Sober October Reading List | Making Brain Gains

Sober October…it’s so cliché

Yeah, Sober October is here. There are a lot of aliases for this month: Rocktober, Croctober, Shocktober, and Ploptober. What about Booktober?

I mean, if you’re thinking about taking a month away from libation, October is a good month for it. Summer is summer – BBQs, the 4th of July, the 24th of July, more BBQs, camping, etc. There’s not much going on in October.

The big event, Halloween, is at the end of the month which makes Sober October a nice cleanse before the holidays ramp up and you are obligated (or delighted) for family gatherings, work gatherings, and friend gatherings. Many people take it as an opportunity to hit the gym, lose weight, and get fit while leaving whatever their vices on the wayside for 31 days.

There are a lot of good reasons to quit drinking. According to WebMD, your heart gets healthier, it gives your liver a chance to heal, you’ll get better sleep and you may even lose some weight (especially for you lovers of double IPAs). You’ll probably be in a better mood and have more energy, too. I’m not doing sober October for those reasons, but they are all welcome.

I’m participating in Sober October because I am way behind on my reading goal of 35 books this year. As of this writing, I am 8 books behind. If I can knock out 2 books a week, I should be caught up for the home stretch. I thought that I would share the 8 books that I’ll be reading this month as I lose weight, my liver heals, my heart gets stronger, and hopefully, my brain makes some gains.

1. “All You Need to Know About the Music Business” by Donald S. Passman

Donald S. Passmen is a lawyer in Los Angeles who specializes in the music business. People like Katy Perry, Jimmy Iovine, and Rick Rubin sing Donald’s praises on the back. I’ve been working in music broadcasting for 25 years and there is always more to learn. I look forward to seeing the music industry from a very different perspective after reading this book. This book is in its 10th edition and the Los Angeles Times has called it “The industry bible.” I probably should have already read this book.

2. “Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres” by Kelefa Sanneh

Kelefa Sanneh was a music critic at the New York Times. He has been a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning and is currently a staff writer for New Yorker. He has written books on various genres of music but brings it all to fruition in this book. My main reasons for reading this book are to gain more appreciation for genres of music that I may have overlooked due to my own stubbornness and perhaps find a few new artists to be obsessed with. Endorsements on the back jacket are from the likes of David Letterman and Chuck Klosterman, which is high praise in my world. I love history and I love music, so  I’m very excited to read this.

I bought this when it first came out in hardcover and it’s been sitting on my shelf taunting me for a while as the paperback is out now to save your few dollars.

3. “In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing” by Elena Ferrante

Obviously a very different bit of reading from the previous titles, I am going to read this book because Ferrante wrote the very popular “My Brilliant Friend” series. All four of those thick books are on my shelf and I want to read them. I’ve heard very good things, but it’s a big commitment. I figure that getting to know Ferrante’s writing style and philosophy on writing and reading will be a good introduction and a good launching pad to push me to dive into her other work. It’s also only 111 pages long, which should help give me a little bump on the way to my goal.

4. “Life on the Mississippi: An Epic Adventure” by Rinker Buck

A guy builds a flatboat to float down the Mississippi River while giving a history lesson about the evolution of the mighty river through. It’s a modern Huckleberry Finn adventure. If only I had the time, skill, and money to set out on such an adventure. In the meantime, I’ll live vicariously through those who do. I have no doubt that I will want to brush up on some Mark Twain as soon as I finish this.

5. “Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn

This book has been on my reading list for years. I owned it for a while, but think I tossed it in a bag bound for the D.I. during my last move, so it was only appropriate that the good ol’ Deseret Industries is where I found my current copy for only $1.50! This book has been recommended by a lot of authors I’ve read in various essays – twisted and dark writers – and by many friends. It’s a book that keeps coming up over the years. It’s time I stop ignoring the signs and finally read “Geek Love.”

I haven’t even peeked at the back jacket for the synopsis. Sometimes you just have to jump in. I am sure some of you have read it and are shaking your heads with the knowledge that I am in for something “special.”

6. “Everybody Loves Our Town” by Mark Yarm

Back to the meat and potatoes of music and music history. Yeah, I grew up with it, but I didn’t grow up in it. I was 14 when Kurt died and while I loved the music (not as much as this kid in my Tech Studies class at West Jordan High did – this guy dressed like Kurt, always carried an old acoustic guitar, and had the dour disposition of Kurt at all times), I didn’t really understand the effect that Nirvana and that whole scene had in the world, all bore out from this tiny corner of the United States.

I have lived in Seattle and it has a very specific vibe. That’s why I am really excited to find my way into this oral history of this music. It’s a genre that not only shaped X96 in its prime but my relationship with music from the people that were there.

7. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by Caitlin Doughty

I read a book last year called “The American Way of Death Revisited” by Jessica Mitford and WOW! What an eye-opener that book is. It’s an exposé of various angles of the death business: caskets, graves, death care, cremation, telemarketing (yes, telemarketing), etc. For something we all will eventually face, I was surprised how little I know about how things would be when I am dead. It was the spark that sent me down the old rabbit hole.

I read “Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain” (also by Mitford) and some other essays regarding corpses. Then I read Mary Roach’s “Stiff.” There are so many uses we get out of dead bodies: money, science, military science, and beyond. I bought “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” at the tail end of my fascination streak and it has just sat on my shelf. It’s a memoir about a woman who worked in a mortuary, servicing the dead for whatever end their final resting place happened to be. Sure, it’s a grim subject, but an unavoidable one and seems season appropriate.

8. The Final Sober October book on the list: “The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier” by Ian Urbina

Yes, another adventure. Yes, again on the water. This time it’s the ocean. Not the part you see from the beach, but the vast expanse where laws don’t really exist. It’s a place that is simply too big for anyone to manage – a world in a world. The kind of place where shady people do shady things. The back cover promises “Traffickers, smugglers, pirates and mercenaries, wreck thieves and repo men, vigilante conservationists and elusive poachers, seabound abortion providers, clandestine oil dumpers, shackled slaves and cast-adrift stowaways.” How can you not want to dive in?

Ian Urbina basically became obsessed with this floating underworld and bounced from his day gig to write this book. The world is a big place and this book feels like it will just make it feel bigger and more dangerous.

Sober October Reading List Suggestions

Hopefully, I can make it through all of these. The cupboards are stocked with coffee. The fridge with Red Bull. The beer has been put away for the next 31 days. Time to dig in.

If you have any books you things I would like, please send them my way at [email protected]. I didn’t have a lot of fiction in this list, but I love the work of Sayaka Murata, Rachel Cusk, Henry Miller, and Tove Ditlevsen to name a few.

Here’s to Sober October!


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