit. His books aren’t front of the bookstore. He isn’t posting Insta-stories, sweating the size of his platform, or trying to “build his list” with piles of Facebook ads. Why? Because he’s chill. Because he’s beautiful. And because he’s living the life he preaches.

  • Frequency: Sporadic (approx. every 2–4 weeks)

  • Perfect for: People looking to live more pacefully, anyone feeling an itchiness about the world today, and people looking to lengthen their attention spans…

  • Number of subscribers: >30,000

  • Signup Form: https://www.raptitude.com/


And, yes, yes, of course: I also have my own email list which I didn’t put on the list above. I write and send an article every other Wednesday morning to over 30,000 people all about living intentionally (failure, trust, reading, resilience, etc.) Samples? This article you’re reading, “8 More Ways To Read A Lot More Books,” or “Why You Should Never, Ever Retire.” I’d love for you to check it out.

Now, those are my dinner guests!

Time is precious. Attention is precious. Thanks for reading.

A slightly modified version of this article originally appeared on Medium.

13 Books To Read If You’re Anxious

Anyone who says they never get anxious is lying.

Sure, National Institute of Mental Health studies may say things like 1 in 3 people are affected by anxiety and 1 in 5 Americans in general suffers from clinical anxiety, but I’m not talking about official diagnosed anxiety. I get that’s real anxiety and I don’t want to disempower the word but I also think it applies to the more general definition of anxiety, that I feel, that I’m guessing you feel, too. 

I’m talking about spinning in your head while lying in your bed tossing and turning for a couple hours before falling asleep. I’m talking about sweating the big interview or big trip you have coming up to the point where it’s difficult to concentrate on anything else. I’m talking about thinking and overthinking and overthinking a decision till you ultimately just avoid the decision completely. 

I felt like this a lot when I was little.

I would get headaches all the time and need to miss piano lessons or Beavers. I slowly grew out of feeling anxiety so often but to this day despite, you know, writing and speaking full-time about living intentionally, I still get anxious bouts a few times a month.

What helps?

For me, a few things: journaling, going for a long walk, talking to my wife Leslie, doing a tough workout, calling up my parents, and… 

Books. 

Yes, books help me move through anxious bouts so often that I thought I’d take a deep comb through my shelf and pull out the ones I find myself turning to again and again to nudge my brain forwards...

13. How To Love by Thich Nhat Hanh. 

The prolific Zen monk’s simple little paragraphs about compassionate love. Great applying to those you love… and great applying it to yourself. 

12. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch. 

I worried this book could actually cause anxiety. Sort of like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm does for some people. So that’s a risk. But I included it because there’s something about feeling connected to others who feel anxious which can help my own anxiety melt away. Despite the super rudimentary Microsoft-Paint visual style the content is an amazing introspection on the human condition on topics such as mental illness, depression, and, yes, anxiety. (Sidenote: Hyperbole and a Half was one of Sarah Andersen’s three most formative books over on the 3 Books podcast.)

11. The Art of Living by Epictetus. 

I stayed in a hotel called The Taj in San Francisco during the book tour for The Happiness Equation. It was my first time staying in an Indian hotel chain so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I pulled open the top drawer of the bedside table and there was a copy of The Vedas lying there. But it was jarring. I’ve been used to seeing Bibles in hotel rooms my whole life. And then suddenly there was something else. “Hmmm,” I thought, “Maybe it’s not the Bible, per se, but a thousands-of-years old grounding and centering guidebook of stories and lessons for people far from home.” That got me thinking. What book would I put in the bedside table of my own hotel chain? (No, I don’t have one, but say I did! Maybe Pasricha&Pasricha? Our tagline: Least pronounceable hotel chain in the world.) (Btw, it’s pass-REACH-ah, in case you’re curious.) (No more brackets, promise.) What book would you include in your hotel chain’s bedside table? Me, pretty sure I’d go with The Art of Living by Epictetus. Marcus Aurelius and Seneca may command more of the Stoic philosophy spotlight, but I’ve found great joy paging through this two thousand year old book of simple philosophical notes written by a slave born on the edges of the Roman Empire in 55 AD. Perfect to flip through to wind your brain down before bed or to gently wake it up in the morning rather than looking at your cell phone (NSFW). Part of the appeal is that, despite being written so long ago, the book reads like an email you got this morning from a wise friend. Sample entry to share a taste: “It is better to do wrong seldom and to own it, and to act right for the most part, than seldom to admit that you have done wrong and to do wrong often.” (More sample entries can be found here.)

10. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. 

A completely simple guide to battling “Resistance” – the single word Pressfield uses to describe the set of emotions and barriers preventing you from doing work you love. For me anxiety gets swirled into this emotional stew. A helpful brain reframe. 

9. Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka. 

Beautiful children’s book showing how easy it is to connect and friendify. My wife Leslie has been using this book in her elementary school classroom for years. It’s super short with only a word or two per page. Literary minimalism! (It’s like: “Yo!” “Yes?” “You!” “Me?” “Yes, you!” “No fun.” “Oh?” “No friends.” “Oh! … Me?” “You?” “Me!” “...Yes!”, etc) Wonderfully emotive illustrations help it serve children and remind adults like me to always try and offer each other tender connection. That it’s not hard to be kind. And that kindness greases every other movement. Written and illustrated by Chris Raschka who’s also the wonderbrain behind the incredible A Ball for Daisy and The Hello Goodbye Window

8. How To Develop Self-Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie. 

Is your anxiety about giving a speech, an interview, or a date? I give a lot of speeches and sometimes I get anxiety right before a big one. Enter this book. This book is a lot less known than How To Win Friends and Influence People because, I think, it’s slightly less applicable but it’s gold, honestly. Timeless advice showing how to make a speech (or a conversation) all about the listener. That’s the key. Favorite chapters were templates with examples on how to open and close speeches (i.e., arouse curiosity, share a human interest story, share a shocking fact, etc.). Perfect for anyone shoulder-tapped for a toast at a wedding all the way up to the corporate honcho in the big hat. 

7. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida and translated by David Mitchell. 

According to the introduction, this is the only book ever written about autism … by someone with autism. Japanese teenager Naoki Higashida wrote this book with a Japanese alphabet pad and an assistant, one character at a time, and you can feel that slow tenderness and passion as he answers question after question. Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly? Why don’t you make eye contact while talking? What’s the reason you jump? I’ve loved David Mitchell since Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green so I originally found this book while searching for bibliographical scraps. Turns out it’s incredible for anxiety because it pulls off an epic consciousness leap. You really feel like you’re living in another mind. A huge injection of empathy helps our own problems feel less important when we’re done. Side history: David Mitchell shares how his son has severe autism and he, like many, struggled to identify, relate, and support his child… until he read this book. He then worked with his wife to translate it at the request of friends and the book found a giant Western audience after The Daily Show trumpeted it and it hit The New York Times bestseller list. 

6. What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn) by Seth Godin. 

This book is a shot of nitro. There’s no way you can read it and not feel your confidence and energy lift up for your next project. Flip through it in an hour or two. A visually beautiful book from the incredibly wise master Seth Godin on taking risks, starting businesses, and just doing it.

!. Think Like A Bronze Medalist, Not Silver by Derek Sivers. 

This one isn’t a book but a blog post. Still, I feel like it deserves an honorable mention on this list so I gave it an exclamation mark instead of a number. Helpful perspective when I have anxiety because it’s a reminder to sometimes focus on gratitude over ambition, on being thrilled you made it instead of being bummed you didn’t, and on simply having enough versus always wanting more. 

5. Civil Disobedience and Other Essays by Henry David Thoreau.

The title essay is great but the one I really want to talk about here isWalking (link goes to full text). A fiery piece on the philosophical, meditative, and creative benefits of… walking. Leslie and I picked our house based on what we could walk to and I try and do most of my meetings walking. (Here's a great TED Talk on walking meetings.) This essay was both a justification and reminder of the benefits. As Thoreau says: “We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read not the Times. Read the Eternities. Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.” (Sidenote: If you want to go deeper on this topic, I recommend the Nassim Taleb essay “Why I Do All This Walking” and Austin Kleon’s tagged blog posts on Walking.)

4. The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha. 

Can I recommend my own book? The reason I wrote it was because my wife asked me for a divorce and my best friend took his own life right around the same time. I was in shock. I was spinning. I had to find a new place to live. I started up in therapy for the first time. I looked for any way to help avoid slipping down to emotional rock bottom. The awesome things in The Book of Awesome were the bounce from the bottom for me and I wrote one every single day for four straight years on 1000AwesomeThings.com. The best ones are in this book. (Here’s a TED Talk which shares more of this story.)

3. If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? by Kurt Vonnegut. 

Inspiring collection of commencement speeches by Kurt Vonnegut collected over forty years. Creates great perspective and incredibly grounding and centering. 

2. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson. 

Have you by chance heard of this book? I’m guessing yes given it’s been on top of bestseller lists for years. I remember when it first came out booksellers I spoke to said it was the f-bomb that attracted folks. Later I heard folks say it was tapping into the emerging counter-anxiety trend of not giving a f*ck. But now that I’ve read it I can say… no, it’s the book itself. Pure solid gold life advice and mind-expanding philosophy told in a disarming, accessible, warts-and-all way by a new master. There’s less “new news” here but some pretty epic distillations of concepts that can otherwise feel too ephemeral or inaccessible. (P.S. Mark Manson is an upcoming guest on 3 Books and he just announced his new book.) 

1. Mindset by Carol Dweck. 

Check out this scenario from Page 8 of this book: “One day, you go to a class that is really important to you and that you like a lot. The professor returns the midterm papers to the class. You got a C+. You’re very disappointed. That evening on the way back to your home, you find that you’ve gotten a parking ticket. Being really frustrated, you call your best friend to share your experience but are sort of brushed off.” According to Carol Dweck, if you have a fixed mindset you’d think “I’m a total failure” or “I feel like a reject.” And if you have a growth mindset, you’d think “I need to try harder in class, be more careful when parking the car, and wonder if my friend had a bad day.” She points out it was a midterm... not a final. A parking ticket... not a major infraction. Sort of brushed off... versus getting dumped or screamed at. I’ll admit I was totally in the first camp. This incredibly readable book helped me understand how to develop a growth mindset across all spectrums of my life from writing to marriage to parenting. Since I read this book I began speaking differently to my children. And to myself.

I also did a condensed video version of this article on Youtube:

8 More Ways To Read (A Lot) More Books

Do you want to read more books?

Most people I talk to say yes, yes, definitely yes. Then two seconds later they say “But I just don’t got that kind of time.”

Well, you know what? I’m calling shenanigans on that BS excuse.

Because the truth is we’re reading more words per day now than ever before. It’s just garbage reading. Texts and alerts and notifications and emails and headline skims and fly-by tickers and blog feeds and Twitter spews and Instagram comments.

Who has time for books anymore?

I know this pain because I’ve felt this pain. For most of my adult life I read five books a year tops. Few slow burners on my nightstand, couple on vacation if I was lucky.

But then three years ago I suddenly read fifty. Fifty books! In one year. I couldn’t believe it. I could suddenly feel books becoming this lead domino towards being a better husband, a better father, a better writer.

In fact, I was so enamoured with myself I even wrote an article about it for Harvard Business Review called “8 Ways To Read (A Lot) More Books This Year” where I summed up the little systems that helped me 10x my reading rate after decades of being a “don’t got that kind of time” whiner.

And then what?

Well, that article became the Most Popular article on Harvard Business Review for something like six months straight and when you type in “how to read more books” in Google it’s generally right near the top.

So it seems the desire to read more is somewhat universal.

Since then I’ve tried doubling down on reading myself. I send out a monthly book club with a summary of the books I’ve read and enjoyed each month and I now host a podcast all about books, too. I’m reading somewhere around 100 books a year now so I figured it was time for a Version 2.0 of that article sharing all the things I do to keep my reading rate high. An advanced version! Because sure, I hit slow patches, I hit bare patches, I slip into social media swirls and feel dirty afterwards.

But these are the eight things I do to get back on track.

8. Live inside a world of books. The first one is a mindset change. Most people have a bookshelf “over there”, you know? That’s where the books live. But one day last year my wife just dumped a pile of about ten picture books in the middle of our coffee table. What happened? Our kids started flipping through them all the time. So now we just rotate them and leave them there. Path-of-least-resistance principle! Just like how Google leaves alfalfa bars and tofu chips on the counter for employees while hiding the jelly beans in cookie jars. We’ve put the TV in the basement, installed a bookshelf near our front door, slipped books into carseat pouches, and, of course, placed one within reach of every toilet. (Want an epic toilet book? Try this.)  Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges says: “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.”

7. Go red in bed. Yes, I’m talking about lighting up your bedroom like a bordello. How? Well, you gotta wear a red-light headband on your head like you’re in the jungles looking for the Predator. My wife Leslie generally falls asleep before I do and that’s when I strap my red reading light on my forehead and get my reading on. Why red? Michael Breus, PhD and author of The Power of When says that “The theory is that red light aids melatonin production.” And bright lights have the opposite effect according to The Sleep Health Foundation of Australia.  

6. Make your phone disgusting. Cell phones are a problem. Our phones are designed to be smooth, sexy, and irresistible. Don’t believe me? The book Irresistible by Adam Alter will quickly raise your awareness to the addictive designs going into smartphones. They’re pocket slot machines. So what’s the solution? Make it disgusting. Put your phone in black and white. Move all the apps off the main screen so it’s blank when you open it. Leave your cracked screen cracked. Move your charger to the basement so it’s an extra step in your low resilience nighttime and morning moments. (Cause you're never really proud of those 11pm emails, amirite?) Enable Night Shift to automatically block calls and texts after 7pm. Slowly, slowly, slowly prevent it from becoming such a seductive temptress. 

5. Go Dewey Decimal. How do you organize your books? By color? By when you bought them? By big random piles everywhere? There’s a reason every library is organized in the Dewey Decimal System. It makes sense. The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) System was created by Melvil Dewey in 1876. The DDC is the most widely used classification system in the world and is currently in use at libraries in over 140 countries. All books fall neatly into ever-more-thin-sliced categories around psychology and religion and science and art and everything. What’s the benefit? You make connections. You see where your big gaps are. (I couldn’t believe I only had three books in all of religion until I realized I only had two books in all of science! Who is Jesus? What is a tree? Don’t ask me!) I spent one Saturday putting my books in Dewey Decimal System and, in addition to scratching an incredibly deep organizational itch, I now find books faster, feel like my reading is more purposeful, and am more engaged in what I read, because I can sort of feel how it snaps into my brain. What tools do you need to do it? Just two! I bookmarked classify.oclc.org to look up Dewey Decimal Numbers for any books which don’t have a DDC code on the inside jacket and I use the Decimator app to look up what that number means. Oh, and I use a pencil to write the number and category inside the jacket. So three things including the pencil. I write the DDC code and the category in the inside jacket of each book. 

4. Listen to 3 Books. A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… and the man who never reads lives only one. Yes,  I stole that quote from Game of Thrones. But that quote begs a great follow-up question: Which thousand lives will you live? The average lifespan is about 1000 months long. (!) And estimates suggest around 1000 new books are published every single day. So on 3 Books I am spending fifteen years finding and reading the 1000 most formative books in the world. How? I’m sitting down and asking 333 of the most inspiring people I can find which three books most shaped their lives. I read the books in advance, do all the interviews in-person, have a strict no ads and no sponsors policy, and just get off discussing the big themes related to their books. Sample guests include David SedarisJudy BlumeChris Anderson of TED, and the world’s greatest Uber driver.

3. Unfollow all news. (Or Go Wiki.) Sure, sure, I preached before about how I cancelled all my magazine and newspaper subscriptions to focus solely on books. But you know where the news followed me? Online. They’re fishing for our eyeballs! So I had to get hardcore. Unfollow every news site on social media. Remove all bookmarks to news sites. Remove all passwords too! Now I get the news from skimming headlines at my local grocery store. Too hardcore? Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, told me he combs the front page of Wikipedia News each day. That’s it! No news sites, no news feeds. Why? Well, it’s quick and it’s Wikipedia. No left, no right, no leanings. It’s Wikipedia. When the news gets stripped out the space to read opens up. 

2. Read on something that doesn’t do anything else. In my chat with Seth Godin on 3 Books, he told me the research shows we don’t read on devices where we have the ability to multitask. Same path-of-least-resistance principle. If we can be interrupted, alerted, or notified, we will. Not good for diving deep into new worlds. So what do I suggest? Real books. Real pages. On dead trees. Yes, kill em, print on em, and disappear into your mind. Only real books let you be the full director of the show, after all. No voice replaces your mental voice, no formatting or display screen affects the artistic intentions of the writer. Sure, I get it if you need big font or you drive all day and prefer audiobooks, I get that, but I’m just saying if you wanna be a real book snob for the rest of your life just like me, well I’ve got a nice warm seat beside me. 

1. Find your Sarah. My favorite bookseller of all-time is Sarah Ramsey of Another Story Bookshop in Toronto. I walk in, I start blabbering, I start confessing, I share what I’m struggling with, she hmms and hahs and sizes me up as we wander around the store talking for half an hour. And then I walk out with an armload of books that completely fit my emotional state, where I want or need to grow, and those that resonate with me on a deeper level. If you believe humans are the best algorithm (like I do) then walking into your local independent bookstore, sizing up the Staff Picks wall to see who’s similar to you, and then asking them for personal picks is a great way to speed you up. (Here’s an ‘indie bookstore finder’ if you want a place to start.)

So are you ready to go? Do you need some final convincing?

If you need your left brain scratched, then check out the 2011 The Annual Review of Psychology which says that reading triggers our mirror neurons and opens up the parts of our brain responsible for developing empathy, compassion, and understanding. Makes you a better leader, teacher, parent, and sibling. Another study published in Science Magazine in 2013 found that reading literary fiction helps us improve our empathy and social functioning. And, lastly, an incredible 2013 study at Emory University, MRIs taken the morning after test subjects were asked to read sections of a novel showed an increase in connectivity in the left temporal cortex. What’s that? The area of the brain associated with receptivity for language. Priming the brain. And the MRIs were done the next day. Just imagine the long-term benefits of cracking open a book every day.

Most of us want to read more. And we can.

A couple years ago I shared 8 ways to read more books and now I'm share 8 more ways. Ditch the Instagram comments and news feeds and let's all try and slip more pages into all the cricks and corners of the day.

Happy reading.

The 7 Best Summer Reads (For People Who Don't Want To Turn Their Brain Off)

Does your brain turn off in the summer?

Mine doesn’t. Yours doesn’t. Everybody’s doesn’t.

And that’s why I reject the common assumption that summer beach reads are supposed to be airy-fairy tales of steamy romance or paint-by-numbers Pattersons.

To that I say a big loud: No!

Now, don’t worry, I’m not swinging the other way and recommending you check out the latest 600-page examination of the Civil War. But I do think we should swing the pendulum back a bit. So let’s start off with a few summer beach read principles first:

1. Fast paced. You may be sitting on a towel on the way home from the beach, lounging in the park after walking the dog, or jumping in and out of coffee shops down on a little Main Street somewhere. The book has to be gripping enough that you want to keep tearing through it. Pacing! The book has to move.

2. Jump in, jump out. A big one! The thoughts flying through the book have to be light enough that you can jump in and jump out of the book. A few pages before a dip. A few pages after a hot dog. Essays, short stories, and tiny chapters all get a thumbs up here.

3. You learn something. Like I said before, brains don’t turn off in the summer. So there’s no excuse for shutting down. You should return from holidays with fresh ideas and new perspectives. The books can take a fun road to getting there. But I’m not letting you hit the snooze bar.

Okay, we have our principles.

So now here are my picks for seven great summer reads:

7. Calypso by David Sedaris. Year ago I waited until around 1am in the basement of Massey Hall to meet David Sedaris. I was by myself. My phone died. I was thirsty. By the time I got near the front I hated David Sedaris. Who was this guy? Sure, I loved his books. But where did he get the nerve to make me wait in line for four hours to get my book signed? Who did he think he was? Space Mountain? But then I got to the front. And he sat there calmly. And it was clear I could lead the conversation. So I did! I asked him about my favorite essays in Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day and something like five or ten minutes later he wrote “Neil, I am so happy you’re alive” in my book. Now that’s a book signing! Patience, connection, intimacy. I’ve tried adopting the same approach and think it’s the most beautiful part of the writing world. As for David Sedaris, I think Calypso may take the position of Best Sedaris Book Ever. Slower, darker, and — wait for it — it has an arc! All the hilarious essays sort of weave together to give a sharp portrait of middle age with everything that entails. A father in his 90s. Losing a sibling. Everything sounding loud in airports. The essays are perfect for dipping in and out and yet you always feel like you are learning something new about the human condition. (PS. I also interviewed David (in the back of his limo!) for 3 Books.)

6. Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. This is my only novel on the list. Most of the rest are short and punchy but this one has enough short chapters and well-braided-but-not-too-complex plotlines to make the cut. Jende Jonga is a Cameroonian immigrant living with his wife and 6-year-old son in Harlem. The book tells the story of him getting a job as a chauffeur for a Lehman Brothers executive just before the financial crisis hits. A behind-the-curtains tale of the immigrant experience and an Oprah’s Book Club pick to boot.

5. The Moth or All These Wonders by The Moth Podcast. Picture your closest friends going around the red-and-white checkered tablecloth sharing their best true stories over late-night chicken wings. That’s The Moth. There’s one from the woman who became David Bowie’s hair stylist. Another from an African child soldier asked to go to a paintball birthday party in a forest with his new classmates in New York. And another from an Indian guy standing at his white prom date’s door and being told by her parents they don’t want him in their family photos. The stories are insightful, addictive, and end without any smarm or Full House-style group laughs … but rather with an honest emotional candid snapshot of what life felt like, for that person, at that time. Hard not to laugh, cry, or be a little moved by each one.

4. “Commencement speech books.” The benefit of reading commencement speech books it that you get them done in under an hour and feel a sense of perspective or motivation far beyond. I find them delightful to revisit and remind myself of the bigger principles in the world. Three favorites: Congratulations, By The Way by George Saunders, This Is Water by David Foster Wallace, and Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman.

3. A Little History of The World by E.H. Gombrich. Do you have a curious 12-year-old in your life? Or do you have a curious 12-year-old inside you? Buy them this book. Back in 1935 the author wrote it in German over six weeks for a little girl. And that tone and style is still there in the English translation which didn’t appear until 70 years later. A mesmerizing look at, well, a little history of the world. Short and snappy — feels like a Wait But Why blog post written 100 years ago.

2. Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen. Graphic novels make perfect beach reads. The emotion packs a wallop yet you can swoop in and out quickly. Sarah Andersen is the millennial cartoonist behind the online sensation Sarah’s Scribbles with strips addressing issues like anxiety, social awkwardness, mental health, and becoming an adult. Herding Cats is her latest and I also recommend her last two books: Adulthood Is A Myth and Big Mushy Happy Lump. If you want to go deeper down the graphic novel hole I’ll also recommend Killing And Dying by Adrian Tomine and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

1. Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. Okay, this is maybe my most beachy of summer reads. Do you ever walk by the tabloids and sort of stare at the children of celebrities pasted on the covers? I find the idea of someone like Suri Cruise or Shiloh Pitt even being known a bit sickening. They’re just kids! Born onto our spinning planet by parents who happen to be famous. I often worry what their lives must feel like on the inside of all that press and publicity. I picked up this book casually just because — just because I’d heard of it, just because I knew Carrie Fisher from playing Princess Leia, and just because it looked interesting. I had no idea Carrie Fisher was a Suri Pitt! Born to Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, or the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of the late 1950s, she tells a rollicking, radically self-aware story of the absurdist upbringing she had inside a world of Hollywood elite … while struggling with bipolar disorder and addiction. Fascinating, absorbing, enlightening, and hilarious.

And there you have it!

A slightly modified version of this article originally appeared in the Toronto Star