Five Books of 2018

Books are important. I’m both proud that I managed to read 32 books this year — which is the most I’ve read in since college — and a little embarrassed that I only read 32 books this year, considering reading is what I wanted to prioritize in 2018.

Of the 32 that I muddled through, I’ve chosen five that impacted me the most.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

A surprisingly powerful book for a seemingly small subject, this book helped me adjust my mind to see what we do as individuals and organizations are built on top of piles of habits. It also shed light on organizational and personal behaviors that seem to spring from nonsense. When I can look deeper and see the habits that these behaviors are built on, things start to make more sense. More importantly, I have the perception I need to change the underlying programing that leads to these odd behaviors. Highly recommended for anyone who is focused on developing themselves.

Drop City

I have no idea how this book got on my to-read list, which admittedly has grown over the last thirteen years to a bloated 2707. (Yes, I know that at this rate, I will be 128 years old when I finish this list, assuming I never add another book…) However it happened, I’m glad it did. I went in knowing nothing but the title, and a vague sense of having heard of T.C. Boyle as an author. On the surface, this novel was about different American countercultures meeting; hippies and Alaskan bushmen. But there was something deeper happening worthy of re-reading. I wish I had read this when I was studying literature. I was particularly struck by how the author seemed to simultaneously present the most intimate portraits of his characters while presenting no judgement about them. The result was both cold and fascinating.

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue

If Ryan Holiday writes it, then it is likely to be in my top books. I purchased this one in hardcover, a rarity as I tend to prefer digital, but his previous work has been so impactful that I knew I wanted this as a permanent addition. The book covers the demise of Gawker, which I admit when I purchased the book, I didn’t know it had collapsed. I also did not know who Peter Thiel was (Just a multi-billionaire investor who is largely responsible for some of the most successful companies in the last twenty years. Ho-hum). Even then, Ryan did a fine job wrapping me into the story. While the book is titled “Conspiracy” the thing that most drew me in was the egos. The characters were all larger than life. Some had suffered the pains that outsized egos can bring, some were about to suffer, and yet others had managed to master their own egos… at least for now.

Bluebird, Bluebird

I rarely read mysteries. When I do, they even more rarely leave an impression. This was an exception. While it was written honoring the mystery formula, the real joy of this book was the way the formula was used to accomplish other things. First, the mystery is a hook to hang a rich and nuanced treatment of race in the American South. It is also a love letter to rural Eastern Texas, a place I never thought would hold my interest. I burned through this book in two days, and immediately wished there was more.

Dawn (Xenogenesis, #1)

It was a slow year for reading science fiction. I had made it a goal to branch out to other genres this year, which made less space for my favorite. I am very pleased that I made space for this! Dawn does what only the best science fiction can do, create a story involving aspects that are alien and strange and use those to shine a light on things that are familiar. In this story, humankind has nearly destroyed itself and it’s remains have been taken by an alien race, where they exist on a living ship, acting as a combination of servant, test subject, pet, and exotic love interest. It doesn’t take much of a leap to see the parallels in how an isolated culture feels when colonists show up and rapidly begin the work of subjugation.

For 2019, I want again to push my reading further. I know better than to set my reading goal too high, so I’m going to aim for just a 10% increase. Rounding up, that is 36 books I want to read this year. Three a month is ambitious, and I best aim for four a month to start as there will certainly be obstacles along the way. Looking at this to-be-read pile, I shouldn’t have much trouble finding material.

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