2020- My annual re-read of Essentialism, during No-vember, took me the entire month to read this time around. Sure, I wasn’t in a rush to read it, but for whatever reason I couldn’t find myself getting into it this year. Perhaps my brain was already mush having read so many books this year already. Then again, maybe the content and main point of the book is something I have consumed so many times that I simply glaze over much of the content. With that said, I was reminded that there is always room for improvement in how a person approaches an essentialist lifestyle and that no one is ever perfect. I am hopeful that in the future I will be in a leadership role where I have others looking to me for guidance & support and in turn employ some essentialist strategies to combat the very elements of leadership and management which drive me crazy.
2019- My annual re-read of this book as a reminder that it’s okay to say no, and not to feel bad about it. My realization in more recent months is this—taking things in life down to the most important is essential, but at some point ‘yes’ needs to be said more often. I’ve excluded less important things for so long, to help me focus on what really matters, that I haven’t brought into my life some less-important things to help balance things out and to provide meaning and value to the things/experiences I cherish so very much. There needs to be a balance between the essential and the non-essential.
2018- An annual re-read, I took away this time around that saying “no” sometimes is not enough. If an individual finds themselves saying “no” long enough, without any “yeses” to provide a necessary balance, both personal and professional lives may be unfulfilling. My anticipation is to re-read this again in early 2019 to provide some perspective for the year.
Knives Out (2019): This is one of the most engaging films I have watched in a while. Throughout the entire movie I was captivated; trying to figure out the plot twists that were yet to come, and to fill in the gaps left along the way as part of the mystery. I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery and haven’t watched (or read one) in a long time. I highly recommend this film for those who are fans of whodunnits.
The Irishman (2019): I really wanted to like this movie, and everything about it suggested I should. The cast, the slow-burn plot, the genre, and the director are all things I love. But, I couldn’t get into this movie. I couldn’t help but feel that a different cast should have been selected; that De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci have all had their chance and are past their prime. It was hard to imagine De Niro as a younger man in the film, and that wasn’t a great way to start off things. Perhaps I will have to give this another watch—I’ve had others suggest that it was bearable over 3 1hr viewings. For now though, I’m not sold on the fact that this film is what it was hyped up to be. With that said, I’ll likely need to give this film another go in the future
Marriage Story (2019): I thoroughly enjoyed this film. From the pace of the film, to the slightly unpredictable turns in the plot. I was engaged throughout the entire film. The cast was selected perfectly and the characters really had their own individual opportunities to shine. On more than one occasion I actually forgot that I was watching Netflix. I highly recommend this film as one of the only Netflix Originals that I haven’t regretted watching.
A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel: As the last book of the year for me, this read was a struggle. Rooted in the history of literature, Greek and Roman cultures, and religious stories, there was a great deal of this book that I found myself not understanding. With that said, I worked my way through the entire book and by the time I was finished I was thankful I did. The why and how the written work has come to be printed on pages, to the reader as a distinct individual; I found myself picking up enough value from the parts of the book that I could understand to really enjoy it. The last chapter titled, “The Book Fool,” was of particular interest. Helping to distinguish between High Society and Popular Culture, this section was a great way to wrap up the read. If I have one criticism it would be this: A History of Reading was hardly a complete history. Most of the 20th century, aside from a couple of mentions of specific events, was excluded from consideration within this work. Perhaps the author could revisit his work and update it to take into account new, more modern elements of reading.
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer: This is not the type of book I would typically pick up to read, but given I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous works I figured I would give this a shot. By far, this is the most disturbing book I’ve read in as long as I can remember, and a horrible, unfortunately true story that is all too common. On more than one occasion while reading this book I found myself wanting to stop reading and move to something much easier and less depressing to read. But, I couldn’t put it down. As an important topic and a difficult subject, it’s imperative that the world knows how imperfect our systems of justice are and what, as a society, we are allowing to happen. More than once while reading this book I found myself yelling out loud at the “characters” because I not only was I disappointed with their words and actions, but because I felt sick inside while reading.
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber: Compelling premise. Lackluster delivery. Having now made two separate attempts at this book, only being successful via audiobook, I had great expectations for this read but failed to find connection to the work. The author finds the needs to construct his own lexicon to categorize different types of jobs, the terms which seem a little elementary and less than professional. Additionally, the book’s tone and voice is highly informal and makes one wonder of it’s value and credibility. I’d still recommend the read to anyone interested in the topics of work, employment, self worth, and societal expectations, but provide the caveat that the delivery may not be what you expect.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel: Such a great read. I’m always partial to story about individuals who go against the grain of day-to-day society, and have it within them to seek out the life which works for them. The story of Christopher Knight is no different. What was most interesting about this book is the references made by the author, and Knight himself, to other “hermits” who have selected to live lives of solitude, and the literature they have composed which highlight all of the benefits and reasons for doing so. I picked this up on recommendation from a friend and I’d encourage others to read it as well.
Reality never changes. Only our recollections of it do. Whenever a moment passes, we pass along with it into the realm of memory. And in that realm, geometries change. Contours shift, shades lighten, objectivities dissolve. Memory becomes what we need it to be.
The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson: Not as compelling of a read as last year’s One Book One London read, but a nice deviation from what I would typically find myself consuming. I enjoyed that it was set in Niagara Falls, a location familiar to myself. And, the character reveal at the end of the book helps to provide some context for what unfolds during the majority of the pages. Certainly worth a read for anyone looking for something relatively easy to let their mind wander.
Handbook for the Positive Revolution by Edward de Bono: [throwing up sounds] I’m not really sure what I expected from this book—one of many purchased for a flat rate at a book sale—but I was highly disappointed. This work is too prescriptive and filled with little substance. Its goals are admirable, but the approach to delivering on said goals are lacking in every which way. Perhaps I simply won’t understand the purpose of the book, or was looking to get something different out of it than the others who have read it, but I can’t imagine ever recommending this to anyone.
Drinking in America: Our Secret History by Susan Cheever: This book can be summed up by stating: Americans are drunks. Although it gets tiring, reading story after story of famous individuals who had intimate relationships with alcohol—the point is made after the first dozen pages—I couldn’t put this book down. Reading how America’s relationship with different types of alcohol over the centuries of its history makes for a narrative that helps to give context to why certain things are they way which they are in modern society. Not the best read out there, it’s worth a read if a person is looking to fill a few hours of boredom in their week.
Book Ends: A Year Between the Covers by Naomi Beth Wakan: Picked-up as part of a random collection of books at a book sale, I was hopeful that Wakan’s take on her year of reading would offer me some direction for what I have been trying to takeaway from my own reading efforts. However, this was hardly the case. Wakan’s own words sum up my feelings of her offerings very succinctly: “Every time I open a new book, I do so with almost breathless hope. Hope for what, I am not sure; but usually just after the middle of the book, my hope turns sour and I finish the book listlessly knowing that, yet once more, I have not found what I was seeking.” The only difference between her thought and my own process is that I couldn’t bring myself to finish this read—it was that un-fulfilling.
But the utter mental absorption we experience when we read a written narrative, the way the world disappears around us and an entirely imaginary place springs to life in our consciousness, is unparalleled and impossible to replicate with any other medium. Reading is dreaming awake—Kurt Vonnegut called it the “western version of meditation.” The internet may give us immersion, and it may give us community, but what it can never give us is this experience of dreaming in tandem with an individual author’s imagination. Only books do that.
Who Needs Books?: Reading in the Digital Age by Lynn Coady: A succinct essay on the state of reading, books, and language in a digital age. This read provided a gentle re-connection to books and reading for enjoyment, after a prolonged period away from reading while focused on academic writing. I enjoyed the author’s simple premise—that books, and the language they are founded upon, may be in no worse condition—perhaps better—than in previous decades or centuries. Some insightful consideration is given for the value of the internet and the other media platforms that have been introduced into society over time.
The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age by Sven Birkerts: Contemplations on the printed word, the digital age, and what it means to appreciate books in a time of her changing expectations about what reading should be. It took me much longer to get through this than it should have–life happens–but it was well worth it. Not something I would find myself re-reading in the future, but well worth consuming if someone is at all interested in thoughts on the relationship we have with words, paper, and the printed word.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: A read as part of a road trip to Canada’s east coast, I was thoroughly surprised by this book. Never having read the story as a youngster, or seen any of the filmography created based upon it, I wasn’t certain that it was going to be something I’d enjoy. I am happy to report that I’d glad I took it in (via audiobook) over the length of the trip. The book was so well written, although at times the repetitive use of certain words became a bit much, and I never once felt like it was a chore to keep up with the story. Regarding Anne herself—I know that she is a fictional character, but I really connected with her wit, curiosity, interest in language, and the conversations she could spark and carry on with anyone. I highly recommend this read to anyone looking for an escape from the everyday.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford: A re-read of something from years past, I wanted to be reminded of the need to connect to one’s work on a physical basis. As a “knowledge” worker and someone who sits at a computer for most of the day, I often question what value I am contributing to society on a regular basis. As someone who has not used his hands on a regular basis to create value/meaning for others—other than the occasional dinner—I’ve been contemplating how I can get back to using my hands, helping me to feel a greater connection to some type of work. Stripping away the examples from the life of a motorcycle shop mechanic, there is lots of thoughts in this book on life, community, work (ethic), value generation, and understanding one’s self.
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca: As an entry point to get me acquainted with philosophy, I chose this book as a to learn more about Stoicism. This volume is full of great thoughts on life, purpose, problem solving, and becoming more comfortable with one’s self. Having heard that Stoicism might be a philosophy that would resonate deeply with my existing believe, I am happy to report that after an initial read I think I am on the right track. Having highlighted a number of passages, for one reason or another, I will definitely be re-reading this in the future.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer: Recommended and loaned to me by a colleague, Let Your Life Speak was a quick read but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Offering thoughts on how to find your true calling, rather than moving towards a predefined path Palmer suggests you let your experiences, actions, and core values provide the necessary direction needed. I particularly found valuable the sections on: Selfhood, Society, and Service; and, Leading from Within. This little book is likely worth reading every now and again as a reminder to accept our true calling and stop wasting time needlessly going down paths we shouldn’t be going down.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain: As a re-read, 2 or 3 times now, I can’t say enough good things about this book. For introverts, it can act as a tool to develop a sense of personal empowerment. Sometimes simply being told that the way you are is, OK, is more than enough. This book has that affect on me, in addition to helping me to better understand the interactions I have with others, introverts or extrovertsalike. Each time I read Quiet I find myself becoming more comfortable with who I am, and more aware of what I am capable of. Whether you’re an introvert or not, I highly recommend this read.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling: Having been on a reading streak of 1 book a week for the first four months of the year, I struggled to complete Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Taking a month to complete this work of juvenile fiction, I’m happy to be done with it. While I can appreciate why these works are such great hits with a given crowd, I found it challenging to stay interested/invested in, and felt like I was often disappointing with the author taking “the easy way out” when it came to plot choices. Although these books are “just not my thing” I’ll probably put myself through reading the remainder 5 books just to say I did it.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom: As one read in a series of books I picked up on mentoring, Tuesdays with Morrie provided a different approach to providing thoughts on fostering meaningful relationships with others. While I came to this book late, as apparently it has been available for a couple of decades, it provided value to me in the same way I imagine it did when it was first released. As a tale of compassion, Tuesdays with Morrie illustrates that meaningful and fulfilling relationships can take many different shapes, even very simple forms. That a mentor and mentee each have something to gain from a relationship and that this should be top of mind when investing in each other. Although not the be all and end all of mentoring books, this read has helped me to realize that having a purposeful relationship with someone which fosters individual and communal growth needn’t be complicated.
How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen: Having picked up this book based on a search for mentoring resources I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect but imagined it would be related, somewhat, to mentoring. It wasn’t. A poor attempt at combining a business book of best practices, with a self-help and family guidance/child rearing resource—this read was less than impressive or valuable. In trying to draw parallels between one’s personal and professional lives, it serves neither purpose particularly well. Additionally, near the end of the book the primary author, Christensen, begins to tote the importance of God and his particular brand of faith for providing meaning in life. This addition to the book seemed sloppily added. If one’s faith is an essential element in developing a perspective on life, and how to identify and find meaning, I would have hoped this would have been a central element found through the book. It was not. I can’t recommend this read.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown: A follow up to the handful of other books she has penned, Brené Brown offers thoughts on leadership and trust in the context of shame and vulnerability. Coming as a difficult time in my career, where I feel like I’m now unable to trust my direct manager and have lost almost all respect I’ve had for them as a result, this read has me rethinking how I approach leadership roles and the ways I interact with the teams I am a part of. Questions I find myself asking include: how can I more authentically be myself around others?; how am I contributing to negative workplace cultures?; how can I build empathy with those who look to me for support?; and, how can I open up, be vulnerable, and let my personal life meld, appropriately, with my professional image?
Lion (2016): A movie that I should have watched long ago, this was a fantastic film. A fictionalized account of the story of a young man overcoming the odds of not being fully connected to his part, Lion provides a great reminder of the privilege many of us from first-world countries have, and certainly those of us who live well above poverty.
The Only Living Boy in New York (2017): The reviews on this movie were horrible, but it was on Prime Video so I figured it was good for at least background noise. I didn’t mind it. Jeff Bridges always gets me—that voice, and range of acting. If this movie were actually a book I’d go out and buy it to read it (I’d do the same thing for, One Week).
Brooklyn (2015): A simple story of finding oneself, and love, in a place that eventually comes to feel like home, Brooklyn offered a twist or two to keep the plot line interesting. Subtle in its delivery, and beautiful in it’s production, this film is about: transitions, family, identity, home, loss, and love. I wouldn’t present this film with any awards myself, but it’s certainly worth a watch that won’t be regretted.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): As one of my all-time favourite movies, The Perks of Being a Wallflower captures something about childhood and the act of growing older that can only be found in select books and movies. There’s something about the story line that is unbelievable, but believably mundane at the same time that connects with me each and every time. The heartbreaking truth that comes about near the end of the film is something that one should never have to think of, but it happens far too often. Good on the author, producer, and director for capturing such difficult topics in a soothing package.
Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson: This was an interesting read regarding deliberate practice and what makes experts in a given field extraordinary. Find something you’re interested in and motivated to succeed in; select a teacher or mentor who is an expert in the field; and set along a course of purposeful and systematic—deliberate—practice to develop and hone the skills essential to be the best in your field. Perhaps a simplification of a much more complicated process but this is, in essence, what was outlined in Peak. I particularly enjoyed Ericsson’s attempt to clarify the “ten thousand hours” concept which Malcolm Gladwell popularized, and shine some light on the fact that practicing isn’t enough on it’s own; practicing the same thing over and over, in a wrong way, for hours on end will not make an expert. Although I do think this book could have accomplished the same level of commentary in far fewer pages it was a worthwhile read.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline: The 2018/2019 pick for the One Book One London, collaborative reading campaign—The Marrow Theives is an easy, and unfortunately uneventful young fiction read. Although the themes throughout the book, about: belonging, community, culture, identity, race, relationships, and the unfortunate history which our current nation (Canada) was built upon, are important for their own reasons and the collective at large, I found the story line a repetitive at times and without the depth I would have like to have read. Given that this is a young adult read perhaps I shouldn’t hold much against it, and given that I haven’t been all that impressed with the previous year’s picks for the One Book One London campaign, it’s probably in-line with what I should have expected.
The Accountant (2016): Great idea for a plot poorly executed. I can’t help to think that if a different cast were chosen, and the writing had been a bit better, that this movie would have been a great action thriller. Instead, we’re left with a mindless flick good enough to have on in the background as noise.
A Star is Born (2018): Although the story isn’t an original, apparently a remake from an old Barbra Streisand movie—are any movies original these days?—and the plot line was highly predictable, I actually found myself enjoying this film. While others might not agree, Bradley Cooper’s range as an actor often surprises me, and I didn’t know Lady Ga Ga is someone I could stand until I watched this film. Recommended to anyone looking for an easy evening watch.
Experience and Education by John Dewey: Comparing and contrasting “traditional” and “progressive” approaches to education, Dewey proposes that both ways of educating are incomplete, and in many respects mis-educative. Believing that a carefully developed philosophy of education is essential regardless of how an educator or system approaches the “problem” of fostering learning, grounded in either traditional top-down methods or rooted in experience, Dewey leaves readers with the following thought:
What we want and need is education pure and simple, and we shall make surer and faster progress when we develop ourselves to finding out just what education is and what conditions have to be satisfied in order that education may be a reality and not a name or a slogan. It is for this reason alone that I have emphasized the need for a sound philosophy of experience.
Utopia by Thomas More:
A commentary on society—on what is, as well as what could be—More’s work, whose title translates as, “no place,” is an interesting read to say the least. Offering thoughts on both an ideal society and an unrealistic one at that, there are some concepts in this classic that if were to be adopted by specific countries we, as a population, may find ourselves living in greater harmony. Not perfect by any means, and open to any number of interpretations, this book sat on the shelf in my apartment for far too long.
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh: In many of the same ways as, Educated by Tara Westover, did earlier in 2018 when it was published, Heartland tells the story of a young woman and the challenges she faced growing up in a society that wasn’t welcoming to her. A tale of place, poverty, identity, and belonging; Heartland seems to have brought Brené Brown’s, Daring Greatly, to life. Not a challenging read by any meaning of the words, and leaving a little left to be desired: the book jumps around far too much for my liking, and wrapped up as many books do—in a rushed manner; I would still recommend this read to someone looking to gain some perspective into their personal situation regardless of how dissimilar it may be from the story being told.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: As an unanticipated recommendation from a friend, provided without any context, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from my first Vonnegut experience. I was underwhelmed to say the least. Maybe it was the fact that Tralfamadorian experiences that the main character, Billy Pilgrim, has aren’t in-fact PTSD episodes but concocted as an actual alien encounters which led the book astray for myself. I’m actually a believer in aliens, but I found that this part of the book was unnecessary in the way it was presented, as an interaction with another being, while offering a valuable piece for character development that could have been delivered more tactfully. While it may be considered one of the top 100 novels of all time I’m not convinced that I’d put it in my list.
Fifty Days of Solitude by Doris Grumbach: This book was a beautiful look into a person’s soul and what makes them the way they are. In addition to Grumbach’s own thoughts on solitude, and the multifaceted forms they take, the inclusions of others’ interpretation of what solitude is, and isn’t, brought more depth and meaning to her words. Thoughts on friendship, community, the purpose of life, and what really matters on an essential level are themes found throughout this book.
Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris:
In defining the difference between loneliness and solitude, Harris takes the time to argue for the need to find solitude in the everyday while illustrating the immense value in doing so. Whether it’s considering the function of maps in our daily excursions, the power that lies within traditional (love) letter writing, or how and why we should allow ourselves to slip in-and-out of daydreams, Solitude was a pleasant read if only to help reaffirm some of the many things I already believe. Most importantly, this read helped me to realize that while I appreciate, value, and need to be alone on a regular basis, I have never been completely alone in my life. Recognizing this, there may be a time in the (near) future that I find myself correcting this.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: A compelling read about the life of a series of broken homes, the children who grew up in these homes through the years, aging and passing loved ones, and how their story is shared with the world. While a work of fiction, Commonwealth caused me to pause for a moment and consider my family interactions and what I value most of the community I am a part of.