Reading 2016

One of my goals every year is to read at least 52 books. I met my goal this year by reading exactly 52. I’d like to share the most significant books that I read (in no particular order) and then close with a few thoughts on this yearly goal.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I’m at a loss to really describe this book. It’s terrifyingly horrific with bright lights of hope scattered throughout. The beauty is in the power of friendship that gives hope to the hopeless protagonist. The horror is in what was done to him. This is a book that made me weep at the hideousness of what humans can do to each other and at the restorative power of love and friendship. Yet despite the beauty, the sadness lingered on to end with the realization that some things can never be repaired. Some wounds are too deep, too harmful, too lasting.

The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin by Steven Lee Myers

Fascinating look at Putin’s life–especially in today’s context.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Excellent ethnography of the effects of housing and eviction on the poor in America (specifically in Milwaukee). The continuing systemic racism and discrimination in the housing market was shocking, though I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey

Excellent book that surveys the research over the last few centuries on how we learn and retain what we learn. The best part is that the information is actionable, whether you’re just trying to expand the horizons of what you know or whether you are in academia. 

“This much is clear: The mixing of items, skills, or concepts during practice, over the longer term, seems to help us not only see the distinctions between them but also to achieve a clearer grasp of each one individually. The hardest part is abandoning our primal faith in repetition.”

“About the only thing we can control is how we learn. The science tells us that doing a little here, a little there, fitting our work into the pockets of the day is not some symptom of eroding “concentration,” the cultural anxiety du jour. It’s spaced study, when done as described in this book, and it results in more efficient, deeper learning, not less. The science gives us a breath of open air, the freeing sensation that we’re not crazy just because we can’t devote every hour to laser-focused practice. Learning is a restless exercise and that restlessness applies not only to the timing of study sessions but also to their content, i.e., the value of mixing up old and new material in a single sitting.”

The Broken Earth #1 (The Fifth Season) & #2 (The Obelisk Gate) by N.K. Jemisin

I’m a huge fan of epic fantasy and excellent world-building in the tradition of Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. Jemison’s Broken Earth trilogy is brilliant and insightful in ways beyond a mere fantasy story.

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Excellent overview of the history, current state, and future possibilities of genetics. Engaging and readable just like Mukherjee’s other book The Emperor of All Maladies.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough, Michael Braungart

This is one of my favorite books of all time and I read it for the second time this year. Highly recommended exploration of truly sustainable design and manufacturing.

Check out this link for a look at all the books I read:

Random Thoughts

  • 69% of the books I read this year were via audiobooks. I’d really like to move this needle closer to 50/50 of audiobooks vs. kindle/physical books because of the different levels of retention and content each of these mediums lend themselves to. This year was difficult to maintain the balance because of the amount of time my marathon training took, but I probably could’ve kept the balance if I had watched less TV (but too many good shows this year!).
  • Sometimes I think I should set a larger goal for reading, especially after seeing how many books some of my more prolific friends read. However, I’ve decided to keep the same goal in order to make sure I’m balanced on the creating/consuming scale in terms of content. This is obviously a personal decision because I’m a slower reader, but the primary creative project I’m working on is still about a year out from completion and I need to stay focused.
  • I didn’t tackle any really difficult books this year and I’d like to change that. In 2017, my goal is to tackle Being and Nothingness by Sartre, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Hofstadter, and an engineering design textbook, so wish me luck.

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