The Books I Read in December 2021

Each month I strive to read five books, from a variety of genres and levels of seriousness. By popular request, I’ve listed below the titles I completed in December 2021 (for more detailed thoughts on these books see Episode 163 of my podcast):

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe
Chris Taylor

After completing Joseph McBride’s epic biography of Steven Spielberg in November, I decided I needed to know more about his longtime friend, George Lucas. Though this book frequently digresses into discussions of the cultural impact of the Star Wars franchise, it also contains one of the most thoroughly-researched biographies of Lucas currently available. Bottom line: George Lucas, like Spielberg, had three things going for him: (1) he was very talented (did you know he was Francis Ford Coppola’s first choice to direct Apocalypse Now?); (2) his timing was perfect; and (3) he was relentlessly driven and ambitious.

In Praise of Slowness
Carl Honore

This book, published in 2004, provides a journalistic account of the various offshoots of the “slow food” movement that originally began in Rome in the 1980s. I read it as part of the research for my recent New Yorker article on “slow productivity”, and was struck by the extent to which the issues that seem pressing today about busyness and overload were already a problem fifteen years earlier. Nothing is new.

The World-Ending Fire
Wendell Berry

After years of people recommending him to me, I finally took the plunge into the literary world of Wendell Berry. Now I can’t help but wonder what took me so long. This 2018 collection of Berry’s best essays is a fantastic introduction into his genre-defining polemic style, which mixes razor-sharp commentary with a poetry grounded in lived experience, to argue on behalf of land, the environment, and a slower, richer approach to life. If you’ve never heard of Berry, let me offer you the following three enticements to find out more: (1) he still farms his land in rural Kentucky with mules and horses; (2) he doesn’t own a computer; (3) the audio version of this essay collection is narrated by Nick Offerman.

When the Lion Feeds
Wilbur Smith

As my friends and family know, I’m a serious fan of genre fiction, with a particular interest in adventure yarns and techno-thrillers. Wilbur Smith helped define the former category in the twentieth century, so when he died this past November at the age of 88, having sold over 140 million books worldwide, I decided, as a tribute to his influence, to go back and read his very first novel. It tells the tale of Sean Courtney, the son of a cattle rancher in 19th century colonial South Africa, who finds himself cast out on his own after the death of his father. This is the first book in an ongoing series that Smith wrote following multiple generations of the Courtney family. It’s definitely a book of its time (it was first published in the 1960s), but it introduces plot and style conventions that echoed throughout many adventure titles that followed.

Hero On a Mission
Donald Miller

As we headed up the Catskills to celebrate Christmas with my family, I grabbed a galley copy of this book that Miller’s publisher had sent me (its official release date is actually today). Because I’m currently contemplating writing a book on my emerging concept of the deep life, I’m particularly interested at the moment in any book that attempts to structure the complex urge to cultivate a more meaningful existence. I found myself unexpectedly (and perhaps dangerously) inspired by Miller’s discussion of the 15-acre plot of land he and his wife bought outside Nashville, where they’re carefully cultivating the forest, planting extensive gardens, and organizing retreats.

17 thoughts on “The Books I Read in December 2021”

  1. Hello cal,
    I am a huge fan of your thoughts and work. I have read digital minimalism and deep work multiple times and love it.
    I am fascinated by the idea to read 4-5 books per month but i keep getting bogged down by routine adult stuff that everyone has to do.I know the purpose of deep Life is to spend time and prfioritize the stuff that actually creates value in your life and leave the rest.
    I would be delighted to hear more about your daily routine, as to how you go about on an average weekday .I would love to incorporate something similar in my routine.

  2. I saw Carl Honore’s TED talk and it definitely struck a nerve. I was so tired of everything in life feeling so rushed-rushed-rushed. I subsequently read his book, and it felt good to see I wasn’t the only one. It’s unfortunate that, as you say, nothing has changed 15 years later.

    I placed The World-Ending Fire on my To Read list. I haven’t read any Wendel Berry, and I feel I should rectify that, as you have.

  3. Ah, Wendell Berry. I got hooked on him as a result of a conversation I had at a barber shop some time ago, with the barber suggesting I read Jayber Crow which is a fictional work Berry wrote about a barber and the town he settled in. Very simple life, and that story struck a chord with me. It’s quite funny at times, but also packed with so much wisdom.

  4. Really like hearing about books you are reading and a bit about them. Makes me want to check out of few of the ones you mention.
    Admire how you are able to get to all of these books given your busy life.

  5. Hi Cal,
    I have a general question about the Podcast. On the latest episode (#164), you mentioned that there are video recordings of the podcast available online. I was wondering where one could find these video recordings, since I was not able to find any information about them elsewhere. Thank you!

  6. 5 books a month! Wow. I thought I knew what potential living a deep life brings, but all the things Cal keeps up with is amazing. I hope my deep life practice eventually reaches at this point, lucky to read his book at 25.

  7. Thank you.
    What I find fascinating about you and your work is your empathy. What I mean is this: At least from my experiences, empathy finds itself as among the first casualties in the war to stake our ambitious claims in today’s world . Highly motivated people have little time for family or for love, in this environment, they just become distractions anyway, so what’s the use. Subsequently, they either fake or superficially attend to these matters or cut them all together under some convenient rationalization. What I see in you is thus far you’ve balanced your soul(whatever that is) with your work and I wonder how much this had to do with your parents. Thank you for enlightening us with your amazing work

    • My entire adult life, whenever I start drifting toward being too mono-focused on work, or let my ambition grow too strong, I tend to develop insomnia, which crashes me back down to earth and refocuses me on the present. Almost like a higher power keeping me in check. A deep life can have some really cool and interesting professional endeavors, but it cannot be about conquering the world.

  8. Hello Cal,
    I want to ask, you read 5 books a month. After reading a book there is so much information and further research which may be needed. How you handle that part which is basically I would say after effects of the information you have gathered. How do you release that.

  9. Love the book reviews and reading lists. This is how I came across Digital Minimalism and Deep Work. I’ve recently finished Digital Milinialism and am reading Deep Work, and it truly resonates.

    I work in the Mental Health and Addictions Field as a therapist and am completing a master’s program in Counselling Psychology. I’m really excited to see how both of these books are going to show up in my personal, professional, and educational lives!

  10. Cal, I have much appreciated your wisdom again “common” views of our day (need to get as many social media accounts as possible, checking my phone for texts, letting my email program download emails as soon as I get them, etc.)

    I have purchased all of your books and read “Deep Work” once every year.

    I may have missed this .. but I would really love to know the nuts & bolts of how you structured your research when writing your books. How did you manage so much info .. .did you print everything you may have gathered on-line and then highliight what you wanted to use in your books? Did you use the computer to write down important points or write them on paper? At what point did you determine the chapters and their titles?

    I would like to know how you organized your work to write!

    Thank you very much,

  11. Hi Cal, I have read two of your works Deep Work and So good that ….ignore you, I came away inspired by many of the stories and thoughts that you shared. I have heard of people setting goals in reading. Like reading a certain amount of books a year…What I noticed is that people who don’t read books (at least in my work place) seem to be doing extremely well. Last year I had set out a goal to read 40 books in fact I completed almost 44 books exceeding by 4 books. But in a focussed determination to finish these books. I somehow lost my job. I am not saying there is a direct causal relationship between the two but the when someone sets a goal to read books. It has to be relevant to their field of study.


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