The Reading List is Now on

My monthly reading list is now on! Ever since I started the list, I’ve struggled with the issue of linking to the books I mention. I want to make it easy for readers to buy them, but I don’t want to send everybody to Amazon when they could give their business to a local bookstore instead.

With Bookshop, every purchase funds indie bookstores, and you can even designate a local shop to get a portion of your purchase. If you’re going to buy books online, this is a better way to do it.

You can find my bookshop here. I’ll be updating it every month with what I’m reading. If you scroll all the way down, you’ll find reading lists in my favorite genres.

You can sign up to receive my monthly reading list here. I’ll let you know what I’m reading and give short reviews of each title.

Reading List for Billy Gormley

This month’s reading list is dedicated to the memory of FDNY firefighter and U.S Marine Billy Gormley. Billy died in 2017 of cancer related to his exposure to the dust at Ground Zero on September 11th and in the rescue effort that followed. Billy’s daughter, my friend, Bridget Gormley, made a documentary about the toxic cloud that took her father’s life: DustIt premieres this Thursday, September 9th, at New York’s SVA theater. You can buy your tickets here.

Steve Buscemi, who produced the documentary, wrote about the dust in Time magazine.

Bridget was featured on New York Nico this week, sharing a story that haunted her father from that day.

Besides marking the 20th anniversary of the attacks, 2021 is the year deaths from 9/11 related illness will overtake the death toll of the attacks themselves.

Fair winds and following seas, Billy. Never forget.

Fire by Sebastian Junger – A collection of essays on subjects ranging from smokejumpers to blood diamonds. I’m revisiting this collection for Junger’s essay on Ahmed Shah Massoud, “The Lion in Winter.” Massoud was a scholar and a warlord who successfully repelled the Soviets and then the Taliban from his valley in Afghanistan. Junger was embedded with Massoud’s Northern Alliance fighters as they fought the Taliban from caves and trenches in the summer before 9/11. Massoud was killed on September 9th. His assassination was the first phase of the September 11th attacks, intended to deprive the United States of a mighty ally in the invasion that would inevitably follow the attacks.

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the Cia, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 By Steve Coll – I want to give a copy of this book to everyone on social media who suddenly fancies themselves an expert on Afghanistan. This is a lesson in complexity and the law of unintended consequences for anyone who thinks the current mess can be pinned on one administration or policy decision. It’s also a wild, swashbuckling tale of old school, cloak and dagger espionage. (I have a ton of recommendations specifically on Afghanistan for anyone who’s interested).

Escape the Wolf by Clint Emerson – A precursor to Emerson’s wildly successful 100 Deadly Skills series, he wrote this eBook at the request of The Wall Street Journal to give their correspondents knowledge to stay safe in hostile environments.  This is a hidden classic of the offbeat travel guide genre, and it could save your life.

SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam by John L. Plaster – More swashbuckling… This is the true story of the most secret and deadly unit in the Vietnam war. This book made me realize that Apocalypse Now is probably more realistic than it seems. These guys now have a podcast called SOGcast. A couple of them have been on Jocko as well.

First Blood by David Morrell – The book that inspired the Rambo movies. Sometimes a film franchise puts an author on the map. Sometimes it shackles the author to a caricature of their creation. Rambo did both for David Morrell. He wrote this book as a way of trying to understand what friends who’d come home from Vietnam were going through. They all seemed angry in a very specific way. That was his prompt. What if one of those guys brought the whole war home with him so a small American town had to deal with the reality of it. Morrell’s writing on his process is an interesting look at the role of trauma in storytelling. I’ve recommended his book on writing The Successful Novelist to a few veteran authors.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein – Or the antidote to that 10,000 hours bullshit… Being well-rounded and having broad interests is not only good for you, but it will also make you better at a given area than those who specialize in that field. Scientists who have hobbies and outside projects win more prizes and make more discoveries than those who focus narrowly. Free-range parenting is a better strategy for success in life than tiger parenting.  In some fields, like aerospace engineering, over-specialization can actually lead to disaster. I would recommend this book to anyone who feels bad about starting late or changing careers.

Coco Channel’s writing advice.

The reissue of Captain Willard’s Seiko from Apocalypse Now.

A history of Kayaking in Greenland.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Clint Emerson’s podcast.

Ryan holiday has a new book on courage.

The perfectionism trap.

A lesson from nesting bowls.

Thanks for reading,


May Reading List – I Still Haven’t Read Lonesome Dove…

This is the monthly reading list I send out to email subscribers. If you like what you see, you can subscribe here or through one of the banners on this site. 

Thanks for reading, 

— Charlie

Spring is here, and I’m blogging again. My goal is one post per week, and so far I’m on track. My self-imposed deadline is on Friday. It’s a nice way to unwind with some thought-for-the-day writing for myself. I spend my work week writing to help my clients‘ websites stand out–it feels good to do the same for my own site.

In April, I wrote about:
Writing rough drafts by hand
Net 30 payments
and Writing tips from Sex and the City

I know I said I was gonna take on Lonesome Dove next, but I’ve decided to make it a summer read after going on a Hemingway tear inspired by the new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary. So far, I’ve only seen the first episode–he’s just become a literary success and hasn’t transformed into Hemingway the caricature yet. Looking forward to the next two parts.

In this month’s reading list, I also have a book on how to have good ideas on a regular basis, a punctuation guide that will make you laugh out loud, and Hemingway’s burger recipe.

Light Years by James Salter – I don’t know how I made it this far as a student of American literature without encountering James Salter. He’s been called the author who “freezes time” and has a reputation for writing the best sex scenes in American letters.

A Farewell to Arms (the Hemingway Library Edition)  by Ernest Hemingway – I’m rereading this one for the first time since college. This new edition includes all 47 alternative endings, complete with strikethrough and markups by the author.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway – As I watch the PBS documentary, I’m revisiting some of my favorites: “Big Two-hearted River,” “Hills like White Elephants,” “Indian Camp,” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

Hemingway on Writing

Hemingway’s burger recipe

One True Podcast – a podcast by the Hemingway Society.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves – A guide to punctuation that’s as funny as it is useful.

A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young – A book about the process of coming up with good ideas on command, written by a 1930s adman. This slim volume popularized the practice of walking away from a problem to let your unconscious mind solve it.

I was recently gifted a subscription to Monocle by my buddy Dan.

Subscribe to The Hustle if you haven’t already.

Matt Ruby on the freedom of low overhead and other life lessons.

Time, Tarkovsky, and the Pandemic.”

Five (very) short stories by Lydia Davis.

How climate change impacts Japanese poetry.

Don’t be a cog.

Some history of the origin of keyboard layouts from The AtlanticWikipediaForbes, and the Smithsonian.

These videos from Vooza are hilarious.


April Reading List – Farsickness

This is the monthly reading list I send out to email subscribers. If you like what you see, you can subscribe here or through one of the banners on this site. 

Thanks for reading, 

— Charlie

The German word fernweh means homesickness for a place you haven’t beenliterally “farsickness.” This week I’ve got some fernweh going on as I read about two places that have always fascinated me from afar–Appalaicha and Afghanistan.

I’m also feeling plain old home-sick as I watch this tearjerker of a book promo in which my dad and I talk about our collaboration and his life story.

Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
A charmingly plotless autobiographical novel that reads something like Huck Finn meets Ulysses. If you’re new to McCarthy, this is not the place to start. If you’re already into him, this is a palate cleanse with a lower body count than his other books. I’ve also been listening to the Reading Cormac McCarthy podcast and his conversation with Werner Herzog. The second episode of the Reading podcast has some fascinating context about Appalaicha and the Tennessee Valley Authority. I’ve also been brushing up on McCarthy’s punctuation rules.

Boys in Zinc by Svetlana Alexyavich (Zinky Boys in the U.S.)
An oral history of the Soviet/Afghan war by the Nobel Laureate whose chronicle of Chernobyl became the HBO series. This is one of the most disturbing accounts of war I’ve ever read. As my buddy, Dan, who recommended it said: it’s like the Vietnam War if America had no budget and an endless supply of vodka. Reading the accounts of disabled veterans, I can understand why my dad feels so grateful to have come home to America and why he worries about what became of wounded veterans on the other side who didn’t have the benefit of our healthcare system or our appreciative culture.

The Three Pillars of Zen by Roshi Phillip Kapleau
A foundational text of Western Buddhism. I’m rereading it for maybe the tenth time.

After Ikkyu By Jim Harrison
Zen poems with a Big Sky Country twist. Inspiration as I get back in the habit of writing a haiku every morning.

Writing Movies for Fun and Profit by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
A guide to screenwriting that deliberately breaks with the stuffy, over-serious tradition of screenwriting theory. It helps that the authors are screenwriters and not story theorists like so many who pedal screenwriting advice.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout –
An illustrated guide to marketing from the early 1990s. Many of the examples are dated, but the principles hold up. This is a must-read for anyone interested in copywriting. It’s also a prime source of vintage Trump-bashing. The authors use the Donald as a recurring example of how not to build a brand.

This week, we lost literary immortal Larry McMurty. My next read is going to be Lonesome Dove. But in the meantime, I’ve been checking out his blog.

Writer Emergency cards come in handy when you get stuck.

William Faulkner’s writing advice helps too.

In one of my favorite newsletters, comic Matt Ruby dispenses travel wisdom.

And this podcast talks about long-distance hiking in your own backyard.

The cinematography of There Will Be Blood.

Ryan Holiday on  100 very short rules for a better life and how to learn anything.

Peter Matthiessen on Zen meditation.


Show Your Work!

 Yesterday’s blog post started as a long caption on Instagram, under a photo of my writing tools. I was sharing my stoke over starting a new novel–in the only way I can since I won’t say what it’s about until I have a draft–but I was also answering a prompt from Austin Kleon’s handy little book,  Show Your Work! In this guide to putting your stuff out in the world, Kleon dispenses powerful and simple advice like “share something small every day.”



Show your Work by Austin Kleon share something small every day


Yesterday, I was doing just that—as I am in with this post. Both days I felt like I had nothing to say, and I’m sure I’ll have to slay that dragon again tomorrow. What got me writing was letting go of the need to create from scratch, opting instead to document what’s right in front of me.


In the third day of writing a novel, I don’t have any creative writing that’s ready to share. But I can talk about my process, my tools, my creeping insecurities, and the books on my nightstand—including the one that inspired me to write this post in the first place.


Kleon offers specific advice on how to do this:


“Once a day, after you’ve done your days work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share. Where you are in your process will determine what the piece is. If you’re in the very early stages, share your influences and what’s inspiring you. If you’re in the middle of executing a project, write about your methods or share works in progress. If you’ve just completed a project, show the final product, share scraps from the cutting room floor, or write about what you learned. If you have lots of projects out in the world, you can report on how they’re doing—you can tell stories about how people are interacting with your work.” (Kleon, 48.)


He also shares a graphic outlining what to share and what not to share:


Austin Kleon show your work share something small every day

And that’s the problem: I sort of conflated sharing with oversharing, as if showing friends and followers where I work is the same thing as a selfie-reel or pictures of my lunch.


At first glance, that attitude might seem profound, like a humble stand against the self importance and the vapidity of social media. But really, it’s just control freakery in disguise. Part of sharing one’s stuff is letting it go. I don’t dictate the terms of how others experience my work. I don’t get to micro-mange their response. And that’s a good thing, because the response to my post was better than anything I could have arranged for myself:


I connected with some new writers, who must have found me through the hashtags.


A buddy of mine asked to be a character in the novel—he doesn’t know he already is.


One friend noticed the crime writing hashtags and asked me all about that genre—something she didn’t know I was into. And she, in turn, told me about fantasy writing and world-building, something I didn’t know she was working on.


Another friend, who I haven’t talked to in a while shared what he learned about long projects from his marathon training. We ended up talking about his next race. (What up, Pete!)


None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gotten over myself and put my scrap of the day out into the world.


show your work by austin kleon