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In 2017 I actively re-engaged with reading. I had lost the habit of reading when I started working for myself. With no commute to fill with audiobooks, and little free time to sit and read books, reading had simply fallen out of my life.
During 2017 I managed to turn that around by starting new exercise habits that gave me more time to listen to audiobooks again. And after making a series of small but impactful changes to how I balance life and work, I added more time to sit and read as well. You can read more about that here and here.
My approach these days to reading is:
- Listen to fiction while exercising, driving, or doing activities around the house (e.g. cooking meals). My main exercise is trail running, which provides many hours of listening time each week. It's quite peaceful and relaxing to run through the trees listening to a good story. An Audible subscription for one credit per month is just the right amount as long as I buy long books (20+ hours is ideal). On the occasions where I finished a book before my new credit arrived I just filled the time with podcasts or music instead.
- Read non-fiction during breaks and in the evenings. Since I work from home most of the time I also have the option to watch some Netflix or catch the end of an NBA game during lunch. But coffee breaks, evenings after dinner, and weekend breakfasts offer plenty of reading time. My Kindle Oasis continues to be a great investment. Super lightweight, great battery life, great screen quality. Every now and then I read a fiction book this way as well.
Looking back at my reading during 2018 I am pretty happy with the results. There's a good mix of entertainment, education, and personal development in the titles that I read or listened to.
I'm not afraid to stop reading a book if it's not working for me. Fortunately those are rare cases. Very few of the books I read were a disappointment. Most were good or very good. I spend a lot of time checking reviews to try and avoid poor titles. Often the books I read are personally recommended by someone I know.
I'm also conscious of not reading a lot of titles that cover the same ground. Especially in the personal development space. There's a time to learn, and then there's a time to take action. Consuming more advice on productivity, time management, or interpersonal communications is not going to help you if you never implement any of it.
Here's the full list.
- Remote: Office Not Required – I read this book expecting to need to seek a remote job at some stage. So far that need hasn't come up, but it's still a great book for those who are interested in the flexibility of remote work. Here's my full review.
- The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever – As the title promises, this book did change the way I lead. It also changed how I parent. In short, this book arms you with a simple strategy that allows you to help others find solutions without creating a dependency on yourself. I recommend this book to anyone who mentors (e.g. senior or more experienced member of a team) or leads others. Here's my full review.
- 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think – Unlike time management books that focus on micro-level changes and habits, this book makes you step back and look at how you're spending the week (all 168 hours of it(. It also offers great advice for how to optimize your week around your core competencies, those things that are the highest priority in your life. Here's my full review.
- Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose – I've been curious to learn more of the story behind the success of Zappos but only just got around to reading this book this year. It's an enjoyable story if you like reading the polished version of a business's rise to success. I can't think of anything specifically that I've taken from it and applied to our business. Probably best read by someone early in their customer service career or starting their own business.
- 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower – I do a lot of running, and one thing I learned is that training the wrong way sucks a lot. I'd read the advice to slow down before, but this book explained why and gave some useful science and case studies behind it. I didn't use the training plans it provides because just as I got to that point I tore my ankle ligament, ironically during an easy recovery run. By the time I got through rehab for that I had committed to a 2019 event and purchased a training plan specifically for that, which also takes a similar approach to what is taught in 80/20 Running.
- Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success – I read this book as part of my research into burnout, something I've had personal experience with. Although this book is written more from a sports perspective it does cover non-sports situations as well. There is good advice in this book on how our brains and bodies work, and how to best optimize for growth without burnout. I recommend this book if you feel like you're in a burnout/crash cycle as you strive to get better in any aspect of your life.
- Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History – I like basketball and I like the Golden State Warriors. Which is a good thing because this is mostly a story about the people involved in turning around the franchise and taking them to a championship. There is a little of the “science” in it, but not as much as I thought there would be. A bigger part of the story is bringing the right people together and building the right culture that will breed success. That's a good lesson for all of us, but if you hate the Warriors you won't like the context.
- It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy At Work – This is a great book. Even if you're an employee who has no direct control over your working environment, you can still learn a lot from this book. At the very least you'll see that there are better ways to run a company. You don't need to stay with chaotic companies that create stress and burnout in their employees. I'll write a full review of this book in the next few months.
- Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel – I enjoyed this book quite a lot. Rogue One is a great movie but there's some mystery in how the characters got to where they are at the beginning of that story. Catalyst fills in the back story nicely, and a lot more of what is in Rogue One makes sense after reading this.
- Ashoka – This book is next in the Star Wars canon timeline and I'm part way through reading it now (I expect to finish it within a few days). It's a relaxed and interesting story of one of my favourite characters from the Clone Wars series. If you like Star Wars and Ashoka (the character), this is a nice easy read.
- Old Man's War series, by John Scalzi – I started listening to this series in 2017. This year I listened to The Last Colony (book 3), The Human Division (book 5), and The End of all Things (book 6). I skipped book 4 and 4.5, both of which are side stories (or back stories). A pretty good sci-fi series that starts out as a fun action story in book 1, then develops the deeper plot in the other books. It got a little “Phantom Menace” at one stage with political intrigue, but overall I enjoyed it.
- Frontlines series, by Marko Kloos – I continued my sci-fi action streak by moving straight into the Frontlines series. Compared to Old Man's War, this series stays closer to the action and doesn't go off on the political tangents as much. I just wanted a good story to listen on my runs so that worked perfectly for me. The full list of titles in the series is Terms of Enlistment (book 1), Lines of Departure (book 2), Angles of Attack (book 3), Chains of Command (book 4), Points of Impact (book 5), and Fields of Fire (book 6).
- Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E Feist. After Frontlines I was concerned about burning out on space/sci-fi, but I also wanted to choose long books to get maximum value from my monthly Audible credit. That lead me to the Riftwar Saga, a series I first read as a teenager. After a few decades it was an absolute joy listening to these familiar stories again. The full series is Magician, Silverthorn, and A Darkness at Sethanon.
- Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan. The Netflix show had caught my eye but I didn't have time to watch it, so I figured the book would be a good alternative. I really struggled at the beginning though. Unsure what the problem was I decided to watch the first episode of the Netflix show. That helped me put some faces to the characters I was hearing in the audiobook, and I persevered. About 3/4ths of the way through I realized I just wasn't enjoying it. I decided to push on, and the story briefly improved, but then ended on a flat note. There's a deeper societal message wrapped in some interesting futuristic ideas, but it just didn't click with me. Afterwards I tried to watch more of the Netflix show, but it suffers from a problem that really grinds my gears – lots of quiet mumbling in dark, obscure settings, punctuated by loud action scenes. Ultimately it just doesn't work in a house with young kids.
- KOP, by Warren Hammond – After the disappointment of Altered Carbon I took a punt on this cop/crime story set in the future on another planet. Checking the reviews beforehand introduced me to the concept of a “Bat Durston” story. That's a fair assessment of this book. It was easy to listen to, and I got through it without having to force myself (unlike Altered Carbon). There's more parts in the series but I have no plans to continue with it. In the end I realized that the world the story is set on is just kind of gross and unpleasant to think about.
- Serpentwar Saga, by Raymond E Feist – To finish up the year I returned to Midkemia with Shadow of a Dark Queen, and Rise of a Merchant Prince (currently listening to). I'll get to the rest of them in the new year. There are some other books in the timeline that come before these, but having read them before it doesn't cause any spoilers for me. Again I am enjoying listening to stories that I last read several decades ago. Familiar, but enough forgotten details that they feel fresh and new again.
One audiobook that also rates a mention here is Neuromancer, the classic sci-fi/cyberpunk novel by William Gibson. Neuromancer is the first audiobook I've returned for a refund. Like the Altered Carbon Netflix show, the Neuromancer audiobook was a lot of quiet mumbling punctuated by loud action. About 1/3rd of the way into it I realized I had no idea what was happening, because I'd missed so much dialogue that the plot and characters had become a confused mess. After being disappointed by Altered Carbon I've realized it's also possible I just don't like the genre.
Reading Goals for 2019
I've settled into some good reading habits that I am happy with. In 2019 I hope to continue that, and take things up a notch as well.
During 2018 my goal had been to read one non-fiction book per month. I ended up reading eight instead, with two additional Kindle books from the Star Wars universe. Next year I will try to hit that target of twelve non-fiction books. It's easily achievable if I maintain my reading habits and don't get distracted by sitting on the couch surfing Reddit instead of picking up my Kindle after dinner.
For audiobooks I managed to read sixteen books (including the one I am listening to now and will finish in the next week). At one Audible credit per month that was only achievable thanks to some extra credits saved up from previous years when I listened to fewer books. As my trail running load is going to increase in 2019 I will have a lot of hours to fill, and will probably need to purchase some extra audiobooks along the way.
If you have any good fiction or non-fiction titles to suggest based on my reading list above please feel free to drop a comment below.