I’ll tell you why books are better than TV and the Internet.
– You can start and stop a book whenever you want; you don’t even need WiFi.
– Books don’t freeze at the most important parts.
– Without Comments threads at the bottom of the page, there’s no backwoods racism or 8-year-old logic to wade through.
– You don’t have to put away your book when your plane is landing.
– If you have trouble sleeping, books will help. With TV and the Internet, you’re gonna stay up even later looking for naked people.
– If you drop your book, it won’t shatter like a ceramic egg.
– You can’t kill a spider with TV or the Internet.
– Nobody reads books, so you can keep your awesome secret to yourself, instead of having to hear about who died in the Season Finale or an obscure viral video from everyone you encounter for a week straight.
– They smell better.
Of all the books I read this year, some unforgettable, some a discouraging waste of time, the ones that stuck out I will keep with me forever. Even with all the dead spiders on the back.
Deep Down Dark (2014)
This was my favorite book of the year. Remember that harrowing crisis in 2010 with the 33 trapped Chilean miners? The one that produced hilarious memes like this? When they finally got out after a couple months, I had all these questions on my mind. Like, where did they go to the bathroom? And, boy, that’s a long time without boobs. I even heard rumors that dudes started swapping sexual orientations down in the hole, or growing both genitalia out of evolutionary necessity like frogs or maybe I’m making that up. But I got nowhere with all these hypotheses because the miners did the noble thing and kept their secrets airtight, to be sold to the highest bidders in Hollywood.
And so finally, it’s all coming out. There’s this book, the official breakdown of the miraculous survival story. There’s also a movie due next year with a bunch of beautiful white people playing 4-foot-tall Chileans, which is as inconceivable as what actually happened in the fall of 2010 in the Copiapó mine. 33 miners narrowly escaping an imploding cavern, grasping onto a handful of food for 69 days, turning to God and each other near death, and then splintering apart once rescue was near. I don’t know why I’m so intrigued by this entire tale. I think it’s the same reason why I watch lesbian subway fights on World Star. Just in case the unthinkable ever happens, I’ll know what to expect and how to deal.
Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell (okay, this was published in 2013, but I read it in 2014, so sue me)
This was my favorite book of the year. Chas Smith is a notoriously controversial surf writer (Surfing contributing editor, Stab contributor), so much so, that he officially retired from the business to become a war correspondent this past Spring. But not before leaving us with this gem. Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell is his brazen exposé of the North Shore, Hawaii underworld, built on the backs of heavy waves and even heavier localism. Smith pulls no punches, depicting the surfers, surf companies, and the locals with ferocious candor. I guess it’s just sorta refreshing to see someone from an industry cut across political lines and sycophancy to state the truth (whether it’s universal, or merely Smith’s is up to interpretation), regardless of both physical or professional reprisal. It’s also fascinating to read an alternative portrayal of America’s popular vacation stop, less to do with macadamia nuts and suntan oil and more to do with unbridled violence, rampant drugs, and contest warfare. Tal dropped this off on my desk before our annual The Hundreds Hawaii trip, and that couldn’t have been better – or worse – timing. Let’s just say that it’s hard to watch the Hawaiian sunsets when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder.
Everything I Never Told You (2014)
This was my favorite book of the year. I don’t even know how I found it, but I stumbled upon it in the summer, and then it became Amazon’s #1 pick of 2014. I’m not saying that Celeste Ng owes me any gratitude, but Celeste Ng owes me money. I mean, I published an Instagram post about this book with a Walden filter and wrote some nice stuff about her prose in the caption, and one thing probably led to another and you know how the Internet works. Gangnam Style, baby.
I’ll be honest. The first thing that attracted me to this novel was that it was written by an Asian-American and it was about an Asian-American family. The story is set in the ’70s, but if it took place in the ’80s and the protagonist was an angry middle child with a bowlcut who accidentally pooped his pants in Kindergarten and passed it off like he had a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish in his pocket to save face next to Lauren McKee, the hottest girl in school (not pedophilia, because I was 5 also), then I think I could have related to it better. But, close enough.
Actually, no. I couldn’t relate to the protagonist at all. Because she’s dead at the bottom of a lake. Everything I Never Told You revolves around teenager Lydia’s mysterious death and the skeletons it draws out from everyone in the family. Her parents’ marriage is ground to the bone, her brother’s anger spills over to madness, and before she dies, we even see Lydia molder in her mother’s shade. Although the story is provocative, it’s Ng’s writing that ripens the telling, feminine and graceful in shape. If you don’t care about that sorta thing, she also does a good job painting the sex scenes (or is it the authentic Chinese cuisine? Sometimes I can’t keep track): “He breaks the bun open, revealing glossy bits of…glaze, a secret red heart.” Pork dumplings, anyone?
This was my favorite book of the year. Up until this summer, I had never even heard of Jude Angelini. Hard to believe — but totally not, considering I’m a nerd. I was sitting on a barstool in Dave Choe’s studio compound in the mountains and the artist had a first-draft of “Hyena” on the counter. I was like, “What’s this?” And Dave responded, “That’s the greatest writer of our time.” It was such an outrageous comment delivered with such confidence by one of the craziest men on Earth, that I made myself believe every ounce of it.
Also known as Rude Jude, the shock jock got his start as a recurring Jenny Jones character. He now co-hosts the highest rated hip-hop show on satellite radio, “The All Out Show.” And this year, he wrote and published his autobiographical Hyena, a collection of short stories from a dark season in Jude’s life. Some of the narratives are so depraved and wanton, that you’ll cringe and laugh at the same time, which are the first hurdles to clear as a psychopath.
“I’d rather do drugs to escape the weirdness in my head than take a pill to cure it.” Hyena has lines like that. The others are rotating combinations of “pussy,” “rape,” “fuck,” and “blood,” knitted into anecdotes of shameless trysts, drug-fueled adventures, and childhood adversity. True, Hyena is a little aggressive (at times so raw that it’s dizzying), but consequently, it’s honest and human. I guess that’s more than you can say about most contrived, uninspired literature today.
Start with Why (2011) / Leaders Eat Last (2014)
These were my favorite books of the year. I spent much of 2014 being hung up on identifying not only WHAT we do at The Hundreds, but WHY we do it. It’s a distinction that can make the difference between now and forever. Randomly, my brother sent me these two Simon Sinek books, the first of which is dedicated to defining the basis and purpose of your brand and company. I’m not a big business book kind of guy, nor am I that interested in self-help or inspirational literature (Largely because I feel like no one knows how better to run my career and life than me and also because I’m a megalomaniac narcissist). But Simon Sinek, dude, this guy gets me.
Let’s use his railroad industry as an example. In the late 1800s, railroads were the biggest companies in the nation, innovating new means of travel. However, with success, they settled comfortably into “the railroad industry,” instead of transportation as a whole. Confining their mission to WHAT they do (building better railroads), they jettisoned WHY they did it (to move people around). Because they lost sight of their purpose, other means of transport infiltrated the market, from automobiles to airplanes, and the railroad industry was mowed down.
There are other examples (Apple as an innovation company, instead of a computer manufacturer, Southwest Airlines as the most profitable airline in history, because of their underdog attitude towards surmounting obstacles). Sinek’s take-away is that great leaders never lose sight of why they started their mission, continue to inspire their team to realize it, and so effectively communicate that purpose to their audience that in the end, it’s not so much about the product, it’s about the statement. It’s the idea.
Leaders Eat Last is Sinek’s follow-up to Start with Why and it’s almost as good. This one’s about building the perfect, happy, inspired team. He uses the military a lot as a prime example of teamwork making the dream work. I also faced a lot of guilt and self-introspection reading this book because whenever we get food for our company, Ben and I eat so far ahead of the rest of the crew, that by the time they get their dishes, we’re on our fourth servings. I hope Sinek’s next book isn’t called, Don’t Show Up to Work 2 Hours Later than Everyone Who Works for You.
The Goldfinch (2013)
This was my favorite book of the year. Granted, Donna Tartt’s 10-year novel debuted at the tail end of last year, but it didn’t really start registering in the mainstream consciousness until 2014. It’s darkly prolific, a story about a boy’s tortuous life after his mother’s tragic death. You know what, it’s a long and weighty read, really beautifully written, but it didn’t win me over completely. But everybody loves it like Raymond (There’s even a Warner Bros. film adaptation already in the works), so I’m probably wrong. As usual.
One More Thing (2014)
Comedian memoirs are like communism or Expendables sequels. Good in theory, but leave you with a bad taste, if not starved and dead. Historically, a funny comedian does not a good author make, but “The Office'”s B.J. Novak upsets that precedent with One More Thing, a hilarious — and at times, poignant — collection of short stories that volley between the absurd and the sincere. Most impressive is Novak’s range of storytelling; it’s hard to believe that this book was entirely written by the same person. If you’re looking for toilet quickies or something to keep your brain stimulated on vacation, this was one of the best short stories collections to publish in 2014. Plus, this was my favorite book of the year.
OH YEAH, ALSO…
First Family Detail (The Secret Service services secrets) and Learning Not to Drown (Anna Shinoda’s debut novel about growing up in a house where a brother is in and out of jail) round out my favorite books of the year. Also, the iTunes User Agreement. That one was a doozy.