My year in reading & listening

Heading into the new year and thinking about 2016, I decided to do a look-back of all the content I read and listened to in 2015.

In 2014, I dove headfirst into the business memoir - personal stories of entrepreneurs, their management philosophies, and company growth. This is a genre that resonated deeply with me, and helped shape the way I think about leadership. I found the stories of business leaders such as Danny Meyer, Chip Conley & Howard Schultz to be inspiring and engaging, and the perfect supplement to more foundational business books such as Good to Great.

Towards the end of last year, however, I was seeking a change. As someone who loves history in particular, its always been a regret of mine that I didn’t take more history courses - or explore liberal arts more broadly - when I was in college. So early in the year I started reading and listening to lots of classical history. One enabler of this was Audible’s addition of Great Courses content - college-style lectures on sweeping topics such as ‘The History of Ancient Rome’. I ended up listening to three 48-lecture series on classic civilization: Daily life In The Ancient World, The History of Ancient Egypt, & The History of Ancient Rome. I also read a new history book on Rome - SPQR - as well as a book on the historical Jesus (Zealot) and a travelogue set in the ancient world (Travels with Herodotus by the late Ryszard Kapuscinski).

Some of this was a lot of fun. However, looking back, its disappointing to me that out of the hundreds of man-hours of reading and listening I’ve actually retained very little. I can’t remember a single thing beyond names from Travels with Herodotus (although this coincided with the birth of my second child, so perhaps I’m being too self-critical), and I only have a hazy recollection of much of the Great Courses content. Perhaps I’m not as interested in history - at least in this stage of my life - as I thought I was, or perhaps I just need to consume history in a different way - e.g. visually through documentaries and museums. I also think chronological history probably isn’t my thing - when the history was more narrative my retention was far higher.

There were some highlights, however. I read Lean In, & would recommend it to everyone. And a quick and great read was The Internet is my Religion, written by entrepreneur Jim Gilliam, about the connective power of the Internet against the backdrop of a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, loss of a parent to cancer, and cancer survival himself. Over the summer I also decided to re-read one of my all time favorites, Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, partially as a challenge to myself to see if I could do it. With family & startup responsibilities, my life isn’t exactly conducive to tackling an postmodern 800 page book written in 18th-century prose. I’m glad I got through it, and recommend it for anyone looking for a surreal, historical novel about pre-revolutionary America by one of the best all-time authors.

I also read a book that was life-changing. 10% Happier by Dan Harris is a readable introduction to the teachings of Buddhism and meditation. The power of the book was Harris’s ability to lead me on an emotional journey of self-discovery where the story arc leads to incorporating Buddhist practice into daily life. It was a great trojan horse - I’m not sure whether I would have been as open to education about Buddhism and meditation practice any other way.  I intend to read more about applied Buddhism and spirituality in 2016, and subscribed to Triangle magazine to kickstart the year with some of their content.

Over the past year I’ve also stopped switching between reading book & audiobook, as I had highlighted in my post ‘Reading Books 2.0’. My tentative plan for listening headed into 2016 is to move to fluffier audiobooks where missing a detail here and there doesn’t really matter, as well as try out some new podcasts. I haven’t quite figured out the optimal way to mix audiobooks with the voluminous amount of podcast content into a cohesive listening library, but I’m going to try. I just started Jerry Colonna’s Reboot podcast and have been enjoying it immensely, so am hopeful that keeps me busy for a while.

In terms of reading goals for 2016: I am starting the year focused on self-improvement, self-discovery & ‘applied’ spirituality (e.g. the teachings of Buddhism, Judaism, and other spiritual or religious disciplines to modern life & leadership). I started a book featured in Amazon’s ‘Customers also bought’ section of 10% Happier called the Gifts of Imperfection. Other samples downloaded on my Kindle: Choose Yourself, The Art of Communicating, Soulcraft. I also want to tackle the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People once and for all (I’ve had several stops and starts) - same with Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Lastly - as with listening - I’d like to figure out the right way to incorporate blogs and articles into my repertoire. I find that I skim this content during the day at my desk and retention is very poor. I’m trying out the app Pocket with the hopes that it can be my knowledge base.

Lastly, since I like to track these things, here are my overall stats for the year: about 3,210 pages consumed (only counting books I completed, not stops and starts), which averages to about 60 pages per week. I’m hopeful that I can accelerate this pace in 2016, particularly as I seek out books that are more readable and directly relevant.