How A Dad with Two Preschoolers Read 50 Books Last Year

Jeremy Rocco
Feb 3, 2016 · 9 min read
My Digital Bookshelf from 2015

And Which Ones Were My Favorites


I read a lot in 2015. Not as much as I wanted. The goal was 52. I came up short, but 50's not bad, right?

There’s also the small detail of having two kids in the 3–5 age range. I’m proud of not being a deadbeat dad. Active in the day-to-day with my kids. Accordingly — I barely have time to hear myself think. So how did I find time to read 50 books?

I got back into reading a couple years ago when I started carrying a Kindle around with me. I’d pick it up when I have a free minute. Then I realized the biggest time sink in my day was the 1.5+ hours per day I was spending in the car on my work commute.

As a long time talk radio listener of Howard Stern, I wondered if I could get into audiobooks. I tried it out. I loved it.

I also found that Audible is owned by Amazon and will let you switch back and forth from the Kindle to the car without losing your place. This incredible feature gives me the flexibility to read in either medium without hassle.

Now I spend my commutes listening to books. And during the other activities when my hands are busy but my mind is not. Cutting the grass, loading the dishwasher late at night, folding laundry, etc. I’ll pop in a headphone and bang out 20 minutes of the book I’m working on.

Some narrators are better than others. I love when the author narrates their own book. It gives the content some extra character that you can’t pick up off the page. Tones and inflection points that end up sounding better than what you would have created in your head. Those moments breathe extra life into the book that you previously didn’t imagine.

A year ago I made a post on social media that I had read 34 books in 2014. One person commented that they found it hard to believe that someone with a full time job and 2 kids could read that much. While irritated, I didn’t directly address the critique. Part of me wondered if an audiobook may cheapen the value or authenticity of the reading I was doing. Well… fuck it. Now I’m coming clean. And I love the way I read.

So without further ado…

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League

by Jeff Hobbs

This was the first book I read last year and none that followed could quite match it. It was my favorite book of 2015, and in the running for my all-time favorite. I’m not the only person to rank it #1; it also received Best Book of the Year Awards by The New York Times and others.

The story of Robert Peace is one that you can’t put down. Told by his college roommate at Yale, it’s the story of a gifted boy that escapes the rough streets of Newark to embark on a journey that was supposed to change his life. He made his classwork in molecular biochemistry look easy, but he struggled to fit into the student body at Yale. And also at home on breaks because he was looked at as the elite Ivy League boy.

This story of ups and downs is funny, inspiring, harrowing and tragic. Despite knowing how it would conclude, I was terrified to turn the pages at the end because Jeff Hobbs builds an endearing relationship between the reader and Robert Peace. Much like his own.

Detroit

An American Autopsy

by Charlie LeDuff

One thing that I have learned this year is to appreciate the importance of storytelling. It’s amazing when an author has the ability to transform a topic in which you previously had no interest by their use of storytelling and character development. I already knew that Michael Lewis is a master at this. Charlie LeDuff is in the same league.

Charlie grew up in Detroit and left to pursue his career, which included more than 10 years writing for The New York Times. He returns to his hometown to find a city on a faster decline than any other in America. It leads in unemployment, foreclosures and arson. With his new low paying job at a small newspaper, he is determined to find out what destroyed his hometown.

LeDuff uses dramatic and gritty storytelling that involves the mayor and other politicians, the police force, the fire department and even his own siblings that have fallen on unemployment and fatal drug addiction. The emotional stories reveal corruption and downright sad stories at the heart of this city.

I have no connection to the city of Detroit, but couldn’t get enough of LeDuff’s hard nose reporting and storytelling.

Big Data Baseball

Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak

By Travis Sawchik

Was this one of the best books I read this year? Probably not. But it was one of my favorites. For sentimental reasons.

Baseball is my favorite sport. All but but a few of my early memorable years had endured excruciating seasons while rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball had actually started to lose its luster for me.

After 2 hopeful years with strong starts and epic collapses in 2011 & 2012, it all came together in 2013. The first winning record and first playoff appearance since 1992. Big Data Baseball is the story of how Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington used data analytics to assemble the team that did it. As someone who was following that season closely, it was really interesting to also learn what was happening behind the scenes.

I often describe this one as Moneyball for Pirate fans. Moneyball was a great book for all baseball fans. This is a really good book for any baseball fan, but especially great for Pirates fans.

Freakonomics / Gang Leader for a Day

by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner / by Sudhir Venkatesh

I never took an economics class in school, but these guys make me wish I did. It might not actually be as fun without them teaching it. Freakonomics studies a series of bizarre questions that you may have never thought to ask.

Like…
- What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?
- Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool?
- If drug dealers make so much money, why do they still live with their moms?

The answers are explained using economic principles with amazing storytelling. The root of every answer also lies in the power of incentives. How and why people are driven to do what they do.

I ended up reading all 4 books in the Freakonomics series this year. Each one as good as the last. I recommend them all!


The last question in the list above is what led me to Gang Leader for a Day. The chapter in Freakonomics about crack gangs is based on the studies of Sudhir Venkathesh. While a Sociology PhD at the University of Chicago, he was asked by his professor to conduct a survey on the effects of urban poverty in a housing project.

The gang leader, JT, befriended Sudhir and invited him back to observe the daily life in the gang since he thought the questions in the survey were so uninformed that Sudhir needed to see for himself if he really wanted to learn.

He spent nearly a decade in the daily life of the crack selling gang. Watching how they’d break the law and evade getting caught. Learning about the complex ranking system inside the gang. Even getting a peek at JT’s meticulous financial records to track every transaction and account for every member in the sprawling gang. Written so well to understand these complexities while being an easy and quick read. You can easily be sucked into the dramatic storyline and want for more each time you pick it up.


Honorable Mentions

Every Day I Fight by Stuart Scott: Stuart will make you laugh out loud one minute and tear up the next. Written during (and toward the end) of his fight with cancer. He wrote it just like you’re having a conversation. I loved when a sentence would start with, “Dude…”

The Big Miss by Hank Haney: Been a Tiger fan since the beginning. He’s always been so private, so I really enjoyed how Hank pulled back the curtain on his time as Tiger’s coach.

Anything/Everything by Michael Lewis: As noted above, he’s a master at spinning tales that will make you interested in topics that are completely off your radar. A few sports books, but mostly Wall Street books. Who knew the sub-prime mortgage crisis could be so interesting? The Academy thinks so too with their Best Picture nomination. I re-read The Big Short right before Christmas in anticipation of the movie’s release. I recommend everything that he’s written.


My Complete Reading List — 2015

By The Numbers

Fiction: 5 | Non-Fiction: 45
Avg Length: 329 pages

  1. The Short & Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
  2. Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday
  3. Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football
    by Rich Cohen
  4. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  5. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
  6. Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN
    by James Andrew Miller & Tom Shales
  7. Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh
  8. Floating City by Sudhir Venkatesh
  9. Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
  10. Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis
  11. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
  12. Think Like A Freak by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
  13. Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone
  14. Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender
  15. A Stab in the Dark by Lawrence Block
  16. Out on the Cutting Edge by Lawrence Block
  17. Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock
  18. The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette
  19. When To Rob a Bank by Stephen Levitt & Stephen Dubner
  20. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
  21. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  22. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  23. Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
  24. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy
  25. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  26. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  27. Losing the Signal by Jacquie McNish & Sean Silcoff
  28. A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
  29. A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer
  30. Redeployment by Phil Klay
  31. The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods by Hank Haney
  32. 41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush
  33. No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA & the US Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald
  34. When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead
    by Jerry Weintraub w/ Rich Cohen
  35. The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis
  36. Alibaba’s World by Porter Erisman
  37. Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
    by Vincent Bugliosi
  38. Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, The FBI and a Devil’s Deal
    by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill
  39. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  40. So You Want to Start a Brewery? The Lagunitas Story by Tony Magee
  41. Saban: The Making of a Coach by Monte Burke
  42. Big Data Baseball by Travis Sawchik
  43. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
  44. Every Day I Fight by Stuart Scott
  45. Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan
  46. Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff
  47. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  48. Boomerang by Michael Lewis
  49. The Big Short (re-read) by Michael Lewis
  50. The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time
    by Verne Harnish & Editors of FORTUNE

Have you read something great lately? I’m always looking for new books to get excited about. Please share your recommendations!

Jeremy Rocco

Written by

Love to read. Trying to write. // @JeremyRocco