Favourite 5 books read in 2017

This year I set myself the challenge to read 30 books. It was ultimately a bad idea. 30 books is roughly one book every 12 days which while certainly possible, just wasn’t practical for me. You see, I go through phases. A couple of months of doing nothing but reading, followed by a few months of doing, well, nothing. Things get in the way: podcasts stack up, work gets hectic and I find focusing on the page of words in front of me too difficult. As a result, I’ve read quite a few short books, for no other reason than I needed to catch up to stay on track. That’s not the point of reading.

Don’t get me wrong: some of those short books have been fantastic: the shortest made it into this list. It’s less a problem that I read short ones, but more of an issue that I entirely ignored anything over 300 pages, regardless of how good it may be. 2018 won’t include a similar goal. My intention for 2018 will be to read more, rather than read more, if that translates? Quality over quantity, every time.

Anyway, my short attention span aside, I‘ve enjoyed some absolutely incredible stories this year, from brand new authors to legends of their craft. From technology CEOs to political journalists and theoretical physicists. They have all captivated me, taught me, and through their words made me think, laugh and cry.

When breath becomes air, by Paul Kalanithi

This is one of the greatest books I have ever read, though I find it difficult to fully explain why, so I’ll let Paul himself try:

What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?

I can’t begin to imagine being in the position of having to genuinely try and answer that question. Waking up in perpetual pain looking for the reasons to actually get dressed. This book is his answer and in my opinion, it’s perfect.

Conclave, by Robert Harris

I’ve lived through two conclaves and in both cases watched the white smoke rise, saw the new pope greet St. Peter’s Square, and assume that there wasn’t much to the formal procedure that occurred within the Sistine Chapel cum clave.

While of course being a work a fiction, Robert Harris’ Conclave provides a peak behind that locked door and exposes what we should’ve expected: that politics, friendships and discord are all high on the menu, just as they would be during any election to a position of supreme power.

Hit Refresh, by Satya Nadella

It’s not often that a sitting CEO of a multinational company writes a book about being the CEO of a multinational company, but Satya isn’t necessary a typical CEO.

Leading Microsoft at a time when the competition is incredibly advanced, technology continues to move at an intense speed and the world still sees you as the Windows company, Satya must surely have everything to do. As a consultant at a Microsoft Partner using their products on a daily basis, I get to see first-hand just how the culture is changing, how Microsoft is betting big on the future while expanding their reach to all devices and operating systems.

It showed me that you must always have respect for your competitor, but don’t be in awe.

Satya deserves the credit for a lot of this. Driving the company forward and focusing on the cloud, they’re no longer the slow-moving Windows-centric behemoth. They’re open-sourced, innovative and fast to react, and Satya provides an incredible insight into how he’s helping to foster this new culture, with inspiration from his childhood, family, colleagues and — he gets bonus points for this one — from the wonderful sport of cricket.

A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway will forever be unique. If he were a student today, his writing would likely get low marks. Technically, it can be difficult to follow with many commonly accepted rules ignored. But that’s the point. Hemingway lets nothing get between you and the story he’s trying to tell. The result — if you let yourself be pulled along — is always fantastic.

When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.

I also read a collection of his short stories, Men Without Women which exposed me to his different styles and shared themes he often returns to. I’ll be reading more Hemingway in 2018, that’s for sure.

Pricing Design, by Dan Mall

This is more of a long blog post than a book, but the contents of it are valuable in whichever format. Available from AListApart, Dan Mall shares his experiences around pricing for services and consultancy. Specifically around design, but the tips can be applied across the board.

The main focus for me here was understanding value. If you always price based on time spent, you won’t unearth the value to the client or customer and you leave yourself open to the risk of your self-improvement meaning things take less time and therefore are perceived to be less valuable (in the strictest sense). This is the sort of book you can keep coming back to throughout the year to remain focused on what’s important.

2018

I’ve already got a few lined up to read next year, but I won’t be setting myself a numerical target. This could backfire if I end up not reading anything, but lets find out!