For this year, I’ve decided to list out some of my favorites each month. This includes books, posts, podcasts, music, TV shows, products – whatever I’m currently consuming. The hope is to share some of the greats from each for others to enjoy as well. I’ll start with books so far since this has been an especially lucky start to the year with a number of books I’ve really enjoyed.
Here are some of the favorite books I read (well, mostly listened to) in January. If you’re a science fiction fan and only read one, check out Children of Time – it was amazing.
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky (5/5)
One of the best books I’ve ever read. When it comes to science fiction, there’s a lot of the same out there. Tchaikovsky writes an entirely original story with amazing characters – not all human.
The premise is this: Earth is in the process of terraforming a new planet to make it habitable. The plan is to contaminate this new world with a genetic virus that will cause the monkies there to become more sentient in the far future. Something goes wrong (we’re still in chapter 1 here) and instead a planet of insects are grown.
The most impressive part of this entire story is the focus on insect chemistry and what it would look like for a planet of intelligent spiders to rise. They face many of the same issues we do in our society today – gender rights (although the main issue is to allow males to NOT be eaten after mating), societal structures, trust, communication, and math. The approach to solving these issues is entirely insect-based, and some of them blew my mind.
The Year of Less by Cait Flanders (5/5)
The full title for this one is “The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store”.
I’ve been reading Caits blog for longer than I can remember. Before the finance community was something I knew about, Cait’s approach to heartfelt stories about minimalism and consumption was what drew me to read more. This book dives deeper with a narrative that winds through a difficult year.
Going much deeper into personal stories than I expected, the common thread is a story of growth – both towards having less stuff, but also for better understanding what leads to happiness. Editing down a life to focus on what matters is no small undertaking, and many of these stories have inspired me to look at areas of my life that could use a little editing.
The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod (5/5)
The full title for this one is: “The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8 AM)”.
I’m writing this review at 6:30 am, after waking up at 6. I normally never wake up before 7:30 am. I think that tells you most of what you need to know about this one.
This is an area I’ve been curious about for a long time. For some of my most productive years, I woke up promptly in the morning and went to the gym for an hour. That morning workout gave me a lot of strength for the rest of the day – more self-control, more optimism, more sense of accomplishment to start the day.
I’d always presumed that was specific to what I was doing (working out). After reading this book, I believe I was off on that presumption. Instead, doing anything productive to start the day can lead to these benefits. This limiting belief – that I’m a night person and that I can’t do it – was quickly shut down, and now I’m hoping to give this early riser thing a try.
Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker (5/5)
The full name for this one is: “Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste”.
Ever since I watched Somm on Netflix, I’ve been fascinated by sommeliers. The amount of work and dedication needed to become a Master is nothing short of crazy. While the movie Somm focuses mostly on the test for those already experienced, Cork Dork follows a path from pure curiosity to career.
For those who want to “break in” to the wine world, it’s no small task. It’s painted as completely unrealistic to do it on your own unless you happen to have a few million extra dollars lying around. Instead, the way to do it is to get a job at a restaurant with a notable wine list and use every chance you have to start tasting wines and learning.
The process that upcoming somms go through is far more painful than I thought. Restaurant work aside (which has its own issues), trying to do that while ALSO becoming a master in taste, service, and knowledge is something I’m good not pursuing – but hats off to people who make it their calling.
If nothing else, I got better tips on how to speak to somms as a drinker to communicate what I’m looking for.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (5/5)
What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been covered the media? Between opening the doors to a journalist (Wolff) and then treating him like a confident, it’s no surprise what happened: the truth got out.
There have been a number of stories that haven’t been shared as widely as others from this book that still stuck with me:
- When alone with a colleagues wife that Trump wanted to sleep with, he called her husband on speakerphone and got him to admit to compromising things so he could pursue her (this happened with multiple women).
- Jared Kushner is painted as the most knowledgeable person in the entire white house – or at least the one that listens to other people before making his own opinion.
- Just how much no one in the campaign wanted to win the election, and that everything they did was to make it seem like less of a blowout so they could all move on to better jobs after the loss.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (4/5)
When I started this book, I thought it would be more of a “memoir of the craft”, but was surprised to see it’s much more of a memoir of King himself. His own rise an author from nothing to one of the biggest names in writing.
I loved the individual stories of hard work, coupled with a mission to just write. From selling short stories to other kids while in school, to submitting to magazines, Kind wrote and wrote and hustled. It would have been easy for him to give up, but he had so much he wanted to say that he couldn’t not write.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (4/5)
With the Olympics in South Korea this year, and us visiting southeast Asia, I wanted to learn more about the history of North Korea and it’s people. I’ve heard the horror stories in the news over the last decade of labor camps, extreme hunger and the systematic approach to lying to the people, but this book goes deeper than that – by focusing on actual stories from North Korean defectors.
Some of the stories they tell are warm, like when talking about family and young love. Most are haunting, talking about the physical effects of extreme hunger or carts of corpses being removed from trains that died of hunger the previous night.
The escape process and the integration back into South Korean life is not easy either, and both have their own drawbacks which are explored in this book.
Multipliers by Liz Wiseman (3/5)
The full title for this one is “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter”.
How do you deal with coworkers who bring you down? Do you try to “fix” them? Try to work better with them? What if their actions prevent you from being the productive team member you want to be?
This is the idea Liz poses between “Deminisher” and “Multipliers”. Multipliers have the ability to make everyone around them better. Diminishers, on the other hand, hinder other peoples abilities to work.
While many of the examples are presented over and over again (which got somewhat monotonous), a few stuck with me. Working with others when you already have a plan in mind can make for an unhappy relationship. The constant reminder in this book to seek context with others and solve their problems first was a leadership takeaway that I could stand to do a better job at.
What were your favorite books of January? What are you hoping to read in February?