Note: Feel free to skip right to the book list below if you like.
I’ve been on a mission to read more, again. Throughout my life I’ve had periods where I read a lot and others where I’ve read a little. There are lots of reasons, excuses really, for these reading recessions. Like all distractions from any goals, these too only have power to the degree that I was not committed enough.
So, I re-committed to reading going into 2016. It’s a passion my mother instilled in me as a child, and is the one thing always recommended by people I consider successful.
Not all reading is created equal. I was actually reading a lot, even back then. Emails, social media posts, blogs. Yet only books have that unique trait of summing up everything some authority can express on some topic. They are catapults of knowledge. In fact, Tim Ferris said that reading three books on any topic makes you an expert in that topic. At least these two people agree.
More realistically, I believe that Warren Buffet is right, and that learning aggregates over time, like compound interest. So while the 3 books per topic rule may be totally arbitrary; more books is definitely better than less. But how many is enough?
Averages and Goals
According to research from Pew, the typical American reads just 5 books a year. That same study showed that those who make over $75k/yr average 16 books a year. That gave me a baseline, but who wants to be typical, or average? Certainly not me.
So I kept looking for solid goalposts. Turns out that in 2015, mark Zuckerberg set a goal to read a book every two weeks. He completed 23 books by the end of the year. Bill Gates purportedly reads 50 books a year – about one a week. That number, 50, comes up again and again when looking into the habits of voracious readers. We do like round numbers.
Armed with a re-kindled passion, a deeper commitment, and some numbers I set my goal for 2016 and beyond:
Read at least 24 books a year, try for 50!
And I failed.
In 2016 I read 12 books, most of them certification study guides.
I did better in 2017 with 22 books, and a lot more diversity.
This year I finally broke through the first milestone. In 2018 I read 32 books!
Setting My Sights on 50
The question now is: How did I get up to 32 books, and how will I get that up to 50 in 2019?
Three things contributed to my success this year.
First, I went on vacation and hurt my feet. This year for my birthday we spent a week at Miramar surf camp on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. It was amazing! The surfing was great. So was the skating. They had just finished a sweet concrete ramp…
That is the ramp but it is most definitely not me on said ramp. I was the guy who decided that since the locals skated barefoot it must be a good idea. Well, about that, it wasn’t. After a few days of beating my feet up I managed to shred them to the point that board sports of any kind weren’t really an option. Salt water and sand ground into massive, broken blisters anyone?
I spent the last two days in hammock in a palapa, reading and watching the waves. The diversion was actually very needed. It also let me bag five books in a single week!
Second, I flirted with a morning ritual including running and reading. I say flirted because I was inconsistent at best. I did manage to run 251 km this year. And it did help me get through books more steadily than without. Even so, it’s an area I plan to be much more consistent with in 2019 and beyond.
Finally, and probably most impact-fully, I finally gave audio books a chance. I’ve been reluctant, because I really enjoy physical books. The ability to underline and write in the margins. The ease of flipping back and forth when needed. Just the feel of a book in my hands and the act of sitting with it.
Unfortunately, all of that becomes a challenge on the New York City subway. I had been listening to podcasts on my commute. I still do sometimes. But most of the time I’m listening to books now. That accounts for 17 of the 32 books I read in 2019. That means that I would have failed again without this clever hack.
A lot of my friends and colleagues ask me for book recommendations. I’m also naturally lazy. Top it all off with the fact that I really want to keep driving towards the goal of reading 50 books a year and you find my justification for printing this list of the books I read in 2018. Makes it easy for folks to know what I’m reading, and to hold myself accountable, publicly, for reading more next year.
The list is super simple, mostly in order of when I completed them. Maybe next year I’ll sort them out by category and provide more of a description or review…
The last book, BGP in the Data Center, is available free from O’Reilly, but I couldn’t find a thumbnail of the cover.
I did manage to write up a synopsis of a couple of these books:
I want to do more of that in the future. Stay tuned!