In 2015, I read more than I had ever read before. This is thanks to a stretch of unemployment, a renewed commitment to books, a binge in tech, entrepreneurship and product management, and the development and launch of Connect A Book. I set out to read 75 books, and ended up hitting 77. Of those 77, 18 were fiction and 59 were non-fiction. I read on planes, in trains, at home, before falling asleep, first thing in the morning, and (listened) while running and commuting.
With highlighters and post-its at the ready, I kept better notes and wrote down more ideas. Though this didn’t translate to essays and blog posts like I’d intended, it was important to me to get the motion down and to read actively. As I continue with that practice, I expect this year to begin transforming the input to output, with twice-weekly posts here on the site, and, potentially, a short ebook.
Below you’ll find the five best fiction books and non-fiction books I read last year. Each of them changed how I think about myself, my life, and the impact I’m having (and want to have) on the world. I recommend them all very highly.
The Best Fiction I Read in 2015
Rabbit At Rest (along with the rest of the Rabbit series, of course) by John Updike – At around 1,500 pages, this series is weighty but well worth the effort. The writing is beautiful, the story can be quite cringe-worthy, and you may relate more than you’d like to Harry Angstrom as find yourself at similar stages in your life. The series is also a stark look at how we ossify as we age, in both our personal lives and with our personalities (clearly, Rabbit does not have a growth mindset).
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life is a beautiful, haunting mystery, the story of friends and a look at how those friendships change over time. It’s graphic, personal, and quite dark, and you may find yourself looking for relief just as the main character looks for his own release.
Redeployment by Phil Klay – This set of short stories about men involved with the Iraq War is multifaceted, moving and human.
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – A perfect apocalyptic thriller with a brilliant ending, it doesn’t surprise me at all that this is coming out in theaters this year.
Stoner by John Williams – I may be partial to this story about a professor’s life because I have family in academia. However, this is the kind of book, one which captures in great details emotions and thoughts, and spans birth till death, that make George R.R. Martin’s quote about “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies […] the man who never reads lives only one” ring so true.
The Best Non-Fiction I Read in 2015
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley – This is worth a read as an antidote to daily news about the world trending toward disaster. It’s worth a read for an overview of the amazing, compounding power of exchange between humans. It’s worth reading because you can see trends of humanity solving problems and creating opportunities with technology. There are plenty of short-term reasons to feel pessimistic about the world we’ve made for ourselves, but even more longterm reasons to be optimistic about how we can improve our world.
Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make A Difference by William MacAskill – By applying metrics to the squishy idea of Doing Good, MacAskill fundamentally shifted how I thought about giving my money and spending my time. This is a great book for sharpening your thinking about why you support the groups you do, what you’re doing with your career, and what impact you should hope to have in the world.
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer – Krakauer’s book is a reminder of how the media can inflate and skew a story, and how the media itself can be manipulated to do that work for others. It’s also a good primer on the recent history of the powers in the Middle East, one that explains the rationale of the Taliban and bin Laden in trying to pull the United States into a war in Afghanistan.
The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman & The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural Historyby Elizabeth Kolbert – I cheated by putting two books in here, but these two demand to be read together. Ackerman’s book is a poetic, lyrical take on the impact we’ve had on the world, for better and worse, while Kolbert’s take is a harder-edged examination of that impact, the result of human shortsightedness, error, and general (oftentimes oblivious) existence.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown – By focusing, you accomplish more.
Reading in 2016
There is no substitute for reading widely. This last year was in many ways an experiment, as I chose books at random, and also books that I knew shared something in common with a book I’d recently finished. Finding connections between these disparate works is a great reward, and has, as a consequence, made me a better reader. This amount of reading also humbles, in that I’m made aware on a daily basis just how little I know of the world. That which humbles also excites. There is still so much to uncover and to understand, frameworks to embrace, philosophies to imbibe.
I hope you’ll all join me as I set out for a new year, slightly older and more filled up with words and ideas than at this time last year, but as wide-eyed and eager as ever before about the possibilities and opportunities that lay ahead.