My 2017 in Books
2017 was a strange year of reading for me. I re-read more books this year than I ever have before while also reading the fewest number of books and pages since 2014. At the same time, while this was still a “down” year for me, I still managed to get through 60 books — which taken at face value is a decent amount of reading to get through in 365 days.
I definitely went through stretches this year where I wasn’t reading consistently. When I’m on top of my reading game, I’m usually reading for anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes a day with intermittent audiobook listening throughout. I worked through the backlogs of a couple podcasts this year and that cut into my audiobook time (looking at you The Adventure Zone). I also had a hard time focusing on anything, especially books, when I was working through some post-concussion symptoms last spring. Luckily, I picked up the pace in the second half of the year and was able to get back to my usual pace.
I know it’s not all about the sheer number of books or pages read. However, I think it’s important for me to be reading as much as possible. Instead of slowing down and taking copious notes or really trying to digest every little part of the books I read I treat it more like a waterfall that I choose to stand under. I let it wash over me knowing some of it will stick and some of it won’t. When it comes to great ideas I think it’s more important to expose myself to as many as possible. It’s a numbers game — therefore, I read as much as possible.
The Best Thing I Read This Year
- Grant by Ron Chernow: Chernow is a master biographer. Every single one of his books I’ve read (Alexander Hamilton, Washington, Titan, and now Grant) has been excellent. I read this immediately after having read Walter Isaacson’s new book on Leonardo Da Vinci and it was fascinating to juxtapose these two authors. Chernow is such a better biographer. It’s not even close. Isaacson writes like a journalist and his biographies feel like long magazine articles. Chernow is a goddamn biographer and his books feel exhaustive and complete.
The Most Challenging Things I Read This Year
- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: McCarthy holds the honor of writing the book that has emotionally affected me the most, The Road. I’ve never read anything that has been anywhere close to as successful at making me feel uncomfortable. Blood Meridian may be a close second, though. The violence and depravity described in this book gave me visceral reactions of revulsion. I’m pretty sure I’ve never muttered, “Jesus…” or “What the…” under my breath so many times for a single book. It was good as hell, though.
- The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer: Incredibly long, utterly depressing in many ways, and showing its age in places (i.e. treatment of homosexuality). Oh, and there’s something about reading about the rise of Nazi Germany in today’s political climate that is very eerie.
The Most Fun Things I Read This Year
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by JK Rowling: I’m only what, 10 years, late on this one? Better late than never, right?
- The Ghost Brigades & The Last Colony by John Scalzi: This series is like candy in book form.
- Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey: Same as above. Pretty fun sci-fi that doesn’t require me to think too hard. I think the TV show is pretty okay, too.
Most Likely to Re-Read
- Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright: My meditation practice continues to be a source of joy and frustration. When I read this book I was pretty far away from my ideal meditation routine and I’d love to read this book again when I’m deep into a regular practice. I think I will get a lot more out of it when I’m not reading it simply as an intellectual exercise.
Things I Re-Read This Year
The only new additions to this list are The Phoenix Project (which I actually read for the first and second time this year) and Team of Teams. Everything else I’ve read three or more times, at least. I think Essentialism and Deep Work will continue to be yearly reads.
- The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal
- The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
- Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
The Most Underwhelming Stuff I Read This Year
- Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel: I don’t know if underwhelming is the right word, but in the afterword you find out the author was a Nazi. That soured me a bit on this otherwise interesting book.
- The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin: Tedious and shallow, in my opinion.
Looking to 2018
At the very least I’m committed to reading at least 52 books/18,000 pages this year. My stretch goal is to hit 70 books/24,000 pages. There are a few ongoing series that I’d like to finish out before starting anything truly epic. I also think I’m also going to stay away from doing a bunch of re-reading this year. Other than that, we’ll see where the year takes me. I generally don’t make long lists of highly detailed reading plans. I just throw books into my To Read list any time I stumble across anything interesting and when it’s time to start something new I just scroll through the list until something catches my eye. Do you have any suggestions for me? What are you going to read this year?