When I was in the fifth grade, our D.A.R.E. officer – you know, the “just say no to drugs” guy? – used to play basketball with my friends and me at recess. Jim, we’ll call him, was probably in his thirties. Playing with Jim was far beyond his job description, and of course it gave us all a huge thrill to have an adult paying attention to us. One time, though, when he was demonstrating his moves on the court, his cigarettes and can of dip fell out of his pocket.
A few years ago, when I was having a particularly rough time, a friend of mine — who has often seemed more like a guide — spoke to me in a parable. Come to think of it, he didn’t actually tell me the parable; he simply suggested that I might benefit from tracking down and reading some of C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I set out to find the book at a library. Upon finding the book, I glanced through it until I found the part during which one of the book’s main characters — a boy named Eustace — wandered off from his siblings. Alone, he encountered a dying dragon. He got a thrill out of seeing how close he could get to the dragon, even touching it. He had, after all, “read only the wrong books.” As such, he drank from the dragon’s pool of water; he played with the dragon’s treasure, and he tried on the dragon’s jewelry. Eventually, he fell asleep in the dragon’s cave.
My reading hasn’t always been this focused, but I’ve found that almost everything I’ve read in the past few years could be classified into three categories: memoir, self-help, or social sciences/cultural commentary. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there are some commonalities those genres. Chalk it up to the the #therapythirties if you’d like, but I suppose at my core I’ve been interested in a few very basic questions. How does this world work? Is it possible to change? What is the good life?
It’s no stretch to say that the work (and the reading) has been fueled by its share of discontent, by the frustration and disappointment of feeling like life isn’t turning out the way I want it to. The good news is that the journey — both in and outside of the reading — has been incredibly rich and that there have been signs of progress along the way. I feel more hopeful now than I ever have before. For anyone who’s interested, here are 15 books — which I’ve grouped into six different topical categories — that I’ve found helpful along the way:
Some time late summer or early fall of 2015, I remember tweeting my lament that the media kept giving Donald Trump so much attention. It was essentially my belief that he wasn’t a serious candidate, that this was all a big game to him, and that the primary season would show that. How could everyone else not see that? After all, those who are labeled as early front runners often don’t win. Around that same time, I also wrote a blog post — motivated by a kind of realpolitik instinct — that predicted that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton would cruise to their respective Republican and Democratic nominations. I thought those two individuals, more than any others in the race, had the names, history, money, and power to move convincingly toward the White House.
I am grateful that Front Porch Republic (“Place. Limits. Liberty.”) has published an essay of mine. This particular meditation shares an experience I had in graduate school with a class called “Men and Masculinity.” As you can imagine, I then do my best to broach relationships between men and women, essentially arguing that men are too often not taken seriously enough. I also dive into Men’s Rights Activists a little bit. Have you heard of that movement?