What I’ve Been Reading Lately

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

A short read with some worthwhile advice. Ruiz touts four agreements by which to live life: first, be impeccable with your word; second, don’t take anything personally; third, don’t make assumptions; and fourth, always do your best. I finished this back in the tail end of the summer, and these pieces of advice have popped into my head on a weekly basis since then.

What I like most about the book is this bit of advice: it may be hard to constantly achieve the pinnacle of all four ideals, but if you acknowledge that your best will change from day to day, and if you can still give your best every day to fulfill the other agreements, you’re on the right track.

A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul

Another good read, worthy of considering as Canadians are coming to terms with what reconciliation with our First Nations peoples might look like. In this book, Saul argues that Canada is more influenced by its Aboriginal past than we tend to acknowledge:

“We are non-monolithic. We are not an extension of the European model. We are and always have been an experimental project. We are deeply anchored in this place because of our shaping by the Aboriginal part of us and their even deeper links to place. We are all about imagining a new way for people to live together–a way that embraces the capacity of humans to live with multiple personalities, to enjoy difference, to understand loyalty as an expression human relationships, not fear of complexity.”

The Soul of a Butterfly by Muhammad Ali & Hana Yasmeen Ali and Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Two great men whose legacy outlives death (Mandela) and degenerative disorder (Ali). Mandela’s struggle for an end to apartheid, and his remarkable perseverance through decades of imprisonment, is an inspiration. As for Ali, in an era of media coaching and branding, where athletes are seldom vocal about anything that could be deemed even slightly unmarketable or “off-brand,” his legacy is made more powerful because of his unwillingness to just “shut up and play.” Instead, at the peak of his prowess, he chose to be a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War, which led to his arrest, the suspension of his boxing license, and the stripping of his heavyweight title.

Here’s Ali on a quote that could easily be said of Mandela too:

“Truly great people in history never wanted to be great for themselves. All they wanted was the chance to do good for others and be close to God.”

Mandela makes less reference to faith in his writing than Ali, but his desire to do good for others comes through on every page.

Into the Wild by John Krakauer

If you’ve seen the film, it’s impressive how true to the book it stays. Krakauer does a marvelous job of retracing Chris McCandless’s journey from the affluent suburbs of Washington, D.C. to the remote Alaskan wilderness and his eventual death. An adventurer himself, Krakauer captures McCandless’s dissatisfaction with suburban life, twentysomething self-confidence and invincibility, and postgraduate longing for meaning better than most writers could.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A short read, but a powerful one. Coates frames his novel as a letter to his son, preparing him for the world he will encounter as a young black man in America — particularly relevant in the midst of racial tensions in Cleveland, Chicago, and around the United States. He’s at his most compelling when peeling back the layers of race and class to reveal the subtle and systemic ways in which prejudice and oppression manifest themselves:

“All our phrasing — race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy — serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.”

“A society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker.”

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