This whole nonfiction-writing thing has been a beautiful accident. Before starting this blog in 2010, my only writing experience was with fiction, which I had tinkered with for nearly a decade. But, as I soon discovered, nonfiction was a different (and difficult) beast—a glaring ignorance to the genre is evident in my early essays in our archives. Over time, however, I learned to love nonfiction, and today I write considerably less fiction as a result. In fact, in the last five years, Ryan and I have written and published three nonfiction books, but I have published only one novel in my entire life, most of which was written in my twenties.
Even with my current nonfiction bent, though, I still enjoy books of all kinds: novels, memoirs, self-help books, philosophical tomes, short-story collections. Put succinctly: I like books. So much so that Ryan, Colin, and I started a publishing house for the indie at heart—Asymmetrical Press—in 2012.
This month, I was fortunate enough to help publish two novels (one I wrote, the other I edited): 1) the new, updated edition of my one and only novel, As a Decade Fades, which is a solid reflection of my writing as it evolved throughout my mid- and late twenties—and is appreciably different from anything I would write today; and 2) Shawn Mihalik’s new novel, Particles, a beautiful interweaving narrative about a pornstar, a playwright, and a particle physicist. While the front covers to both books are absolutely stunning, I can’t take credit for the covers—I can only take credit for what occurs between them.
Rather than attempt to sell anyone these two books, though, I’ll simply share an eclectic stack of books—fiction and nonfiction—that’ve affected me deeply over the years:
Lying by Sam Harris. While I usually recommend Sam’s wonderful book Waking Up, a seeker’s memoir about mindfulness (you can read my interview with Sam here), I find that Lying, in which Sam argues we can radically simplify our lives and improve society by merely telling the truth in situations where others often lie, is his most universally helpful book.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. This is the best realist fiction I’ve read. It’s our generation’s Great American Novel.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. The best novel you’ll never read. I’ve met only two people, besides myself, who’ve read it cover to cover. Yes, it’s a long and complicated book—one that might take six months to digest—but getting to the end proves the real payoff comes only after drudging through the drudgery.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace. Wallace is the writer who influenced me more than any other, so it’s only right that he have two books on this short list. Although he’s best known for his fiction, I think this collection of essays is his masterpiece—especially the title essay, as well as my favorite piece, “Getting Away from Pretty Much Already Being Away from It All.” No one is able to capture absorptive detail like Wallace and also make it so utterly articulate and gorgeous.
Making Nice by Matt Summell. This year my favorite contemporary short-story writer finally published his first novel, Making Nice, which not-so-surprisingly reads like a loosely connected short-story collection. This novel is mimetic of everyday life: funny, sad, fragmented, and so alive I can feel it on my nerve-endings.
Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. The most practical pick on this list. If you have consumer debt, this book is your blueprint to break free. Last year I bought an entire case of this book and handed it to anyone in my life searching for a detailed plan to get out of debt. (Also worth reading: Financial Freedom: 5 Difficult Steps to Get Out of Debt.)
Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty. This is the book I credit most for sparking my desire to write fiction. It is a crime novel, but it isn’t written like a lot of trope-laden genre fiction: its prose is beautiful, its plot is enthralling, and its characters are so real you’ll forget you don’t know them personally.
That’s a good start. If you’re interested in more, you can find a bunch of books I’ve read recently—including titles from Gretel Ehrlich, Sloane Crosley, Adelle Waldman, Marina Keegan, Alice Munro, et al.—at our Amazon page.
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