After a shorter than expected list of fiction I had read this year, my non-fiction list was a touch longer than I thought. I ended up reading 24 non-books in 2013, and some were very good. I was going to make this list all inclusive, but decided against it. I’ll offer a few comments about my favorite 12 and include a few at the end with a single thought.
There were two types of books I read this year. The first were books about the human journey. From Wall Street riches to cold Michigan winters, from happiness in NYC, to minimalism that springs up in Ohio, to homeschooling in California. The topics of these books was varied, but the structure of a journey was not.
The second, and smaller set of books, was more academic. These books were synthesis of academic articles, expert interviews, and breaking research to create a worldview worth considering. While I enjoyed the journey stories more, these books were ones that I could read again and gather even more good information.
As with my fiction list, I started many more books than just these, but these were the ones I finished and enjoyed quite a bit.
Books about a human journey.
Why I Left Goldman Sachs. The Occupy movement was winding down when I read this book and I didn’t choose it because of that. I hoped it would be a relatively objective story with a great inside perspective – and it was. A story about power, greed, money, and the people who seek it and how they get there. If you’re curious about people on Wall Street, this is a good place to start for a current lay of the land.
The Year of Learning Dangerously. Take one witty, former Hollywood star, one mostly patient husband, and one slightly impatient daughter. Quinn Cummings tells a great story about taking her daughter out of school to homeschool her and the over-my-head feelings that accompany it. She stretches the book by including historical homeschooling factions and other homeschool factions, but the best parts are her own experiences. I would have like to see this be The Two Years of Learning Dangerously.
A Day in the Life of a Minimalist. I got a free Kindle copy of Joshua Fields Millburn’s book and enjoyed it. The content was a slightly redundant because I had been following his blog, but it was a great primer into living a more purposeful and minimalist life.
The Happiness Project. This story from Gretchen Rubin is about her year to try to live happier, and was a big inspiration for what I’m doing now. Rubin’s idea was to find 12 things that would make her happier and do them. She used scientific data and historical ideas to create a blend of big ideas and daily rules. The content on the pages was good, but the great part was the way it shifted my thinking. I wasn’t drawn to any of the things Rubin did because none of her happiness things were going to be things that made me happy. Instead I was drawn to her pursuit. Her other book, Happier at Home was good too, though if you choose to read one, start with The Happiness Project.
Bootstrapper. This was a bit of an odd choice for me. Mardi Jo Link’s story about raising three boys as a single mother in northern Michigan isn’t something that I would have found myself drawn to on the description alone. But the title, oh the title. This is a story about someone just trying to make it. Trying with every fiber of their body to just make it. Link is pulling herself by her bookstraps and being in Michigan, she needs to pull on some boots to chop firewood. Carry On, Warrior was another book like this, though it included a history of drugs and a future with God.
Born to Run. My favorite book of the year. Christopher McDougall writes a masterpiece of running history, health, and stories about people. The culture and subcultures that are woven through this book reminded me that life is indeed rich. Riches of gold and silver are one kind and maybe not the best. The wealth in this story is through running, being healthy, and pursuing dreams.
Dad is Fat. This book was funny, really funny. My wife and I listened to it during a six hour vacation road trip and hardly said a word to each other the entire time. We were entranced with Gaffigan – who also reads it – and how he parents. Stories include the agony of taking children to restaurants, Disney with gallons of sunscreen, and why his family needs a hotel room for two nights but never sleeps there.
Choose Yourself. I think there is an employment shift that’s beginning. It’s a combination of self, temporary, and distance employment. In my small little slice of work, two of my tasks can be done through my computer and whether people like me will be doing this work in ten years, I’m doubtful. James Altucher writes a book – much like his other writing – that is filled with encouragement to go, do, be. His blog, JamesAltucher.com gives a great primer and if you find yourself nodding your head, then go buy this book.
Drop Dead Healthy. AJ Jacobs has a consistent style of humor. Build a pattern, build a pattern, mix it up. Knowing this doesn’t matter, he’s still funny. This book is about Jacobs’ attempt to become the healthiest person on the planet by examining every aspect of his life, from noise pollution to soft gums, and he does all of it while injecting bits of humor. Jacobs’ finds that taking deep breaths is better than shallow ones and that that you can steam, blend, and drink anything. I had two posts – part 1 and part 2 – with some quotes from the book.
Books with a specific focus.
How Children Succeed. Paul Tough’s previous book, Whatever it Takes provided a better street level view wand How provided a more bird’s eye view of how children learn. What sort of roles do toughness or resilience play? Tough does a great job asking good questions and sharing equally good answers.
The Power of Habit. Charles Duhigg wrote my favorite pop-psychology book of the year. I hate calling these books this, but the term fits for a general understanding. I hope Duhigg and others note that this description should be interpreted by them as “book that was probably really hard to write and the fact that someone deciphered tomes of science and distilled it enough for my frog-like brain to understand is no small task.” If you’d like to understand habits better, read this book.
A Guide to the Good Life. This is a book about Stoicism, which is not acting like an unfeeling statue of the Greeks who modeled it. Stoicism’s core idea for me is that life is fleeting. The things I have now should be appreciated – my health, my wealth, my children. There will be a time I don’t have these things and I might long for them, taking the time to think about them now will give me a greater appreciation of them. This book influenced me so, I posted about for an entire week.
That’s 12 books – or so, all of them excellent. Here are a few more good ones:
- 168 Hours. You and I have more time in our weeks than we realize. If we pay attention to the hours, we can find more of them.
- What I Talk About When I Talk about Running. Running meets writing novels, meet the man who does both.
- Money Secrets of the Amish. Use up, repurpose, wear out.
- Born Standing Up. Not a funny story but a good story about a funny man, Steve Martin.
- The Four Hour Body. Dense, the more serious version of Drop Dead Healthy.
Those were the best ones I read this year. What did I miss?