I try to read as much as I can. And I hope you do too. 2020 was a mess, of course, for a lot of different reasons. But I'm grateful I was able to spend time with some of my favorite authors. And I hope you were able to do the same.
This year, I re-discovered some of my favorite classics, stretched into new genres a bit, and even dived back into fiction - courtesy of my daughter. Some of my favorite reads this year included memoirs from average folks in extraordinary circumstances.
These are the Top 25 books I read this year (in no particular order):
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
I'm a little late to the party reading this one, but it's particularly charming. Writers, artists, or anyone doing creative, meaningful work will love this one. Anne is funny, urgent, and her message is timeless. There's only way to get the work done: bird by bird.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
I read this book at least once a year. I have multiple translations and often mix it up. Most of you are probably familiar with it, so there's not much to say other than read it, re-read it, and share it with someone you care about. It's an important text. It's timely. It's relevant. And it will help you get through some shit.
When Life Gives You Pears by Jeannie Gaffigan
A busy, talented mother of five (six if you count Jim Gaffigan!) discovers she has a pear-shaped tumor in her brain. Want to feel more grateful about your life? Read this one.
Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Be true to yourself. Walk your own path. Do your own thing. I just finished this book this week, so it's fresh in my mind. It's a perfect way to end 2020.
Is this anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
I missed the Jerry Seinfeld train. When I first moved to NYC from the middle of a wheat field in the middle of the country, the guy interviewing me for my first real music industry job asked me if I ever watched Seinfeld. I replied, "No." He encouraged me to watch it because it's so true to life in NYC. I tried watching Seinfeld a few years ago, but who has time to sit around and catch up on years of television? Needless to say, Jerry's first book in twenty-five years is an amazing review of his unique, comedic perspective. Excuse me while I go watch Seinfeld...
It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump by Stuart Stevens
The 2020 political cycle... oh my god, where to start? I don't need to get into detail here because you probably have PTSD from watching the shit show unfold. Stuart Stevens is (was) a long-time Republican. He helped major Republicans get elected. And stay elected. And he burns it all down in this book. He argues that the Republican Party exists solely to hold onto power. And he argues - with precision - that the Republican Party - unless it opens its doors to become more reasonable and inclusive - is doomed for failure, eventually becoming a shadow of itself - a regional party with limited influence. Fingers crossed!
Disloyal by Michael Cohen
I felt conflicted buying this book. And I feel conflicted including it on this list. I mean, this guy did some gnarly shit. And he has the receipts to prove it. But he's the guy inside the guy; he knows Donald Trump's brain better than anyone else who walks the Earth. It's an interesting read, filled with mind-boggling stories. His final pages are stunning and everything he wrote months ago is coming true in real-time.
Rage by Bob Woodward
Bob Woodward is the guy who has reported on every significant White House administration for - I dunno - the last trillion years. The guy is a super star. And his reporting is absolutely verified and fair. He had unprecedented access to Donald Trump in 2020, countless on-the-record interviews. And everything you might want to know about the inner workings of the 2020 administration is here.
Creativity by John Cleese
John Cleese is terrific. Creativity is terrific. Not a lot of new ground covered here - mainly a rehash of other books on creativity. I'm including it here because it's short, it's sweet, and it's John Cleese.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
This is my first experience reading the the Harry Potter books. My oldest daughter is a fan of both the books and the movies. I wanted to participate in her adventure and engage with her so I picked up the first book in the Harry Potter series. Then I picked up the second. Then I picked up the third...
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
My entire family is vegan and we support animal rights organizations. Reading about Ivan's journey was touching and tear-jerking. They turned this book into a movie. The movie isn't nearly as dark as the book. It's an easy read. After you read it, you'll never want to put animals in cages again.
I Must Say by Martin Short
One morning before school, I told my mom I wanted to spike my hair like Ed Grimley. I spiked my hair and put on a button up shirt. And the entire day at school, I acted and danced around like Ed Grimley - one of Martin Short's most popular characters. Since then, of course, Martin Short has been responsible for some of the most unique comedic characters ever created. Another one of my favorite characters is Jiminy Glick. If you're not familiar with Martin Short or his comedic characters, spend some time on YouTube. Watch this old SNL short.
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast
Roz Chast is an incredible New Yorker cartoonist. She has a unique perspective on nearly everything under the sun and reading her cartoons and books is like taking a strange walk on an odd, anxious little planet. This is her first memoir, I believe. And it's about coping with her aging parents. Wonderfully drawn and beautifully written.
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
If you're remotely interested in Stoicism, read this book. It's another one I revisit rather frequently.
A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen
Literally, a very, very short guide to a happy life. I think I read it after dinner. “Knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God ever gives us,” Quindlen writes, “because unless you know the clock is ticking, it is so easy to waste our days, our lives.” It's another urgent message for 2020.
The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness by Epictetus and Sharon Lebell
We have a must-read shelf on one of our family bookshelves. This one is on it. Another book for any practicing Stoic.
Save the Cat The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
Screenwriters are master storytellers. And the world's most successful films follow a very standard, very predictable beat. Save the Cat teaches you traditional storytelling beats that can be applied to any creative project involving storytelling.
How Does a Story Start? Notes on the Inciting Incident and How to Make It Work by Steven Pressfield
Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art is one of the most important books ever written on creativity. It will help you tackle resistance and get better work done on a more frequent basis. It's urgent. And it's important. I have read all of Steven's books, even the series he self-released called JABS. This one is particularly important because it stresses the important of the inciting incident to storytelling. No inciting incident, no story.
Keep Working and Other Thoughts on the Inner Struggle of the Writer and Artist by Steven Pressfield
Needless to say, I love this guy. This is another short JAB. Every time I feel like I need a kick in the ass, I grab a Steven Pressfield book and dive in. After I finish, I feel like I could run through a brick wall. This is another good one for any Steven Pressfield fan.
A Wealth of Pigeons by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss
I love Steve Martin. And Harry Bliss is another pretty fantastic New Yorker cartoonist. These two semi-literate folks came together to make something pretty special. Mainly it's a lot of dog jokes. I had my tonsils removed once. This book is better than that!
Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger
Felix Scheinberger is a genius. And watercolor painting is fascinating - there are lots of variables involved. And water has a tendency to go where it wants to go and do what it wants to do. I was never interested in watercolor painting until this year. Watercolor painting is about balancing control and chaos. Another useful skill for 2020.
The Hollywood Standard by Christopher Riley
I wrote my first screenplay this year. It sucked. But I finished it! This is the most important book written about the screenwriting standards. It's not about the craft of storytelling, but rather the way you outline and tell the story on the page.
PEANUTS A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a massive fan of comic strip art. I love the history, the characters, the art... everything about it. Schulz is every cartoonist's father. He is the alpha and omega. Every cartoonist owes tribute to Schulz for breaking ground and continuing to re-invent his strip for so many years. Schulz wrote and drew nearly 18,000 Peanuts strips in his lifetime. This is a great collection of artwork and stories from other illustrators. Also, read the SCHULZ and PEANUTS biography by David Michaelis. It's long, but worth it.
Ghostbuster's Daughter by Violet Ramis Stiel
Violet Ramis Stiel is the daughter of legendary comedy writer, actor, Ghostbuster, everything-guy Harold Ramis. Harold was one of the most interesting, creative guys of his generation. Anyone making funny movies today is standing on the shoulders of this giant. It's interesting to see him through the eyes of his daughter.