Drinking Straight From the Sources
Seeking the best raw ingredients of influence and inspiration.
Hello everyone. Today, we’ll discuss the importance of seeking information straight from the source. Let’s jump right in.
ONE FROM THE AGES
“If you overesteem great men, people become powerless.”
— Tao Te Ching
ONE FROM TODAY
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. on the relationship of words and thoughts:
“A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in colour and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.”
ONE FROM US
Food is where we acquire the raw materials to construct every part of our bodies. Information, influence, and relationships are how we acquire the raw materials for our emotional and spiritual selves. You are what you eat. Just as a healthy body requires consistently filling our plate with whole foods, emotional flourishing requires filling our attention with nourishing and inspiring influences.
I realized recently that my influence diet lacks a certain type of variety. I read almost exclusively non-fiction books. Further, I read almost exclusively the same type of non-fiction book. Shane has a similar “diet” and I imagine that most of you do as well. Our respective top books lists (my list/Shane’s list) and the choice of books that we typically cite in our “From Today” section are what I’ll call “curation-style books.” These are books where an author has researched and collected facts, figures, and findings on a specific topic and written a narrative of how these factors come together to improve our lives or grow our understanding. They typically outline a problem, describe the many facets that contribute to it, then outline a better way forward either by citing case studies or prescribing a theoretical solution based on their experience and research. Most of these books are between 250 and 350 pages, have an intriguing title, and a lengthy, descriptive subtitle that tells us exactly what we are in for why we should care about this book.
We need these books and the type of people who write them. We need authors with a deep technical background who can distill mountains of research from their field into a compelling and actionable telling for the rest of us. We also need polymath self-experimenters who study broadly and draw connections between seemingly disparate fields to outline a set of best practices based on their research and experiences. Shane and I seek to be the latter with our articles and this newsletter.
Curation-style books make up the bulk of the non-fiction book market and provide the majority of our book influence-calories because (when done well) they offer immense bang for your buck. The authors have painstakingly collected and intentionally curated a set of positive influences for us. This type of arrangement is an amazing act of creation. These books are like eating a meal at a restaurant renowned for both its healthy values and the chef’s culinary prowess. We can feel confident that we’re served a beautifully crafted dish that will both nourish our body and taste amazing. However, just as if we ate exclusively from restaurants, we lose something when we only read curation-style books. We can adjust our dietary choices to give us a closer relationship to the influential people we seek to understand.
Memoirs and autobiographies allow us to sit with a person for weeks at a time. We read the stories and interpretations of their life in their own words. We come to know them as a whole person rather than as a hologram of only aspirational qualities or an anointed example on a pedestal. Reading a first-hand narrative is to drink straight from a mountain spring and to gather/grow/hunt your own ingredients. It’s more work and a far less efficient means to fill your belly, but can be a portal to even greater nourishment.
First-hand narrative books are a slow-burn of insight rather than the highlight reel of revelation that we expect from an excellent curation-style book. We need to stick it out through some lengthier stories and lower our expectations to be wowed at every turn of the page. You get to learn from a person rather than a collection of information.
I’ll never stop reading curation-style books nor writing curation-style articles. These will remain the bulk of our influence-diet. However, I’ve found so much enjoyment and benefit from building a relationship with the people who inspire me most. I glean important insights about their lives and accomplishments, but I also feel that I know them. If you’ve always admired someone and been impressed with their life, read their memoir or autobiography. You’ll learn, in their own words, how they felt and what they thought as they built the life that you admire. You’ll understand their upbringing and the other forces that shaped them. This is inherently less efficient, but doing your own collection and curation is a deeply meaningful process.
Below is a list of first-hand books that I have truly enjoyed and that you might not have ever come across. Note that this list skews heavily towards my interests in travel, writing, and outdoor/extreme sports. But, amazing people doing amazing things inspire us broadly.
To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins
A memoir by Jedidiah Jenkins about his cycling trip from Oregon to the southern tip of South America. Jed was a transplant from the Midwest, working a 9 to 5 in Los Angeles when he sought something more. With no experience in cycling or solo travel, he decided to buy a bike and ride it over 14,000 miles. This is a beautiful coming of age story and travel memoir where he also examines the benefit of defining your own path and grapples with his conflicting Christianity and homosexuality. I had the pleasure of meeting Jed to purchase a book directly from him after following his journey for over a year online.
Liferider by Laird Hamilton and Julian Borra
Laird Hamilton is now nearly a household name. He’s famous for his big-wave surfing and other superhuman ocean feats, but he has also created a popular superfoods company and training program. Despite his current notoriety, Laird wasn’t taken seriously within the mainstream surfing world until he was nearly fifty years old. I admire his surfing exploits but I’m even more inspired by this complete disregard of his detractors and his unwavering commitment to follow his own path. Laird is a once-in-a-generation figure. Liferider is put together by Julian Borra, a close personal friend of Laird’s, but the narrative is equal parts Borra’s commentary, Laird’s own words, and additions from Laird’s wife Gabby Reece (a former Olympic beach volleyball player, #powercouple).
The Push by Tommy Caldwell
The Push is an autobiography by rock climber, Tommy Caldwell. It’s difficult to summarize Tommy’s life and accomplishments into a few short sentences, but here are a few highlights. He is quite possibly the most revered rock climber in history, especially amongst his fellow world-class climbers. He has done many climbs that were considered impossible before he spent nearly a decade working to complete them (all after losing an index finger to a table saw). He was kidnapped in the Middle East by guerrilla rebels and escaped after being held hostage for several days. He also happens to be a very deep, introspective thinker and a great writer.
Surf is Where You Find It by Gerry Lopez
Gerry Lopez is a surfing legend. His surfing abilities, surfboard designs, and discovery of many new surfing meccas shaped the current direction of the surf industry and surf culture. He is also a father, yogi, and lives a very examined life. This is a beautiful book. If you share my affinity for surf photography and lengthy examinations of how and why a particular wave can be so good, this is a must.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Stephen King has authored hundreds of novels. This memoir is the only book of his that I’ve read (I told you I don’t read much fiction). It is half autobiography and half how-to writing guide, but I find it inspirational for any type of creative pursuit. I’ve listened to or read this more times than I can recall (perhaps annually since I discovered it years ago).
Also, copied here are two descriptions from books already included on my top book list:
The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit by AJ Leon
AJ Leon left a 7-figure salary and a corner office on Wall Street based on nothing more than his principles. He and his wife then traveled the world for humanitarian work and eventually founded a creative agency that takes on projects aimed at changing the world. This is a collection of his personal journal entries along this journey. They are short affirmations written only to himself, never intended for publication. I re-read it constantly and consider it a bit of a spiritual guide for living outside the Standard Model.
Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
I might be biased toward this book because of my lifelong love of surfing and my personal experience in many of the places that he visits, but this is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. A classic page-turner. William Finnegan is a writer for the New Yorker and author of several nonfiction books about Apartheid and other international human rights issues. This is a memoir of his surfing and travel life. He is deeply interested in himself and the world and deserves the Pulitzer Prize that this book earned.
Please comment if you have read and enjoyed any of these books. I would also love your recommendations for great memoirs and autobiographies.
Thank you for being with me today!
Life is too short to be normal