Books I Read in 2018

I’ve seen a number of posts looking back at what people had read in 2018, and thought they were intesresting. I decided to look back at what I had read in 2018, and was surprised by a few things.

First, I do a lot of journaling in Day One. It’s a great, great journaling app. I have one dedicated journal called “Books I’ve Read”, where I jot down some reactions right after I’ve completed a book. Sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes it’s a sentence. But, it’s the way that I keep track of what I have read.

When I thought back on 2018, I would have estimated that I read about 15 books. However, looking back at Day One shows that I read 29 books. I was astounded.

(This is still pitiable compared to my wife - she read over 80 books in 2018. Let’s just say I think she has a problem.)

A number of these books were introduced to me by PBS’s The Great American Read - and I’m really grateful to have been recommended them.

Three of these books were recommended by Scott Tolinski on the Syntax podcast - so, thank for the great recommendations!

Also - most of my reading is done via audiobook. I have really come to love audibooks as they fit into my life, and make tackling very long books not intimidating.

Anyway, I’m not going to go through all 29 books here - only the top 7.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

This was a weird one. I had it in my head that I should read this book for years. I knew nothing about it, other than it was a classic. Finally I just plunked down and started it.

It’s fantastic.

It’s a coming of age story about a girl (Frannie) growing up in Brooklyn around the time that the first world war broke out. I didn’t even know this much about the book ahead of time. I’m glad that I didn’t - had I known, I don’t know htat I would have taken the time to read it.

The characters are so vivid - the worries are so relatable - you really get sucked into Frannie’s world. As I am of Irish decent, it was also interesting to read about a predominantly Irish family still trying to establish itself in America.

The Alchemist

This was an unexpected gem. I was going through the Great American Read list and seeing what was available from my library. This one was. It wasn’t very long - only 4 hours as an audiobook.

It is a … surreal story that goes by like a dream. It’s kind of hard to describe. The story follows a shepherd boy as he follows a dream (literally) and the choices and changes he faces a long the way (and back). At the end of it, you feel more ready to embrace whim and chance in life.

Neverwhere

My last fiction entry on this list is by Neil Gaiman. I’ve read one other book of his (The Graveyard Book) and enjoyed it.

I’ll be honest, this one was much harder to get through. It’s about a guy living in London with a non-descript job who inadvertently gets sucked into an underground world.

I had a hard time with the book because I felt like the main character just kept letting things happen to him. But, in the end, the payoff is worth it. Also, it has two of the most memorable villains in a book that I’ve read in a while.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

This book changed my life, in a manner of speaking. The title is cheesy, but you have to get past that. What it’s referring to are the attitudes that two men who were father figures to the author had towards money, and how it affected their life. He uses the contrast as a way to illustrate what leads to more personal wealth.

What got through to me with this book was this - I am a person who has largely tried to ignore how money really works for most of my life. And like it or not, this book gets to how money works and how one makes it work for you. (Short version: investing - in differing things - over time).

I may not like a lot of how money rules our society, but right now it’s how the game is played. I’m at a point where I do worry about my family, and making sure they’re okay. If I want to do that, I need to know how money works.

Accelerate

This book was recommended to me by two of my much smarter coworkers. It’s a very academic book that essentially argues for the benefits of continuous delivery in software organizations. Based on a lot of research, it shows that teams that adopt certain practices (such as continuous delivery) just do better work, faster.

This book shaped a lot of the attitudes that we have adopted at work, and we have personally seen the benefits.

I have one significant complaint about this book - it is very academic, and spends a lot of time justifying the conclusions that it comes to. There are long passages about the kinds of surveys they used and why their valid. I wish that there was a “I believe you” edition where they just shared the conclusions. I think that the book would be about 13 the length that it is.

Eat That Frog

A classic of the self-help productivity genre, this book is the polar opposite of Accelerate - it is brief and to the point. The author deliberately has left out the studies and justifications of what he is presenting.

The gist of the book is that we can never do all that we have on our plates. We need to gain focus on what is important and do that first and foremost.

The title of the book comes from a saying along the lines of “You should start each day by eating a frog; that way, you can go through the rest of the day knowing that you’ve already done the worst thing you’ll do all day”.

The author advocates ways of identifying what are the most important things for you in both you personal and professional life, and to clear away the cruft that isn’t that. Stay focused, get one thing done at a time, and in the end you’ll get so much more accomplished.

This is a very short book - the audiobook is maybe 2 hours - and I’ve already re-read it several times. It helps when I don’t feel focused.

Never Split the Difference

This is an amazing book about negotiating, from an author who is a former FBI negotiator. While it is a lot about negotiating, I would say it’s also a lot about just interhuman communication in general. It goes into how to listen during a negotiation, and what to listen for.

One thing that is stressed over and over is that humans are not rational human beings - we are, after all, animals, and our brains are controlled by fears and emotions in ways that we cannot override with simple logic. It takes great emotional intelligence to be a good negotiator.

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