Unhype
You might be a highly-paid professional, but if you’re not reading books, you’re missing out on a beauty that is beyond value, and, frankly, beyond words.

Don't want to read the entire article? Here's the list of things you need to know:

  1. Get a Kindle with Kindle Unlimited.
  2. Already got a Kindle? Get a free month of Kindle Unlimited.
  3. Buy some ear plugs.
  4. Read every day for at least 30 minutes to build a habit.
  5. Learn not to lose your focus.
  6. Keep reading.
  7. Rinse and repeat.

Why you should start reading books

If you're not reading books, you're missing out.

A study found that people who read books live almost 2 years longer.

Another says you are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer's if you read.

Last, but not least, reading helps you develop empathy.

The need for writing this article grew in me for a long time. I was wondering, will anyone even bother reading a wall of text about books? I'm hopeful at least a few of you will get something out of it.

Books were invented a while ago and, for some time, they were very popular, but now, not so much.

According to the Pew Research Center, "Roughly a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say they haven't read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form." The numbers get worse for people coming from less privileged backgrounds. Women read more than men too.

So, more or less, a third of you is getting their knowledge "from life." It's a very popular excuse for not reading books. Every single adult who doesn't read usually claims to have "devoured" books as a child. It's amazing how all of these child geniuses turned into adults who haven't read a book in years.

Ebook readers or paper books?

Kindle Paperwhite – Now Waterproof with more than 2x the Storage + Kindle Unlimited (with auto-renewal)
36,579 reviews
Kindle Paperwhite – Now Waterproof with more than 2x the Storage + Kindle Unlimited (with auto-renewal)
  • Now available in Black, Twilight Blue, Plum, or Sage
  • The thinnest, lightest Kindle Paperwhite yet—with a flush-front design and 300 ppi glare-free display that reads like real paper even in bright sunlight.
  • Now waterproof, so you’re free to read and relax at the beach, by the pool, or in the bath.

I will never stop reading traditional books. I love the smell of a new book. But, for a few years now, I’m in love with the Kindle. Nothing beats an e-book reader for traveling. In the past, I had to choose a single book that I will take on a journey. Now I can take a thousand.

If you have never tried an ebook reader you will never understand how much better their screens are compared to computer screens and smartphones. They are almost as good as real books, and in many ways they are better.

Why Kindle is a good ebook reader?
Kindle Paperwhite – Now Waterproof with more than 2x the Storage + Kindle Unlimited (with auto-renewal)
36,579 reviews
Kindle Paperwhite – Now Waterproof with more than 2x the Storage + Kindle Unlimited (with auto-renewal)
  • Now available in Black, Twilight Blue, Plum, or Sage
  • The thinnest, lightest Kindle Paperwhite yet—with a flush-front design and 300 ppi glare-free display that reads like real paper even in bright sunlight.
  • Now waterproof, so you’re free to read and relax at the beach, by the pool, or in the bath.

  1. It's the best, most popular ebook reader around.
  2. You will save a lot of money. Just take a look at this website. There are thousands of amazing classics out there that can be legally downloaded for free!
  3. It gives you access to Kindle Unlimited.

My thing is to always have my Kindle on me. This way at any down time, such as waiting in line, I can read a few pages. At the gym too I read one or two pages between sets. These little moments add up.

Also if a book is not very well written or interesting it's OK to skip ahead of speed read a bit. I used to feel guilty not putting all my attention in a book even when they're not so good.

As silly as it is, not being able to feel how heavy the remaining book feels in my right hand makes a huge difference to me. I spend less time checking how much I have left to go, figuring out if I have time to even finish a chapter, etc. and just read. The estimated chapter times also really help with this.

It's the ability to carry 300 books on a tiny device that makes it amazing. The e-ink display is nice, and makes less a strain on the eye.

And make fun of this all you want, but the smell of the plastic and chemicals on the device, and most cases, enhance my reading habits even more. Remember to smell it.

Why you should use Kindle Unlimited?
Kindle Paperwhite – Now Waterproof with more than 2x the Storage + Kindle Unlimited (with auto-renewal)
36,579 reviews
Kindle Paperwhite – Now Waterproof with more than 2x the Storage + Kindle Unlimited (with auto-renewal)
  • Now available in Black, Twilight Blue, Plum, or Sage
  • The thinnest, lightest Kindle Paperwhite yet—with a flush-front design and 300 ppi glare-free display that reads like real paper even in bright sunlight.
  • Now waterproof, so you’re free to read and relax at the beach, by the pool, or in the bath.

If you read a lot of books, like me, you will save a ton of money with Kindle Unlimited.

Long story short, Kindle Unlimited allows you to borrow any 10 books at the same time. It comes with full access to both Amazon and Audible libraries. Once you're done with a book, just "give" it back and you can borrow another one. It's only $9.99/month.

I read/listen to anywhere between 4 and 8 books every month, so, for me, it's a great deal. Plus I download a ton of audiobooks just to check them out for 15-30 minutes to see if I'm be interested.

If you buy your Kindle through this link, you will get a free 3-month access to Kindle Unlimited. If you're really into audiobooks, I recommend getting the 32GBs version, so that you can store more of them. For ebooks only, a 8GBs version is more than enough.

Unfortunately, Kindle Paperwhite doesn't have a headphone jack, so you will need a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Personally I use my Apple Airpods:

Already got a Kindle? Get a free month of Kindle Unlimited here.

Finally, get a nice case for your Kindle

I'd definitely get a case. They don't add much weight but will help protect your kindle from any accidents. You can get a regular case like these:

Or buy something more interesting like these cases:

KleverCase Kindle Paperwhite Case - Book Themed Cover (Kindle Paperwhite, Pride and Prejudice)
93 reviews
KleverCase Kindle Paperwhite Case - Book Themed Cover (Kindle Paperwhite, Pride and Prejudice)
  • Designed by KleverCase exclusively for Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (Fits All versions: 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 All-New 300 PPI Versions with 6" Display and Built-in Light, will not fit Kindle or Kindle Touch).
  • Made from high density durable card, woven paper and laminated making it hard wearing and splashproof.
  • Hard shell snap in case and naturally closed position offers security and protection in transit.

They are made by actual expert book binders and, I think, look super-rad.

Did I mention they sell Harry Potter-themed cases?

Kindle Paperwhite Case with Harry Potter Themed Foldback Book Cover (New Purple Spells)
6 reviews
Kindle Paperwhite Case with Harry Potter Themed Foldback Book Cover (New Purple Spells)
  • New Foldback Cover design specifically made for ALL Kindle Paperwhite models.
  • Now with hidden Magnet Closure that also keeps cover in position when the case is folded backwards.
  • Kindle Paperwhite specific soft plastic interior holder gives extra protection and is removable.

How to develop a book reading habit

You're still in the "habit building phase" and you got all these common problems to anybody starting a new habit. You would be having the same problems if you were: picking up a musical instrument, studying a new language, learning a new form of math, or any other skill that requires sustained focus and repetition.

Keep at it and eventually you'll reach a point when your mind stops wandering, and instead of daydreaming you'll find yourself visualizing the novel itself, and you'll stop self-assessing as you go along. You can help by actively trying to create what you're reading about in your head. Nobody who read a few dozens books in a year got that way without having reading as a habit for a very long time. Keep the end-goal in mind: by becoming a proficient reader you open the door to limitless possibilities for what else you can learn.

My suggestion is perhaps a bit patronizing but very reasonable. Start with easier books until your habit is built up. You may not enjoy them as much, but go read some Young Adult fiction. Typically the language is more straightforward and the themes are easier to digest. Or start with some simple non-fiction books. Don't dive into Dostoyevsky from the get-go.

Create your own book reading ritual

Here's my checklist:

  • Sweatpants. This is the key and a crucial moment that determines your success.
  • My Kindle.
  • My ear plugs.
  • My favorite tea.
  • Phone off and away from sight.
  • Computer off and away from sight.
  • Curtains open to let in a natural filter of light.
  • Blanket.
  • Snacks.
  • Imagination.

For drinks, tea and coffee are good ones. I also like a nice cup of hot milk with sugar and whatever flavoring I'm feeling. Vanilla extract, cinnamon, or almond extract are good ones.

Coffee is always my go to drink. However, I'm sensitive to caffeine, so I only get one regular cup a day--two max. So, I bought a can of decaff from a good brand. I put it in my coffee maker and ontop of my grinds I give two shakes of cinnamon. Makes it smell amazing!

Real lemonade is a good one too. The recipes make it sound more difficult to make than it is. One lemon makes one big glass and you can dissolve the sugar with hot tap water then add ice to cool it down.

How school killed reading books for me

I, too, wasn't reading books once, and I thought I was happy.

Unfortunately, schools and parents often destroy what would be a childhood filled with wonder and learning. The same happened in my case.

My parents haven't taught me to read books at first. All the stuff my father was reading concerned weird stuff about the war that I didn't care about. My mother was mostly reading some spiritual stuff and romantic novels. You can imagine that I wasn't interested in these either.

When I went to school, we were forced to read stuff like "The Scarlett Letter" and "Beowulf." You know the drill. I started using Cliffnotes on a regular basis. I hated books with a passion.

Virtually all class time was wasted on popcorn reading at a snail's pace, and the teacher beating to death the textbook analysis as indisputable fact, with no real room for subjective analysis or reflection. It absolutely killed the joy out of any required literature.

I was 15, and I was dumb. Like, really, really dumb. I was excellent at maths but other than that, lights were on, but no one was home. I took pride in the fact that I haven't read a single book since I was 12.

How I started reading books

My father was an avid reader. Mountains of books always surrounded him. There were so many books in his study that you had to walk sideways to reach the window. Some people say he read every book that ever existed.

One day I was more bored than usual. The Internet was down or something like that. I went to my father's study to snoop around. I don't remember exactly why, but I picked up a book and started reading. I guess I liked the cover.

It was George Orwell's 1984. I loved it. After I finished it, I asked my dad for book recommendations. He smiled and disappeared in his study. After a few minutes, he came back with a bag of classics. This is how my life-long adventure with reading started.

My life with books

During my childhood, I went through all the usual book fascinations. Sometimes, with no apparent reason, I would start to read something that was completely out of my league at my age. Say, James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not to be recommended for a teenager. I tried Finnegan’s Wake after that. I was disgusted with it then.

I gradually read less as I started working, partying, and traveling more. And I regret that. Now, since I have a lot of free time, and I mean, all the time, I’ve came back to reading again. Last year I was reading on and off and managed to finish over thirty books. But it’s not about the count. Some books, like Infinite Jest, are much longer and harder than others.

What books should I read?

The answer is very simple: all of them. And especially these, which you really want to read.

I didn’t get all my knowledge from one book. And the books that worked for me might not work for you at all. Just start reading and see where it leads you.

It’s easy to spot idiots. They will try to tell you that better people read Derrida and worse people read Dan Brown. There is wisdom in many books, and different books are suitable for different ages and characters. Just because you’re into crime stories or fantasy books doesn’t make it an less valuable.

If someone reads, but really reads, they will never look with contempt at another reader. Even if the other person only reads the article section in Playboy. I wonder if this magazine even exists anymore?

Find out which books changed my life

Our bookless houses

When I visit a friend’s house, I always look for books. It’s like a reflex. I recognize people by the books they read. Doesn’t matter what books they are. Horrors, criminals, or romances. I don’t care. It’s only important that they read. Nowadays it’s harder to browse through people’s collections, because everything is electronic.

I don’t like houses without books. I own a Kindle, but I still buy hardcopies of every book I value and will keep it on my bookshelf forever. I’d rather buy a house without a bathtub than without a place to put my bookshelf in.

Why I still read paper books

I love to destroy books. When I was a kid I was taught that you have to respect them. Respect is fine, but my mind works differently. I underline my favorite passages. I write notes and comments in my books. Sometimes I will even draw a picture.

You can’t really do these things properly using an ebook reader. I love opening a book after a few years, to be surprised by seeing which parts have been underlined by former me. I go back to this time in my mind and relieve my memories of reading them.

Are these books worth less because they’ve been doodled on? I think it’s the opposite. Books are meant to be used, and corners are meant to be folded.

Why audiobooks are awesome too

I've always been an avid reader and I have no problem with finding motivation to read. However, when I was in the university, finding time to read isn't always that easy. My solution: audiobooks!

I love audiobooks because I can read while walking to uni, doing dishes, cleaning... Whenever I do something that doesn't require much thinking I simultaneously listen to a book. This doesn't necessarily work too well with non-fiction books but with fiction it is great. And falling asleep listening to a great story is really nice too.

I urge you to give audiobooks a try. Put he phone in your pocket and listen while outside or in a nice public area like a park. Relax and enjoy the story. Start small, 15-20 minutes.

How to read foreign language books

Something I've done while trying to build up my reading abilities in my second language is reading a book that I'm already super familiar with (like Harry Potter) in my second language. That way, I already know what part of the story I'm at and I can infer the meanings of specific words and phrases as I read through.

In addition to the tip about marking words that are unfamiliar - reading on an e-reader helps! My Kindle has the Oxford english dictionary installed and it's connected to Wikipedia if there's a wifi-connection. This means that if I just highlight the word I'm unfamiliar with, it'll give me the answer immediately.

Remember that you don't have to finish every book

If you aren’t enjoying a book or learning from it, stop reading it immediately. Flinging it across the room helps give closure.

How to read more books

There are so many books out there, but never enough time. According to Max Joseph, it's easier than you think to read a lot of books. Let's say, on average, you've got 50 years left in your life.

If you commit to reading for just 30 minutes every day, you will read close to a thousand books during the rest of your life, and you will become a major reader. That's 20 books every year. Anybody can build a habit of reading for half an hour a day!

I read every little chance I get. I rarely watch television, and try to limit my phone or computer time. You'd be surprised how much time that frees up to read; even 10 pages here or there adds up over the day.

I read instead of going on social media on public transit, waiting in doctor's offices, and in the evenings. I also read for a half hour before bedtime many nights.

Read with partner, read to your friends, read to your kids. Everyone can find 30 minutes in a day to read.

How can I read 52 books in a year?

Easily attainable if you cut out things like tv shows, YouTube and video games. I truly recommend reading one book a week so you can join the 52 books a year club.

Last year I aimed for 52 and I landed in the low 40s, because most of my choices were pretty difficult. That's still a hell of a lot more than I would have read if I'd made some vague resolution like "I should read more."

I also think unless someone always loves books more than other entertainment or has a professional reason to read so much, 52 books a year, might be too much. If you're just starting out, opt for a more realistic goal like 12 books in a year.

Finally, taking the Goodreads challenge and tracking your reading helps a lot.

How to read multiple books at the same time

Currently reading 5 books. 4 of them are non-fiction and one is fiction. This is a little more than my normal 2 or 3 but not unheard of for me. I always read more than one book at a time. Even if i like the book, I get bored after some time and need some variation.

I usually read a novel and a nonfiction (biography, self improvement, business, psychology, religion, spirituality, critical thinking, or history) book at the same time. Often just split between one work for entertainment and another for skill development. However, I'm now entrenched deep enough into fiction that some diversity was needed and have added in some shorter standalone books alongside it. Nice to be able to dip into a different genre based on your mood.

I like books that give me an immersive experience -- may not necessarily be something I need to have in my hands many hours on a stretch to the detriment of daily activities such as going to work or having a social life -- but one that has me look forward to picking it up as soon as I am faced with some downtime. If it's not a book I look forward to, I either abort it (very rarely) or trudge through it. That's because I'd try finish the most tedious book unless I find it really bad. Therefore, I am not normally one that reads multiple books at a time.

I've started using index cards as bookmarks. I write a short summary of the story so far on each of them. It's a little extra work, but it allows you to retain multiple ongoing stories at once.

It's easier if you have a Kindle.

When I'm reading for pleasure I can only do it with one book per format so my max is usually 3. I often have a book, kindle book and audiobook going at the same time.

If I take a break part way through any of these books and switch to another one in the same format I'm almost guaranteed never to go back to the first one again. If I do it'll be so much later that I'll start it from the beginning because I've forgotten what was happening.

This question is asked all the time, the answer is always the same. Do what works for you.

Also:

Is it OK to read pop fiction that isn't written well, e.g., Twilight stories? Yes. Do what works for you.

Does anyone else skip ahead to speed up the pace of the book? Yes. Ultimately a good book shouldn't necessitate that but do what works for you.

How to read a lot of boring books that are required for school or work

Let's take philosophy as an example.Don't put the cart before the horse. Better to read something because you're interested in it, rather than because you're on a mission to get through it. Let your curiosity draw you forward. If you get bored, stop reading, or skip ahead. Given the amount you're trying to read, it'll be hard to absorb everything anyway.

Especially with philosophy, it pays to read slowly, in short bits, interspersed with lots of reflection, note taking, question writing, etc. And it pays to reread passages over and over. That's how you get ideas to stick. So I recommend limiting your goals a bit. Focus on topics you're genuinely curious about, and don't try to read 9 hours a day. Make it more like 3 hours. That's still a lot.

My advice is that reading philosophy is a lot like lifting weights and building muscles. You cannot just simply read a 1,500 page book in 4 weeks. You need time, patience, stamina, and energy. It's incredibly tough!

How to stay focused while reading

People find it hard to focus because they are stressed out or anxious.

Ask yourself why you want to read. Everytime you pick up a book to read and get distracted put a tick on a paper nearby and in a while count the ticks and think about how short your attention span is. Get rid of all that distracts you, take some deep breaths to calm yourself and start again, just start.

Even if you've never done this before, try this simple form of meditation. All you have to do is sit down and attempt to think of nothing just to see how loud your mind is, how busy it can be. Try to distance yourself from your thoughts. Just draw attention to your breath. Breathing in, breathing out.

If you're looking for something quick to Zen you in the moment. Stop: Find one thing you can see, really look at it. One thing you can hear, really listen to it. Smell. Touch. Even taste if you want. That will bring you back to the moment.

You will likely find that you're going back to your thoughts as you're reading. Don't try to push them away or fight them, because that will make them come back stronger and it will be that much harder to focus. Instead, let them run its course. Nod your head, acknowledge the thought is there and go back to where you left off.

How to read more critically/analytically

I don't like to think about things other than the story as I read. So instead of trying to break down themes and symbols while I read, I mark anything I think I'll need to come back to and do most of my in-depth reading after I've finished the whole book.

Also, you definitely don't have to go at critical reading alone, talk to other people about what you have read. In person is best but online works as well. Find someone who also read the book and talk about your favorite/least favorite parts, things you wish had been written differently, your interpretation of cryptic parts.

It doesn't even have to be super academic discussion. It will help you solidify what you've just read and opens you to other interpretations of the book. It prepares you to discuss or write about it for a class much more than just reading it alone.

How to learn speed reading

Speed reading, also known as sight reading, is such a useful skill! If you want to learn it, you can!

I was unaware how fast I read until we got assingnments in class that required reading a page or two and I was done before anybody else and had time to spare. I think learning to read early on and reading a lot of books is the reason why I read so fast. However, while I can read fast I don't always do so. Sometimes I read great books and want to enjoy every word so I read slower, visualizing at the same time.

Read a book on speed reading or take an online course. It does take practice, but you really improve over time.

Basically, you train yourself to glance at 3-4 words at a time, glean their meaning, and glance at the next 3-4 words. It's just like glancing at a sign as you drive: you don't "subvocalize" by saying the words to yourself in your mind as you read. You glance and understand. That way, you can read so much faster while maintaining good comprehension.

I can get a newspaper article done in no time flat. But when I want to read something really carefully, I can also slow down and do the subvocalization.

Last words

You might be a highly-paid professional, but if you’re not reading books, you’re missing out on a beauty that is beyond value, and, frankly, beyond words.

So, start reading. It is the cheapest and the easiest way to make your life richer. There are thousands of life-changing books waiting for you.

The excel file is here

Travel

☑️ Hitchhike

☑️ Walk Camino de Santiago

In 2009 I walked the French Way, also known as, Camino Francés. Started in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

☑️ Visit all the Balkan countries

☑️ Visit Chernobyl

☑️ Travel to the Sahara

☑️ Try sandsurfing

☑️ See mount Fuji

☑️ Attend a geisha party in Japan

☑️ Experience an earthquake

☑️ Drive a motorcycle thorugh Vietnam

☑️ Find a paradise beach with no tourists

☑️ Travel the world for $500/month

☑️ Smoke weed while riding a camel

☑️ Visit 50 countries

☑️ Go whitewater rafting

☑️ Jump off a cliff

☑️ Stand on the top of a mountain

☑️ Visit Auschwitz

☑️ Host and surf using Couchsurfing

🔲 Party at a real hippie community

🔲 See the Northern Lights

🔲 Visit every continent

In progress. Much harder than it sounds.

🔲 Travel to Greenland

🔲 Go on a classic road trip

Planning to do a road trip in the States soonish.

Hobby

☑️ Winter-camp in the mountains

☑️ Learn to play an instrument

☑️ Play an instrument on stage

☑️ Have my own photography exhibition

☑️ Go on a meditation retreat

☑️ Learn to swim

☑️ Star in a film

☑️ Learn butoh

☑️ Perform butoh on stage

☑️ Learn dumpster-diving

☑️ Read 50 books in a year

☑️ Learn to solve a Rubik's Cube

☑️ Learn to bake bread

☑️ Learn to lockpick

☑️ Learn to juggle

☑️ See my favorite band live

Finally seen Built to Spill live in 2019 in Dresden. Had a chance to meet Doug Martsch before the concert and take a picture with him.

🔲 Learn video production and start Youtubing

🔲 Record an electronic album

🔲 Make a documentary

🔲 Learn woodworking

🔲 Learn Spanish

This will be my third language. Still working on it. Speak a bit but can't say I'm fluent yet.

🔲 Start a garden

🔲 Learn to play another instrument

I started playing the piano recently, but still not sure if this will be my next instrument.

🔲 Write a fiction book

🔲 Write a non-fiction book

🔲 Write a book fo poetry

Life

☑️ Stay awake for 24 hours

☑️ Be a best man at a wedding

☑️ Volunteer

☑️ Settle down

☑️ Get married

☑️ Grow a mustache

🔲 Befriend a homeless person

🔲 Build a small house with my own hands

🔲 Buy my dream house

🔲 Adopt a dog

🔲 Raise chicken

🔲 Give a speech

🔲 Buy a sailboat

🔲 Plant a tree

🔲 Adopt a child

🔲 Get a citizenship of another country

Fitness

☑️ Run a marathon

I finished a half-marathon in 2014, and I'm not planning to run a full-marathon, due to problems with my joints.

☑️ Do 10 pullups

🔲 Do 50 perfect pushups

🔲 Do a handstand

Money

☑️ Get a remote job

☑️ Start and sell a company

☑️ Learn how to invest money

☑️ Have enough money to retire

🔲 Live for a month without money

Habits

☑️ Read for at least 30 minutes every day

☑️ Workout everyday in the morning

☑️ Floss at least once a day

☑️ Meditate every day

☑️ Sleep at least 8 hours every night

☑️ Quit social media

☑️ Quit added sugar

☑️ Quit caffeine

☑️ Quit smoking

☑️ Stop treating social gatherings as an excuse to get drunk

🔲 Intermittent fasting

🔲 Stop eating processed food

🔲 Stop watching so much Youtube

I follow a lot of industry channels. My idea is to dedicate a day every three months to just watch their most popular videos to keep up to date on everything.

I wanted to make an article about hobbies that are cheap or free for a long time. Most of these require little to no money. I admit, some of them cost a few hundred dollars, like starting a home gym which saves you money on gym memberships in the long run.

Baking bread

I love bread baking. I often let my friends have some, and they all love it. I enjoy trying out different recipes and adding random stuff to see how it turns out.

It is very fun and if you have a kitchen already with an oven then every bread costs only like $1 and will be better than anything you can ever buy. Once you try your own, fresh bread, you will never go back.

If you want to make some basic sourdough it’s pretty much just flour, water, and salt.

Then once you have your starter you can mix the other stuff, let it chill in the fridge and bake it. Plus it’s kinda fun setting your oven as high as it will go and hoping it doesn’t explode.

Or you can cheat and use commercial yeast to make regular bread today.

Learn bread baking

There's tons of free info online, plenty of books that are available at the library. Flour, water, and salt are all extremely inexpensive. Even a 5 lb bag of excellent flour like King Arthur Unbleached is just a few bucks.

If you create a sourdough starter, you don't need to buy yeast. Using popular home methods, you don't even need a mixer for a lot of bread doughs.

This is a great sourdough starter video tutorial:

My favorite book about baking bread
Currently on Sale −41%
Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza [A Cookbook]
2,678 reviews
Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza [A Cookbook]
  • Flour Water Salt Yeast The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza
  • Hardcover Book
  • Forkish, Ken (Author)

Flour, Water, Salt, and Yeast by Ken Forkish

I definitely recommend this book!! Super helpful because it goes into detail about the science of breadmaking, and the role each ingredient plays, rather than just giving you recipes to blindly follow.

Forkish's pizza dough recipes are also amazing. I never thought I could make restaurant-quality pizza at home, but his Overnight Straight Pizza Dough really turns out THAT well for me every time.

If you're serious about making pizza, Ken Forkish also published a specific book on this topic, The Elements of Pizza.

What are the best bread baking accessories and equipment?

Some of these accessories and equipment requires an investment, but you will use that stuff your whole life. Bread is going to be almost free for you after some time.

If cooking is an art, baking is a science. You'll want to be as precise as possible. Have a scale, weigh everything precisely, calibrate your oven, mix things consistently, take note of humidity.

If you want more consistency, you can consider getting:

LoafNest: Incredibly Easy Artisan Bread Kit. Cast Iron Dutch Oven and Made in France Non-Stick Perforated Silicone Liner [Blue Gradient]. A Dutch oven is probably the most important accessory you can buy if you're serious about baking bread. You can't really make a good loaf without trapping the moisture in some way. It's an investment.

OXO 11214800 Good Grips 11 Pound Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display,Black,1.2 Get a food scale for more consistent measurements. Once you really learn to bake bread, you won't need a food scale. I'm doing everything by heart now and experimenting more.

9 Inch Proofing Basket,WERTIOO Bread Proofing Basket + Bread Lame +Dough Scraper+ Linen Liner Cloth for Professional & Home Bakers Get a proofing basket for fancy looking bread. A proofing basket is a good investment if you're serious about this. It's cheap too. It can also be called a banneton. Proofing baskets should be made out of wood and come with a liner or without one.

Ultra Cuisine 100% Stainless Steel Wire Cooling Rack for Baking fits Half Sheet Pans Cool Cookies, Cakes, Breads - Oven Safe for Cooking, Roasting, Grilling - Heavy Duty Commercial Quality Buy cooling racks, but most people have these already. Get a proper cooling rack if you're planning to really get into this hobby. It really helps when you're baking a lot of loaves.

Winware Stainless Steel Dough Scraper with Wood Handle Get a dough scraper. It's useful too. It allows for the handling of high-hydration dough without making your hands messy. It works well for scraping the leftover dough from your work surface and for cutting your dough. A large plastic dough/bowl scraper really upped my game and saved so much time and frustration from the dough sticking to the counter.

King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour, 5 Pounds (Packaging May Vary) And then there different types of flour. Rye is best for starters cause it's the most biologically active. Soft white is suitable for delicate things like pastries, tortillas, and stuff, and it will also lighten/fluff up your loaves of bread if it's partially mixed in. Buckwheat has a hearty/earthy flavor if you want a little of that.

Powerful Electric Grain Mill Grinder for Home and Professional Use - High Speed Electric Flour Mill Grinder for Healthy Grains and Gluten-Free Flours - Electric Grain Grinder Mill by Wondermill For me I take it one step further and buy grains and grind my grains into flour using an electric mill. I fancy hard red wheat the most. It's expensive but has an incredibly deep taste.

What are the best books about baking bread?

What's a dutch oven exactly, and do we really need it?

What is the added benefit of using the Dutch oven? Wouldn't it turn out the same if it was baked without it?

Baking bread uncovered allows the moisture to escape. Baguettes and loaves of bread with a crunchier exterior are often sprayed or misted with water during baking to achieve a crunchy exterior. Bread like sandwich bread, challah, and softer types are baked uncovered, no mist or added steam yielding softer bread with a shiny exterior by use of egg wash before baking.

This is the best Dutch oven on the market, bar none:

LoafNest: Incredibly Easy Artisan Bread Kit. Cast Iron Dutch Oven and Made in France Non-Stick Perforated Silicone Liner [Blue Gradient].
85 reviews
LoafNest: Incredibly Easy Artisan Bread Kit. Cast Iron Dutch Oven and Made in France Non-Stick Perforated Silicone Liner [Blue Gradient].
  • LoafNest : The Revolutionary New Way to Easy Artisan Bread at Home. Professional Non-Stick Liner with Custom Cast Iron Dutch Oven for Home Bread Making.
  • EASY: No-Kneading, No-Shaping, No-Mess, No-Fuss, No-Cleanup. Less Than 5 Minutes of Effort to Get Professional Quality Bread at Home.
  • TASTY AND HEALTHY: Crunchy Crust and Soft Airy Crumb. Your Own Healthy Natural Ingredients. Start with just Flour, Water, Salt and Yeast. Add More Natural Ingredients for More Flavorful Loaves.

A Dutch oven will still retain moisture initially, and you'll probably be able to get the loaf out more quickly. I have made beautiful loaves in an even larger cast iron pot with no problems.

If you have a plain cast-iron pot, don't forget to use parchment paper. I have heard some horror stories of loaves stuck in pots using this method!

The Dutch in the 17th century had a better method for producing cast iron cookware. Something about their process made very smooth cooking surfaces. An Englishman took the method back to England, where they were made and exported heavily to the colonies.

In the Americas, many changes were made to the pots for use during exploration and living in the wild. Dutch ovens became a part of American history as the defacto cookware for those heading west.

A lidded Pullman is a great alternative to a Dutch Oven. Personally, I like a loaf of crusty sandwich bread, so I leave the lid off, but if you want softer crust, the lidded Pullman seems to the best.

I also like brushing the loaf with milk when it comes out.

I usually bake around 450-475 with a Dutch oven.

I usually let it go for 30 minutes with the lid on, and then I remove the lid and let it bake for another 15-20 minutes. Pretty much until I see the ears get as charred as I want.

How about cast iron pan, pizza stone, and baking steel?

Cast iron is good, but the reason behind it is to trap the steam and make a nice crust. The same results could be achieved with a clay 'le cloche' type of thing or on the cheap via pizza stone and a lid of some sort.

I've used just about every method out there and can achieve the best results with my le cloche, but this one came out from the stone/lid combo.

I just use a big aluminum lid I got from Sam's club. Put it in the oven while preheating, use gloves to load the bread/lift the lid, and cover for 20 minutes. Voila!

The pizza stone works well, never had any issues. It's made for that kind of dough as pizza dough is high hydration as well.

A baking steel offers superior thermal mass, and the results are a bit better with it versus the results with a regular stone once you cover them up. The baking steel is awesome in that it's huge so I can bake larger loaves, but since they're both covered with a lid, they cook more or less on par with one another.

What about a bread machine?

I love making bread in my bread machine. The bread machine takes all the work out, you just put the ingredients in, and 3-6 hours later you have amazing bread.

Bread from the machine will be better than the one from a supermarket but way worse than an artisanal hand-made one.

I almost always make my own hamburger buns. I use a bread machine set to the dough cycle and then form it into buns and bake them. It only takes a couple of hours of wait and only about 15 minutes of active work, and they taste amazing. I just can't eat store-bought buns anymore. They're either disgusting or expensive.

How to save money on bread baking equipment

Goodwill and some antique stores will sometimes have Dutch ovens for cheap. They'll be old and probably have roosters or flowers all over them, but as long as it's not rusty, it should be fine.

A simple white bread recipe

Typically salt is the key to bread flavor. Using a "pinch" is not enough. I work on a 2% basis (yeast varies depending on your time).

So for a "regular white" 70% hydration recipe, it would be:

  • 500g flour
  • 350g water
  • 10g Salt
  • 7g Yeast (active, dried, or 20g fresh compressed).

10g of salt is not a small amount, its between a teaspoon and a tablespoon in volume.

The recipe makes two loaves.

Regular bread is much easier to work with than sourdough but has a less rich taste.

A simple sourdough bread recipe

  1. You will need some flour, water, and salt.
  2. Just add 4 oz or water to 4 oz to flour in a jar with a loose lid on it, keep doing that every 12 hours until it doubles in size.
  3. Once it doubles in size in 12 hours, use 2 1/3 cups of the starter you just created, with 3 1/3 cups of flour and 1 tbsp of salt.
  4. Knead it for about 20 minutes.
  5. Let it sit between 4 and 24 hours in the bowl, then punch it down, split it in half put it in 2 bread pans, bake at 475 for 35 minutes.
  6. Boom, cheap sourdough.

What about some kind of sweet bread recipe like a Hokkaido milk bread?

I make this bread all the time, and the family LOVES it, so I've dug out my recipe, which I got from a youtube video. It's come out well every time. I make the dough in a bread machine but bake in an oven. I also go by weight, so you'll need a scale. The thing about a scale when baking is that if you eventually want to tweak something you can because everything else you've done has been consistent. That and you'll get pretty similar results every time.

The recipe calls for bread flour, but I've also done this with AP flour, and it's come out fine.

For the starter mix:

  • 40g flour
  • 200g water

Heat in a pan until goo. It can be pretty moist. I aim for a Cream of Wheat consistency.

Let goo get back to room temperature before using, though I've dumped it in slightly warm with good results.

  • 580g flour
  • 60g sugar
  • 12g salt (minus a bit if using salted butter)
  • 10g yeast
  • 10g milk powder (mine is nonfat, so whatever)
  • 260g milk
  • 50g egg (one large egg)
  • 50g soft butter
  • add the goo

The dough should be smooth and only slightly sticky. Proof, flatten, and rest for 15 minutes. Flatten again and shape or put in the bread pan. Rest 30 minutes. Brush with egg wash if you want a perfectly soft top. I often skip that last step, and the top is still soft.

Bake 355F for 25 minutes. About 20 minutes if you're making sub rolls out of it. 15-20 if you're making buns.

There's a lot of ingredients in this type of bread. If you're absolutely brand new to this, you may have a better time starting with plain white bread. Fewer steps and ingredients will just help to simplify the whole process.

Proofing (or rising) dough is when you first make the dough and then you let it sit for a while, typically about an hour, to let the dough roughly double in size. You're allowing the yeast to do its thing so that the final product will come out light and have all those tiny air holes in it. Without proofing, the bread will come out dense and hard.

When you finish kneading the dough, get out a big bowl or just place it on the counter. Put a little oil on it and cover it with plastic or a damp tea towel. Let it sit for roughly an hour until it's doubled in size (no, you don't have to be exactly precise on the doubling). Then you shape it or put it into whatever container you're going to bake it in. Then you let it rise again for about a half-hour.

That final proof takes a little practice, and you'll get better at it. Underproof that final time is ok, but the bread won't be quite as big as it could be. Overproofed, and it'll come out flat and deflated.

Kneading isn't so much about how long you do it, but getting the dough to be the right consistency and smoothness. Generally speaking, the dough shouldn't be too tacky/sticky, it should look smooth, and if you poke the ball with your finger, the dough should softly bounce back. As you get better at knowing when the dough is through with kneading, you'll begin to learn if it needs a touch more water or a touch more flour. Recipes are great to get you very close to that, but they basically all need a little bit of fudging on the part of the baker to add just a touch more water or flour.

Warmth helps the yeast fungus do its magic faster, but there's no temperature requirement. Actually, my pizza dough I'll proof in the refrigerator overnight.

The dough can technically be overkneaded in the same way that it's technically possible to drown in a few tablespoons of water. Realistically, you can't overknead dough.

How about a no-knead recipe?

We love no-knead bread. This recipe has one of the greatest "finished product to effort" ratios around.

We bake a lot of our bread at home, and we use this method. A trick we learned recently is how to make the crust softer.

If you keep the bread for a few days, you can keep it fresher by wrapping it up in a tea towel. But you'll find the crust is lovely and crispy on the first day but gets notably harder in a few days.

So we now lightly brush the top of the loaf with nut oil, macadamia in our case, right after we put the dough in the preheated cast iron pan.

Just take the hot cast iron pan out of the oven, put the dough in the pan, then lightly brush the top of the dough with some nut oil (helps if there isn't too much flour on top) and cook it like normal.

The bread will still be amazing, but the crust will stay lovely and soft for 3-4 days after baking it!

Another great and precise recipe was originally published in the The New York Times.

My first fail at baking bread

The first time I tried baking bread I had a few spices at my disposal. I wanted to be fancy, so I started adding a few dashes of different spices. All the spices were labeled in Spanish, so I didn't really know what each one was. I was looking for cinnamon so I added a spice labeled "Comino." I later realized this was Cumin, which is more common for stews, I believe.

Another problem was I added the spices late, so they weren't mixed properly. So I was eating the bread afterward, and it was ok, then I would bite a pocket of Cumin bread, and it tasted like old soggy socks. It was horrible. It took me a while to figure out what was happening.

Sometimes I regret my homemade bread is so tasty

Once brought a homemade bread to a potluck with the inlaws. Everyone loved it. They loved it enough that there was a vocal disappointment when I didn't bring one the next time we were invited over.

We had dinner with them almost every week. Every time after that, my mother-in-law would call the day before to remind me to bring bread. It became a bit of a chore.

Is baking bread yourself cheaper than buying it?

I make my own bread because I hate super soft supermarket bread, not because it's cheaper. I do find it relaxing, which is cheaper than therapy.

High-quality sourdough bread is VERY expensive where I live, and personally, I prefer eating organic unbleached spelt sourdough, which is hard to find.

I find the active time on sourdough to be way, way less than on yeasted bread.

I spend 10 minutes active time mixing the dough, 8-10 hours passive time raising it, with an optional 2 minute turning/kneading time in there, another 10 minutes shaping, a further 2-4 hours passive proving time, and then the time it takes to bake, most of which is passive time. The sourdough starter involves feeding it about 4 times a week; a cup of flour and 5 minutes each time, max.

Using this approach I can bake bread (even during the workweek) without any real-time imposition. It's extremely easy, cost-effective, and tasty. Probably my collection of thrift-shop baking vessels is the most expensive and time-consuming aspect of it all.

As for cost? My bread is way cheaper than commercial bread of any kind. A loaf costs me about 4 cups of flour, about a heaped teaspoon of salt, and water. The cheapest possible sliced white bread around my neck of the woods is about $1.50, and it is pretty unappetizing. Standard sliced white is about $3.00-$5.00, depending on the brand, and sourdough similar to mine but much smaller loaves, $6-10 each.

Baking bread saves a heck of a lot more per year when you have a family. Four people with a couple of slices of toast each at breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, we easily go through a loaf a day, saving about $4/day or $1300/year.

Then start adding in hamburger buns, dinner rolls, and other one-offs, you're up to at least $1500 per year.

From there, start making non-yeasted baked goods. Cookies, muffins, granola bars. I'd say that if you have teenagers in the house you can save at least $2500/year and everyone is eating food that is both tastier and healthier.

Even if it wouldn't be cheaper, I'd still do it as it's a true hobby of mine. With the energy cost involved in actually baking the bread you bake won't be cheaper... but if you know what you're doing, you're going to be tasting a healthier bread with better ingredients.

Don't bake bread for the money, do it for the taste and experience.

How to get really good at baking bread

Keep a log!

Yep, I do this, and it's invaluable. I have a spreadsheet that lists every variable and a cell for notes/photos, which is insanely useful.

I also make bread pretty much every weekend and I usually make two loaves, but change one variable between the two of them, to get a much better understanding of how the changes affect the outcome. For example, this past weekend, for the final proof I sent one loaf directly to the fridge to retard and let the other proof at room temp for just over an hour. When I baked them the next day the difference was astounding!

Always remember that sticky dough makes good bread! Try working with very high-hydration dough and very high temperatures in the oven. That's the secret to amazing loaves.

I've baked through 200lb of flour and now I am baking my way through Jeffrey Hamelman's bread Bible.

I tried baking bread on and off for literally decades before it all came together for me. The turning point for me was the gift of a sourdough starter that really worked. That was before Youtube and all this Internet info and I just didn't know how to make proper starter by myself. Once you get a good one, everything else just falls into place. Or at least it did for me.

Why I love baking bread so much

Hearing crackling of my first loaf of bread is something I will never forget.

Making a perfect sourdough loaf is a 3 day process and if you try to rush any step, you can always tell in the final bake. Take your time. It's a lesson in baking and living life that I'm still working on 🙂

Is home-baked bread better than a supermarket loaf?

Which bread stays fresh longer?

Fresh bread is definitely better on day one out of the oven. But I will take a 3 day old loaf of bread from the grocery store over a 3 day old home baked loaf of bread.

So if by better, you mean superior taste for a day, then yes. But for some people, better means that it has a longer shelf life so there is less waste.

Can we bake a loaf without salt?

I have made that exact title loaf from FSWY without salt once. My mother in law was on a low salt diet so I made it as usual just without salt. It was very flat and not tasty. I recommend using a different recipe. There are some types of bread that have little to no salt but the FSWY loaves really rely heavily on salt for flavor. A sourdough works better for people who need to limit salt intake.

If you need to limit your sodium intake, you can replace salt with Morton Lite Salt. It contains half sodium and half potassium and it's better for you, in general.

How do I know if my dough is kneaded enough?

I think depending on the moisture, the point for recognising if it has been kneaded enough changes quite a bit. Like I said, my go to is to let it ferment over night and I don't need to knead it all that much/at all. More specific than "it should be smooth" I couldn't tell you.

What to do if my bread tastes too "yeasty"?

How yeasty are we talking? Notice how long you're letting the dough to raise. Because 3h is not that much for the first fermentation (depending on the temperature of the room and how much yeast you put in in regards to flour, and in this case it doesn't seem like too much). You could try another variety of yeast if you don't like that one.

Watch out so the bread is not too dense — and I think that has to do with not letting it have the final proof and/or not developing the gluten enough. Since I'm lazy, what I do is mix ingredients except yeast, let it sit for 30 min and then add yeast and knead it until smooth. Then, cover, put in fridge overnight. Next day, punch the dough down, shape it, let it proof and then it can be baked.

How baking bread changes once you get the hang of it

I don't weigh or measure, and have had very few failures. It's more about the look/feel of the dough.

It's practice/repetition, I think. After a while you just get to know what's going to work, from previous experience.

That, and responding to the way the ingredients are. Flour seems to vary a whole lot in how much water it can absorb, so if it looks dry, I add more water. Also sourdough starter changes with the seasons and so you have no choice other than to be more flexible with it, and let it rise until it's 'done' (or conversely stoke up the oven a bit ahead of schedule).

So just keep baking, and one day you'll find yourself thinking, 'hmm, this needs more X or Y' and you'll be on your way.

Take your bread-baking to the next level

Learn the art of bread baking:

This guy is baking his breads in lava in Iceland.

I wonder if it actually tastes better compared to an oven-baked bread...

My secret to baking amazing bread consistently

You don't really need all these accessories to make amazing bread, but they make your life easier. If I could choose only only 1 item to make my baking awesome, I'd choose really good flour.

King Arthur flour is very good, but it money is no object and I want to bake some exceptional loaves, I always buy flour from Great River Organic Milling. It costs way more than regular flour, but I'm glad to pay premium for its quality.

Great River Organic Milling, Bread Flour, Whole Wheat, Organic, 2-Pounds (Pack of 4)
89 reviews
Great River Organic Milling, Bread Flour, Whole Wheat, Organic, 2-Pounds (Pack of 4)
  • Contains 4 - 2 pound bags
  • Stone Ground made from hard red spring wheat Non-Gmo
  • 100% Whole Grain Flour

Don't want to read the entire article? Here's the list of life-changing books:

To be fair, most highly-acclaimed books are somewhat of a rollercoaster ride. They manipulate you to feel a lot for a short time. I've been on hundreds of rides. Sometimes, just sometimes, one of these rides will change you, but it doesn't mean it will change me. Everyone is different, so take all of my recommendations with a grain of salt.

I tried my best to sort these books in order from easiest to hardest.

George Orwell's 1984

1984 was the first book ever that had a significant impact on me.

I read a few pages, and I got hooked up instantly. The love affair between Winston Smith and Julia was exactly what I needed at that time. The dystopian reality was terrifying. Orwell's writing and mastery of words were something that I haven’t experienced before. I admired how straight to the point, yet profound the book was.

So what 1984 is about? I think there is a powerful practical message in 1984. That we should fight the state before it becomes completely totalitarian. In the fictional world of the book, there is no hope of tearing the system from inside anymore. The resistance is a joke.

1984’s society was controlled by the state, but, ultimately, the people—brainwashed and compliant—were the ones who kept the state in power.

Read more reviews!

How 1984 relates to today? When reading 1984, I felt like it was an obvious reflection on what Soviet Russia would become. But as I got older I realized I was wrong. It was actually a cautionary tale for what the West might become.

Think about today's China. They created their own version of the Internet and the ability to shut out any outside voices or curate their own version of Wikipedia.

The people won't rebel anymore because they don't have a comparison with the outside world thanks to constant propaganda and censorship. Unless the state runs out of steam, only outside forces can put it down now. Fortunately, as history shows, every empire falls one day.

I think the book is more relevant now than ever because many of the specific tactics described are technologically and economically viable today.

Cameras are ubiquitous, and people are openly accepting them in their lives.

The ability to monitor people's social media posts is the last step before you start scanning people's brains for thought crimes. While in the US, we have freedom of speech, many other countries don't, and it's theoretically possible to be prosecuted for things you say that's against the state.

George Orwell

We might be going in the direction of a 1984-kind-of-world, or not, but we should know what to do when Big Brother starts snooping too much in our lives.

1984 made me realize that good books do exist, and I started reading them like crazy.

Buy the book now!

"Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood."
George Orwell, 1984

J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

What's The Catcher in the Rye about? It’s a book about a real phony if there ever was one. Holden struggles with nihilism, alienation, and the general disillusionment with our boring capitalist reality.

It was edgy at the time because the writing revealed innermost thoughts that many other books would leave out from their character's narrative. It helped give the original hipsters and beatniks a leaping point for the introspective thoughts just like On The Road did.

I think the best place to start the book is with Salinger himself. While WWII's long-term effects on him can only be speculated upon, it is an absolute fact that he was emotionally scarred by the war. Shortly after Germany was defeated, he was treated in a hospital for CRS (Combat Stress Reaction).

Read more reviews!

Many people have drawn a parallel between soldiers having trouble re-entering society after the war, and Holden having trouble re-entering society after expulsion.

I don't bring this up to push any sort of narrative of Holden as symbolizing soldiers. I think he represents what he is, a teenager. I bring it up because this, as well as the fact that Salinger writes an entire book from Holden's perspective, makes me doubt that his work was intended to be solely a criticism of Holden. As someone told me once: "Salinger seems very sympathetic to his loser."

I think that the book is about how we look at people with mental problems. We often think that, for some reason, we can ignore the pain of people who are unpleasant to be around.

Did Salinger write Holden to be likeable? More often than not, we are supposed to laugh at him as opposed to with him. The reality is that Holden's brother is dead, he has witnessed a friend die, and he has possibly been the victim of sexual abuse.

Holden is undoubtedly an ass, and as you say, cannot seem to reconcile his behavior with his trauma. Is it surprising? Should he possess unusual mental strength and resistance? He's a teenager.

The book was banned for a long time in the US for multiple reasons. It features vulgar language, sexual scenes, excessive violence, and general moral reltivity, which the state isn't fond of.

The Catcher in the Rye to me is a test: can you see beyond the superficial unpleasantries and locate the beautiful character study of a teenager trapped between multiples axes of trauma (sexual abuse, unreasonable parental expectations, sibling death, friend death, stunted sexual development)? If not, you're likely to find the novel shallow and annoying.

I've never before identified with a book as strongly as I did with this one. I was a fragile white kid from an upper-middle-class neighborhood who saw a psychologist on Wednesdays and an extra-curricular maths/algorithmics tutor on Fridays. I haven't realized why I was trying so hard to be successful even though it wasn't making me happy. Holden's idea of happiness helped me understand how to reshape myself into my own person.

I tore down most of my preconceived ideas that were there just to cover up for the darkness that had to be dealt with. Not much was left, but it was a good start. Exceptional writing can transform you.

For what it's worth, it's one of my favorite books, especially when I first read it in my teens.

J. D. Salinger

Yes, I can identify with Holden, and yes, I know he can come across as spoiled and annoying. But those feelings, his worldview, his feeling of utter detachment, bewilderment and being intimidated by the outside world when at the same time being disappointed in adulthood: I know that feeling. I knew it then, and I know it now.

I guess that means that there's a spoiled, lonely, and somewhat whiny brat somewhere inside me, and... it's fine.

This book is a book you read and hate, then you remember it. You feel it. Experience it. In a very strange way, it changes your view on growing up. Years later, I think it is one of the best-written coming-of-age books.

Millennials hate this book because in the millennial culture, complaining and being angsty is stigmatized. It's a book about being dissatisfied and unhappy and restless. It's not cool to be dissatisfied. Apparently - you're supposed to be positive and not be a hater.

Buy the book now!

"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though."
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha

I first read Siddhartha when I was still a teenager. I related to how the protagonist tried to find his own path despite what the society had ready for him.

Everybody is looking for the answer to the big question. We want to discover our individual raison d'etre — a reason to live. Nobody wants to find themselves on their deathbed to realize that they wasted their lives. So what does the book teach us about all of this?

Siddhartha is a good entry to Hesse. He can really resonate with the reader. Everyone can identify with the shit Siddhartha goes through, and the insights they gain can be applied by anyone.

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What is Siddhartha about? Siddhartha is a very loose retelling of the story of Buddha -- ie, a wealthy, fortunate boy gives up his life of privilege and tries a series of different ways of living in search of some sort of enlightenment. He follows a few spiritual teachers, tries having no spirituality and focusing on business, and ultimately finds a sort of peace after experiencing many different approaches to searching for it. It's not actually the story of Buddha (in fact, Buddha shows up in it early on, as Siddhartha follows him for a while), but it follows a similar path.

The book explores different paths as he pursues a lifelong quest for enlightenment. Most of these paths were not the correct ones. He's making a ton of mistakes upon which he's building a foundation of true wisdom.

Hermann Hesse

Western thought offers a more fragmented approach to understanding the world. Everything is always good or evil, black or white. Eastern thought is more holistic and involved.

Because of this book, I realized that most of my problems come from external expectations. Instead of finding my own truth, I was fixated on social constructs that were forced upon me by other people.

When it comes to writing, Siddhartha is probably the worst book on this list. Hesse always seemed like a glorified Coehlo to me, but because of it, I became interested in Eastern philosophies, which opened me up to a multitude of new possibilities.

Buy the book now!

"Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else... Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it."
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

What is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about? It's neither about Zen nor motorcycles.

I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for a class and many times thereafter. We were asked to replace the word "motorcycle" with whatever we do like programming, hiking, or whatever to make it relate to our own experience as we read.

The takeaway is that you and everyone else knows care and quality when they see it. People will sense your care and quality in the work you do after you leave this class. It was a fun way to take in the book's message - one of them anyway.

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I read it without any expectations and I enjoyed it. I didn't read it because it was touted as a philosophical treaty. I read it because it was recommended to me at a time when I was at a crossroads in my life.

The cover depicts a crescent wrench with leaves growing out of it. The whole intersection of the natural and the mechanical that the book deals with so well.

You'll also notice, no doubt, that the wrench is essentially "sprouting" from those leaves. It grows from them, making a single organism as is, to a not unremarkable extent, what Pirsig's sort of working at throughout the book.

Robert M. Pirsig and his motorcycle

If you really like learning about philosophers without resorting to dry academic books, I highly recommend Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. It's about a high school girl going from ancient greek philosophy (pre-socratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristoteles) to renesance (Decarts), enlightenment (Kant, Hobbs) to early modern (Nietsche, Freud).

It's explained in a simple to understand way. Some topics I found a bit boring but usually its a chapter for every topic and none of the chapters are long, so it easy to keep reading.

Buy the book now!

“You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being

What is The Unbearable Lightness of Being about? Sex and relationships are the core areas of interest here. How does one person decide to devote their life to another? What if the other person has a different concept of love? How different people display emotions using sex?

The book also challenges Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence — the idea that everything happens in cycles, which was a perfect metaphorical background for his ubermensch. Hence the lightness of being.

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As I get older, the novel is getting closer to my heart, and I tend to agree more with Kundera's views. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is meant to be read several times. Preferably with a few years gap between readings. It's one of these books that will set your life in perspective.

I have read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and The Joke. While I absolutely love and agree with most things said about them, I find it odd and slightly disjointing that no one ever mentions the political nature inherent within each.

Milan Kundera

Wonderful narratives about human relationships as they are, they are also such magnificent allusions, allegories, and blatant references to the political situation the author encountered under an oppressive regime.

There's a decent movie starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Day-Lewis.

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"Anyone whose goal is something higher must expect someday to suffer Vertigo. What is Vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves"
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Albert Camus' The Stranger

In January 1955, Camus said, "I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: In our society, any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death."

I read The Stranger for the first time about a year after my mother's funeral. It was the first time I understood that it's okay not to feel what I'm supposed to feel. And that sometimes it's better to pretend.

I strongly related to the protagonist's general disconnection from society and alienation. If you're not crying when you're supposed to cry, you get strange looks from friends and family. It turns out, we all unknowingly agreed with many rules of the society, and we have to abide by them. If you don't play by these rules, you will be condemned.

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What is The Stranger about? The book is supposed to show the absurdity of social constructs — and specifically, how little they matter. The protagonist represents one of the few real human beings in the story, a Nietzschean ubermensch, so to say, who always takes things at their face value and never lies. Telling the truth all the time doesn't end well in our society.

The novel is about fitting in and the predictable consequences of not doing so. If your natural reaction to the death of your mother doesn't seem normal, then you are "The Other," and people strangers to one another. Take that very human condition to its logical extreme, and you have the novel. The irony is that so many readers can't get past considering the narrator as someone who "isn't one of us."

Mersault is the only sane person in a crazy society. We are not supposed to take him literally. Nobody is extreme to this extent all the time. Camus used his persona to make a statement.

Everybody that interacts with Mersault judges him for not behaving in an expected way. Still, the rules of human conduct they are following are often based on prejudice, ignorance, and vanity.

Albert Camus

Interestingly, Charles Bukowski once said about Camus: "Camus talked about anguish and terror and the miserable condition of Man but he…wrote like a man who had just finished a large dinner of steak and french fries, salad, and had topped it with a bottle of good French wine. Humanity may have been suffering but not him. A wise man, perhaps, but Henry preferred somebody who screamed when they burned."

The world is absurd. There are no rewards for being good. In the end, death can come at any time for anyone. There's no reason behind anything either. You're here, you live, and you die. After you die, likely nobody will remember you. And does it really matter if they do remember you?

After all, you've become nothing. There is nothing in this world that cares for you. There's no big power to give you a hug and make things better. To me, Mersault has always represented this aspect of the absurd. He is the absurd.

But Earth would be a rather sad planet if everyone just lived out their days obeying rules, doing what they are told to, always with a straight face, busy, working like ants until they perish.

The Cure made a really cool song as an homage to The Stranger:

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"I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world."
Albert Camus, The Stranger

Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five

Another book that struck a chord with me was about the infinite absurdity of our existence and the necessity to find a way to cope with that.

So what is Slaughterhouse-Five about? It was one of the original depictions of the Dresden bombings during World War 2. The raids were a huge atrocity committed by the allies. Dresden was a city with little strategic significance. When Americans realized their crimes, not much information about these events was released to the public. Vonnegut wrote the book because he wanted to show an honest depiction of what went on during the war.

It is an anti-war book with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder that is dealt with in a pretty novel way. PTSD as a term was not invented in his time, so it is partly inaccurate to say that's what the book is 'about', but the psychological ramifications that surround the condition still existed in his time.

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I don't know where he drew the Sci-Fi material, but I do know that most of the war aspect was, in fact, nonfiction. Seeing that firebombing was no doubt a profoundly disturbing, life-changing experience for him that he tried to process through his writing.

Kurt Vonnegut

There's also the story of him encountering an Air Force general in real life who asks if Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war book, and when Vonnegut tells him, yes, the general says, "you might as well write an anti-glacier book." Vonnegut pointed this fact out to explicitly say it was an anti-war book, and if so, we can fairly infer that something drove him to write it.

It's one of the greatest books in the world because Kurt Vonnegut created a coherent piece, full of wit, that also has an incredibly strong message that did, in some ways, change the world.

And so it goes... It's about living. It's about dying. It's about the perpetual cycle of violence which keeps happening throughout our history. It tells a tale of sticking to your values in the face of atrocities and discovering purpose somewhere in that overwhelming sadness. We can never undo our mistakes. Its powerful anti-war message has formed me into who I am today.

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"There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time."
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Sun Tzu's The Art of War

So what is The Art of War about? People say it's not about war at all and that it can be applied to any area of life. It's a book about military strategy written by a general. The intended audience of the work were Chinese military commanders during a bloody period of history.

Sun Tzu never expected or intended it to be read by 21st century Western civilians while they sip their soy chai lattes and ponder on the meaning of life. But we do. Honestly, this book is amazing and its ideas can be applied to almost all situations in life.

All warfare can be reduced to a stalemate through ethical and verifiable expressions of the truth. You can disempower anyone who's trying to war with you by ensuring your peers and potential witnesses/spectators have access to the truth.

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People who rely on deception have massive, glaring weaknesses where they'd lie — the truth can be used to disempower rivals completely, forcing opponents to either commit to being demonstrable liars (weakening their status), or forcing them to work uncomfortably under conditions where they need to seem equal to you.

The real lesson of the Art of War is that you need to take the whole of a battlefield into account before engaging your enemies. It'd be impossible to win every battle through deception, with there just being times where the truth is just the best (and most ambitious) tool you can use to fight.

Sun Tzu

To be able to use the truth as ably as a liar tells lies and to have the reputation of having a strong virtue of ethics, leaves future potential allies and witnesses to take considerations in your favor.

Heaven and Earth, the commander, method and discipline, and moral law. It's on you to take everything into consideration, including ethics, where your battlegrounds are ethical. Know yourself and know your enemy, and not in ten thousand battles can you be defeated.

I think this is probably the most important thing in the book. It's repeated several times with varying contexts. The thesis of it is so simple but so often overlooked when encountering everyday work problems.

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“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Marcus Aurelius' Meditations

If Albert Camus caused me to start drinking, Marcus Aurelius helped me to get sober.

What is Meditations about? We are given the option to sleep or work at life, and even if my logic, being disconnected from my emotions, cannot give motion to my spirit. I will get up anyway. And if not today, then bloody tomorrow. Failing will not stop me. The more you do something, the easier it gets. So I'm getting up earlier tomorrow. It is the ultimate motivational read.

Know that if you can't think with your emotions, you are only half thinking. I know that I do not know the worth of the world. I have tasted a bit of life before and have become drunk and mad with pleasure. I will taste it again, only more refined within myself. Have you not tasted life before? Look for what is good, be open, and know that the good, when it first begins, begins slowly. Just like waking.

It is astonishing to read Marcus Aurelius, one of the go-to philosophers currently celebrated by young atheists, making an appeal to natural law. "What I was born for", "the things I was brought into the world to do", animals working in concert to "put the world in order"?

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How can destiny exist in a random self-established existence? And then he dares to ask, "Is helping others less valuable to you?" Of course, it is, and the backstabbings throughout Roman history itself prove it! I wonder if some that celebrate him have never read him.

On one hand, I can see how a sense of purpose and a belief in a positive destiny could help someone push through tough times. But what anchors those things? Is there any proof that I am destined for something great? And if I am, if it's destined to happen anyway, wouldn't that demotivate me to act? "Get out of bed, you were made to do this"?

I mean, I'm kind of a skeptic, but I guess I can be guided by everyone else here if you all think there are natural laws and destiny and purpose. But wouldn't natural laws be limiting rather than enabling? If he's reluctant to get out of bed to do things, how does he know that's not destiny trying to keep him from burning out? How does he know that's not a conflict caused by his sense of purpose telling him he's not supposed to be doing what he's committed himself to do?

Marcus Aurelius

Nihilistic, sure. But comforting somehow. Although, the fact that we're still reading and discussing what amounts to a man's private bedside notes from almost 2,000 years ago is amazing. But, as Marcus says: "Do not then consider life a thing of any value. For look at the immensity of time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another boundless space. In this infinity then what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?"

So why is this book on my list if I have so many doubts about its philosophy? That's exactly why. Aurelius made me question everything and the book itself. Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

It's kind of trippy having one of Rome's greatest emperors telling me to get my ass out of bed.

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“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
Marcus Aurelius , Meditations

Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Disclaimer: I've read Nietzsche for the first time when I was way too young. If you want to start with Western philosophy, choose a more straightforward book like Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.

Ahh, Nietzsche. The guy that introduced me to the idea that good and evil are often false prophets.

So what is Thus Spoke Zarathustra about? It's an esoteric book. It takes significant time to read and understand it, but it's worth it. The guy pretty much single-handedly set off postmodernism, relativism, and existentialism. Some people think that by the time he was writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he's already lost all his marbles. The book is his magnus opus.

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Putting morality down for a second, it's just a brilliant work of fiction. The evolution from a camel to a lion to a child is an elegant metaphor of becoming a real, independent human being.

Zarathustra claims that the power of will alone can liberate us. It pushes us to the outside world where true purpose can be discovered.

The concept that really stuck to me is honoring your enemy. It's a central premise of the book, outlined in an even larger scope in On the Genealogy of Morals. Nietzsche disregards the slave mentality as a stance of hating your enemy. To respect your opponent means displaying a high degree of ethical creativity. The end goal being — realizing the need for a strong opposition, which is a driving force for defining ourselves.

Somebody once asked me why is Zarathustra such an asshole and if this is intentional. Yes, it is intentional. Nietzsche was a polemicist, meaning he made intentionally inflammatory remarks and arguments for pretty much no other reason than to get a rise out of the reader in the hopes that it would force them to think about things differently.

Friedrich Nietzsche

I would advise against taking things too literally in the book. There's another passage where Zarathustra states, "one must have chaos within one's self to give birth to a dancing star." "Chaos" here probably doesn't mean a literal chaos, but a general conflict or hardship because, according to Nietzsche, it's through struggle that we become better.

The book is also supposed to be an antithesis to nihilism. Nietzsche's concept of ubermensch is a clever play on religious dogmas of moral absolutism and eternal joy that can be attained without the help of fairy tales.

Btw, Kanye West didn't coin "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." Nietzsche did.

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"I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses."
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning

What is Man's Search for Meaning about? It's a recollection of the author's time in Nazi concentration camps. He described how there were three kinds of guards and two kinds of prisoners. For guards, the good ones who shared food, the ones who did it as a job, and the malevolent ones who gained pleasure from the suffering around them.

As well as the prisoners, most were just there, but then you had the kapos, and holy hell those guys were crooks. Basically they were prisoners who more or less sold out to the command structure of the camp and were brutal people who oversaw the forced labor done by the prisoners. They were members of the oppressed who turned against their own people and would beat them, berate them, dehumanize them.

It was utterly fascinating to hear of this man, who faced arguably the most oppressive circumstances experienced by anyone come out and say that they were not all victims, that wickedness is a trait encountered in all classes of people.

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This book made me feel as if life is absolutely absurd, that human cruelty has no limits, and that maybe at the end of the day humans are less than animals fighting for survival of the fittest. Of course, I don't wish for it to be that way, but that's how it looked to me when I read this book. There was also a glimmer of hope.

The most memorable line was something along the lines of "rest assured, the best of us did not make it out." What does that say about those who did? It sends shivers down my spine. I can not get past the fact that yes, he did survive what most people shouldn't have gone through, but at the same time he had the privilege of being a doctor-a privilege and hope the others in the camp didn't have. At the end of the day all I saw was that people who have privileges come out alive, and those who did not do not and suffered the consequences.

Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'. So are you saying that all those who died didn't have a why? We all have a why. They all had a why. But there are unfortunate great forces of man-made cruelty that won't make it possible for some of them to bear the how.

Viktor E. Frankl

I understand this book was meant to be like, "It could be worse and if I could survive this you can also survive anything," but I also think "Everything could also be a thousand times better, too." I'm not the type to think, "Let me feel better about my life by reading other people's horrible situation." That doesn't make me feel better, it makes me feel worse that to know that it has been worse for someone else and to know that humans have this capability to fuck things over so badly-to create war, to cause death of millions, to cause so much suffering and to be endlessly and relentlessly cruel. For absolutely no fucking logical reason whatsoever. It kind of makes me hate being a human.

"Finding your own meaning" means that you, as an individual, determine what your life means. You determine what is good (you seek it out) and what is bad (you avoid it). You determine what kinds of things are "worth" doing and what kinds of things are not. These are inherently moral decisions, so "finding our own meaning" is an inherently subjective moral stance, incompatible with an objective moral stance.

I was shocked by the part where he shaved by scraping a piece of glass against his skin so he’d appear more rugged and strong and less likely to be executed by the guards. I took my first break on page 3 when he wrote something along the lines of “the best of us did not survive.” I spent a great deal of time thinking about that. I won’t elaborate on my reflection since I don’t want to rob you of the pleasure of formulating your own thoughts, but this book provides a lot to think about.

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"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Henry David Thoreau's Walden

I'm a fan of the transcendentalists. If Whitman is my favorite poet, Thoreau is my favorite novelist.

What is Walden about? People tend to point toward Walden as an example of completely self-reliant living, which it definitely wasn't. Thoreau wasn't too far from town, he visited friends and family, and people visited him. He used the resources of the town when he needed them.

But is Walden an example of simple living? Definitely. Small house, simple food that he largely gathered or grew himself, very few material needs or possessions, and entertainment derived from either the natural world or by being with friends and family.

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Americans especially tend to equate simple living with complete self-reliance, which is weird. People who want to live more simply sometimes think it means moving onto a homestead and being able to provide absolutely everything you need from your own land, without needing anyone else.

When you remove the community factor from the equation, everything gets much harder and much more difficult to achieve, but it seems to be the only version of "simple living" that some people will accept.

I don't think Thoreau works at all as a do-it-yourself manual for completely independent living. I do think it works very well as an exploration of simple living. Thoreau thought a lot about what he really needed and why during his experiment, and the book is a record of what he discovered and his thoughts about it.

I was introduced to Thoreau in my early 20s. There is a spot along the Appalachian Trail that is called Walden by the people that set it up. It has some seats with shade, a water cache, and a small bookshelf filled with books, lots of printed and strung together copies of Walden.

The bookshelf has a sticker that says, "Books you don't need in a place you can't find." There's a giant cut-out picture of Thoreau, with this quote on it: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I stood there, in the middle of the forest, during a hot summer — dirty, smelly, drenched in sweat, 100 miles from civilization, reading this quote. And I broke the fuck down. It was epiphanous. I had finally figured out the real reason I gave away all of my shit and started hiking that trail.

This book is powerful. And now, I will not go back to the regular rat race. Ever. You will find no incentive to persuade me to do so.

Finally, I recommend going for a swim in Thoreau's pond.

It's $15 for parking. Thoreau is probably turning in his grave.

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“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

What is The Karamazov Brothers about? This single book contains within its pages a complete explanation of how people think, act, and what motivates them. It probably contains the highest number of utterly brilliant lines out of any books in existence.

Vonnegut once said, "There is one other book, that can teach you everything you need to know about life... it's The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but that's not enough anymore."

It's a tough read. Sometimes it's slow and boring. If you can only read a single book from my list, read this one.

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Nietzsche once said, "Dostoevsky is the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn." And I think we all have a lot to learn from the Russian literary master.

Our actions do not only affect us. All things in this world are directly or indirectly related to each other. Because of this and relativity of it all, suffering can never be entirely eradicated. Trying to make out any sense of our existence is the sum of human condition. So... live, truly live, but be aware that the effects of your actions are beyond your understanding and control.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky is a genius when it comes to explaining human behavior and emotions while being honest. He even shows compassion for the evil characters that murder and rape. Thanks to his outlook, we can achieve an understanding of a broader scope of humanity.

My only regret is that the author didn't live long enough to write the entire trilogy, to which The Brothers Karamazov was merely a short introduction.

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"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love."
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude

What is One Hundred Years of Solitude about? I read it in my late 20s. It's one of the best books I've read in that time. I knew next to nothing about it when I started, just "Colombia" and "magical realism."

It felt like very few other books I've ever read. The prose was incredible, and because of a mix of that and the magical realism, almost every moment of the book had a weird aching beauty to it, even the many very dark events depicted.

One of the things that struck me the most was the sheer density of plot. The book doesn't dwell on events at length, it barrels forward through decades of history in a blur, and with all the strange characters often with similar names and characteristics, everything eventually becomes a blur. Not in a bad way at all though, the entire book has a very fleeting, ethereal dream-like feel because of it.

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Would I want every book to be like that? No. It doesn't mean one book like that can't be fantastic.

I'm always amazed that despite its reach, so many people I know have not heard of this novel, or even the author. Admittedly, it took me several attempts to complete it. This is one of those books you need to find at the right time in your life; I just didn't see the appeal in my early 20's, but coming at it again in my 30's, I consider it one of the most important books I've ever read.

Gabriel García Márquez

Firstly, in case I even have to say it: NOTHING is universally loved. Nothing.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is an experience. When I read it, I was so completely swept up in the world Garcia Marquez created. I was thinking about it nonstop for like a month after finishing it.

Fun fact: Márquez was a friend of singer Shakira, and wrote an essay about her for his magazine. There is a translation printed in The Guardian.

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"It's enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment."
Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

What is Infinite Jest about? The book has some of the best explanations of addicts and their problems I've ever read. It's fucking fantastic.

Not many things make my jaw drop anymore. Infinite Jest did.

The book focuses mainly on addiction. It doesn't read like some shitty D.A.R.E. anti-drug pamphlet. It is an excellent look at addiction from someone who was an addict and got sober.

I'm going to read it again, this time with a notebook, post-it notes, and a calendar. The book uses Subsidized Time, and I want to see for myself the chronology of events. David Foster Wallace put a lot of time and effort into the book, and I really want to figure it properly. By the time I finished it the first time I had forgotten some things from the beginning.

I am a big fan of his work. He wrote crazy ambitious books that defy everything I thought literature was supposed to be. His insights were often spot-on in a scary way. There's a scene in infinite Jest when a women is being interviewed while sitting on a bed in a psychiatric hospital and it's such an accurate portrayal of that experience.

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The only way you can write that is if you've been on that bed yourself. His characters are very well written. And he could pack the full range of emotions into a single book. His books were just messy, and I mean that in the best way possible. One page he's narrating in faux Ebonics and the next he's taking you through the history of a made-up video calling system.

A lot of it sounds ridiculous because it is. It shouldn't work, but you find yourself reading it, and you become immersed in this world. And it's not through worldbuilding. Infinite Jest goes through so many characters, plots, and seemingly useless digressions that you feel like you know this world like the back of your hand.

It's my favorite book. I don't care how "hipster" that makes me sound - I'm a married middle-aged man who first read this book a decade ago and fell in love with the work long before it was "cool" to reference David Foster Wallace.

I have read the book cover to cover three times now, once after purchase in 2008, once in 2012, and most recently during the 2016 "Infinite Winter" event. Each time took at least three months of almost daily reading, including breaks.

The book is dense but much more approachable than say "Interviews With Hideous Men." It takes a long slog in the beginning to get the gist of what is going on in the parallel storylines. I think it helps me immensely that I first completed it a decade ago when some of the reference points made a little more sense.

There is no obligation to "love" this book, or any book for that matter. If it's not your cup of tea, stop reading it. I also appreciate the hatred the book gets from folks, many of whom I assume have never been able to endure the 1,100 pages of random internal dialog and fictional setting.

I think something needs to be said about the generalizations about Wallace fans and fans of other similar authors. Every time someone calls all fans pretentious or calls the book overrated crap, they create a more and more hostile environment for the genuine fans. To say you love infinite Jest is to risk being called disingenuous and a snob.

It's a pretty unfortunate situation when you are assumed to have ulterior motives when you want to discuss work that really touched you — just something to consider before anyone makes any comments.

The people who find it difficult often come unprepared. It's not only a long read; it's also a little complicated. But that's only for the average reader, that is, the one whose hardest book they've ever read is Hamlet.

If you're familiar with Ulysses, or, God forbid, Finnegans Wake, then you won't have any trouble.

David Foster Wallace

If, however, the hardest book you have ever read is indeed Hamlet, then I suggest you read the book carefully; don't skim, ever. As I said, it's quite a shock for people that dive into it unprepared, but it's still not that difficult of a book and has a very discernible, although convoluted, plot.

If you enjoy witty commentary and humorous narrative in general, and if you're interested in a little discussion on how humans have become dependent on entertainment, then you'll most likely enjoy it.

It's not good because it's difficult, it's good but also difficult. It's incredibly written, funny, moving, ambitious, well-researched, and interesting. I think it's best if you approach Infinite Jest as a comedy, at first, and don't worry too much about the deep-philosophical aspects of it.

It's brilliant, outrageously funny, and it contains some of the most heart-wrenching depictions of what it's like to be clinically depressed. It's uplifting and relatable. Infuriating. All over the place. Mother-fucking-genius.

Btw, there's a decent Hollywood movie about David Foster Wallace, The End of the Tour.

Addendum: It might help if you learn a little bit about tennis. Good luck.

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"I do things like get in a taxi and say, 'The library, and step on it.'"
David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest


And which book changed your life? Share your experience in the comments below!

I retired in 2017 at the tender age of 30. I've never been happier. If you don't know who I am yet, check out my about page.

A lot of people were asking me how I managed to achieve all of this at such a young age. I'm not a trust fund kid. I didn't win the lottery. All it took was a few years of hard work, radically reducing my expenses and investing my income properly.

I've got lots of friends that were making more than I ever could, living paycheck to paycheck. There is a high chance they will keep working until they die and be miserable.

Although I've settled down in Spain, most of the things that I'm explaining here apply to US residents only. I still pay taxes in the States, and a lot of my money is invested there. Things are a bit different for European citizens.

Whether you choose to relocate with your family to a lower cost-of-living area, or just cut down on eating out, gaining control of your finances is a fulfilling goal accessible to anyone.

Financial independence is all about aligning your values with your consumption habits to get the most out of life. Safe investments, aggressive savings, and income optimization are all tools that will bring you closer to early retirement.

Read through this entire post before you start implementing any changes. Even better, read it twice. After you understand everything, get some books to expand your knowledge further.

1. Get a better job.
2. Radically minimize your spending.
3. You get up to two million dollars. It will take you 40 years. 20 if you do it with a spouse. 10 if you get some windfall or take risks along the way. 5 if you're frugal and only need 1 million.
4. Put 60% of your money into [VTSAX.](https://investor.vanguard.com/mutual-funds/profile/vtsax) You now own a stake in every publicly traded company in the US. Every common guy is now sweating to make you richer.
5. Put 20% into [VBTLX](https://investor.vanguard.com/mutual-funds/profile/VBTLX) fund to diversify your investment into lower-risk bonds for a smoother ride.
6. Put the last 20% into [VTIAX](https://investor.vanguard.com/mutual-funds/profile/vtiax) fund to invest into international corporations for more diversity.
7. Use the 4% rule. Pull 80k a year and don't spend any more. That's your base. That's your fortress of fucking solitude. That puts you, for the rest of your life, at a level of "fuck you." Somebody wants you to do something? "Fuck you!" Your boss pisses you off? "Fuck you!"
8. Spend 5000 dollars on an indestructible Japanese economy shitbox.
9. Buy a cheap house with a 25-year roof. Or even better, rent yourself a nice place in a low cost-of-living area and let the landlord worry about the maintenance.
10. Have a couple bucks on a high-yield account for emergencies.
11. Don't buy shit you don't really want to impress assholes you don't really like.
12. Don't drink. Don't do drugs. Don't cheat on your wife.
13. These rules work for anyone on any social level.

—inspired by [The Gambler](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdfeXqHFmPI)

My three simple rules of financial independence !



Quick tips that will help you

  1. Don’t buy most stuff new. You can get most things you need super cheap at goodwill except men’s pants. And if you’re young and single, unless you’re already rich, there’s no reason why you should have a bunch of name brand, expensive stuff. Most of my clothes are from goodwill. Hilfiger, Polo, Jos. A. Bank, Brooks Bros, etc. you can find good stuff there. Not to mention dishes, wine glasses, books, old sports equipment, etc.

  2. Make a comfortable budget that includes some amount of savings and stick to it as best you can. Taking your lunch to work instead of eating out is a great way to save extra cash. Just write out your monthly expenses on excel or a free alternative and figure out where your money goes every month. This leads to...

  3. Cut dumb expenditures or figure out how you can share expenditures. There’s no reason, for instance, that you should be paying $15.99 a month for Netflix. Get a friend or three to share the expense with you and you can all have your own account within the account. Use Venmo or cash app to send each other money every month for shared expenses. Or read books. It's cheaper

  4. Property is one of the secrets to building wealth. Location location location is the number one rule. Seriously. The second secret is index funds.

  5. Companies don’t deserve your loyalty. If you can get insurance, cell service, entertainment, etc. better or just as good for less elsewhere, then do it! There’s usually no advantage to sticking with a company anyway. They have no incentive to give you anything better if you’re already their customer.

  6. “Idiots do it every day.” This should be your mantra when you’re considering whether to pay an exorbitant amount for a “pro” to come do something for you. Unless it’s some super technical wizardry you need done, most likely you can do it yourself with a few hand tools and youtube.

  7. Don’t buy a new car. It’s a terrible waste of money. Buy used. You probably already have student debt. Why pile a huge car payment on top of it? Don’t know anything about cars? Watch a 10-min youtube Video about them and what to look for in a used car. Idiots do it every day.

  8. If you have one near you, grocery shop at Aldi. It’s an incredible deal. Another good deal is a loss-leader rottisserie chicken at a supermarket near you.

  9. Invest now. 401k now. Start as early as you possibly can and start reading/learning about finance now. I wish I had started earlier. Passive investment can reap huge rewards over just 5-10 years. Just budget to save as in item 2 and make it happen. You are just starting out, which means you have something no one else does: Time. Don’t squander it.

Why I wanted to retire early?

The main reason is I wanted to work less to have more time to lead a more meaningful life. It's that simple.

Most people are stuck in their jobs until their mix-sixties. They think it's normal because almost everybody is doing it and they want the security of a full pension. When you look at what people are working for, things don't add up.

Modern culture almost demands that people radically overwork themselves for luxuries that are not really necessary. What if we freed up our time by leading more frugal lifestyles and focus on the most important things in life? In my opinion, time and health are the only invaluable things in life.

What I wanted to do when I retire early?

You might think that retiring early will be boring. Actually, many people who retire early do not stop working entirely. They still run their side-projects or small business. If they enjoy them. Retirement is only scary because you're imagining old people in nursing homes.

Financial independence means having access to sufficient wealth that you no longer need to work to pay for your needs. By retiring early you will be able to make all kinds of flexible career choices or starting the business of your dreams.

If you're not interested in working at all, you can use that time to travel, volunteer, or pursue other creative passions such as painting or writing. In the end, how you spend your free time is up to you! Personally, I always have a million little projects going on, and I'm never bored.

Reduce your spending

Frugality is all about making savings wherever you can and spending money according to your means. The key to frugality is finding ways to make the most of what you have, rather than spending everything on stuff that is not essential.

The first step is tracking where your money is going right now. Figure out how much you saved and spent in the last year, and see if you can make any improvements. A typical goal for financial independence is saving and investing around 50 to 80 percent of your overall income.

It seems impossible, but when you realize how much you're spending on housing, groceries, transportation, and non-essentials, you will look at things differently.

Transportation

What kind of car is early retirement friendly?

Unfortunately, we've got no Eric Andre to help us.

A good pick will be a Japanese, used car in the $5,000 range could last a decade without putting a lot of money into it. Japanese economy cars consistently rank among the most budget-friendly cars on the market.

Food

If you're busy working, a slow cooker and a rice cooker are your two best friends in the kitchen. You come back from work, and you got a hearty stew and some healthy brown rice warm and ready.

Don't over pay. These machines are all the same. They are just simple heaters. Buy two of these and use one as a rice cooker and the other as a slow cooker.

Make more money

How to invest your money to retire early

Financial independence affords you to have the opportunity of not having to work for money.

The math behind early retirement is easy: you just needed to cut down on my spending and accumulate enough assets to be capable of living off the returns. Now it's time to put the theory in practice.

So how much cash do you really need to retire? Let's take a look at the numbers.

According to the highly-acclaimed study by Trinity University, I'm following the "4% rule."

The Trinity Study was a financial study published in 1998. It analyzed how different investment portfolios held up over each 30-year period from 1926 to 1995 based on various withdrawal rates and fund allocations.

The study concludes — A retirement portfolio of 50% large-cap stocks and 50% long-term bonds survived 95% of all 30-year periods from 1926 to 1995, considering that 4% of the entire portfolio was withdrawn at the beginning of each year.

The study was updated in 2018 with current data by Wade Pfau.

This is where the famous "4% rule" originated. Many people use it to determine how much money they need to accumulate before they can retire.

To make things simple, you can reach financial independence by saving and investing twenty-five times your annual expenses.

How should you invest your savings then? I was completely new to this. I didn't want to invest directly in the stock market, as single stock investments are inherently risky.

After months of reading books and available online resources on safe and diversified investments, the answer was pretty clear. I decided to put my money into low-cost index funds.

Enter Vanguard.

It's the biggest provider of mutual funds and the second-biggest provider of exchange-traded funds in the world.

In 2007, famous investor Warren Buffett wagered $1 million against Protégé Partners, claiming that hedge funds won't outperform an S&P index fund, and he won.

Buffett's fund of choice, the VFIAX, compounded a 7.1 percent return annually, while the investment funds of his competitors offered a return of only 2.2 percent.

Buffett advises index funds as the most reliable way to finance your retirement:

Consistently buy an S&P 500 low-cost index fund. I think it's the thing that makes the most sense practically all of the time.

The trick is not to pick the right company. The trick is to essentially buy all the big companies through the S&P 500 and to do it consistently. Costs really matter in investments.

If returns are going to be 7 or 8 percent and you're paying 1 percent for fees, that makes an enormous difference in how much money you're going to have in retirement.

Low-cost index funds use strict rules to decide which stocks on the market to buy. The capitalization of the stock market increases at a general pace of about ten 10 percent annually.

Index funds behave in a similar fashion. They are also cheap. You don't want to pay enormous fees for someone to manage your fund. It will eat up most of your returns.

Index funds are also, historically, one of the safest and most profitable choices when it comes to investing money. They are a great alternative to hedge funds. You can survive typical market ups and downs by following the "4 percent rule."

If you're very risk-averse, have a big family, or are planning a retirement longer than 30 years, you should adjust your retirement fund goals and withdrawal rates to something that you're more comfortable with. Essentially it means accumulating more money or reducing your spending further.

Family, relationships, friends, and marriage

When considering early retirement, think about your core values first.

Once you realize you want to retire early, for sure, you will be excited about the prospect of not working anymore in the near future. You will want to share it with your spouse and your loved ones.

Try to sit down with your significant other and discuss the list of things that make you both happy. In case of any conflicts, try to negotiate a common goal.

I made my own list of things that make me happy. I was surprised. I found that the list was strictly non-commercial. Spending time with my friends and family, volunteering, being active outdoors, and working on my DIY stuff didn't cost a lot of money compared to buying a brand new BMW.

It was obvious that my current spending habits did not reflect my values.

If you're planning to share your early retirement ideas with your friends, avoid being too preachy and know-it-all. Nobody likes being told how to live their life. People might benefit from your ideas, but they need to do their own research and realize some things for themselves. Truth is sometimes hard to swallow.

My journey to early retirement

Like most young people today, ever since graduating from college, I've been overworking myself to afford a luxurious lifestyle I thought I needed to be happy.

I took overtime so that I could afford my trendy lifestyle. I was convinced I needed luxuries like a brand new BMW or eating out on a nightly basis to be happy.

With an annual income of high five figures, I felt that I was doing well enough financially that I could afford these splurges. And besides, wasn't I contributing to my 401k and Roth retirement accounts every time as well?

I felt trapped by my unsustainable habits. Then I discovered that I don't have to work for the rest of my life, and it is actually possible to retire early.

One day I read an article about a group of young people who were trying to make lifestyle changes so that they could retire before they are 40. It inspired me in a big way.

There were new significant expenses on the horizon. I was planning to buy an expensive house and start saving for my future family. At that time, I realized how small my $10,000 annual savings really were, and I was confused.

Should I stick to my company for the rest of my days and try to go up in ranks to make more money just to afford basic things like owning a house? Or should I try moving to Silicon Valley to get a really high-paying job?

This would also mean giving up my entrepreneurial dreams, as I wouldn't have time for that. I knew I need a big break if I ever wanted to change my situation.

I found a simple online retirement calculator. Turns out, if I cut my expenses in half and invested most of my savings, I could retire in over 15 years.

That was when I realized that I didn't need a successful startup or a windfall. I just needed to change my habits.

I knew that I could cut my expenses down to $40,000 a year, meaning that I would need to have precisely $1 million to retire.

If I invested my potential savings, I could expect at least a five percent rate of return, on average, earning me $50,000 per year. I also knew I will always work on some side-projects, so I would probably have additional income.

By spending a maximum of 4 percent of my $1 million principal each year – the $40,000 I had budgeted for my expenses – I could build up a cushion by saving the extra one percent of returns leftover. This way, in the long run, my principal of $1 million should not diminish. In other words, I could live off of those savings until I die!

Here stood a massive obstacle in front of me. I had to figure out how to cut down my spending to the estimated $40,000 per year. I already knew that the key to early retirement is to make radical changes.

I started doing cuts.

I was paying over $3200 just for rent. I was living in a very high cost-of-living area. What could be more radical than moving back to live with my parents? I guess not much.

It wasn't a perfect solution, but their house was close to my work and, anyway, I just wanted to stay there for a little bit. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong about living with your folks.

My next issue was transportation. I own an almost brand new, gas-hungry BMW. Buying it was one of the worst decisions of my life. I decided to sell it at a considerable loss.

I got a decent used Toyota Corolla for about $5,000.

I was spending over $1500 monthly on food. I was eating out every day. I quickly learned cooking on the weekends and, surprisingly, I enjoyed it. With the help of meal prepping, slow cooking, and Soylent, I was down to about $500.

Financial independence has allowed me to do a lot of things, including retiring early, making excellent career choices, pursue projects that I was enthusiastic about, and make my life simpler. In the end, I discovered that this kind of lifestyle isn't reserved only for the ultra-rich. Turns out anyone can live a more intentional life with a bit of persistence.

Ultimate list of financial independence and early retirement resources

Blogs

  1. Mr Money Mustache — probably the most iconic blog about early retirement
  2. The Coffeehouse Investor — a popular minimalist investor
  3. Mad Fientist — advanced strategies for pursuiing financial independence
  4. Early Retirement Extreme — a combination of simple living, anticonsumerism, DIY ethics, self-reliance, resilience, and applied capitalism
  5. Frugalwoods — a super-popular blog of ex-urban, rookie homesteaders on 66 acres in rural central Vermont along with two young daughters

Forums

  1. Mr Money Mustache
  2. Early Retirement Extreme
  3. Bogleheads
  4. Simple living
  5. early-retirement.org

Wikis

  1. Bogleheads
  2. Early Retirement Extreme
  3. Investopedia

Tools

  1. FIRECalc
  2. CFIREsim
  3. Networthify
  4. The Earth Awaits
  5. Social Security Calculators

Reddit

Early retirement subreddits

  1. /r/leanfire
  2. /r/fatFIRE
  3. /r/financialindependence
  4. /r/Fire
  5. /r/retirement

Money subreddits

  1. /r/personalfinance
  2. /r/freelance
  3. /r/povertyfinance
  4. /r/investing
  5. /r/realestate
  6. /r/entrepreneur
  7. /r/juststart
  8. /r/jobs
  9. /r/forhire
  10. /r/digitalnomad
  11. /r/sweatystartup
  12. /r/business
  13. /r/startups
  14. /r/smallbusiness
  15. /r/economics
  16. /r/tax

Frugal subreddits

  1. /r/frugal/
  2. /r/bikecommuting
  3. /r/homestead
  4. /r/livingofftheland
  5. /r/lowcar
  6. /r/patientgamers
  7. /r/permaculture
  8. /r/selfsufficiency
  9. /r/simpleliving
  10. /r/tinyhouses
  11. /r/vagabond
  12. /r/vandwellers
  13. /r/minimalism
  14. /r/publictransit

Food subreddits

  1. /r/budgetfood
  2. /r/dumpsterdiving
  3. /r/eatcheapandhealthy
  4. /r/MealPrepSunday
  5. /r/slowcooking
  6. /r/soylent
  7. /r/SoylentMarket
  8. /r/fitmeals
  9. /r/loseit

High-risk investments subreddits - tread lightly

  1. /r/CryptoCurrency
  2. /r/Bitcoin
  3. /r/btc/
  4. /r/ethereum
  5. /r/wallstreetbets
  6. /r/stocks
  7. /r/RobinHood
  8. /r/StockMarket
  9. /r/pennystocks
  10. /r/InvestmentClub

Regional subreddits

  1. /r/fiaustralia
  2. /r/dutchfire
  3. /r/fican
  4. /r/fireuk
  5. /r/FIREIndia
  6. /r/europefire
  7. /r/ausfinance
  8. /r/personalfinancecanada
  9. /r/ukpersonalfinance
  10. /r/eupersonalfinance
  11. /r/Omatalous — Financial independence Finland
  12. /r/Finanzen — Germany
  13. /r/dkfinance — Denmark
  14. /r/MalaysianPF
  15. /r/PersonalFinanceNZ
  16. /r/financaspessoaispt — Portugal
  17. /r/IndiaInvestments
  18. /r/ItaliaPersonalFinance — Italy

Youtube channels

  1. Retire Earlier and Better
  2. Debt Free Dana
  3. [One Big Happy Life]https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCawSNY3jbIhXKHCwMxz5CSg/featured
  4. JJ Buckner
  5. [Ben Felix]https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDXTQ8nWmx_EhZ2v-kp7QxA/featured
  6. Retired at 40- Live.Life.Simple.
  7. Our Rich Journey

10 books that are worth their weight in gold

When I first got into the financial independence game, I got caught up in the stock market and lost a lot of money. I wanted more control over my investments to start putting my money into long-term, diversified funds.

When I was younger, I liked to read a lot. Many of the books I was reading were about investing and entrepreneurship.

A few of them made a big difference in my life.

The books described here are not just the best way to learn the importance of investing; they can also help a few other areas of your life.

Frugality

Your Money or Your Life
Amazon Kindle Edition; Robin, Vicki (Author); English (Publication Language); 366 Pages - 12/10/2008 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

Currently on Sale −73%
The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy
Great product!; Thomas J. Stanley (Author); English (Publication Language); 272 Pages - 11/16/2010 (Publication Date) - Taylor Trade Publishing (Publisher)
−73%

Investing

Currently on Sale −26%
The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns
Hardcover Book; Bogle, John C. (Author); English (Publication Language); 216 Pages - 03/05/2007 (Publication Date) - Wiley (Publisher)
−26%

Early Retirement

Currently on Sale −5%
Early Retirement Extreme: A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Financial Independence
Used Book in Good Condition; Fisker, Jacob Lund (Author); English (Publication Language)
−5%

Building Wealth And Being Happy: A Practical Guide To Financial Independence
Amazon Kindle Edition; Falco, Graeme (Author); English (Publication Language); 152 Pages - 11/28/2016 (Publication Date)

Entrepreneurship

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Audible Audiobook; Peter Thiel (Author) - Blake Masters (Narrator); English (Publication Language)

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It
Audible Audiobook; Chris Voss (Author) - Michael Kramer (Narrator); English (Publication Language)

Mindset

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
Audible Audiobook; William B. Irvine (Author) - James Patrick Cronin (Narrator); English (Publication Language)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever
Audible Audiobook; Marie Kondo (Author) - Lucy Scott (Narrator); English (Publication Language)

Word of advice

I sincerely believe early retirement is suitable for people of all social classes and all income levels.

If you don't make a lot of money, you might be thinking about all of this as just a sassy trend for rich folks, but you don't have to retire in 15 years. Even if you retire 10 years earlier than your friends, it's a huge win!

While having a six-figure salary typically allows you to achieve financial independence much faster, people with higher wages often struggle with reducing their spendings significantly. I've often seen people with mid-range salaries live very frugally and be able to retire before they're 40.

I know working hard until you're 65 makes you feel depressed and tied-down.

Whether you can retire early in 10 or in 30 years, the true lesson here is that we all can value our happiness over consumerism. That's available to anyone — regardless of our wealth.

Sometimes, your new frugal lifestyle will feel like a massive pain in the ass. You shouldn't push yourself too hard in my opinion. Look for a long-term solution that makes you happy. You can be as flexible as you want to.

Don't wait for financial independence and early retirement to enjoy your life right now!

Living on the road for several years is a surefire way to alcoholism. You will always be drinking, especially if you're an outgoing person. At the time, I already knew that I'm drinking way too much, but still, it didn't seem like a real problem.

I was always a diligent worker. Even if I drank like hell one evening, I could always find the strength to get up in the morning, go to work or do whatever else I was supposed to do. Now I realize I was a highly-functioning alcoholic. It all changed a few days after New Year's Eve. I was still on Koh Chang island.

Like I mentioned before, in the morning, I used to smoke weed with Derek, then I took care of my remote business on my laptop, and in the evenings, we would help Will at his beach bar and keep the clients' company. We were drinking a lot since New Year's Eve. You know how it goes. 

I think, subconsciously, I already knew I'm hitting rock bottom. I was puking every few nights. My remote work started to suffer a lot. I just couldn't concentrate. My stupid travel blog wasn't going anywhere. I was too lazy to write anything substantial other than my journal and way too lazy to promote it online. I was sweating at night, and I was restless all the time.

One of these evenings, Chloe messaged me. She wanted to catch up. I invited her to join us at the beach bar. She was a pretty Australian girl with flowing, light-brown hair and blue eyes. Her cheeks had a pinkish hue. And she came from money. I've always preferred sleeping with either piss-poor or wealthy girls. Guess I'm fucked up.

Chloe came up to the bar later this evening with an attractive girlfriend.

She was pretty shy and cold when sober. Luckily she drank like a fish. She didn't mention the beach incident at all, and I wasn't planning to. She was in a good mood. We joked and gossiped a lot, while Derek entertained her friend.

— Do you guys want to go back to our hostel? — she asked.
— Girls, that would be awesome, but we've got to work here, and I'm trying to avoid drinking after midnight.
— What?
— I've got a problem with alcohol. I'm getting drunk almost daily, and in the morning I've got some stuff to do. My productivity is virtually non-existent. I did jack shit today.
— You're going to be fine. So you want to refuse two young, beautiful women that got an eye on you? Come one, Kemo. We'll take care of you. You won't regret it.
— Girls, I can't.

Not sure if she did it on purpose or by accident, but she slid her hand up and down a tall glass. I clenched my teeth and agreed. Who wouldn't?

— Fine, but you need to give me a minute.

I had to ask Will to let us go earlier. He didn't care at all and wished us good luck. There was a good party going on the beach bar already.

The girls looked at each other and smiled. Before heading out, I went to the toilet to buy a condom from the vending machine. Better to be safe than sorry.

— Eat this, you little slut! — said the vending machine.
— Thanks a lot! — I answered.

I hid them in my wallet and got back to the girls.

We got a cheap local ride-share taxi and arrived at the hostel. We sat on the terrace, opened a large bottle of Thai whiskey, and started smoking cigarettes.

I enjoyed talking to Chloe, and she seemed to be into me too. Derek was taking care of the other girl. I asked her if she wants to go somewhere. The problem was we were at a hostel. We couldn't have sex in her bunk bed. I was never a fucking degenerate.

blurry photo of a pretty girl in the dark

Lacking a better alternative, we went to the shower, and she went down on me.

— Chloe, can we have sex? — I asked after a while.
— No. — she replied.
— Why not?
— Are you not enjoying this?
— It's okay, I would just like to try the regular business.
— No way.
— What? Why?
— That's reserved for my future husband!

I almost believed her. I never imagined I would hear something so ridiculous from a twenty-two-year-old Australian backpacker. Still, I thought she would change her mind eventually. Oh, how wrong I was.

After we were done, we went back to the terrace and drank whiskey together until the early hours of the morning.

The next day was a legit fucking nightmare. I woke up at one p.m. and barely managed to get out of the bed. I couldn't stomach anything, and so I figured I'll have a beer to kill the hangover. I sat in front of my computer and started checking my email. I had a lot of work to do that day. I had to help my dad with his important Ad campaigns. When I looked at the graphs, I knew there is no way I can do it.

I understood that this was it. This was the end of an era for me. I couldn't think straight. My head was throbbing. I just wanted to have one more drink. I closed my laptop and went outside. A single tear ran down my face for the first time during my travels. It's really difficult to explain how I felt exactly.

I was dizzy, and my hands were shaking. I admitted in front of myself that I have a major alcohol problem, and I can't carry on like this for much longer. Having the opportunities that most people can only dream off, I reduced my life to a series of blackouts.

It's a vicious circle. When you're living on the road with other backpackers, nobody treats you seriously when you say you have a problem with alcohol, and you need help. Everybody thinks you're just a drama queen. Until you can party and you're not particularly violent, everything is just fucking beautiful.

This especially rings true in the more impoverished areas of the world, where the tourists are dead-on focused on only two or sometimes three things—getting drunk, getting high, and getting laid. Sure, you can always say no, but what are you going to do then? Hang out with these drunk bastards sober?

I started thinking about death again. I wrote up a page in my journal. I'm pasting it here without any corrections.

I'm dying. With every particle of my body and every particle of my soul.

I was bumming around the world just like that. Maybe because I'm an exile. Not an American, not an Englishman, not a Pole. I cannot feel the ground under my feet, the land—as they say—my own, my family, my motherland.

When I'm writing, it gets better. So I write. I can write for several hours.

Who has planted this seed of constant doubt and anxiety inside of me?

I would be lying if I said that I don't often think about suicide as a means to free myself from my mind. But it's not clear what I should do. There is not a single obvious thing in my head. I am looking for a place in this world that I care for, and I can't find it, although I would love to.

I've traveled half of the globe. I've been to so many places. Me-the-nobody felt good everywhere. Me-whatever-his-name-is felt decent here and there. I, the-shadow-of-me, didn't feel right anywhere. I can't find my place.

How hard it is to take this first step. I've been getting up for a long time now and telling myself: "I'm going to be perfect from now on!" But I never changed anything.

I'm dying.

All these people who wished me the worst all my life can relax now. I won't be coming one day to take their women away anymore. I'm done. Fuck me.

— Heard about this bald fucker that drank himself to death? He traveled so much. Didn't work a day in his life. And then just died in some piss-stained alley in Saigon. Wonder how he fucking looked like then.

And this will be the end of all my popularity and recognition that I craved so much. A few people will come to my funeral and forget about me while doing the dishes next week.

I felt relieved. The next morning I decided to change something. I knew this line of thinking would push me into real depression and eventually kill me. I don't know what it is—my genetics or upbringing, but I'm lucky enough to be capable of change. I needed a long, sincere talk with myself to decide what I'm doing next.

I wasn't mature enough to address the root of my problems, but I could at least fight with the symptoms. I've decided to spend some time outside of the usual backpacker crowd. Little did I know that getting better would take years. But that's a story for another time.

Have you ever tried to imagine what the best job in the world would be like? After I've been robbed, I decided it's time to do something with myself. While browsing through the multitude of offers available on Koh Chang, I found what was probably the best job in the world.

My responsibilities consisted of sitting on my ass and drinking Thai beer. And I got paid to do it.

After the beach incident, I had to come up with a new plan. First thing's first—I needed to get some cash in hand. Luckily my buddy Derek was around at the time, and he also had a Revolut account. I sent him five hundred dollars, which he received instantly and paid out the cash for me minus the commission of the Thai ATM.

Still, I had to wait for up to three weeks until the new card arrived. Instead of doing nothing, I decided to get a real-life job. I was thinking about working on the street, but considering my face looks like a bucket of smashed crabs, I probably wouldn't see much action.

The only way out was to find some legit side-hustle that doesn't involve selling my body for money. Turns out, I had more than one option.

Job numero uno. The first opportunity was a waiter gig at the Zap. Derek knew the owner. The only requirement was a strong head and fluent English. There was no salary, but you could keep the tips. They also offered free food, a place to sleep, and free drinks. Not bad at all, but I thought I could find something better.

Job numero dos. The second job came up by accident. I met up with Derek, and we went to our favorite beach, just to hang out. We walked around for a while, and to our surprise, we met a guy who was making a huge sand sculpture. It depicted a woman with enormous tits. The sculptor was pretty talented too. We struck up a conversation. His name was Will. The beach and big tits were some of his biggest passions.

beach bar bartender mixing drinks

The guy came from South Africa to Koh Chang about four years ago. He had a Thai wife and a little kid here. He owned a tiny beach bar and thought a sand sculpture would be a good conversation piece to lure clients in. To be frank, it worked on us. We sat down to have a beer with him.

A word about the beach bars—on Koh Chang, there's a beach bar every twenty feet, and they are all pretty much empty, outside of peak season. There's just too much competition, and most tourists choose the bars along the main road. You really need to be on top of your game to make a profit here.

We were the only customers there. Will was a nice guy who loved smoking weed with passion. Just like we did. He told us all about his life in South Africa and here in Thailand. He had a 10-year lease of the beach spot from the a local Thai businessman.

We've had a couple of beers, and it was getting dark. Several more backpackers appeared, and we had a decent beach party going on there. Fast-forward three hours, and I was so fucking shplonkered from smoking weed and drinking beer that Derek decided we have to get me home, or I might puke on someone again (another story). He said our goodbyes and we called it a night.

light bulb on a ceiling

The morning after. I opened my eyes to an empty, unfamiliar ceiling. I could only see a single disgusting lightbulb dangling up above me. Its light was killing me. Where was I?

Turns out, I was so drunk that Derek wasn't confident enough in my abilities to get back alone to my hotel, so he took me in and went on to party and later sleep with his neighbor. Derek was the kind of guy that always got your back.

We went out to eat and had a beer to kill the hangover. It was going to be a rainy day. I promised myself that if I don't find a new occupation in the next two days, I'll take the job as a waiter at the Zap. And you know, I'm really not the waiter-type.

We did jack shit until it got late again. Bored and hungover out of our minds, we decided to see how Will is doing.

We got to the beach bar and saw Will sitting alone with a massive grin on his face. Once he saw us, he started fixing us some iced Bloody Marys.

He told us that last night had been one of his best nights of the month. His bar made a decent profit. To be fair, I probably had a dozen beers. Will had a crazy idea.

He offered us both jobs. The best jobs in the world. We were supposed to sit with him and drink beer. You heard me right. Sit on our asses and drink beer. And we would get paid for doing that.

chang thai beer thailand

The job wasn't hard, and I'm sure for many, it would be the dream job. According to Will, we were real tourist magnets. We were both white, dressed decently, and looked like we came from money.

The beer! We would sit at the bar, talk with him and the other guests, and pour insane amounts of beer down our throats. Every day from seven p.m. until midnight. He also offered us a place to sleep at his house nearby and a ten-dollar daily salary. We negotiated a bit and managed to strike a deal. Instead of money, each of us would get an eighth of weed every morning. We'd rather take the weed as we didn't have proper connections on the island.

young guy smoking a cigarette

In the mornings, we would get stoned and fuck around on the beach. In the afternoons, we would help Will get the beer from the supplier back to the beach bar. In the evenings we would get wasted again.

All in all, the plan worked out well both for him and for us. After a week, he expanded his venture into hiring some ladies of the night who would hung out at his bar, too, and that turned out to be even more profitable and attracted a vastly different kind of clientele.

I "worked" there for two weeks and gained ten pounds of beer muscle. I stopped being hungover, which is never a good sign. At any given time, I was either high or drunk. I met a few nice girls, and in general had the time of my life.

Conversations at the bar. I spent countless hours talking to Will. Still can't entirely figure the guy out, but he was always kind to us. He liked to talk a lot. I guess that's why he was running a bar. Some of his best stories were shared when he was drunk. I will never forget this one in particular.

— Listen to this, Kemo.
— I'm all ears.
— Years ago, I worked in London. It wasn't the best job in the world. I was organizing bus tour guides for tourists and accommodating them in hotels. One day we were supposed to do a day-tour to Whitstable. We boarded the bus, and I started talking to the passengers about the usual boring sightseeing stuff. Right away something felt off about the bus. The driver was speeding like crazy, sometimes driving on the wrong side of the road. People started panicking. Suddenly my phone rang. It was the driver!

picture from the back of the bus

— Did somebody kidnap you?
— No. Listen. I decided to act. I ran to the front of the bus, almost falling when the driver took a sharp turn. When I was close to the front, I started shouting, ordering the guy to stop. I was afraid it was a terrorist or something like that. I felt responsible for these people.
— So what happened next?
— Surprisingly he slowed down and stopped immediately. Then he looked at me with a blank stare and told me in broken English that he isn't really the driver and that, in fact, he doesn't even have a driver's license. Turns out, he was just a completely knackered Polish dude who wanted to drive a bus for once.


A few years later, I came back to Koh Chang, but I couldn't find neither Will nor his beach bar.

There's one more thing. One of these nights, when I was "working" at the bar, Chloe messaged me. She was still on the island and wanted to catch up. But that's a story for another time.

That time when I was on a downward spiral

I arrived on Koh Chang three days before the New Year's Eve. It wasn't my first time here. I had a few days to kill before my Vietnamese visa was active.

Koh Chang is Thailand's not-so-hidden-anymore gem located in the east. The name, due to its shape, translates to "the elephant island." Useless fact: elephants are actually not indigenous to the island. They were brought in later to please the tourists.

My typical day on the island consisted of curing a hangover, pretending in front of myself that I'm working, and partying my ass off until early morning hours.

Rinse and repeat.

Who would have thought that a trip to the beach will completely change my life for the next several weeks.

I was hanging out at my go-to beer bar, the Zap. I met an Aussie girl. Her name was Chloe. She was in her early twenties, doing her compulsory gap year world tour. She was stuck on the island for a few days because one of her girlfriends experienced the famous Thai brush with death on a rental bike. As it often happens, the girl was drunk, had no driver's license, and no insurance either. Contrary to popular belief, healthcare in Thailand ain't cheap. The girls had to chip in and wait for a few days until their friend was released from the hospital.

We danced for a couple of hours and had a few beers. Suddenly we realized the bar was almost empty, so we decided to go to the beach. I rolled a massive joint with all the weed I had left on me.

It was a perfect moment. We were alone on a tropical beach surrounded by palm trees. The ocean was calm that night, making almost no sound. I could only feel a slight breeze coming from the seaside. She started to talk.

girl in the dark intimate

— You know, Kemo. I'm not here because I'm into you. I'm here because I can't stand being alone anymore. I'm sorry I said that.
— It's fine. I understand.
— Have you ever gone skinny-dipping? — She asked.
— No, but I always wanted to try. — I lied with a huge grin on my face.

We stripped down, she took my hand, and we slowly walked into the ocean.

sunrise beach thailand koh chang

The next several minutes were surreal. I was swimming naked with a beautiful girl, high as a kite, in one of the warmest oceans on the planet, while the first rays of morning sunshine were hitting my back.

— This is why I travel. — I thought.

Then I briefly saw something out of the corner of my eye. Some shape was moving around where our clothes were.

— Oh, for fuck's sake. Couldn't they give us a few minutes?

I stopped kissing the girl for a second. I clearly saw that the person is walking away. I ran out of the water as fast as I could, my dick out and all. The dude on the beach started running, but I had to try and get him. It turns out, he was way more drunk than me, and I managed to catch up to and throw him to the ground.

I was sitting on him naked. I searched him but didn't find anything that belonged to me. The guy was terrified—probably thought I was going to rape him or worse. He explained that he wasn't trying to steal anything. He couldn't see anyone in the ocean and was just curious. I apologized and ran back to the beach.

It turns out all the clothes and my belongings were already gone. Only the girl's clothes were left. My wallet, $50 in the local currency, the key to my room, and my only credit card was gone too. Without it, I couldn't pay out any money. Never travel with only one credit card.

I noticed that there was a group of guys with bikes standing not far from us and one of them was driving away. I had a feeling he might have my wallet, but there was no way I could ever catch up with him. A few others were still there. I walked up to talk to them, naked as I were.

thailand motorcycles boys men

— We don't know anything.
— Right. And If I give you a hundred dollars, will I get my credit card back?
— Sure, but tomorrow.
— Guys, you can't use it anyway. I'm going to block it in a minute with one phone call.
— Tomorrow!
— Tomorrow doesn't work for me!
— Then we can't help you. Sorry.
— Give me at least some of my clothes.
— Ask your girlfriend to share some clothes with you.
— Give me my clothes, you cunt!

The boys started laughing at me. Chloe came around too. This whole situation made me so angry that, for the first time in my life, I felt like physically threatening someone. I looked around and grabbed a rock from the ground, which now I realize was a dumb idea. The second I started walking towards one of them, they all started to laugh again, said something to each other in Thai, and quickly took off.

I was naked, with no money, and with a rock in my hand. A brand new hangover started to materialize in my head.

On top of that, the girl looked at me, got scared, and started walking away. Things didn't look right. I realized that chasing her naked, with a stone in my hand, isn't the best idea. I had to come up with a plan. I couldn't just go to town like that.

banana tree leaves

I walked around the beach and found some banana trees. These plants have some truly enormous leaves. I took a few of them and sat down in a popular spot on the beach. I waited for an hour before the first tourists appeared. I waved and shouted!

— Help! Help me!

A Russian guy rushed over. I told him what happened and asked if he can give me his towel. He agreed. I gave him my email address so that we would keep in touch. Finally, I had something to cover myself with.

I got to the main road and tried hitching a ride to my part of the island. After a while, an old Thai man picked me up. Pretty sure I wasn't the first white dude in a towel he's seen in his life. After all, it was a tropical island. I introduced myself and told him what happened. He spoke perfect English.

— Don't worry, kid, I'm going to take you to your hotel.

We started driving. The guy wasn't saying anything, so I had to keep the conversation going.

— Can you imagine how the world would work with no roads? No paved roads, no paths, and no railroads.

The high was wearing off, but my head was still full of weird thoughts.

old thai man with glasses

— No roads? What are you talking about? I come from the village and as far as I remember the roads were always here. How else would people drive to other people, to weddings, to the temple, to the shop, to work? Without roads? You must be a city-slicker asking weird things like that.
— Not really a city-slicker. More of a road-bum than a city-slicker. So, anyway, what is a road?
— Kid, the easiest way to understand what a road is is to use your legs. Preferably barefoot. The road has to be sandy. You want it to be some decent sand. And hot. It has to be hot. Or cold. Like during the winter. But you won't find that here. And the legs—they have to be young—for old hoves don't feel a lot. You also want a puddle in the middle of your road. A root. Or a rock. And hurt your toe or your ankle. To know well what a road is, you have to walk for a long time. And when you face crossroads, you have to choose the wrong way. Walk into dense bushes. Oh god, how good it is to see a fellow human being then, say your greetings, and ask them for the way home.
— And what will they respond with?
— Home? You're going in the opposite direction! Come with me. I'm going there too.
— And what's next?
— And then it's good. You walk, and you talk, and it's good.
— Alright. We're there!
— Thank you so much.

He took me straight to my hotel, where they gave me a new key on credit.

I checked my assets. I had about thirty American dollars in cash, a laptop, my clothes, and an extra towel. I Skyped my bank, blocked my card and ordered a new one. It will take about three weeks until it arrives in Thailand.

thailand night street food pad thai

I went out, exchanged the dollars, and ate some Pad Thai. My head pounded like a drum. I could still feel the taste of last night's alcohol in my mouth. It turns out the trip to Vietnam would have to be delayed for an indefinite amount of time. I also had to figure out some way to get cash in hand as soon as possible.

The next day I got a job. The best job on the planet. But that's a story for another time.

That time when I got the best job in the world

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