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My Annual Book Audit: 52 Books and the 52 Ways They Changed Me This Year

Read 10,000 books, travel 10,000 miles [to attain wisdom] - Ancient Chinese Aphorism

My Dad shared that proverb with me a couple weeks ago as we discussed my recent decision to quit my job to write a book. As Chinese sayings go, this one’s fairly straightforward: we read books to benefit from the wisdom of their authors so we are more prepared when we seek our own wisdom. He told me that while he’s nervous about my decision to burn cash for the foreseeable future, he’s comforted by the fact that I read a lot of books.

He's counting on the wise folks that write books to tell me when I’m making dumb decisions. Seems reasonable.

I usually don’t think I read enough. At the beginning of the year, I’d resolved to read a book a week (a dramatic increase from the ten or fifteen books I’d read the previous year). I wasn’t satisfied with certain aspects of my life and wanted to make some adjustments. I thought that reading the right books might give me perspective and help me build and break some habits.

My hypothesis was that these books would help me make small changes in the right direction and eventually sum to big, positive changes.

So I had this nice thought at the beginning of the year and then didn’t think much about it until this morning when I woke up and thought I should see how I did.

And for the first time I can remember, I stuck to a resolution! I actually beat it by two books. This year I read 52 books and each one changed my life a little bit.

So without further ado, all 52 books and the associated impact each one had on me.

(aside: what's the deal with default styling for html tables? Column width is all over the place)

Biography

Title Author Change
10% Happier Dan Harris Started recommending this book to people that both read and are struggling to meditate
Jim Henson Brian Jones Started searching for something I'd be passionate about like Henson was passionate about his work
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman Richard P. Feynman Started to dabble more in things I find curious
I Am Malala Malala Yousafzai Stopped doing things for work that didn't have a positive impact on the world
Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain Stopped ordering fish on Mondays and hollandaise sauce at brunch
I Come to You From the Future John Robert Heffron Stopped reading books with hashtags in the title
Creativity Inc Ed Catmull Stopped second guessing whether searching for something I was passionate was worthwhile

Favorite: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman gr

Business

Title Author Change
Monk and the Riddle Randy Komisar Started asking myself "what would it take to do this for the rest of my life" to judge whether I'm working on the right thing
Hooked Nir Eyal Started to skim books instead of reading every word if the insight is in a framework that's easily understood
Your Brain at Work David Rock Started to write down priorities for the day first thing in the morning
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing Al Ries Stopped reading books that are lists
Mindset Carol Dweck Stopped thinking of myself as "talented." Started to focus on how skilled I was at growing.
The Adventures of Johnny Bunko Daniel Pink Stopped worrying about losing sight of "the plan" because there's no such thing
The Hard Thing About Hard Things Ben Horowitz Stopped thinking that I had a clue when it came to being a good employee
Steal Like an Artist Austin Kleon Stopped worrying about being derivative

Favorite: Monk and the Riddle gr

Fiction

Title Author Change
The Alchemist Paulo Coelho Started my search for meaning in work. Helped me trust my gut
The Tao of Poo Dirk McFergus Started practicing acceptance of the present moment
Gone Girl Gillian Flynn Started reading fiction again after years of reading only nonfiction. So good I read it at Coachella
The Rosie Project Graerne Simsion Started research to identify the best martial arts I should start to learn
The Beach Alex Garland Started to consolidate my posessions to live with less
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger Started to maintain childhood naivety in everyday life even if adulthood comes with an unavoidable loss of innocence
Ishmael Daniel Quinn Stopped believing in "the way things are" in work and education
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Hunter S. Thompson Stopped reading Hunter S. Thompson
The Stranger Albert Camus Stopped reading existentialist books (even though Camus did not self-identify as one)

Favorite: The Rosie Project gr

Nonfiction

Title Author Change
Mindfulness Joseph Goldstein Started being kind of Buddhist
Man's Search for Meaning Viktor E. Frankl Started interpreting the world in terms of meaning
Zero to One Peter Thiel Started journey to build a "competitive monopoly" for myself
Catching the Big Fish David Lynch Started meditating again after a couple failed attempts
Everything is Bullshit Alex Mayyasi Started searching my brain for things to unlearn
Delivering Happiness Tony Hsieh Started seeking people and organizations with missions to surround myself with
Waking Up Sam Harris Started seriously meditating and unintentionally evangelizing
The Obstacle is the Way Ryan Holiday Started to embrace barriers as opportunities to practice skills required to overcome them. Pairs nicely with growth mindset
The Art of Learning Josh Waitzkin Started to embrace incremental learning by practicing the same skill every morning every day (writing, currently)
Eating Animals Jonathan Safran Foer Stopped eating red meat (e.g. cows, pigs)
Show Your Work! Austin Kleon Stopped reading books that are really listicles (fool me twice...)
Free Will Sam Harris Stopped thinking about the concept of free will because there's no point
Young Money Kevin Roose Stopped wondering whether I should have tried finance

Favorite: The Art of Learning gr

Technical

Title Author Change
Understanding Comics Scott McCloud Started drawing
The Design of Everyday Things Donald Norman Started to blame poorly designed systems instead of individuals for failures
Objective-C Programming Aaron Hillegass Started to build an iPhone app
Your First Meteor Application David Turnbull Started to build simple web-apps with Meteor
OmniGraffle 6 The Omni Group Started to choose one tool for each discipline I'm interested in to more quickly achieve unity with my tools. OmniGraffle is for wireframing
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information Edward Tuft Started to develop my own style guide for charts based on Tuft
Discover Meteor Tom Coleman Started to learn web development by learning Meteor
Don't Make Me Think Steve Krug Started to simplify all of my designs to just its core functions
The Elements of User Experience Jesse-James Garrett Started using the Garrett's framework to organize thoughts for any project requiring design
Resonate Nancy Duarte Stopped beautifying my presentations
iOS Programming Joe Conway Stopped building iPhone app
A/B Testing Dan Siroker Stopped prematurely optimizing things (like reading A/B testing books when I didn't know how to design yet)
Simple and Usable Giles Colborne Stopped reading "bite sized" technical books like this one to better spend time on more thorough technical books
Sketching User Experiences Bill Buxton Stopped thinking about design, development, and marketing as sequential with clear inputs and outputs
The Right to Write Julia Cameron Stopped worrying about quality of writing and started to focus on quantity

Favorite: Understanding Comics gr

Themes I noticed

This year was exceptional first for the sheer volume of books I read and second for the impact I allowed each book to have on me. I went into each book looking for something smart to learn from it that I could apply to my life. I'm not sure why I did this, but it's probably because for the first year in a long time, I didn't think I had all the answers. Now that the year is over, I see even clearer how few of the answers I have. 

Knowing how little I know is a very nice feeling! I don't have to worry about having an air tight plan and I don't have to worry about always being right or skilled. It means I don't have any other options but to read a book, walk a mile, and repeat.

Some themes I noticed as I was doing the audit: 

  1. Meditation: started and stopped several times throughout the year. Now I've gone for over six months without missing a day.
  2. Work: quit my job to write and self-publish a book. Solves working on something I'm passionate about, will have a positive impact, and helps me build a competitive monopoly.
  3. Creativity: enabling myself to make things without fear of judgement. Know that I'll get better over time if I practice diligently.
  4. Design and Development: built a foundation to start making internet things early next year, confirmed that I enjoy the process.
  5. Family, friends, relationships: nothing specifically on these topics, but have focused a lot on being mindful and compassionate, bringing my best self to my closest people. 

These observations might be the most encouraging evidence I've seen for focusing on the process rather than the eventual outcome. I don't think I'd have built defensible habits around any of these themes if I'd just woken up one day and said I'm going to do it. The big rewards come too slowly for my brain to register progress along the way. But when I focus on the process of slowly accumulating these positive adjustments--really just bi-products of reading and paying attention to the world--I don't worry about the ultimate outcome and then after a while I look back and there it is. 

Something to keep in mind as we make our New Years Resolutions. 

Happy Holidays!


I love talking about books and I'll pretty much read anybody's favorite books. What books have had the biggest impact on your life? What were your favorites from this year?

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