February Book Roundup
I read 6 books this month, surprising even me (and I’m in the middle of 2 more, but won’t finish them until March). I am getting quite a bit more reading done by adding a 10–20 minute reading time in the morning. Not that “number of books” is the goal, but it does mean that if I don’t get time to read later, at least I’ve done a little bit for the day.
A note on audiobooks: I don’t listen to them. I’ve never gotten into them, for whatever reason, even when I was regularly spending 5+ hours in the car at a time. I found them distracting while driving, and I also think hearing a story activates a different part of my brain than reading does. Science may back me up on this, according to this article in Psychology Today. Reading is more active and engaging — you can’t really focus on anything else while doing it. Also, I retain much more from active reading than simply listening. And as for reading as a writer, that is not really possible in the same way if you are listening to a book. Nothing against audiobooks. I can see times when hearing a narrator read would be more entertaining or bring something to the table that enhances the experience. It’s just not part of my repertoire.
I also don’t have any prejudice regarding physical books or e-books. I read plenty of both (more e-books since the pandemic, for sure). I do like physical books simply for the fact they allow me to de-screen for a while, since so much of my time is spent on a screen of some kind during the day.
So, on to my reading list:
The Ardent Swarm — Yamen Menai (F). This novel, by a Tunisian author, on its surface is a simple (though not in-your-face) allegory about what happens when a seemingly small outside force upends a society. In it, a beekeeper whose hives are attacked by an invasive wasp species must find a way to save his bees and also navigate the massive changes wrought post-Arab Spring.
The Miracle Morning for Writers — Steve Scott and Hal Elrod (NF). This book integrates the Miracle Morning concept with specific writing strategies for writing and publishing, including dealing with many mindset issues writers face (procrastination, writer’s block, etc.) and ways of improving your writing skills. It’s pretty comprehensive, and I found myself making notes on a lot of it. It doesn’t just repeat the Miracle Morning formula, but tacks it on to a book about developing a writing practice (and business).
Circling the Sun — Paula McLain (F). This is a novel about the real-life aviatrix and horse trainer Beryl Markham, who lived in Kenya in the colonial “Happy Valley” of the early-mid 20th century. She was a friend of Isak Dinesen (of Out of Africa fame) — the same man was the love of their lives. Her story is fascinating, and McLain does an amazing job of bringing her to life from a childhood spent growing up on a horse farm and with native villagers as friends to her barrier-breaking careers. It gives almost no reflection on colonial Africa though — the struggles between native Africans and the English (and other white people) and the consequences of colonialism are fairly glossed over. If you want social and political history, this is not it, but it is a story of a woman who defied many stereotypes of her era and forged her own path.
The One Page Marketing Plan — Allan Dib (NF). Not going to say much about this one, but it is a useful guide, breaking down the various stages of marketing (developing the relationship, making the sale, turning customers into fans) in a logical way. It packs a lot of information into a few pages but all steps are actionable, bringing strategy to a topic that is often overwhelming.
Becoming — Michelle Obama (NF). I’ve had this one for a while, but I finally read it all the way through. If you ever think you want to be a politician’s wife — especially a high-profile one — this book may well change your mind! The book conveys all the warmth, intelligence, and clear-sightedness you’d expect from seeing her public persona. I enjoyed learning about her working-class childhood, her professional accomplishments, and life in the White House, and how she consistently strove and made the most of every opportunity, remaining unfazed by racism while acknowledging it as part of the fabric of American life. She really is a remarkable woman but doesn’t seem to see herself that way. She sprinkles some humor throughout as well — like when she met her future husband, who didn’t impress her because he was ten minutes late!
Atomic Habits — James Clear (NF). This one is a best-seller for good reason. It has a place in the flurry of books on the psychology of habit-forming (and breaking), drawing upon earlier works by writers such as Charles Duhigg and BJ Fogg but adding to the conversation. He offers a comprehensive explanation of how we make and break habits, what influences our habit-forming actions, and strategies to support forming good ones and breaking bad ones. I strongly recommend this one for its actionable insights into behavioral psychology, whether you are actively looking to form or break habits or not. The reality is, we are all acting out of multiple habits every day. The question is, which ones are serving you vs. inhibiting your growth? Doing a simple habit audit as Clear suggests can help you find those places where you want to enhance, start, or eliminate certain habits.