72-80: Remember, Remember the books of December

In 2018, I read 80 books and got really, really close to the Queen.

Eighty books in one year.  Perhaps my record.

72: Work Rules, about how Google makes personnel decisions and how Googlers “work.”  It was moderately interesting, particularly as Zonal is hiring a lot of new people and experiencing the growth pains that come along with rapid expansion, but I don’t think it had anything radical.  One good takeaway, though: I’ve been on tech interviews where the interviewer asked left-field questions, and seemed to think that because Google was famous for it – “How many barbers are there in New York City?  How many golf balls can you fit in a VW Golf?” – that there must be a good reason for doing so.  Bock, the head of HR at Google, has found that these are absolutely useless questions to ask, and only serve to make the interviewer feel smug.  Thankfully, I don’t work at a company that puts its candidates through interviews that prove nothing.

73: Mindfulness.  A few people have asked me whether I had any book recommendations from my year of intense reading.  While Lullaby, The Lover and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers were some of the best books I’ve ever read, this book is perhaps the most important and life-changing.  I would recommend it to anyone and everyone – the Kindle version, as you can download the app to your phone and then listen to the meditations wherever you are.  I’m not sure what sort of impact this will have on me long-term, but short-term, I’m far more contemplative and calm; I’m more focused; I sleep better; I eat better; I learn better.  I’m not all that interested in drinking more than a cup of coffee a day, and for a while I was completely uninterested in any sort of alcohol; now, I might have a drink, but it’s slow and mindful and I enjoy it far more.  I’d recommend it to anyone interested in meditation and, more than that, anyone interested in living a better life.

74.  The Princess Bride.  I love the movie, and while it was a wonderful adaptation of the book, it didn’t come close to capturing the incredible humor of the writing – exceptionally tender, and laugh-out-loud funny.  I’d love to meet the author and just listen to him talk; he sounds absolutely hilarious.

I wrote that last sentence, and then decided to look up whether he was still alive.  It turns out he went to Oberlin College when he was younger – an Ohio connection – and died in November.  To paraphrase Meyer Wolfsheim, “Let us learn to show our appreciation for great people when they are alive and not after they are dead.”  Time to get some Bruce Springsteen tickets.

75.  The Sourdough School.  A Christmas present that was devoured immediately; great advice on sourdough (hat tip: Eric Sandy).

76.  Why We Sleep.  Another “This book will change your life” recommendation.  The short summary: sleep is important, and it will improve every moment of your waking life.  The advantage of reading the whole book, though, is that Walker explains exactly HOW sleep impacts your life and why it is so critical, and every chapter has insights that spark the desire to sleep earlier, longer, and to put more of an emphasis on this great luxury.

And sleep is a luxury.  Over Christmas, I was talking to a few people about luxury – what it is, and what it means.  I then wrote a blog post about it.  When thinking about my consumption habits, I realised that I want to put more of an emphasis on luxury in my life – not on things like Louis Vuitton wallets and fancy cars, but getting really high-quality, aesthetically gorgeous things I will use every day, like good pots and pans, better pens, exceptional paper.  But the one luxury I want to get more of, which many people feel they can’t get enough of: sleep.

77.  Happier.  Apparently this is the backbone of the most popular course at Harvard, and explains a lot of positive psychology.  I found it incredibly inane.

78. The Daily Stoic.  I’ve been reading this every day (as it was meant to be read) and it had a lot of good recommendations.  I found it a bit eerie, though, at how often the readings were directly relevant to a major incident or theme in my life on the very day that the reading appeared.  It’s not a great work of art, but it’s a good way to reflect on what is happening in life, and a reminder that every problem we face in our lives has been faced by people in the past, and we can learn from their philosophical musings on our existence.

79. Magna Carta.  I read this over Christmas in Egham, Surrey, between Windsor and Runnymede.  The next day, I went running on the fields where the Magna Carta was signed.  It hadn’t rained all week, but the fields were muddy and full of puddles – within a minute my brand new shoes were soaked through and still, a week later, the mud is caked into the fabric, which kind of annoys me when I go to put them on, but then I think of it as the mud of Democracy.  Anyway, it was a good introduction to the messiness of history, and a reminder that sometimes, things can happen that are seemingly insignificant, but can have long-lasting consequences.

80. On Tyranny.  Speaking of history.  Every American should read this book, but it’s most particularly relevant to those in power who don’t like the current administration.  It helped remind me that things can get better, but only if we all act to improve them.

And so that was the eighty books for the year.  I’m slogging my way through the first volume of Robert Asprey’s two-volume biography of Napoleon now, and powering through cookbooks like nobody’s business.  For various personal reasons I know that I’m certainly not going to get to 80 books again anytime soon – I can guarantee that – but 2019 is already looking to be a good year for reading and for life.


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