Am I the only person who blinked and suddenly it was 2018? I swear, 2017 was the fastest year of my life. What a blur!
Of course, even though it went fast, I remember a lot of it–and a lot of what I read, and I want to share some of that with you. So I’m going to talk about 10 books I read last year–the good, the bad, the ugly. And of course, because just listing those books and writing summaries would be too easy, I also tried to describe each book in one word.
The Road to Character by David Brooks — Emotional. Bill Gates reviewed this book on his site a couple years ago, and his review was enough to convince me that I needed to read this book. Brooks observes that today we tend to focus more on what he calls “resume virtues” and too little on “eulogy virtues” and we need to find a balance between the two. He explores several historical figures and a specific aspect that he feels sums up their personal character. His chapter on Struggle (profiling social worker Dorothy Day) read like a punch in the gut, and his chapter on Love (profiling Mary Anne Evans, better known by her nom-de-plume, George Eliot) made me cry. I can’t say I’m a better person having read this book, and Brooks doesn’t claim to be a better person having written it, either, but it for sure made me think about how I want to be remembered–and as a result, how I must be to achieve that.
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman — Repetitive. I liked the idea behind this book, and I still think there is value in Chapman’s idea–that many relationships fail because couples don’t know how to effectively communicate their love for each other. Enter the five love languages: quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, and gift-giving. Chapman argues that in relationships, people tend to have a preference to one or two of those specifically, and offers advice on how you can use those to communicate with your partner. That said, I thought it was very repetitive and could have been 100 pages shorter; but the ideas inside are good ones and worth looking into.
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett — Political. If you read here, you may already know I’m a fan of Ken Follett. I actually read four of his books in 2017: the entire Century trilogy (FoG and its sequels) and A Column of Fire, which came out in September; but I used FoG here as it sets the tone for two more books. It follows interconnected, international families and characters through the early years of the twentieth century through World War I. Even though it’s a novel, it’s one of the most political books I read in 2017–a lot was happening in the world in 1914 and beyond! I walked away from it with a final understanding that politics have always been very, very heated. Not necessarily the lesson I thought I’d get from KF, but it’s nice to get something unexpected from a book.
The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli — Surprising. I’ll be honest; I had to read this book for a class. And I’m glad I bought it rather than renting it, because it’s on my bookshelf now. Economics is interesting to me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to read a whole book with the word “economy” in the title. This book was a genuine surprise in that it reads like a novel. Somehow, Rivoli has managed to tell what is potentially a very boring subject as a story. And of course, I learned a lot, as it covers the entire life cycle of a t-shirt from cotton in the fields of Texas to yarn in China to for sale in the Florida tourist shop. And if you are curious, Salvation Army and Goodwill are not where t-shirts go to die. I know–I didn’t know either.
Why Wall Street Matters by William D. Cohan — Essential! I decided to read this book at the beginning of the year when I realized that I was starting a Master’s program in Finance and yet I actually new nothing about the U.S. financial system–which makes me no different from many Americans, to be fair. This book changed that; while I may not be able to explain to you what a call option is (yet), I can tell you what the U.S. financial system is about. Cohan, a former banker and NYT columnist, explains in simple language what the financial system does and what went wrong in 2008, as well as what is right or wrong with how we dealt with it. I highly, highly recommend this book.
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson — Indescribable. I can’t come up with an accurate adjective to describe Isaacson’s biography of my favorite Founding Father. Within its pages I found the BF that Americans are familiar with; flying kites in thunderstorms, his fondness of women, and the witticisms we’ve been taught since grade school (“a penny saved is a penny earned”). I also found or re-learned certain aspects of Franklin’s story; his entrepreneurial spirit, his love of all things England, his change in attitude towards slavery. Most interesting, but not the least bit surprising, was finding out that he was an advocate for self-help and -improvement, and always knew there was something he could be better at. It was a genuine pleasure to read this one!
Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos — Harmless. There was a lot of talk about this book–and its author–earlier this year and in 2016. My political views are moderate, and I definitely don’t agree with everything Yiannopoulos says, but I do believe in listening to other’s points-of-view. Moreover, I am more thankful that we have freedom of the press in this country, because for all the attempts to suppress this book’s publication, there is really nothing dangerous about it. It’s not an instruction manual on how to think or act. It’s a combination of political discussion and Milo talking about how amazing he is. Other parts remind me of a teenager saying outrageous things just to get a reaction (which I’m sure is the point, given Milo’s support of the 1st Amendment). While I don’t agree with everything in the book, there were parts that amused me. I’m glad I got the opportunity to read it while it was making the rounds in my family a few months back. (And if you’re curious, I have one or two books on the other side of the political spectrum in the lineup for 2018)
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl — Beautiful. I read this during a time where I was struggling this year, and I got a lot of–well–meaning out of it. Frankl used his experiences in Nazi concentration camps to develop his theory and practice of logotherapy, or the search of meaning in one’s life. The belief is that for most people, the meaning to life is work, love, or getting through hard times (or some combination of the three). I found the book interesting because Frankl does write in part about being an inmate at Auschwitz, but he did not write it to be “another Holocaust book,” but rather to illustrate how the struggle of the time kept him and many others alive. Of course, nothing in my life is as bad as being in a concentration camp. It’s a touching, memorable book and has some haunting passages (the last words–OMG).
The Six: the Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson — Short. I wish this book had been longer! Being American (I know, I’ve said it three times in this post), I couldn’t have told you who the Mitfords were, except that maybe J.K. Rowling had named her daughter after one? Having read about them, I’m not sure I admire any of them (except maybe Deborah–for being normal), but I was nonetheless fascinated by this group of English sisters and how different they all were from one another, as well as their relationships with one another. I myself am a sister, and my only sibling is a sister, so I was intrigued by the lengths the Mitford sisters took when antagonizing each other. I plowed through this book, and I was actually sad to turn the page to find the word “Epilogue.”
Build Your Dream Network by J. Kelly Hoey — Useful. We’ve all heard “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” and the author of this book shares her personal experiences in how networking has helped her change and advance careers. She shares useful tips on how to leverage your existing network for opportunities, as well as expanding your network. It’s definitely worth a read if you understand the power of networking, but aren’t sure how to approach it.
What books did you read last year, and what word would you use to describe them? Comment below!