Books I Loved That You Should Also Consider Reading, Too, As Well: Installment One

I shared lots of love for many books last year on social media, and I want to start this year by mentioning all those wonderful reads on here for easy, all-in-one-place consumption. There will be a number of posts, five books at a time, in no particular order, over the next couple months. Here’s we go!

My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warga


This was the first 2015 debut book I read (that wasn’t my own), and I was only ten pages in when I thought, “Hot damn, the 2015 debut bar is set high.” For a book that deals with such a dark subject matter—depressed protagonist Aysel wants to commit suicide and is looking online for a partner to make sure she sticks to her plan—this book has a surprising sense of humor. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really sad and really painful, but like life, there are still laughs woven in there amongst all the darkness. It makes the book even more human and, as a result, even more moving.

The Distance Between Lost and Found, by Kathryn Holmes


When I finished reading this one, I was astounded to learn that author Kathryn Holmes had never lived through an experience like this. It’s a lost-in-the-wilderness survival story and it plays out in this way that feels so true-to-life, with every tiny detail, every injury, every missed meal accounted for incredibly well. It has a wonderful emotional arc for main character Hallelujah, too, who struggles to gain her confidence back after a dude in her church youth group—who happens to be the preacher’s son—has spread awful lies about her. There are definitely some religious themes, which I thought might be off-putting, but they’re handled in thoughtful, interesting ways that add to the richness of the story. I guess what I’m saying is: maybe skip The Revenant and read this book instead. 

None of the Above, by I.W. Gregorio


It’s an amazing thing when you finish reading a highly engaging piece of fiction and feel like you’ve genuinely learned something, too. This book expanded my mind and my empathy without ever feeling preachy. Popular high school senior Kristin learns early on in the novel that she’s intersex, meaning that, though she presents as a female, she also has male organs. Soon the whole school finds out, and suffice it to say, Kristin quickly becomes a lot less popular. The story is told in a grounded, believable way, with characters you truly care about, so it never for a moment feels didactic. That said, it does force you to examine your own thoughts about gender, to wonder what you would do if you discovered this about yourself or your partner, which is why I truly believe this book should be required reading for every human being.

The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart


This book is sort of a MG cousin to The Distance Between Lost and Found—it’s the story of a young, terminally ill boy and his dog, making a trek up a mountain with the potentially limited time the boy has left–and it’s just as beautifully done. I cried a lot throughout this one and, even though I’m not a huge animal person, when I got to the last page, I thought, “Man, maybe I should get a dog,” which, trust me, says a lot about how terrific this book is. (It’s also worth mentioning that Dan’s second book, Some Kind of Courage, comes out today!)

Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon


You can actually feel the love bursting off the pages of this book, which is a huge-hearted delight from cover to cover. It follows Maddy—a girl whose compromised immune system means she’s never been able to leave the house her whole life—and what happens when she starts crushing on the new boy who’s moved in next door. The tone is unique, and Yoon nails it—grounded yet playful, moving without ever being precious, and along with the text, the book is filled with emails, graphs, and brilliant drawings by David Yoon, who, yes, happens to be the author’s husband. (I’m telling you; the love oozes.) As if all that’s not enough, it’s unpredictable, too, always a step ahead of the reader. So, yeah, if you like love and surprises and joy, this one’s worth a look.

a short meditation on birthdays


Today is my birthday. I tell you this not so that you’ll shower me with internet love—though feel free—but because it seems like a nice moment to share why I love birthdays.

Some people hate birthdays. Usually those people are older than thirty. (I’ve never met any kids who hate birthdays. That would be kind of unsettling. But also really impressive.) Those older people say things like, “Let’s pretend it’s not my birthday! I’ll be twenty-nine for the rest of my life!” But really, I think most of those people probably like having birthdays. They just hate aging. It scares them. I get that. It scares me, too. I turn thirty-four today, and I feel twenty-seven, tops. Sometimes I’ll be reading an article in the newspaper, and they’ll refer to someone being thirty-five and I’ll picture some really adult-looking man with a beard. And then I realize I’m almost thirty-five. And then I feel like an idiot.

But, seriously, if the twenty-two-year-old fresh-out-of-college me met me right now, he’d be like, “Whoa, that dude is married?!? With a kid?!? He’s so old. I mean, he’s really cool, but he’s so old.” Then he’d go to someone’s rooftop and get high. But that’s neither here nor there.  

Because, even though I’m perpetually surprised by my age, I do not hate birthdays. I love them. And that love isn’t about a big celebration or tons of presents or the parade of “Happy birthday”s on my FB feed or even the attention. What I truly love is walking around with that feeling that it’s my special day. That’s a ridiculous phrase for a thirty-four-year-old to write, but I can’t think of a better way to put it. It’s my goddamned special day, and I love that.

Right now, for example, I’m sitting in a Starbucks writing this, and nobody knows it’s my birthday. But I know. I’m having a rare one in three-hundred-sixty-five experience, and nobody around me has any idea. Not this older dude in a plaid jacket who’s placed his “You Won’t Be Disappointed If You Will Let Jesus Christ Become the Lord of Your Life” flyers right next to my computer. Not the slightly-less-older dude watching something on his iphone across from me. They don’t know they are sitting at a table with The Motherfuckin’ Birthday Boy. Part of me thinks it’s a tiny taste of what it might be like to be a superhero: Something special is happening to me right now and none of you have any idea. You fools.

But okay, here’s why I really love birthdays: we all have them. Nobody doesn’t have a birthday. It’s perhaps the most equal-opportunity experience we humans share at different times. Everybody was born. Thus, everyone has a birthday. So, unlike the experience of, say, getting a piece of good news, you don’t have to feel like your secret is going to make people feel jealous or bad about themselves. Because again, we all have birthdays! It’s beautiful!

I mean, maybe someone with a winter birthday might be jealous of someone with a summer birthday. But other than that.  

And look, I know some people might get Ringwalded on their birthday and not heralded as much as they deserve to be. But, hopefully, in spite of that, they still have a bit of the feeling. Because it’s their goddamned special day.  

So now you know. I love birthdays. And with that, I’m going to take my really-adult-looking-thirty-four-year-old man-with-a-sometimes-beard-self and walk the street, emitting that birthday glow that only I can see.

Books my now-one-year-old son loved this year.

My son Sly had his first birthday on Sunday. Since one of the cool parts about this year has been rediscovering the wonder-filled worldof children’s books, I’ve composed a list, in no specific order, of The Books Sly Has Most Enjoyed This Year.

Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems

A toddler named Trixie, her daddy, and her best stuffed friend Knuffle (pronounced Kah-Nuffle!) Bunny take an ill-fated trip to the laundromat in this book, which was the first one that Sly had visceral responses to, likely because of the simple yet profound story and captivating cartoon/photo illustrations. There was a week when, every time we got to the page where Trixie bawls (“WAAAA!”), Sly would open his mouth and make a bawling noise with her. 


It was delightful. But then, like so many things in a baby’s always-changing, constantly-ephemeral first year, he stopped doing it a week later, and my fun party trick was ruined.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, by Peter Brown

After Knuffle Bunny, this was the next book to get a primal response out of Sly. He would screech along with Mr. Tiger’s first ROAR!


This book has amazing art that pops off the page, and as my wife Katie astutely pointed out, “This is the same story as Transparent.

My Favorite Thing, by Gyo Fujikawa


Our copy of this very sweet book, which is simultaneously lively and poignant, is actually Katie’s from when she was a kid, so she’s starred all the pages that have her favorite things on them (being in a snuggly bed during winter got a star; going camping did not). Sly’s personal favorite is the adorable two-page spread of a dozen unsupervised babies at the seashore.

B is for Brooklyn, by Selina Alko


We have read this book at least a hundred times, and we’re still discovering new details in Selina Alko’s unique, wonderful renderings of all things Brooklyn, which often include random found materials, like newspaper clippings and ticket stubs. Since Katie and I have lived in four different Brooklyn neighborhoods together, reading it also becomes this weirdly touching nostalgia trip.

Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt

Though it’s been so much fun to see Sly learn to interact with this undeniable classic more and more over the months, I find this to be the most problematic of this list, for two reasons:

1. There’s a subtle, slow-building undercurrent of creepy that runs through the whole thing, and not just because Paul and Judy are vaguely unsettling characters. Patting the bunny? Okay, that’s cute, I guess. Playing peek-a-boo with Paul? All right, sure, why not? Sticking your finger through Mummy’s ring? Um, nope. Shaking Mummy’s button box? I am officially uncomfortable.

2. There’s this one page where you’re supposed to smell the flowers, and it gives off this potent, nausea-inducing fragrance that is highly upsetting.


I feel like having a smell in a book was really cutting-edge when this came out in 1940, but no one’s bothered to update the smell since then. They should. It’s the worst.

Corduroy, by Don Freeman


Here’s a classic that holds up a little better. Sly loves Corduroy’s touching journey to find his lost button, especially the part where Corduroy rips a button off a mattress. One small gripe: I feel like Corduroy isn’t always operating at the top of his intelligence, especially when he gets on an escalator and is like, “Is this a mountain?” You live in a department store, Corduroy. Are you seriously telling me you and the other toys haven’t discussed very basic details of what the other parts of the store are like beyond your little shelf? But maybe they haven’t. Gotta give Corduroy the benefit of the doubt on this one, I guess.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst; illustrations by Ray Cruz

And to complete the Classic Trifecta, this one’s still awesome, too. What’s not to like about a book where the message is, “Some days suck, from morning to night, and that’s just what it is”? I love it so much. And Sly freaks the hell out about the illustrations in here; something about the scratchy black and white art makes him want to shout random noises.


My Very Own Name, by Maia Haag; illustrations by Mark Mille


This is one of those personalized books, where all the animals in the forest, under the firm leadership of the Owl, come together to spell Sly’s name (which, since his full name is Sylvester, means those animals got a lot of work to do). Sly loves this book, and I don’t blame him; all humans love seeing their name in print. It’s a fact.

Fortunately, by Remy Charlip


This was a book I loved growing up, and I still love it now. The protagonist Ned gets invited to a party. Unfortunately, it’s in Florida and he’s in New York. Fortunately, his friend loans him a plane. Unfortunately, the plane explodes. (That is a real thing that happens in this book. Terrifying). You get the idea. It’s funny and dark and clever and captures, in a very simple way, the surprising and unpredictable nature of life. Unfortunately, Sly usually likes us to read this one many times in a row.

We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems

I’m starting and ending this list with a book by Mo Willems because I had never heard of him before Sly came into our lives, and now I think he’s a goddamned genius. Seriously, the man is prolific. As if all three Knuffle Bunny books aren’t impressive enough, we learned he’s also written this fantastic series of Elephant and Piggie books (not to mention a beloved series of Pigeon books we haven’t delved into yet), which are hilarious, sweet, and full of great lessons. This one, a meta- joy where Elephant and Piggie become aware they’re in a book, is Sly’s favorite. There’s a moment where they start cracking up because they’ve made the reader say “banana," 


and one day Sly started doing this fake-laugh along with them, a disingenuous "Ah ah” sound.  It was easily one of my favorite moments of the year. As Katie said, “What a good audience member he will be at his friends’ Level 1 improv shows.”

Thank you to the various people who gifted us books on this list. And to the people who gifted us books not on this list! I assure you your books have been in the rotation, too, just couldn’t feature them all here. 

And if anyone has suggestions of kids’ books they absolutely love, especially those by diverse authors, please let me know! We’re always looking for new favorites. 

My Favorite TV of 2014

            My wife Katie and I had a baby in February, which meant that the majority of the entertainment we consumed happened in our apartment, in the small window of time we had after our son went to sleep at night. Luckily, this was an awesome year for TV. And even though we generally only got through one episode a night (the rare evenings when we tackled two felt–and continue to feel–like the hugest luxury, like a crazy binge-watch), we still got through a fair amount of shows.

            So, as an end-of-year gift from me to you, here’s, in no particular order, my favorite TV of 2014:

            (And keep in mind, there’s a ton I have not yet watched, including things I’m pretty sure I would love like Transparent, Key and Peele, and Fargo. You will also not find True Detective here, though I did see it; I had mixed feelings.)


Broad City has been hailed as the first female stoner comedy and though this may be true–with Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s awesome natural chemistry and beautifully uninhibited performances–it wouldn’t mean nearly as much if the show’s whip-smart writing wasn’t constantly nailing universal truths about being in your twenties in New York City. When this show’s hitting on all cylinders, as it was in at least half of the episodes in its first season, it’s hilarious and zany and true-to-life and astoundingly good.

Favorite episodes: “The Lockout” and “Stolen Phone”


            Nathan for You, in which awkward dude Nathan Fielder sets out to improve real-life small businesses with ridiculous suggestions, is a genuine delight. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, following comedic ideas all the way down the rabbit hole, and Nathan Fielder is a bona fide genius. The season premiere–in which Nathan encouraged a real-estate agent to advertise herself as the Ghost Realtor, offering 100% guaranteed ghost-free residences–made me laugh harder than anything else I’ve seen on-screen this year. In later episodes in the season, Nathan’s persona at times leaned more toward being a jerk than an awkward nice guy, which diminished the show’s glow a bit for me, but nevertheless, I still wholeheartedly recommend it if you like amazing, uncomfortable, high-concept comedy.

Favorite episodes: “Mechanic; Realtor” and “Souvenir Shop; ELAIFF”


I don’t know how Orange is the New Black pulled it off for the second season in a row, but somehow it’s able to make you truly care about so many characters. Not only that, but said characters are predominantly played by people you would never otherwise see on TV, women of all ages and ethnicities and sexual identities; the sole thing the members of the cast have in common is that they’re all phenomenal actors. What takes the show into even higher heights, though, is its singular tone, genuinely cracking you up one moment and then turning scary-intense at the drop of a dime. And making it seem effortless. By focusing this season less on Piper and more on the ensemble as a whole, the show got richer, its many effortlessly-juggled story arcs bouncing off each other in interesting ways; everything that every character does has an impact on all the other characters (which, on TV isn’t always the case), and OITNB did a brilliant job of following those karmic chains episode to episode, culminating in a deeply satisfying season finale.

Favorite episodes: “A Whole Other Hole”; “We Have Manners. We’re Polite.”


            Olive Kitteridge is one of the best book-to-screen adaptations I’ve ever seen. Considering the source material by Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite books of all time–tapping effortlessly into those tiny life moments of pain and love that make being a human such a beautiful, heartbreaking experience—this is no small feat. Bravo to director Lisa Cholodenko and screenwriter Jane Anderson, and to Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (and the whole cast, really), who absolutely wrecked me. I felt like I wanted to cry the whole time I was watching. That’s an incredibly pretentious thing to say, but it’s also the truth. Watch all four hours of this thing. It will give you a deeper appreciation for mankind.


Katie and I just started watching Jane the Virgin this month, and even though we’ve only seen five out of the nine episodes that have aired, we are already both so sold. Its outlandish premise—23-year-old virgin gets pregnant because of an artificial insemination medical mix-up—and over-the-top telenovela-esque storylines actually work because they’re executed with such smarts and tonal assuredness, and grounded by heartfelt, honest performances, none more so than Jane herself, the truly terrific Gina Rodriguez. She’s instantly relatable, nailing comedy and drama equally well by always playing the truth of a scene, with a face so expressive it sometimes seems straight out of a graphic novel. Now that we’re firmly in the era of the 13-episode cable series, it seems insane that this network show will have to sustain its high quality for 22 episodes, but Jane has been so good thus far, I have faith.

Favorite episode: “Chapter One”

And here are other shows I thought were great:

 Parks and Recreation – The second half of last season had no right to be as good as it was this far into the show’s run. It’s one of those rare gems that pulls off heart without losing any of the funny. Super-sharp writing and one of the best comedic ensembles of all time.

Doll & Em and Playing House- Like Broad City, these are both awesome half-hour comedies about two best friends grappling with adulthood, co-created by and starring two real-life best friends. The similarities end there; Doll & Em is quiet, biting, and dry, with the entertainment industry as a backdrop, and Playing House is sweet and loose, with the BFFs reuniting in their small hometown. In any other year, just one of these shows and their wonderfully accurate, heartfelt depictions of friendship would be an anomaly; in 2014, we got three of them. Good stuff.

Louie and Girls – I will never stop watching these shows, both of which are bravely original and unafraid to go into strange territory. Even in those rare moments when I’m not feeling them, I’m still onboard, because they’re always trying new things, blurring the line between comedy and everything else. Unlike many shows, which deal with a variety of studio and/or network notes, I know the episodes I’m seeing of these are pretty much exactly what their creators—Louis CK and Lena Dunham & Jenni Konner—set out to make. And that purity of creative vision is always exciting.

Mad Men- I honestly don’t remember much about this season—pardon me, half-season–except for its fantastic last episode, with Peggy’s amazing pitch and that unforgettable last scene. But those two things are enough.

Drunk History- This show is so funny, but it’s also so damn educational. Even if its facts aren’t always correct, I always finish an episode feeling like I’ve learned some things, which is delightful. (Note: my sister Mariel is an assistant editor for this show, but the above would be my opinion regardless.)

The Comeback – After a shaky start, with an unnecessarily-complicated plot device weighing down the first episode, this show got back on its feet, as hilarious, sad, insightful, and uncomfortable as ever. Lisa Kudrow so fully inhabits Valerie Cherish, and in his two episodes Seth Rogen does some of the best actor-playing-themselves acting ever.

Hooray, 2014! Thanks for all the good watches. Here’s hoping 2015 is just as stellar.

Things change all the time. RIP Tea Lounge

          The Tea Lounge, my daily writing spot since May, closed three days ago. I have many feelings about this.

            The predominant one is heartbreak. For the past seven months, the Tea Lounge–a unique, cavernous-yet-cozy spot that’s been in Park Slope, Brooklyn since 2000–had become, for all intents and purposes, my office. It’s where I wrote most of my second book, as well as all these recent blog posts.

            In the past couple months, I’d begun to experience something there that I’d always dreamed of: the phenomenon of being a regular. I’d tried to make that happen at various spots during the writing of my first book, but it had never taken. (This is partially because one of the main spots where I wrote the first book was the Lenny’s in Hell’s Kitchen. Don’t judge, it has a great room in the back, which possesses three key features that I look for in a writing space: nobody bothers you for staying too long, there are always interesting characters around, and it’s not the place where I live.)

            But with the Tea Lounge—which, it’s worth noting, has the aforementioned key features in spades—it had started to take. As of the past few months, the people who worked there knew I drank tea, not coffee. I was often that annoying guy at the counter having jokey conversations with the staff, and it felt so good. I developed a friendship with another regular, a charming 40-something dude named Caio, who’s working on a complex cinematic installation based on a story by Jorge Luis Borges. “This place is my Cheers, you know?” Caio said to me once, gesturing at the room around us, and I nodded along, realizing at that moment: This place is my Cheers, too, Caio!

            Granted, that was never completely true. I was endeared to a lot of the regulars—the bald dude with a mustache and glasses who always sat reading the paper for a couple hours in the same armchair, the older woman who would spread out a bunch of essays in front of her (to grade, I think?), the sharply-dressed guy who wore a fedora and stared at blueprints on his computer—but my awkward attempts at a daily “Hi” and a nod were often left unreciprocated. Which was okay with me! These people were doing their thing, just like I was, and it was comfort enough to know I was going to see them every day. 

            But all of that became moot last Thursday, when I learned my sort-of Cheers would be closing in four days.


            It didn’t help that the day before, my wife and I had learned that ‘Snice, a vegan café that was one of our favorite places to eat, had been shut down indefinitely for failing its sanitation inspection. Apparently the place had mice and roughly eight different species of flies roaming around. Cool!

            So one day ‘Snice is gone, the next day the Tea Lounge.

            And that Thursday afternoon, grasping for some stability, I sat in the soon-to-be extinct Tea Lounge and called my doctor’s office to schedule a yearly physical. “I’m sorry,” the receptionist said, explaining that my primary care physician would be leaving the practice next week.


            Look, I know it’s a luxury to deal with problems like these, to even call them problems, but that didn’t make the sudden disappearance within two days of three regular fixtures in my life any less strange. It felt like a message from the universe that I couldn’t quite decode. 

            Maybe the message was simply this: things change. All the time.

            The reason heartbreak was the predominant feeling in this Tea Lounge saga, rather than the only feeling, is because in my Googling about what had happened, I stumbled upon this article. The owner of the Tea Lounge blames its demise on freeloaders who buy a cup of coffee and then stay there all day to write their novel i.e., people like me. “I’m running a business, not a community center,” he says.

            This was the most confusing, infuriating thing in the world to read. What a twist, you guys: I’m mourning the loss of my beloved home away from home, and it turns out the one who killed it was ME!

            Except, unfortunately, I can’t accept that as the truth (and not just because I bought salads occasionally). The owner speaks as if the freeloaders (AKA his most loyal customers who have each given him hundreds of dollars) were holding him hostage, as if he’s not the one who can run his shop however he wants. He raised the prices in late summer, and though I was annoyed for a second, I was happy to pay that because I understood he needed to stay in business. If he wanted to set up some kind of Argo-Tea-style one-purchase-gets-you-two-hours-of-WiFi, he could have. If he wanted to ban laptop use during certain hours, he could have. (Defensive much, Lance?)

            After reading that, I suddenly understood the Tea Lounge was going to close either way. These days, it was a wonderful place in spite of its owner and not because of him. I’m sure he used to have a better attitude about it, but clearly not anymore.

            Things change. All the time.

            In fact, this blog entry is coming out on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday for that very reason; I was about to post this yesterday before I headed out for the night, but as I searched for the link to the above heinous article, I stumbled upon THIS.

            Two long-time, devoted Tea Lounge patrons are in talks to re-open it as a place called The Meeting House, a cross-cultural co-working space/community center/café.

            Oh man. It’s so moving. Things like that are only supposed to happen in Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. 

            So, the Tea Lounge may re-open as an even better version of what it was, run by people who are genuinely excited about it.

            Or maybe not.

            Either way, it’s a reminder that life is unpredictable and magical and painful and great.

            And things change. All the time.


A Couple of Self-Helpy Books that Changed the Way I Look at the World

           I seem to always start these blog entries by mentioning some day of importance because, apparently, Tuesday is a much bigger deal than I realized.

            And today is no exception: Happy Giving Tuesday!

            In case you’re not feeling flush enough to do any of that kind of giving, you should know that there are plenty of non-monetary ways to give today. You can:

  1. Hold a door for somebody.
  2. Smile at a stranger (has to be non-creepy or it doesn’t count).
  3. Pick up a piece of litter.
  4. Choose two conversations during your day and really listen to what the other person is saying instead of just waiting for your turn to speak.
  5. Write an email to someone you know telling them how cool they are and how happy you are that they are in your life. (I’m amazed more people don’t do this more often. I’m amazed I don’t do this more often. Think how meaningful it would be to receive an email like this, how much it would lift up your day. You could give that gift to someone, and it would only take, like, seven minutes! Maybe even less if you’re a fast typist who organizes your thoughts quickly!)

           I know the list I just made is fairly cheesy, but I am a sucker for shit like this, for reminders to focus energy outward onto other people.

            And yet it’s easy to forget to do that. Now more than ever, in the social media age, when we spend so much time measuring ourselves up against others’ posts, others’ photos, others’ accomplishments, and so much time thinking about the wittiest thing to write, the best way to present ourselves online, it’s so easy to sink into a gross Me spiral. My Me spiral days are always my worst days, and there’s usually at least a few a month.

            But I find that when I stop thinking about myself and start thinking about how I can help other people, it’s, ironically, one of the most selfish things I can do. Because it makes me feel so damn good!

            That’s why I’m a huge fan of books about spirituality, about being present, about slowing down my mind. I do my best to always be reading one alongside whatever other fiction/non-fiction is in my backpack. (Yeah, I wear a backpack. And I feel great about it.)

            So today, my gift to you is a list of my most favorite spiritual, self-helpy type books. It’s actually just the beginning of a list, since this entry got too long when I included all of them. But for starters, these are two books that changed the way I look at the world and the way I operate within it.

Ruling Your World, by Sakyong Mipham.


            This is an awesome book about a lot of things, mostly letting go of the need to think about yourself all the time. Sakyong Mipham is the current leader of Shambhala, an offshoot of Tibetan Buddhism established in the U.S. in the 1970’s that involves a form of mindfulness meditation which can be embraced in a religious or secular way.

            I know about it well because my dad has been a practitioner and teacher of Shambhala my whole life. Growing up, this was confusing for me. Technically my mom and dad are both Jewish, and everyone thought I was Jewish, but we weren’t practicing Jews, and my dad had a shrine room in the house that he meditated in every day. (If you’re interested in hearing me talk more about that confusion, feel free to watch this.)

            By the time I hit my twenties, though, I was embracing Shambhala more, doing a few of the weekend workshops, reading a lot of related books, and going through phases where I would meditate at least ten minutes a day. (And then there are also phases where I don’t do that at all. Like right now.)

            The book touches on some basic meditation instruction, which mainly boils down to sitting and focusing on your breathing. Every time your mind spins off to some other thought, you recognize that and come back to your breathing. It’s challenging and uncomfortable, but in the past, even just a week of consistent meditation has helped bring my mind to a much calmer place.

            But back to Ruling Your World: every time I read it, it makes me want to be a more compassionate person and more focused on helping others. And, if you get so into it that you want more Shambhala in your life, there are meditation centers all over the country. Huzzah!

 Sample passage that might blow your mind:

When we’re on the “me” plan, what others say about us has great power. A friend tells us we look good – our mind soars. A colleague tells us we’re not pulling our weight at work – our mind sinks. We are like children, one minute laughing and the next minute crying. In reality, praise and criticism are like echoes – they have no substance, no duration. But when we chase projections like a dog going after a stick, even words have the power to destabilize our mind. We think about what somebody said, over and over. We let it ruin our day.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff, by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.


    This book has become something of a cliché, but I swear it’s profound in a wonderfully accessible way. I’m in the middle of reading it for the second time right now, a chapter or two a day, and it never fails to put me in a good headspace. My list of five things above was very much in the spirit of what Richard Carlson has to say in here.

            Reading it is also kind of insane because it’s all about appreciating your life while you still have it, about not stressing so much because you could die at any moment, and this dude who wrote it died suddenly in 2006 from a pulmonary embolism that moved from his leg to his lung while he was on an airplane. He was 45, had a wife and two daughters, and he just died with no warning. It’s so heartbreaking and makes every chapter reverberate in this eerie, powerful way. One of the more profound chapters of the book is literally called “Imagine Yourself At Your Own Funeral.” I know. Richard’s wife Kristine wrote this beautiful and worthwhile piece about dealing with Richard’s death that will make you appreciate your life. Make sure you have some tissues.

            And, not to make this about me, but I’m realizing right now that, in the book I wrote, the protagonist Denton Little literally attends his own funeral. So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say this book had an impact on me.

Sample passage that might blow your mind:

One of the major reasons so many of us remain hurried, frightened, and competitive, and continue to live life as if it were one giant emergency, is our fear that if we were to become more peaceful and loving, we would suddenly stop achieving our goals. We would become lazy and apathetic. You can put this fear to rest by realizing that the opposite is actually true. Fearful, frantic thinking takes an enormous amount of energy and drains the creativity and motivation from our lives. When you are fearful or frantic, you literally immobilize yourself from your greatest potential, not to mention enjoyment. Any success that you do have is despite your fear, not because of it.

            Hope these two books can be as helpful for you as they’ve been for me. I’ll be writing about some others I love in a future post. And if you have any spiritual books that have meant a lot to you, I’d love to hear about them. 

          Thanks for reading, guys. Now get outa here and go smile non-creepily at some strangers.