Most unexpectedly I read 52 books in 2017. These last couple of months I’d been gunning for it but nothing about the first half of this year indicated that I would even hit my challenge of 26 books.
The first half of the year was marked by some decidedly slow reading as well as becoming a twin dad. The long and regular naps of young babies along with my parental leave made that a period where I caught up on watching a lot of movies (see the 50 movies in my Letterboxd diary).
Then halfway through the year, a shift happened where the kids underwent sleep regressions and we went through figurative hell. Watching video became impossible. The sleepless nights sitting up for 30-45 minutes at a stretch with a baby falling into deep sleep turned out to be a catalyst for reading.
I wanted to see how dramatic this shift was so I retrieved my year’s reading from Goodreads, filled in the page counts1 and made a bar chart of pages racked up per month.
That is indeed more or less where the kids started to become difficult sleepers (month 4-5) where my first peak starts and from there on it’s a steady pace until the end of the year bang.
What this has taught me more than anything is how relative reading velocity is and how with a bit of time and a slight change in attitude you can easily read 2-5x more than you normally thought possible. One of my tricks is to read about five books simultaneously and to cycle through those to keep up the energy.
For a normal month 1500 pages seems sustainable which would be about five books per month or sixty a year if I’d kept that up from the start. And 1500 pages per month is only 50 a day something that anybody with a bit of dedicated time should be able to do.
The books are listed per category below and the recommended ones are marked bold.
A meagre year but I feel that in my current engineering practice I know mostly what I want to know and I’m looking more to branch out. I’m still open to reading books about engineering, but the bar is rather high since both of the UX books below did not add much to my knowledge. Alexander’s Notes… is seminal and should be a required exercise for anybody designing anything.
- Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience
- Notes on the Synthesis of Form, Christopher W. Alexander
- Advanced Swift
- UX for Lean Startups
This has been one area where I branched out and tore through a decent stack of standard works. I’ve enjoyed most of the things I read here a lot. Some books did not teach me that much as much as reinforce and recontextualize things that I already knew. It’s nice to be confirmed about things you found out yourself, but let’s hope my reading prevents me from making as many mistakes as well.
Jocko Willink’s Extreme Ownership is simple but extremely (!) effective. Reinertsen’s is a seminal tome that formalizes a lot of (what I think to be) common sense when it comes to product development and project management. Never split the Difference is a thrilling read and I’m already looking forward to applying the haggling it taught. The Coaching Habit is a laser precision book that teaches you exactly what you need to know and when/how to apply it. More books should do that.
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, Jocko Willink
- Personal Kanban: Mapping Work Navigating Life
- The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development, Donald G. Reinertsen
- Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager
- Developer Hegemony: The Future of Labor
- Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful
- Financial Strategy for Public Managers
- Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, Chris Voss
- The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier
Seven out of nine (78%) of these authors are non-white/non-male and that is a worse score than I was hoping for. Toer’s book on life in the Dutch East Indies should be essential reading for all Dutch people. Nelson has shown me parenting from a non-cis/-male perspective and for that I’m grateful.
- Água Viva
- Open City
- The Name Of The Rose
- Aarde der Mensen, Pramoedya Ananta Toer
- The Goldfinch
- The God of Small Things
- The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
- Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West
- The Underground Railroad
Five out of nine (56%) books here are by non-white/non-males which is somewhat better than one could hope for in speculative fiction. Blue Mars was a lovely end to a huge journey and both the trilogy and the planet did grow on me. The second Inheritance book was the best of the lot which does not mean the series is bad in any way.
- The Lathe of Heaven
- Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy, #3), Kim Stanley Robinson
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy, #1)
- The Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance, #2), N.K. Jemisin
- The Kingdom of Gods (Inheritance, #3)
- The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)
- The Dispossessed
- Blindsight (Firefall, #1)
- Echopraxia (Firefall, #2)
Not that much outstanding here other than Scott’s book about Zomia. Reading a lot of the other books here felt like work even if they were short.
- The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering
- We Have Never Been Modern
- The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, James C. Scott
- Homage to Catalonia
- Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals
- Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London
- Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built
- Metaphors We Live By
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Kids’ books are terrible and Karp’s book on kids was one of the few I read that wasn’t totally useless.
- Mann Und Vater Sein
- Babys brauchen Väter
- The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block 2-Book Bundle, Dr. Harvey Karp
- The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping, Feeding, and Behavior–Beyond the Basics from Infancy Through Toddlerhood
- Was machst du kleiner Bagger?
- Wie kleine Tiere schlafen gehen
- Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt
- Mein erstes Buch vom Körper
- Schlaf gut, Baby
A very slim year with Darwish the sole representant of this category, lovely but overly long in this selection.
- Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems, Mahmoud Darwish
Trungpa’s style is highly accessible while maintaining a lot of jargon. This is one of the first times things have clicked for me.
- The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation, Chögyam Trungpa
- Goodreads API is no beauty and page counts are subject to redistribution licenses from the publishers and as such a lot are missing. ↩