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The PATH NINE Summer Reading List
Book recommendations to pause and rediscover your path.
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Cliffs Notes Version
This week’s article is 1.5k words (7 min read). ▶︎ 📕All the Gold Stars - a book about
the paradoxical nature of ambition and its impact on our lives.▶︎ 📕 Quarterlife - a book with tailored guidance for navigating the challenges and potential pitfalls of the early stages of adulthood. ▶︎ 📕 Saving Time - a book that urges readers to reshape their relationship with time for a more fulfilling life outside of work. ▶︎ 📕 The Good Enough Job - a book that critiques the pursuit of the "perfect" job and advocates finding satisfaction and balance in work via the"good enough" job. ▶︎ 📕 Quietly Hostile - a collection of personal essays that explores and observes the realities of life, all delivered with the sharpest wit. Click to share the list via email ↗︎ or Twitter ↗︎
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Contrary to what my wife believes, I love summer. I've always loved summer, even if I wouldn't have officially labeled it my favorite season. My love started as a kid and has steadily grown over time. It began with a love of the weather, and escalated once the summer break from school felt indispensable. I can't say precisely the age when summer break changed, but it did change.
At some point, summer became a period for self-discovery and possibility, bringing some of the best moments of my youth: water sports, outdoor dinners, evenings spent watching the sunset, well-earned sunburns, backyard BBQs, and so much more. Summers were a period of unmatched freedom; free from worry, free from schedules, and free from work. That is until I was a teenager when the world and its expectations hit like a wave. Not like a giant 100-foot wave, but when you're a teenager, everything feels much larger than it is. But two things broke the seemingly impenetrable atmosphere shield of the carefree summers of early youth: 1) work, and 2) summer reading lists.
Although summer breaks often represent freedom from work and responsibilities to me, the historical intention of the summer break was quite different. Traditionally, people took off the summer months to help with harvest. When I worked on a ranch from ages 12-14, my summer breaks had more in common with the historical intention than I imagined. Although this may still be the norm in many agricultural towns, I suspect that most teenagers don't see themselves spending their summer months doing manual labor, such as bucking hay or mending fences.
Not dissimilar to the changing nature of work that adults have experienced, kids are undergoing significant changes to their education, life, and, you guessed it: work. The education system has evolved. Work has shifted to focus on white-collar or knowledge work, which brings me to the second milestone that altered the summers of my youth: reading lists.
Oh, reading lists. I can't recall which teacher made such an audacious request to me and my classmates, but I imagine we received it with moderate disdain. It's like they were operating outside their jurisdiction. It was anarchy between the last day of school and the first day of the following school year; assignments were nice suggestions. And yet, the lists just kept coming. By the time I was in high school, this was pretty common practice. (Mark this under "capitalism creep.") Despite how much I love reading now, I was not particularly fond of these lists and assumed this was a new-age technique designed to meet the rising requirements of a hyper-competitive education system. It was quite the opposite.
Summer reading lists have been around since the late 1800s, but gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s when educators recognized the importance of promoting leisure reading to prevent the "summer setback." This setback refers to the loss of knowledge acquired throughout the school year. According to a research study conducted at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, children who do not read during the summer lose at least two months of their reading progress.
As a kid, I only read when forced to. If I had a choice, I would choose getting disturbingly sunburned playing tennis in 100º+ heat any day over sitting and reading. I never actually read any of the books, but I still put up a fight on principle alone. And, while I'm sure many kids today wish to protest the required reading lists, the truth is that they're likely not "recommended" anymore — they're required. Whether academically or professionally, the external expectations to be exceedingly ambitious are on the rise, and only accelerating.
The notion of constantly striving to do more, either to keep up or inch ahead, may need to be more beneficial. It is reasonable to argue against mindlessly following external expectations, especially those that require us to do more. Studies show that we do our best when we take a break from any form of "work." We grow when we look outside of ourselves, connect with others, and build positive relationships with our pursuits, academic or otherwise. And reading is one of the best ways to give our brain a break while keeping it engaged.
It's like switching up your workout routine at the gym; you can't just do bicep curls. Reading can take us out of our mind and into the mind of another. Reading about people with similar experiences can help us feel less alone. Reading can have a calming effect on your body, reducing your heart rate and alleviating muscle tension. Though teenage me would have never believed that spending time reading could have benefits that outweighed my interest in summer activities, the results would have been undeniable.
Why I Picked These Books
Over the past decade, my perspective on work has radically evolved. I've reevaluated every aspect of work, adjusting my goals to prioritize a life filled with creative and fulfilling endeavors. More importantly, I've realized that time spent away from work — reading, etc. — doesn't have to be viewed negatively. In fact, it can be the most rewarding way to reconnect with work.
With so many people getting laid off and quitting their jobs, we could use a few books to help us re-imagine not only our relationship with work, but also with ambition, productivity, and life. Each of the following books offers a beautiful view of critical components in the cocktail of work and life: ambition, landmarks, time, careers, and joy. They're perfect companions for summer resets, and they're not heavy. They're motivating.
All of the books aim to create space during life's contractions, helping you find a new path to consciously step into your true self — not just in the workplace, but in life. Unlike reading programs at school, these are entirely optional. The only test is if they've helped you as you walk lightly through your own path in life.
Not only does Rainesford, the author of this book, possess a great name, but she also delves into the depths of my mind. She masterfully captures the paradoxical nature of ambition and eloquently unveils the emotional, societal, and economic pressures that ensnare countless individuals in the dark labyrinth of ambition. This book is an absolute necessity for anyone who wrestles with work-related concerns or the relentless pursuit of surpassing oneself, constantly striving to meet the ever-shifting — internal or external — standards of success. If nothing else, I sincerely hope it provides anyone who is overly ambitious—I include myself as a lifelong, card-carrying member—some breathing room to explore the intricacies of how, where, and why ambition propels and captivates us.
Navigating transitions can be particularly tough. While I'm technically not the target demographic for this book, I found it profoundly illuminating and thought-provoking. Whether embarking on a new career path, bidding farewell to school, or encountering any significant milestone in life, tolerating the turbulence can be daunting. However, young adults can experience many pitfalls in the early stages of adulthood that are best avoided. Through her work as a psychologist, Byock has gained a deep understanding of these challenges, allowing her to pinpoint and articulate them in a way that resonates with audiences far beyond their twenties. I recommend this book as a pre-midlife crisis reality check. With any luck, it will spare many of us from succumbing to the allure of purchasing the unnecessary convertible.
by Jenny Odell
Please don't ask to borrow my copy of this book, as I've annotated it to the point where my notes may be incomprehensible to others. If you're genuinely interested, take my word and purchase a copy yourself. Read it, annotate it, digest its contents, add more notes, and read it several more times. It's simply one of those books. And it's no surprise, considering Jenny Odell writes it. She possesses a remarkable talent for crafting beautifully poetic ideas while maintaining a down-to-earth tone. Odell delves into a subject that's held my interest for years: time. However, she doesn't delve into the physics of time, which is undoubtedly fascinating and a topic I've explored thoroughly. Instead, Odell examines time as a valuable resource, urging us to reframe our relationship with it to cultivate a more enriching life beyond the confines of work. She explores meditative concepts, connecting them thoughtfully to historical contexts. This book should be mandatory reading for everyone. Period.
Debating the necessity to change our relationship with work comes easily, but implementing those changes is far more challenging. Stolzoff expertly profiles a few courageous individuals who charted a path of their own, where they find meaning—and ambition—beyond the confines of the 9-to-5 grind. While some of these paths may seem too revolutionary for many, that's not the essence of the message. The true meaning lies in discovering what suits you, reminding us that work is not who we are but something we do. Instead of molding your life around the time and expectations set by modern work, strive for a life that fills you with pride, and then determine where work fits into that equation.
Seriously, one of the funniest books I've read in years. Irby's writing style is raw, energetic, and honest. The stories are relatable, turning the facile mundanity of everyday life with a certain irreverence. The chapter "Dave Matthews Band Greatest Romantic Hits" was a personal favorite that made me laugh while simultaneously pulling up my phone to re-listen to these greatest hits in the recontextualization of Irby's brilliance. I loved so many of these stories; this is a perfect summer reading companion. Take it with you. Pick it up. Have a laugh. Put it down and enjoy your summer. I'm sure Irby is making the most of hers.
Until Next Time!
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— Kevin K. (@kkirkpatrick)