One refrain that I’ve heard repeated over and over again in different industries (book publishing, magazine writing, business management) is the importance of “keeping your cup full” through reading.
The idea is that, if you feel like you are out of ideas or inspiration, or suffering from imposter syndrome or an actual knowledge gap between you and what you want to do, the answer is always reading.
Not the web, but actual books.
Warren Buffet famously keeps his entire schedule clear to read and think. Book editors and agents spend tons of their time outside of the office reading to keep their finger on the pulse of the industry. My friend Chris Guillebeau, a multiple New-York-Times-bestselling author himself, told me he usually reads about 50 books a year, primarily novels.
Reading more makes you a better writer. This is indisputable.
Even beyond that wholesome, “we all know we should” reason though, there was something else that drove me to try to switch full scale into books. It’s an issue that I’ve had with reading on the web that I’ve experienced with video content as well.
When you’re watching an episode of a TV show or videos on YouTube (where I can often be found late at night catching up on episodes of the hilarious British chat show Graham Norton where you get to see huge celebrities in odd combinations being very real people), there’s always the options for more.
Both in terms of clicking on a recommended video, but also because there isn’t a neat conclusion or sense of completeness like you get with a movie. (Well, most movies. Not, for instance, the endless stream of Marvel sequels.)
I find reading on the web the same way.
If I’m reading about a topic that I want to know something about, I run into two things:
- I don’t get everything I need from what I just read and need to keep looking.
- Those continual suggestions of other interesting related or unrelated things to read.
Being something of a (not-always-successful) productivity nazi, I like to keep myself from temptation as much as possible to save my decision-making power for more important decisions.
So I decided to change my information-consumption habits basically from one day to the next this summer.
Over the winter holidays, I had built up my reading muscles a bit more than usual due to having long flights to India in which I consumed several books, but I didn’t get into replacing my “entertainment” information consumption with books until a trip to Sweden and Denmark this summer where, in the lands of epically long days, it was simply so much nicer to be outside until 11pm than inside.
My husband and I were on holiday for the Fourth of July–him–and my birthday–me, and we decided to both read an Agatha Christie book together..well, at the same time, but on separate phones.
The problem is, due to having an undergraduate degree in (Italian) literature that required me to read two to three entire books in a somewhat regular week for seminars, I’m accustomed to reading entire fiction books in one sitting. (I can’t say the same for non-fiction, as you’ll see from my book lists below).
So while he was still reading the first book we selected, I read something like four or five over the days we were in Stockholm together before our respective work weeks began again.
Agatha Christie has only been outsold by Shakespeare and the Bible, so she’s clearly done something right, and I set about an informal study of her work.
Fourteen books and three countries later, I’d built a book-reading habit.
I mentioned this in last week’s newsletter and blog post on habit change, and some folks were curious about what I’ve been reading, so I wanted to share the list with all of you in case it gives you some ideas.
You’ll no doubt notice that the list is both quite eclectic and has a heavy focus on business topics.
If that’s not your speed, I highly recommend checking out some of the non-business books on the list, particularly the small bit of non-Agatha Christie fiction I’ve allowed myself to binge read, because those books are excellent, along with the narrative non-fiction The Year of Living Danishly, from a lovely British journalist and travel writer who has built an enviable freelance career in a very short time and details those steps in her book.
The books are listed somewhat chronologically, as that’s how they show up in my Kindle if they’re still on my phone, but I’ve also grouped them by author or related topic where appropriate and included a second list of the books that I’ve read a majority of but not quite finished yet. (There are several more that I’ve only read about a chapter of, but that is less telling I think of how much I enjoyed them!)
Non-Fiction Books I’ve Read This Year
- By Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of Basecamp
- It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work
- Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior by Johah Berger
- Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
- By Michael Gerber
- E-Myth Mastery: The Seven Essential Disciplines for Building a World Class Company
- Beyond the E-Myth: The Evolution of an Enterprise
- The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
- By the truly lovely human, awesome blogger, and estimable chef David Lebovitz
- The Sweet Life on Paris
- L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home
- The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni
- The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage by Jan Morris
- The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth
- The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell
- Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
- Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill
Fiction Books I’ve Read This Year
- By Patrick Rothfuss (this guy’s work is going to be the next Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Hamilton combined when his show and movie series with Lin Manuel Miranda drops)–read it before it’s all anyone can talk about)
- The Name of the Wind
- The Wise Man’s Fear
- The Slow Regard of Silent Things
- By Michael David Lukas, another truly lovely human and stunningly skilled writer that I was delighted to meet at this year’s Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference
- The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
- The Oracle of Stamboul
- The Sympathizer (Pulitzer Prize winner) by Viet Thanh Nguyen a both lovely and super impressive human and professor (what lucky students!)
- By Agatha Christie
- Cards on the Table
- Death Comes as the End
- The ABC Murders
- Three Act Tragedy
- Death on the Nile
- Death in the Clouds
- Lord Edgeware Dies
- The Big Four
- Murder on the Links
- Peril at End House
- Murder in Mesopotamia
- Murder in the Mews
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Books I’m Still in the Process of Reading This Year
- Crushing It! by Gary Vaynerchuk
- Team of Rivals (Pulitzer Prize winner) by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- The Year of Less by Cait Flanders
- By Michael Michaelowicz
- The Pumpkin Plan
- Profit First
- Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
- The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
- The Service Culture Handbook by Jeff Toister
- Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
- High Output Management by Andrew Grove
- Business Adventures: 12 Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks
- Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
- The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen