My summer reading list – 6 books that will educate, thrill and inspire

Updated to Life on June 28, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

We’re having strange weather this summer in Kelowna – lots of wind, surprise rain storms, and unseasonably cool.

Perfect weather for a good cup of tea and a summer read.

This summer, I thought I would expand my tastes from lazy, light-weight spy novels to a bit more cerebral exercise. I’m finding I’m enjoying all the books I picked – I’m also jumping between the covers (so to speak) as I get bored with one or restless to find out what happens next in another.

Here we go with my summer reading list. In the comments below, how about sharing what you’re enjoying this summer?

Benjamin Franklin – An American Life, Walter Isaacson

At 586 pages and 4.4 lbs (2kg) Isaacson’s exhaustively detailed biography of the unsurpassed life of publisher, statesman, scientist, inventor, womanizer Ben Franklin is not simply a book – it’s a weapon.

In fact, you don’t need to read this tome (frankly, it’s beyond overwhelming – there are 100 pages of reference notes and Index pages!), just heft it around and build some biceps.r”]

Despite all that, I continue to be astounded by both the detail of Isaacson’s work (his best-seller Steve Jobs reads more like a novel) and breadth of Franklin’s endeavours.

If you’re at all interested American history, Franklin and his achievements, or just want to feel your life is relatively insignificant, read it – it’s a remarkable piece of work.

The 100-Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Janasson

Just for fun, I picked up a slightly-ragged copy of The 100-Year Old Man at my friend Pat’s Pandosy Books (conveniently located around the corner from my office.) It’s a page-turner – in a good way.

Janasson writes in a truncated, brisk pace “He was wearing a brown jacket with brown trousers and on his feet he had a pair of brown indoor slippers. He was not a fashion plate; people rarely are at that age.”

In Forrest Gump style, this peripatetic saga winds through some of the most important events of the 20th century with the quirky, bumbling Allan Karlsson in centre-stage. It’s a perfect summer read: light, fun, clever, with a bit of history tossed into the mix.

Everybody Writes – Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, Ann Handley

What can I say, I’m a Handley fan. Anne is the Chief Content Officer for MarketingProfs, a training and education company, her popular blog ( is terrific for sharp commentary on life and writing, and her books are both instructive and a refreshing relief from older how-to tomes like Elements of Style or On Writing Well.

To be clear, this book is all about writing awesome marketing copy—not advice on general writing style. As Handley says in the Introduction: “…much of what passes for writing advice gets too deep in the weeds of writing construction. Great if you’re looking to up your score on the SATs. Not so awesome if you just need some guidance on how not to sound like a total idiot when you craft this week’s customer mailing.”

If you write a blog or marketing copy—even working on your next best-seller, get Everybody Writes. It will make you a better writer.

Here are some of Handley’s tips:

  • “Edit by chainsaw: Slash anything that feels extraneous”
  • “A good lede (header) invites you to the party and a good kicker makes you wish you could stay longer”
  • “Show, don’t tell: Show how your product or service lives in the world, explaining in human terms how it adds value to people’s lives, eases troubles, shoulders burdens, and meets needs.”

Disrupt You!: Master Personal Transformation, Seize Opportunity, and Thrive in the Era of Endless Innovation, Jay Samit

I hadn’t heard of Samit and Disrupt you! before it was sent to me as a gift by reader Tom Triumph (thanks Tom) – now I’m a fan.

Samit entered the digital world when new was still possible and racked up his share of entrepreneurial successes before taking C-suite positions with Universal Studios, EMI and Sony.

This read is a wild ride of deal-making, pivots, and name dropping (Samit knows everyone in entertainment).  Samit writes like a novelist (at times his deal making skills are almost unbelievable – like a live concert recording with Cheryl Crow at 30,000 feet) interrupted with slices of sage wisdom, like “Self-disruption is akin to undergoing major surgery, but you are the one holding the scalpel.”

The Bourne Enigma, Eric Van Lustbader

What can I say – it’s a spy thriller. The Bourne series started when Robert Ludlum (who passed away in 2001) was at his peak. The spin-off versions by Lustbader are certainly not high-brow, but if you can stomach your way through some pretty terrible writing it’s a great distraction.

Here’s a sample of what you have to wade through to get to the action scenes:

“She was inconsolable. Her world had been not only turned upside down but inside out. Everything she had known to be true was a lie. She had misjudged Boris’s intentions entirely, and now even the thought of the plot she had almost mounted with him as an unknowing dupe made her want to plunge a knife into her soul, to carve out the blackness that must surely lie rotting at its core.” ouch.

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese

I’ve just cracked the covers on Verghese’s international best-seller Cutting for Stone and it’s already engrossing me with his brilliant writing and twisted plot-line. Set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Cutting for Stone follows the journey of Sister Mary Joseph Praise leaving India to serve, eventually in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at “Missing” hospital.

The story then shifts to Marion Stone, one of Praise’s conjoined twins, who follows his destiny to become a surgeon. Guided by his father’s hard-earned insights (“Thou shall not operate on the day of a patient’s death.”), Marion sheds insight on the harsh realities of 20th century life in Ethiopia and the dedication to healing those in need, regardless of circumstances.

The writing is starkly beautiful, the setting exotic, in a dark way – it didn’t make me want to jump on the next flight to sub-Sahara Africa, but, strangely, it did make me love life and the resolve of people even more.

That’s my summer reads, what about you? What are you reading?