A LITTLE LIGHT READING

Reading list header showing Trinity Library, Dublin

I have found myself thinking about the library of Alexandria lately. It’s usually when I hit the button on Amazon that says “Deliver to Elaine’s Kindle” and I marvel at the fact that the written word, which for thousands of years could only be accessed in certain places by a tiny fraction of the population, is now available on demand, anywhere, at any time.

After all, there has never been a time on our planet when so much information is literally at our fingertips. We can fact check the news and urban myths, see the weather on the other side of the globe, and access a dynamic encyclopedia on a device that weighs less than a deck of cards. Books, once written by hand, can be downloaded at the touch of a button to a laptop, mobile phone, or eReader, and reading is cheaper than therapy for stress relief and better for brain cells than television.

Although I grew up with a love of fiction, much of my current reading material has been more eclectic. Indeed, those who know me are familiar with my tendency to say “Oh, I just read this great book that says …” and then spouting off the latest factoid that caught my attention (sorry about that, I’m trying to stop). I decided to continue to publish an annual list of what I’ve been reading, in part to help me keep track, but also to share some fascinating books that may be overlooked. They’re (mostly) in no particular order, and for full disclosure Amazon Affiliate links are used … but spare a thought for those ancient Alexandrians who could only dream of such easy access to information!

  • Barking up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong (Eric Barker): With its engaging writing style and sound scientific backing, I have to admit this was one of my favourite discoveries of 2017. Barker shows that there is evidence to support conflicting claims about what makes someone successful, then demonstrates to the reader how a balance can be achieved for greater happiness. If you’re looking for a book that is both interesting and uplifting, I highly recommend this one. At the very least, get on over to his website and sign up to his mailing list for a weekly dose of inspiration and information.
  • One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way (Robert Maurer): While I cannot say this book has changed my life, it has changed how I think about things: namely, important goals cannot be achieved overnight! If you want to make long-term, lasting changes, then small and steady really seems to be the way forward. When coupled with Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, this is a good foundation for making positive changes.
  • Mini Habits for Weight Loss: Stop Dieting. Form New Habits. Change Your Lifestyle Without Suffering (Stephen Guise): Amazon is a clever corporation. They saw I had purchased Better than Before, a book about habits, and recommended this one as well. And I am so glad I fell for their marketing trick as I enjoyed this one so much more than BtB. It has a kaizen-esque vibe (start small) and I really like the underlying philosophy behind it. It can basically be boiled down to choose a small goal and carry it out every day. This might be running in place for 30 seconds or doing one push up (or reading two pages of a book or writing 50 words a day if weight loss isn’t one of your goals). You can of course do more if you want, but the idea is to change your mindset and use the momentum of small wins to carry you forward.  After all, a full year of running in place 30 seconds each day is better than running for 30 minutes three or four times a week if you abandon the latter after a few workouts because it doesn’t fit into your schedule.
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness (Richard Thaler, Cass Sunstein): Finally! This one has been on my should-read list for a while, and the authors winning the Nobel Prize for Economics finally encouraged me to take the plunge. It was an interesting look at the world of “choice architecture” and how careful design regarding defaults and decision making can be used to help people (or for evil … your choice). I still haven’t figured out a way to make not littering easier than littering, but it’s always useful to have a bit more evidence in my arsenal.
  • The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science (Jonathan Haidt): Improving well-being, a spot of history, and scientific backing all rolled into one book—what’s not to like? While some of the writing is slightly more academic than other books listed here, I found this one to be quite enlightening, and worth a read if you’re looking for ways of better understanding and improving your mood.
  • 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Laura Vanderkam): I wouldn’t exactly call this a time-management book. It’s more about being aware of your time, where it goes, and how you can use it better to achieve your goals. While I greatly enjoyed it overall and would definitely recommend it if you’re trying to figure out how to prioritise your activities, the author doesn’t really discuss the fact that time is not created equal. If you spend a day doing a mentally exhausting job, trying to complete your own project(s) in the evening is not necessarily going to yield the best results. Which brings me to …
  • Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done (Josh Martin): This book fills in some of the gaps of 168 Hours, and is overall a good reminder that (1) multi-tasking doesn’t exist, and (2) be aware of your peak times so you can get your most important work done then, not during the times you’d prefer to be taking a nap.
  • When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (Daniel Pink): I love the author’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, so queued up his latest book that delves into chronotypes, the importance of harnessing the power of beginnings, middles, and ends, and basically goes beyond what to looking at when is the best time for certain activities. With its engaging writing style and useful summaries, this is a good introduction to the power of timing.
  • Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade (Robert Cialdini): I am a big fan of the author’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (in fact, I read it again this year), so it was great to see this new one out that also deals with the importance of timing, especially as regards influencing. If you are short on time, however, I’d recommend starting with Influence.
  • Miracle Morning: The 6 Habits That Will Transform Your Life Before 8AM (Hal Elrod): I’ve written about my experience with Miracle Morning before, and in general I still think highly of it. I have to admit I fell off the early-to-rise wagon with the arrival of autumn and darker mornings, but I am hoping that spring will set me back on the right path.
  • The Art of Thinking Clearly (Rolf Dobelli): If you liked Daniel Kahnehahn’s Thinking Fast and Slow, you should enjoy this book that collects various fallacies and biases into one place. Clear, concise writing and bitesize chapters makes this book great for dipping in and out of while commuting or on the loo.
  • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions (Dan Ariely): I found Predictably Irrational to be a solid companion to Kahnehahn and Cialdini, and one that had me nodding along as he explained the psychology behind seemingly irrational decisions that everyone makes. If you’ve ever wanted why people tend to choose things that go against their own best interest, this is a good book to start with.
  • The Dip: The extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit (and when to stick) (Seth Godin): The problem with being in the middle of something is that you don’t often know exactly how long this phase will last. The enthusiasm of starting something has worn off, the
    finishing line is not in sight, and you don’t know whether you’ll soon be hitting your stride or hitting a wall. Godin’s book shows how powering through can take you to new heights … but also to be aware that sometimes it’s necessary to abandon ship to stop from going round in circles.
  • The Long Tail: How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand (Chris Anderson): This is a book that is often cited as a game changer, and its title is regularly used to describe the opportunity offered by digital technology. I found it interesting to an extent, but with of an original publication date of 2006, it already felt out of date. Overall it’s a decent reference, but I would suggest looking for more recent take on the long tail phenomenon.
  • TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking: Tips and tricks for giving unforgettable speeches and presentations (Chris Anderson): This was a book that popped up on Amazon as a result of reading The Long Tail, and since I had my own forthcoming talk to give at the time, I decided to give it ago.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to give their own powerful presentations, learn what goes on behind the scenes at TED, or is just interested in what some of Anderson’s recommended TED talks are.
  • Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Life (Gretchen Rubin): Occasionally books just don’t work for me and this was one of them. The author’s tone comes across as holier-than-thou, and what she typically describes aren’t habits but behaviours (yes, there is a difference). She lost me with an impassioned defence of diet soda, despite current scientific studies showing that they’re equally as bad (or worse) than regular cola (carbonation alone is even shown to increase calorie consumption). This cherry picking of evidence doesn’t sit well
    with me, so I moved on to Mini Habits, which I would recommend instead.
  • Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway (Susan Jeffers): This is a classic of the self-help genre and there is a good reason for that: it is the one book that I would recommend to anyone feeling a bit stuck. It simultaneously serves as a kick up the backside and a warm hug.
  • Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life (Susan David): Some may find Feel the Fear a tad too New Age-y. In that case, I would recommend Emotional Agility as it is an engaging, practical book grounded in psychology and academic research. If that still seems too airy-fairy for you, may I recommend …
  • The Chimp Paradox (Steve Peters): There’s a very good reason the author is used by a number of athletes to help improve their performance: this is another classic that will help you look at your brain and emotions in a completely different way. If neither of the previous two books worked for you with regards to reprogramming troublesome thoughts and breaking out of existing ruts, then this one should do the trick.
  • Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long (David Rock): I loved this book. Rock uses storytelling to get his point across about how the brain works, especially when dealing with problematic work situations. This blend of fact and fiction works incredibly well together to help the reader remember the neuroscience and lessons he is trying to impart.
  • Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice (Matthew Syed): Both this and Gladwell’s Outliers make the point that often what we perceive as talent is in fact the result of hundreds or thousands of hours of practice. But not just any practice or rote activity: it must be deliberate, with feedback, so that improvements can be made. I enjoyed both books, so would recommend reading them back to back to aid in remembering the points made by the authors.
  • Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell): See above.
  • Smartcuts (Shane Snow): First of all, I have no idea why this book is considerably cheaper as a paperback than on Kindle, but if you’re interested in it, get the physical version instead. Second, this is a fun, fascinating read through real-life ways of skipping up the career ladder. Even if you’re happy with your current rung (and quite frankly half of the books listed here are about being happy where you are now), I strongly recommend this as it is an entertaining read.
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiate As If Your Life Depended On It (Chris Voss): As a former FBI hostage negotiator, Voss has written a compelling book that makes you re-think how you interact with people. This was another favourite and one that I am already planning to read again sometime over the coming year.
  • Dear Fahrenheit 451 (Annie Spence): This is a bit of light reading that I absolutely loved. Quite simply it’s a librarian’s letters to her books, and if you are an avid reader or book collector then you’ll understand it perfectly. 
  • Rivers of London series (Ben Aaronovitch): The only proper fictional entry on this list, but one which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who is looking for a laugh (with a bit of darkness thrown in).  Imagine Harry Potter crossed with Law & Order and a soupçon of the best sci-fi comedy writing and you’ll get close. Start with Rivers of London, then proceed to Moon Over Soho, Whispers Underground, Broken Homes, Foxglove Summer, and The Hanging Tree.

I also squeezed in a few old favourites:

  • The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg): I am a bit obsessed with how habits can be used to improve lives, and the underpinning neuroscience behind habit formation and changing habits is absolutely fascinating.
  • Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth about Success (Matthew Syed): If you haven’t read this, you’re missing out. Both it and Syed’s Bounce work well together to underscore that perfection doesn’t exist, but that constantly striving for improvement is a better way forward.
  • 12 Week Year (Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington): I am currently using this system to help me focus on goals I want to accomplish and prioritise activities; it uses the psychology of small wins and short time periods to motivate, and it’s one that I would ecommend if you want to accomplish a lot in a limited period of time.
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Robert Cialdini): This is a fascinating view of common compliance techniques and ways around them; very useful for the next time someone offers you a free sample.

What are some of your favourite books of the past year? Drop me a line or share them on Facebook.

Disclaimer: Affiliate links are used in this post.

Elaine Massung Off the Beaten Track
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