For a mere 20 years or so, I refused to read fiction. Read something that someone just made up? I can do that myself, thanks.
That was the attitude at least.
My time of reckoning came when I needed to fix insomnia, and non-fiction business books before bed just compounded the problem. I began reading fiction to “turn off” and instead saw breakthroughs in creativity and quality of life as a side-effect.
Now, if people ask me, for instance, “Which books should I read on leadership?”, I might reply: “Dune and Ender’s Game.” I’ve come to look for practical solutions in both fiction and non-fiction.
For those of you who are stuck in the business or how-to sections, as I was for decades, I offer you 10 fiction books that might change how you view the world… and how you perform.
Listed in no particular order…
1. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
I have recommended this outstanding book before. It pits the instinctive against the intellectual, the simpleton (brilliant at times) against the over-thinker. Finding myself with my head frequently stuck up my own ass, this book is a constant companion and reminder to step outside of my brain.
Zorba himself would have you believe that words are wasteful and books a frivolous use of time (better spent dancing barefoot on the beach), but Zorba the Greek is stuffed like a grape leaf full of life-altering wisdom. For those looking to release the inner wild man, live each day in passionate awe, and reconnect with nature, Zorba reminds us how to live fully, love lasciviously and appreciate a life in the present tense.
2. Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa
I bought this book at Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It is as thick as a Harry Potter book, probably thicker, but the pages are as thin as onion skin. It’s a serious tome. I never expected to finish it, and I tore through it in less than two weeks.
If you’re like me and enjoy a good Samurai story – the wandering ronin, epic battle scenes with lots of penetrating (wisdom), then you’ll love Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi. It’s sold more than 100 million copies in Japanese. Musashi’s transformation from talented yet conflicted young warrior to one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) swordsman of all time teaches you about critical thinking, strategizing, and ultimately, that there is more to life than merely surviving. Musashi re-created himself from nothing and rose from destitution to legend.
Why not you?
3. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Ever feel like you don’t quite fit in? Don’t want to follow society’s silly rules?
Then you can probably relate to human-born and Martian-raised Valentine Michael Smith. In this controversial 1960’s cult classic, Heinlein questions long held assumptions on religion, government, and sexuality (free Martian love for all!).
It’s also where the term “grok” originated.
4. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
At one point, this was the only book listed on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. If it’s good enough to be the sole selection of the founder of Facebook, maybe there’s something to it.
The plot: In anticipation of another attack from a hostile alien race, the search for a brilliant military strategist has led to Ender Wiggin.
In space combat school, Ender stands out, demonstrating exceptional leadership and unconventional strategy. But it is lonely at the top for Ender, as he struggles with relentless pressure from his instructors. Through Ender’s journey, you’ll learn how to capitalize on your strengths and those of your teammates, as well as exploit your adversaries’ weaknesses. Ender is a futuristic Level 5 Leader we can all learn from.
Teaser: Drop kicks in zero gravity are the bomb. Trust me.
5. Dune by Frank Herbert
To check the power of a fast-rising duke, a space emperor executes a convoluted plan to gain control of the all-important planet that has a monopoly of The Spice (a super drug-cum-jet fuel). But wait! The duke’s son is actually the messianic result of a breeding program run by space witches. Oh, and the Mentats? The coolest. If that all sounds like gibberish, don’t despair. Dune presents, despite my synopsis, perhaps the most incredibly detailed and oddly believable fictional landscape I’ve ever encountered.
Also, to add to any confusion: walk without rhythm, and you won’t attract the worm.
Completely unnecessary YouTube reference — Christopher Walken has rhythm:
6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
After his girlfriend leaves him for another man, Rob embarks on a journey of self-discovery and evaluation by contacting ex-girlfriends to see what went wrong in each relationship. High Fidelity teaches us that eventually we all have to grow up, get past adolescent self-importance, and take responsibility for our own lives.
Who says I only like books with killing, aliens, and Greeks? I’m a sensitive guy .
7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Raised in a culture where men are powerful, sexual, and dominant, the Klingon-speaking, D&D-playing chubby boy thinks he’ll never find true love or physical affection. Oscar struggles as a young immigrant from the Dominican Republic living with his older sister and mother in Paterson, New Jersey. A fun read with lots of geek culture, great history, and oh, it also won the Pulitzer Prize.
May the half-elves inherit the earth. Grey or Drow? Tough choice.
8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This classic work on state censorship remains as relevant in today’s world of digital delights as it was when published in the black-and-white world of 1953.
In a futuristic American city, firefighter Guy Montag does not put out blazes; instead, he extinguishes knowledge and promotes ignorance by conducting state decreed book burnings. After an elderly woman chooses a fiery death with her books rather than a life without the written word, he begins questioning not only his profession, but also a society that allows itself to be lulled into complacency by constant exposure to state-controlled, mind-numbing television shows.
If you wonder why some people take censorship so seriously, this book will give you the answer. It’s also a fantastically inspiring story of a one-versus-a-million fight that’s worth fighting. Who knows when your turn will come?
9. A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
If Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Star Wars had a love-child, it would read something like this.
This colorful novel by Douglas Adams begins with Arthur Dent narrowly escaping the Earth’s destruction as it is bulldozed to make room for a hyperspace bypass. Beyond the bizarre characters and plot twists, Adams proves that despite how bleak ones situation might be, there’s always something to laugh about. Adam’s Total Perspective Vortex is also considered to be a great Zen teaching tool, so if you’re looking for the meaning of life, you might not be far from the answer here.
If you need humor to make the jump to fiction, this might be your gateway drug.
10. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
My mother and brother are, thankfully, book snobs. I mean this in the best way possible. Books take a lot of time, after all, and life is short. So when both my mom and broha simultaneously insisted that I read this book, I had to investigate.
A thriller about a detective with Tourette Syndrome? Sign me up. It’s a hysterical romp through high-stakes problem-solving and old-fashioned crime fighting, all told through deliciously mind-tickling prose. One of my absolute favorites.
Zen school and cop tapping? Check and check.