Favorite Books of 2018
As well as last year, I completely missed my reading goals for the year. In 2015 I read 24, in 2016 I read 36, 2017 I read 12. At least I can see I increased the number of books read this past year compared to 2017, but I still missed my 2018 goal of reading 24 books and only read 17 books.
Here are 2018 favorite books in no particular order:
‘Powerful’ by Patty McCord
(4.17 ★ on Goodreads)
Patty McCord is the woman behind the famous ‘Netflix deck’ that wowed the startup world some years ago.
I read this book really early in the year. I was struggling a bit being a manager in a constantly changing company, where I felt we were deviating from our original core values and the reason our programs, specifically the ones I was running, were built for.
This book helped me understand the ever-changing nature of growing organizations, and how what feels like pain for some employees that have been there for a while, might be a misalignment between their understanding of the ‘whys’ and the needs of the company. As an organization grows, the employees that are able to stay and succeed are the ones that adapt and understand the changing needs of the organization and are able to shift and adjust to the new needs; or the other way to succeed is to understand that what they want in the workspace and what they need are different things and it is time to leave.
It helped me be a better manager for a couple of months (I think), but in an unexpected turn of events, it ended up helping me so much at a personal level, giving me the correct perspective towards changes that were coming to my role in my previous company, Techstars, and taking me to a new role at Facebook.
And if I thought Techstars was an ‘ever-changing’ company, I didn’t even have a clue of what was waiting for me at Facebook, where I’ve been working for 6 months and I’ve had basically all angles of senior leadership changing at least once (department, organization, region, country, regional team!).
Recommended for: All managers, no matter what size or stage your company is at, but especially recommended to those managers that work in organizations that are rapidly changing. Also recommended for anybody that is interested in managing their own career. As I mentioned previously, this helped me have the correct perspective to navigate a tough workplace situation and land on my feet.
Here’s the book description:
When it comes to recruiting, motivating, and creating great teams, Patty McCord says most companies have it all wrong. McCord helped create the unique and high-performing culture at Netflix, where she was chief talent officer. In her new book, Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, she shares what she learned there and elsewhere in Silicon Valley.
McCord advocates practicing radical honesty in the workplace, saying good-bye to employees who don’t fit the company’s emerging needs, and motivating with challenging work, not promises, perks, and bonus plans. McCord argues that the old standbys of corporate HR―annual performance reviews, retention plans, employee empowerment and engagement programs―often end up being a colossal waste of time and resources. Her road-tested advice, offered with humor and irreverence, provides readers a different path for creating a culture of high performance and profitability.
Powerful will change how you think about work and the way a business should be run.
Quotes from ‘Powerful’:
“Trust is based on honest communication, and I find that employees become cynical when they hear half-truths. Cynicism is a cancer. It creates a metastasizing discontent that feeds on itself, leading to smarminess and fueling backstabbing.”
“Excellent colleagues, a clear purpose, and well-understood deliverables: that’s the powerful combination.”
“The typical approach to growth in business is to add more people and structure and to impose more fixed budgetary goals and restraints. But my experiences at fast-growth companies that successfully scaled showed me that the leanest processes possible and a strong culture of discipline were far superior, if for no other reason than their speed.”
“Are we limited by the team we have not being the team we should have?”
“Most of us feel that we can’t tell the people who work for us or with us the truth because (a) they’re not smart enough to understand it, (b) they’re not mature enough to understand it, or © it wouldn’t be nice. We want to treat one another well, and we think that means making one another feel good. But this desire to make people feel good is often as much a desire to make ourselves feel good as to do the right thing. It often leads to people actually feeling worse, because they’re not correcting a problem in the way they’re working, and eventually come home to roost. Part of being an adult is being able to hear the truth.”
If you know me and if you’ve followed the types of books I read, I usually would read business & management books (like 70% of the time) and novels and others the rest of the time.
After my change in roles at Techstars and joining Facebook as an Individual Contributor, I decided that it was time to read more novels and fiction, instead of business & ‘self-help’ books. The rest of the books here are all novels or similar because of that choice.
On my first trip to Menlo Park to join Facebook, I took a quick trip to a Palo Alto bookstore, and blindly bought the best-rated fiction book that Goodreads suggested, which ended up being this one: Circe by Madeline Miller.
‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller
(4.34 ★ on Goodreads)
Greek mythology has always been something I’m interested in. It had been a while since I picked something related to Greek mythology, and this was the perfect option.
You may not remember her, but you’ve read about her. Circe is a lesser god and minor character in several Greek mythology stories, but she had a special role in The Odyssey.
Madeline Miller took the Circe character and wrote an amazingly entertaining novel, witty and fast to read. Circe’s character development is a great example of how to take a character from point A to point B to point C.
Circe is a book about growing up having complicated parent relationships, about love and lust and heartbreak, motherhood and parenting, and fighting your internal demons.
Here’s the book description:
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child — not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power — the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
Quotes from ‘Circe’:
“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”
So many years I had spent as a child sifting his bright features for his thoughts, trying to glimpse among them one that bore my name. But he was a harp with only one string, and the note it played was himself.
“You have always been the worst of my children,” he said. “Be sure to not dishonor me.”
“I have a better idea. I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out.”
“But perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.”
“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”
‘Una novela criminal’ by Jorge Volpi
(4.24 ★ on Goodreads)
I read this 440-page novel in 8 days. Some nights I would have to force myself to put the book down and just go to sleep.
Volpi wrote this ‘novel without fiction’ based out of research from the famous Florance-Cassez case that took place in 2005.
Since this book is a ‘novelized’ version of something that actually happened, I would find myself reading the book, then stopping and going online to read the news of those days, or to watch a video that was mentioned. It was a very interesting experience of consuming a book. I couldn’t avoid thinking I was reading something similar to the Netflix series ‘Making a Murderer’.
This book reflects the tough reality of Mexican authorities and the way they interact with media, as well as the horrible nature of the judicial system. It is the type of book that hurts a little as you read it, as you understand the injustices in your country.
Here’s the book description in Spanish;
Todo lo que se narra en esta novela ocurrió así, todos sus personajes son personas de carne y hueso, y la historia, desentrañada con maestría e iluminada hasta sus últimos recovecos por una ingente tarea de documentación, es real.
El 8 de diciembre de 2005, al sur de Ciudad de México, la policía federal detiene a Israel Vallarta y a Florence Cassez y los acusa de secuestro e integración en banda criminal. Al día siguiente, a las 06:47 de la mañana, los canales de televisión Televisa y TV Azteca emiten en directo la entrada de los agentes federales en el rancho Las Chinitas, la liberación de tres rehenes y la detención de Israel y Florence. En los días siguientes, los detenidos sufrirán torturas, se les negarán sus derechos y la lista de acusaciones irá en aumento. Pero cuando los abogados defensores captan la inconsistencia entre los partes de detención, los vídeos de la emisión televisiva y la versión de sus defendidos, comienza una carrera contra el tiempo para sacar a la luz uno de los mayores montajes policiales de la historia de México, cuyo desarrollo hizo que se tambalearan los cimientos del gobierno de Felipe Calderón y culminó con un incidente diplomático entre México y Francia.
Quotes from ‘Una Novela Criminal’:
“Impuesta la razón de Estado, a un montaje se le suma otro y, para satisfacer al presidente, el gobierno mexicano utiliza todo su poder contra una sola familia.”
“Hay seres humanos valientes de entrada. El valor nace del miedo. Uno se descubre a sí mismo a través de las pruebas.”
“Traduzco: no es necesario cometer un delito para ser un delincuente.”
“Florence fue triplemente discriminada: por ser extranjera, por hablar francés y por ser mujer.»”
I need to admit that as I was reviewing the 17 books I read on 2018, the 3 previously mentioned were clear winners compared to the other 14. So to decide on my 4th favorite book, I just went with this book that was ‘the correct book at the correct time’.
One of the things I love about books is that they can help you focus on a goal or objective, but they can also be a quick escape from your day to day when you need it. As I was navigating some tough personal moments, I walked into the Boulder Bookstore, a nice big bookstore that has BOOKSTORE written in golden letters on its entrance and sits in the famous Pearl Street Mall, and walked up to a couple of the bookstore employees who were chatting excitedly in a very nerdy and endearing way, about some books in the ‘New’ section.
“I’m looking for something that is just fun to read. Something I can just read and enjoy and turn off my brain and dive into the story. Any thoughts?” I asked both of them.
“I think I have a couple of options for you. Follow me.” one of the employees told me and walked me to a fiction section. He handed me ‘The Oracle Year’ and said “This is just fun. Easy to read and I’m sure they’ll turn it into a movie soon.”
And just like that, I had accomplished my goal.
‘The Oracle Year’ by Charles Soule
(3.71 ★ on Goodreads)
This is what I just mentioned above. It’s a well written, action packed, fun story. You can turn off your brain and just go ahead and enjoy the book without giving it too much thought, which is something that is needed sometimes.
I don’t like to fall into the trap of labeling books for genders, but I do think this quote from Goodread’s user Jilly’s review hits the nail on the head:
If there is such a thing as Chick-Lit, what is the name for a book that is a guy-type of thing? Is it Dick-Lit? Male-Tales? XY-Chrome-Tomes?
The main character of this book, Will, wakes up with 108 predictions. The power of knowing 108 things that will happen throws Will and his companions into several paths of greed, danger, travel, and world-saving.
If you decide to pick this up, here’s my advice: Don’t think too much about the trama, don’t think too much about character development, get some popcorn and just enjoy the ride.
Here’s the book description:
Knowledge is power. So when an unassuming Manhattan bassist named Will Dando awakens from a dream one morning with 108 predictions about the future in his head, he rapidly finds himself the most powerful man in the world. Protecting his anonymity by calling himself the Oracle, he sets up a heavily guarded Web site with the help of his friend Hamza to selectively announce his revelations. In no time, global corporations are offering him millions for exclusive access, eager to profit from his prophecies.
He’s also making a lot of high-powered enemies, from the President of the United States and a nationally prominent televangelist to a warlord with a nuclear missile and an assassin grandmother. Legions of cyber spies are unleashed to hack the Site — as it’s come to be called — and the best manhunters money can buy are deployed not only to unmask the Oracle but to take him out of the game entirely. With only a handful of people he can trust — including a beautiful journalist — it’s all Will can do to simply survive, elude exposure, and protect those he loves long enough to use his knowledge to save the world.
Quotes from ‘The Oracle Year’:
“None of us are meant for anything, and none of us are meant for nothing. Life is chaos, but it’s also an opportunity, risk, and how you manage them.”
“It was like trying to play chess in a pitch-dark room, where you had to determine your opponent’s moves by sense of smell alone. And you had a cold. And your opponent was God.”
“Belief is a commodity. It can be packaged, bought and sold. It’s true of saint’s bones, and it’s true of my ministry.”
And that’s it!
The goal for 2019 will be 19 books, with a stretch goal of 24. Any recommendations? Let me know!
And, as always, here’s my (sad) Goodreads data for 2018:
If you liked it, clickity-clack the 👏 below. Share any thoughts in the comment section or via twitter at @aldoaguirreg.