I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I don’t believe in “books everybody should read.”
That said, I genuinely enjoy reading and like hearing people talk about books, and I also like to recommend books to people. So even if I don’t think everybody should read a specific book, I wanted to share books that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed, for one reason or the other.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant–Has anybody ever asked you “If you could recommend one book, what would it be?” For me, this is that one book. When I first read the story of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter from the book of Genesis, I was a senior in high school and I have read it at least once a year since then. As I said, it is about the Biblical figure Dinah, daughter of Jacob, and through her narration, we learn not only her story, but also the story of her mothers (Jacob had four wives) and the various lessons in life and love she learned from each of them. It’s a book about sisterhood, female friendship, and learning to navigate a world that has never really been the kindest to women. I usually cry as I read the last words–in a good way.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich–A wonderful novel by one of my favorite authors, The Round House is about Joe, a young Native American boy whose mother is violently attacked on their reservation. It’s a coming-of-age story that sees Joe deciding that he needs to be the one to save his mother and that he will exact revenge upon the white man who did it. Violence against women, particularly Native American and First Nations women, has been and continues to be a very prevalent issue. Erdrich’s language is very simple but still packs a hard punch.
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett–This is another book that I can just read over and over again, and it’s not a small book. But it’s wonderful and it seems right that this is Follett’s best-selling book ever. It’s the first book of Follett’s that takes place in the fictional English town of Kingsbridge, and the main point is construction of Kingsbridge cathedral, but it’s set against the backdrop of the Anarchy and the Crusades. The cast of characters include a visionary master builder named Tom (Builder); Jack, a redheaded bastard mason; Aliena, a female wool merchant; and a very charismatic, politically-minded but good-hearted monk named Prior Philip. Oh, Prior Philip. Overall, it’s a great book and I cannot recommend it enough. (Also, there is a mini-series starring not only Eddie Redmayne, but also Rufus Sewell, Matthew MacFadyen, and Hayley Atwell. Not as good as the book, but just as enjoyable. Just sayin’ it’s out there and it exists.)
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie–If someone has said to you “You have to read this book. It’s the best-selling business book of all time,” and you never wanted to read it because of that, I get it. I never wanted to read it, either. But I am so glad that I did. Carnegie uses easy language and anecdotes from his life, as well as the lives of successful and well-known people (among them Andrew Carnegie (no relation), Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln) and students in his course, to show that the way we interact with people can help us succeed. More than a business book, it’s a human relations book, and while it discusses how we treat people in business, it also examines the ways we treat people in our personal lives as well.
Smart Mom, Rich Mom by Kimberly Palmer–This was the first book I read about finance and women, and even though I don’t have kids, I want all of my friends–whether or not they have children–to read it. We’re now at a point in history where women tend not only outlive their husbands, but we also have an incredible divorce rate. One way or the other, most women have to manage their finances, and so few of us know where to start. This book is great because it’s easy to understand–which is good, considering I find the language of finance to be incredibly intimidating if you’re new to it. It’s also about building wealth as opposed to extreme couponing and pinching every single penny you have. It discusses topics like financially preparing for a baby, setting up a college fund, and tackling debt.
The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko–Stanley and Danko spent years surveying the habits of the richest people in America, and this is the result of that research. According to this book, the spending habits of America’s wealthy are not what you think. The images of glitz and glamour portrayed by the media are certainly exciting–but most people end up chasing after the diamond rings and the $5,000 suits and never accumulate any real wealth. If your goal is to be financially independent and to accumulate wealth, then give this book a read. I was certainly surprised by the information here, and it really helped me to change my thoughts and attitude about money.
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande–My boss, a fan of the daily checklist himself, recommended this to me. Gawande, who is a surgeon (with a lot of other really amazing credentials), believes that the technology to make sure you get things right the first time is simple: the checklist. What I like about this book is that Gawande uses really good examples that I don’t think the average reader would think of. Some are from the medical field, but others are from fields like aviation and construction. That said, it’s about knowing what to do in complicated situations–like when a hospital patient experiences sudden, unexplained cardiac arrest. It’s a good book, but not if you’re looking for ways to boost productivity and knock things off your to-do list.
Why Wall Street Matters by William D. Cohan–If I believed in books everyone should read, this would be one of them. Anyone who is curious about how the U.S. financial system works, or anyone who is incredibly critical of Wall Street might benefit from reading this book. It’s not an indictment of capitalism, so if that’s what you’re looking for–go elsewhere. However, Cohan is a Democrat who votes Democrat; he also has been a banker on Wall Street and now writes a finance column for the New York Times. He knows what he’s talking about, and he covers the history of Wall Street from the beginning, discusses past financial crises as well as the 2008 financial crisis, examines legislation efforts to regulate banking in this country, and finally, and maybe most importantly to some, explains what the problem with Wall Street actually is and how we might rectify it.