Happy Friday, readers!
I cheated just a little bit at the start of my reading log for this year. The week after Christmas, I started a couple books that both ended up being really good. I was enjoying them so much, that I actually held off on finishing them until the first couple days of the new year. And just like that, my 2023 was off to a hot start!
Today, I’m excited to share those two books with you, as well as a link to the reading log template I use.
What about you? What’s the first book you read this year? Was it a winner? Let me know in the comments!
To get my weekly “This & That” feature — featuring links, lists, ideas, recommendations, and more — upgrade to a paid subscription:
Trust by Hernan Diaz
“Most of us prefer to believe we are the active subjects of our victories but only the passive objects of our defeats. We triumph, but it is not really we who fail—we are ruined by forces beyond our control.”
This is a novel that has gotten a lot of attention from high-brow book reviewers and hardly any interest from the rest of the bookish internet. I’m always leery of novels which skew more towards critical success than commercial, but Pamela Paul — one of my favorite book critics — was so gushing of Trust that I had to give it a shot.
The story that Hernan Diaz has woven and crafted is among the most unique I’ve ever encountered. Let me give you just a taste of how the book is broken up, and you’ll see what I mean.
Trust is broken up into four sections, all of them being their own book-within-a-book. The first section is ostensibly a “novella,” about the rise of one of NYC’s wealthiest financiers at the turn of the 20th century — this was a man who deftly moved money in, out, and around various stocks, bonds, and trusts like a wizard.
The second section is an incomplete “memoir” by the wealthy financier who inspired that novella — he wants to tell the story in his own words rather than being artificially sculpted by the hands of a novelist.
The third section functions as the recollections of the young ghostwriter who helped him work on that memoir.
And the fourth part . . . well, I’ll let you discover that one on your own.
I realize this is all a little confusing, but it’s a tricky story to describe. You have to just let it all unfold page by page and then sit back in awe at the tapestry that Diaz has woven.
There are some incredibly thought-provoking ideas on wealth, legacy, storytelling, memory, and, naturally, trust. Beyond that, it’s just a really interesting and well-told narrative that kept my rapt attention from the very first page. An easy five stars from me.
My Reading Log Template
A few folks have asked about copying the same template I use for tracking books in a Google spreadsheet. No problem at all! I turned it into a really simple sheet, which you can access here:
To use for yourself, just copy the first couple rows and paste them into your own Google sheet. Let me know if you have questions!
Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last by Wright Thompson
“The monuments we erect — shouting into the wind that we were once alive and had hopes and dreams — often end up becoming a shrine to the fallacy and futility of that desire itself.”
If you’re at all into bourbon, you know the Pappy Van Winkle brand. You also know how hard it is to get your hands on a bottle of the stuff. If you do find a bottle, you’ll then have to fork over about $1,000 for it — if not more. (Even empty bottles go for more than $100 on eBay.)
In Pappyland, extraordinary writer Wright Thompson gives us an inside look at how the sausage is made and the culture of craftsmanship that surrounds the famous whiskey.
Throughout the book (though not in linear fashion), Thompson weaves in Pappy’s beginnings, the company’s less-than-graceful fall and subsequent sale in the ‘70s, and Julian Van Winkle III’s resurrection of the brand.
At the core of this unclassifiable book, though, is the search for what matters in life.
Thompson spends a lot of time with Julian and it’s clear that the men grew close during the writing of the book. Thompson is embarking on the journey of fatherhood for the first time and brings a lot of those questions and emotions to the narrative, dissecting his relationship with his own father, as well as Julian’s relationship with his.
No, this isn't a simple history of a whiskey; it’s a deep exploration of friendship, community, hard work, passion, and, above all, familial bonds:
“Families stay together because of active decisions, because of patterns that turn into rituals, and they are torn apart most often not by anger or feuds but by careless inertia.”
Thompson’s style has a reflective lyricism not often found in the food/culture genre. If you’re at all into whiskey, Pappyland is a must-read. It’s also worth reading, though, if you’re at all interested in the unique intersection of family, craftsmanship, and self-inquiry.
That’s all from me this week! Thanks so much for the time and inbox space. I deeply appreciate it.
I loved "Trust". I read it while I was recovering from Covid. It made the time go by quickly. The structure was unique and engaging. I really enjoy books that tell the same story from various viewpoints.
I am currently reading Cloud Cuckoo Land (I know I am behind the curve on this one!). I am really enjoying it as well.
Thanks for sharing your insights!
Trust was fantastic!