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The best of what I’m reading, watching, and exploring (April 2021)

Posted in the following categories: Motivation

From time to time, instead of my usual email with one big idea you can read in 3 minutes or less, I share with you the best of what I’m reading, watching, and exploring. Enjoy!

A quick announcement first: Some of you ran into a glitch with the survey I circulated last week asking for your opinion on this weekly email. If that’s you, here’s the link again (with the glitch fixed). It will take less than 2 minutes (literally) to complete.

If you complete the survey by this Sunday, April 25th, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a $50 Amazon gift card. Thank you in advance!

Books

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. If you’re looking for a fun fictional escape, this is a wonderful read. Here’s the basic plot, from the first page of the book: “Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?” Bonus points to the author for coming up with one of the best chapter names ever (“Why want another universe if this one has dogs?”).

Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos by William Poundstone. Carl Sagan was one of my childhood heroes. He spoke to me through his books and the original Cosmos series (I didn’t speak any English at the time, so I wasn’t sure what he was saying, but I listened anyway). This is a book about Sagan’s life and the one guiding question that informed everything he did: Is there extraterrestrial life? Sagan’s journey is breathtaking, even though he never found what he was looking for. For me, the book was an important reminder of leaning into uncertainty and making the most of the journey, even if it doesn’t lead you where you thought you would go.

The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. Terrible title, terrific little book. In the book, Miller answers a seemingly simple question: Why are many of the most successful people plagued by feelings of emptiness and alienation? She argues that, as children, we learn to hide our feelings, needs, and memories to meet the expectations of others and earn their “love,” which has long-lasting consequences. Highly recommended.

The Intent to Live: Achieving Your True Potential as an Actor by Larry Moss. I love learning about the process of creatives from different fields. This book was highly recommended to me by Jamie Carroll, and it didn’t disappoint. The author is an acting coach for the likes of Helen Hunt, Hilary Swank, Leonardo diCaprio, among many others. On the surface, the book reveals what sets apart exceptional actors from the rest. In this Trojan Horse, the author sneaks in lessons about life in general, and what makes a life well-lived. As Moss writes in the Introduction, “I call this book The Intent to Live because great actors don’t seem to be acting, they seem to be actually living.” Even though the book drags on for too long in certain parts, it was still a great read.

Hell Yeah or No: What’s Worth Doing by Derek Sivers. A short read filled with brilliant insights from one of my favorite thinkers. This is the type of book you could easily read in one sitting. But instead of binging it, I wanted to savor it, so I allowed myself to read only one chapter at a time. Pair it with my wide-ranging conversation with Derek at this link.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath & Dan Heath. Like every other book that the Heath brothers have written, this is a terrific read. The book taps into decision-making research to create a four-step process to overcome cognitive biases, stop agonizing over decisions, and make better choices.

Films

I say very little about the plot of the films that follow—in large part because I don’t want to ruin the fun. I refuse to watch trailers—or even read film descriptions—because I want to be surprised from minute one.

The Bridges of Madison County. (Amazon Prime | HBO Max) I try to counteract the “shiny new thing” syndrome by reading books and watching films that have stood the test of time (this also gives me a good excuse to utter “They don’t make ‘em like they used to!” and other cliches). I loved this 1995 film. I’m a Meryl Streep fan (who isn’t?), and she knocks it out of the park here. It’s a slow burn, but a gorgeous one.

Léon: The Professional. (Amazon Prime | Hulu) 1994 was a great year for movies (among others, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, and Forrest Gump all came out that year). Even in that stellar crowd, this film stands out. It depicts the unlikely relationship between a hitman and his 12-year-old apprentice (featuring Natalie Portman in her very first film). A thriller with a surprising amount of depth.

True Lies. (Amazon Prime) Another great thriller from 1994. I had seen it a long time ago, but forgotten how good—and how funny—it was.

Collateral. (Amazon Prime) And the thrillers keep coming. This might be Tom Cruise’s best ever performance (Oh, Tom. Will you ever find love?).

The Father. (Amazon Prime) Moving onto newer films, this is my favorite of the best-picture nominees for this year. The movie gives you an intimate glimpse into the horrors of dementia, from the perspective of the person suffering from it. Anthony Hopkins is flawless.

TV

Last Dance. (Netflix) This documentary series follows the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season. Even though it was recommended by numerous people whose opinions I trust, I resisted watching it because I have zero interest in basketball. I’m glad I caved. This is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.

It’s a Sin. (HBO Max) This show follows the lives of a group of gay men and their friends during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s in London. It’s hilarious and tragic, loving and devastating.

Song Exploder. (Netflix) Originally a podcast and now a Netflix series, this show takes the viewer behind the scenes and reveals the creative process behind a particular song. My favorite episodes so far are REM’s “Losing My Religion” (which I wrote about here) and Dua Lipa’s “Love Again.”

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