My Chemo Reading List

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”         James Baldwin

I thought I would take a few minutes to share my chemo reading list. During this challenging time in my life, (see parts 1 and 2 of my journey so far) I have been a little more introspective about the simplest of things so, as I compiled the list I thought about my relationship with reading: the authors and genres I embraced and how those have changed over the years. As a young man, I remember most, (fiction of course) Encyclopedia Brown: short stories about solving the latest neighborhood mysteries. Gordon Korman’s recantations of MacDonald Hall and, every day adventures that tempered my imagination as it was tested by the Chronicles of Narnia and C.S Lewis. Shel Silverstein made poetry a lot of fun, explaining a lot. At maybe too young of an age, I managed to get copies of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: dark, edgy, raw books that I read before I was allowed to see either of the movies. I remember struggling through The Best and The Brightest by Halberstam (still do), and somehow began to relate to ‘life in the pits’ as described by Irma Bombeck – yes, I’m giving away a lot here.  

In my mid-teens, I trended towards biographies, getting hooked on Peter C. Newman and learning all about his Establishment Men and all of the elite Canadian families of wealth. Max Haines provided a lot of gory, and sinister real-life murder mysteries. Jack Batten’s Lawyers was also a favorite at that time. I loved record liners – a lost art now, that allowed one to understand song lyrics, provided stories of the band and the production of these masterpieces. I hardly ever listened to Pink Floyd, Rush or anything without the liner notes in my hands.

As I slipped into my 20’s, I did enjoy the occasional John Grisham story, but I began to turn more towards periodicals and business books. Fortune, Bloomberg, Forbes, Esquire, all favorites, all fueling my motivation as I climbed the corporate ladder (at least a few rungs). I moved further into my 20s and 30s and became curious about the 7 habits and their key to success. I wondered about the color of my parachute and who moved my cheese, the difference between good and great, as well as how to win friends and influence people. My personal reading time shrunk as I focused on work: contracts, project documents, user manuals, goal statements and technology trends. As I ran past my 30’s, I slipped back into biographies, trying to stay in tune with what made successful people tick and achieve the next level. In my forties, life was totally consumed with work, travel and significant life changes, my time on planes were filled with anything work related and my magazines. 

I approached my mid-forties, and major life changes allowed me to read a lot more; my preferences turned towards spiritual growth, timeless classics and poetry. The Bible, interpretations of Rumi, the Baghava Ghita, Kahlil Ghibran, and other ancient stories. Deepak, Williams, Dass, Nepo, and others who educated about enlightenment even resonated. Howard Schultz’s Onward and the writings of John Wesley Powell and his historical explorations of the American southwest were favorites during this period. 

Shortly after turning 51, I found out I had cancer, and while my mind was preoccupied with staying alive, reading has been an important survival tool to help me as I fight against the chemical and emotional side effects of my treatments. These are the books that carried me through the last 10 months. There is no rhyme or reason other than Amazon brought them to me faster than ever before (I used to love going to Barnes and Noble with Stephanie before my illness and COVID induced social distancing): 

Ghost Rider 
Neil Peart
Neil Peart, the late, prolific drummer of Rush, takes you on a journey after suffering the loss of his daughter and then his wife. He travels alone across Canada and the US on his motorcycle and takes the reader along on the journey providing insight into a prolific man dealing with significant grief. The book was honest and most importantly, didn’t pontificate on how to deal with grief, it just made you want to ride along and watch. Great read – I couldn’t put it down until I was done.  
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism Shoshana ZuboffData is the new gold, oil, plastic… this book is not for the paranoid. The history of data collection and how business leaders “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data [which] are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, [feed] into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later.” It will definitely open your eyes to how pervasive the collection of data really is…and it really is and especially how today’s legislatures are totally out gunned when it coms to protecting  
The Anarchy – The East India Company, Corporate Violence and the Pillage of an Empire
William Dalrymple
This is quite a perspective of how the East India Tea Company is established in England but became a huge multinational, overtook the Mughul empire in India to become one of the most powerful trading companies in the world. A truly remarkable look at India in the 17-1800’s, the book is, I found, a challenging read but riveting nonetheless. Corporate corruption, multinational politics, greed, subterfuge…it’s all here.
Why We’re Polarized 
Ezra Klein
Today’s political climate may seem to some to have come out of nowhere, its fire fueled by the rise of Trumpism…it didn’t Ezra Klein provides some real history and other social science, psychology and civics to help me understand what the hell is going on…and what needs to happen if this is ever going to change. A great read and filled with a lot to absorb and learn.  
The Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean
Les Standiford 
I first read this book many years ago when I had the opportunity to stay at the Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Henry Flagler’s determination to leverage all of his resources and capabilities to build a railway that connected the Florida Keys to the mainland is phenomenal, it’s fate unbelievable…and it all started to help his ailing wife. A true tail of triumph and disaster a true tale of man’s triumph and loss against nature.
Devotions
Mary Oliver
This is a thorough compendium of Mary Oliver’s poems. Her ability to make nature speak to your heart proved to be a wonderful way to keep my feet on the ground as I struggled through chemo treatments. This book was often by my side while in my chemo station.  
The Second Mountain
David Brooks
Sometimes controversial NY Times writer David Brooks proves to me his keen insight into the human condition and forces one to think about what could would and perhaps should happen when life gives you a second chance. While I may not always agree with David’s political perspective, I do appreciate his social perspective.  
The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro
The award-winning British author takes you through the day to day of an English butler who grapples with who he is and his life’s work of serving. Although he demonstrated unwavering loyalty throughout his life and as he gets older, you begin to unwrap his questioning of is past actions and life, lost love and choices. I like the book much better than the movie.  
Arguing with Zombies
Paul Krugman
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, also a NY Times columnist shares a collection of his columns and essays throughout the years almost proving a point that economic arguments are timeless. Therefore, the Zombies, the incorrect theories or conservative economics keeping coming back to life in definite cycles, but proven theory and real life has shown us the answers…if we’re are brave enough to pursue the right thing. I really enjoyed this and since I am more Keynesian in my economic views, it really helped to refresh some talking points as well as further explain others.
Currently Reading
The Price of Peace
Zachary D. Carter
While I am aware of the principles of Keynesian economics, my knowledge of John Maynard Keynes was lacking. Zachary Carter presents a very interesting and personal view of the man and his accomplishments, challenges and a deeper perspective of who and why he was…this has also led me to get a copy of one of Keynes most famous treatise, the Economic Consequences of the Peace. Written after World War 1, I am convinced that if Europe (France) had chosen his path, the disaster and human tragedy of World War II may have been avoided.

Other books I have pulled off the shelf for some brief reference include Obama’s Audacity of Hope, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive ThinkingInterpretations of Rumi and the Bible. 

I have still not embraced audio books; I save my listening for podcasts. Along with the requirement of great content, I love the feel of a hard cover most with quality paper pages, appropriately sized font, and an inviting jacket. Add to that a quiet spot in the house, a comfortable chair and a warm drink…well, I could be anywhere I choose to be in the world at that time. 

Thanks for reading and listening…I hope your curiosity is piqued enough to try one of them. In the meantime, I am patiently waiting for Amazon to deliver Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own. 

4 Comments

  1. Robert

    Sorry to hear about your illness. Hopefully your chemotherapy will be complete soon. Praying for your speedy recovery. Glad to know your dlirits are high with reading and writing your blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

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