Everyone says read more. I don’t even need to include links, you know everyone says it and you know that science says its good for you. If you don’t believe me, I’m glad you care enough to scrutinize statements made without empirical evidence, so for mild humor and brevity, Let Me Google That for You.
In light of this, I’ve decide to keep a running log of the books I read this year along with a brief paragraph describing what I learned from reading it. I think the point of reading is to learn something, and my hope is that by distilling down the core idea of a book into a few words will help me remember what I learned.
Here it goes:
- Algorithms to Live By :: Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths — This book taught me that a lot of the things and decisions that we obsess over getting right can sometimes be impossible to get “right” and that even then the effort to get there might not be worth it. I learned that even when we have the right process — or algorithm — we can’t always guarantee that things will be the best; they might just be “good enough”. And I learned that because so many problems in how we interact with each other are mathematically really hard, that we can frame questions and make decisions in ways that computationally kind to each other.
- The Mortification of Sin :: John Owen — John Owen’s writings taught me that killing sin is of upmost importance for the Christian. They also taught me that the Spirit is the one who actually mortifies it and that spending time creating boundaries, rules, and even prayers won’t have an effect on killing sin unless the Spirit is called upon. Lastly, I learned the danger of comparing or assuming things about the struggles and temptations that other Christians deal with as that creates more of a foothold for sin to strike from.
- A Grief Observed :: CS Lewis — As always, Lewis finds ways to make me feel and think about the experiences I have had in a profound and different way. This set of writings about Lewis’ response to his wife’s death is honest and in many ways a fury of thought ranging from despair, melancholy, rage and peacefulness. Though there are many specific take-aways from this short book, the core concept was that grief is a process and one that never really stops either.
- Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art :: Abraham Kuyper — Kuyper’s ideas of common grace in the world creates a helpful framework for thinking about how and why humans have progressed in the areas of science and art, regardless of if they are Christians or not. The idea of common grace is the simple idea that God has still bestowed to all people (and to the world itself) some amount of grace that keeps things from falling into utter disarray so that humans can still live in some ways in alignment with how God initially created the world before sin. While a bit theoretical and complex in places, the core concepts should help any believer make better sense of the reasons and benefits for being front-runners in the arenas of art and science.
- Speaker for the Dead :: Orson Scott Card — In the second installment of the Ender Quartet, Card explores, again, the potential happenings when the human race meets another high-functioning alien race and whether fear and mis-understanding will create an additional xenocide like the one Ender accidentally caused 3000 years ago. In the process, Card explores the complexities of celebrating the life and mourning the loss of someone after they have died and suggests that maybe in order to do so someone must know — truly, deeply — know the reasons why that person lived they life they lived. Its an incredibly intricate and thought-provoking novel, discussing philosophy and morality in an extremely engaging story.
- Sleepwalk With Me :: Mike Birbiglia — With wit and humor, Mike Birbiglia tells about some of the funniest, lowest and highest moments of his life. One of the core insights is that while his stories are humorous, there is a core idea that people tend to not share our stories or our experiences out of fear, and how that fear ironically can come to fruition while running from it. I also promise you will laugh, especially when he talks about his pizza pillow…
- The Name of the Wind :: Patrick Rothfuss — Name of the Wind is an especially intriguing book about a talented and hyper-intelligent young boy named Kvothe on his quest to become an arcanist (basically a magic scientist). The Name of the Wind does an extremely exceptional job at creating a believable world where magic is distilled into scientific facts that can be studied and mastered, as opposed to wands or staffs emitting lightening bolts. Rothfuss does a wonderful job of telling the history of this world through characters telling stories within stories within stories, which creates this unsure and speculative history of the world and the characters themselves. This story within a story concept is really what I think makes this book so special and unique and taught me just how powerful a good story can be. Even half-true ones.
- Ready Player One :: Ernest Cline — A video-game turned scavenger hunt fueled by 80’s pop culture references in a crumbling, not-so-distant-future? Sign me up. Ready Player One follows Wade Watts, a gunter — someone searching for the treasure at the end of the massive scavenger hunt — in his quest for winning the game and his struggles with real and virtual life. This book continued to solidify my apprehensions with “virtual everything” coming down the technological pipeline and how easy it is so become so consumed with a digital or virtual life that you forget to live your real one.
- Miracles :: C.S. Lewis — Miracles attempts to explore the feasibility of miracles in the Bible and the intertwined nature of God in the process. Lewis, as usual, has a unique ability to craft simple analogies and metaphors to complex ideas, such as the nature of nature or the personhood of God. While reaching a little further than I had anticipated into philosophical arguments about nature itself, I found those arguments are what I have taken away most and will be continuing to learn more about. Miracles I think is a great start to anyone wanting to begin exploring what it really means for a super-natural event to occur.
- Xenocide :: Orson Scott Card — Continuing in the Ender saga, we see Card exploring even more the roots of religion, the moral obligation of people, and challenging what it means “to be”. Picking up from Speaker for the Dead, Ender and the population of Lusitania is faced with possible xenocide, but this time it would be for two species, maybe even three, and the only option to avoid total extinction would be to release a inevitably deadly virus into the rest of the universe. Unfortunately, Card neglects his story too much and repeats too many similar dilemmas that we have already seen in the Ender saga for the story to be interesting. The core concept I took away from this story is to truly challenge what you believe, and if you do indeed maintain faith afterwards, you must act on those beliefs.
- Hillbilly Elegy :: J.D. Vance — Over the past year, the lower income, rural, white demographic has gained a lot of attention in the media due to the 2016 US Presidential campaign. Mr Vance offers a direct insight into one of these “hillbilly” families: his own. And while Vance relies a lot on his own experience (he does include academic studies and reports and to support some of his thoughts), I believe he has done a great job of articulating how many citizens within this demographic feel forgotten and stuck. This book continued to reinforce in my life the gratefulness of I have for my granddad breaking the poverty cycle amongst his family to grant me the chances I have today, and that the core ways that happens is often through education and mentorship.
- The Girl on the Train :: Paula Hawkins — The novel has gained great fame over the past year or so due to the movie of the same name. While murder/mystery novels are not my go-to, I enjoyed the twists, turns, and the pursuit of solving the case as it were. What I learned most from this book however is just how easy it is to let small actions become habits and how those habits come to own and define who you are overtime. Alcoholism, compulsive lying, running away, etc. all start start somewhere and as individuals, we need to never think we are the mighty ones to never fall into such disrepair.
- Erasing Hell :: Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle — Erasing Hell is a short and focused book on what the Bible says about hell vs some of the contemporary ideas floating around in churches today. Chan does a great job of keeping the conversation focused on what the Bible actually says about hell, and also about reminding his readers that the conversation about hell is more than just academic: its real and it has real consequences. This book has helped me to remember that many things God does as God we don’t fully understand and in many ways the modern church has tried to “hide” the old testament God (who is indeed wrathful and has consequences on those who rebel against him). Erasing Hell is a great, albeit heavy and sobering, read for anyone wishing to understand more about the Biblical ideas of hell and eternity.
- The Art of Learning :: Josh Waitzkin — The Art of Learning is the collective set of insights given by chess grandmaster and martial arts champion Josh Waitzkin about how he has come to become so excellent at both of these two skills. While Waitzkin meanders here and there, his core thoughts revolve around how to find and cultivate mental stability in the process of learning and developing one’s skills that ultimately leads to the highest level of performance in those areas. Much of the book focuses on how to find what he refers to as ‘presence’ or an elevated state of awareness and thoughtfulness. The core thing I think I will take away from this book is the ability to slowly, thoughtfully and methodically condense the skills or knowledge you already have until it becomes fast and second nature. The Art of Learning is a helpful book, but I think there are other resources that could be more valuable in the pursuit of better personal performance.
- Outliers :: Malcom Gladwell — Outliers aims to give a new perspective to the science and ideas oh how to become successful. Gladwell focuses more on the environments and circumstances that cultivate successful people than the steps taken by people like Bill Gates, Bill Joy or even his own family. The core idea I will take with me after this book is how time and opportunity play together. Over and over again, the success of people that Gladwell interviewed, it was the combination of having ample opportunity at the right time that allowed them to practice, to have that “x-factor” and allowed them to be coached along the way. Outliers shows that while hard work and persistence are core to growth and mastery, those things only matter if you had enough opportunity to actually do so.
- As I Lay Dying :: William Faulkner — As I Lay Dying might honestly be one of the most confusing and hard to read books I’ve ever finished. Essentially, the story is about a family in the early 1900’s in Mississippi on a journey to bury their late mother in her home town. Using stream of consciousness and multiple narrators, Faulkner describes the woes and misfortunes of a family not willing to be reasonable or sensible to fulfill their late mother’s wishes to be buried at home. The scenarios the family finds themselves in are both sad and humorous — trying to pull a wagon through a flooded river; using instant cement to set a broken bone; forgetting to bring shovels for digging a grave. My lesson from this story is that while family loyalty is important and worth praising, blind loyalty to anything can still be harmful and needs to be checked.
- The Influence :: Matthew John Slick — When Mark, a father grieving the loss of his son, can’t take the unanswered questions about why his son died anymore, his gets an unexpected visit from an angel Sotare who grants him a glimpse in the spiritual world and the warfare that ensues for human souls between demons and angels. Mark is forced to face questions he has never really faced before: Why did his son die? Isn’t being “good” enough? Who is God and who is Jesus? Mark must accept these answers, all the while a battle is ragging that Mark plays a critical role in that could lead to the death of his wife. Full of apologetic arguments and reasoning, The Influence is a super-natural thriller that will ask the reader to think critically about their views of the spiritual world.
- Radical Candor :: Kim Scott — Being a good boss is hard. In this book, Kim Scott (leader at both Google and Apple), tries to uncover not only why its so hard, but ways to help you become the boss you have always wanted to be. The theme of the books is pretty simple actual: develop authentic and trusting relationships with your team. The rest of book is really examples or more specific ways to make that happen. I don’t agree with every principle listed, and I really wish the number of anecdotes would have been smaller, but the core idea of building relationships built on trust with your team is crucial. For anyone wanting to become a great boss, this is a good place to begin.