I love books, but I just can’t read. Going through a whole book without falling asleep after a few pages is a challenge for me. As early as a few years ago, I would average only a book a year. So I gave up on the whole endeavor.
Fortunately, I discovered Audible, it changed how I consume books. Every month, I download a new audio book and listen to it during my commute. It allows me to “read” a book once a month. Of course, it has its disadvantages, I can’t easily make notes, it’s difficult to do that when driving, retention is arguably less, and it’s difficult to reread passages, but I’ll take this over not reading a book any day.
Since I go through about twelve books a year, I decided to share my top six for 2017. Some of these books came out years ago. But that doesn’t make them any less relevant.
Here’s my six best books for 2017:
The Gift of Failure
Many things in life is learned as we go. When we grew up, we learned language through absorption and trial and error. We learned about the world by going to school and meeting other people. There are many things we can learn by just flying off the seat of our pants and winging it. But this is probably a bad idea when it comes to parenting. You can screw up a kid’s life without even trying. Fortunately, I had two great parents who gave me the autonomy to make mistakes.
The Gift of Failure is more than just allowing your kids the freedom to make mistakes. It’s about radically accepting failure into their lives. This is never more apparent in the book than when Jessica Lahey’s kid forgot to bring his homework to school. She was going there anyway and could have easily dropped it off in her kid’s class. But she after much deliberation, she decided against it. Risking bad grades, but knowing full well that there was a lesson to be learned.
Looking back, I appreciate the autonomy my parents gave me. I ended up with plenty of cuts and bruises, a few questionable decisions, and at least one good story to tell, but more importantly, I learned from my mistakes.
On some level, I knew the importance of allowing my kids to fail. I saw it first hand with some of my classmates. They had parents that could only be described as “helicopter parents”. Every little decision was scrutinized, every grade below “B” was a signal to panic. Some of these friends found ways to grow up and be functional human beings, but a few of them on some level still need the approval of their parents for them to go out of the house.
The Gift of Failure is a reminder to allow and perhaps even encourage my kids to fail.
When I was writing the post called These Books Taught Me How to Run a Business, I was reading Perennial Seller at the same time. Unfortunately, I published the post before I could finish the book. In retrospect, Perennial Seller deserves to be part of the list.
Perennial Seller is a book about creating and marketing work that stands the test of time. Which of course is something I try to do with Zerothreetwo, through the blog posts as well as the clothing. According to Ryan Holiday, Perennial Sellers aren’t flukes that just happen. Sure you could say a bit of luck might be involved, but after looking into it, products/work/companies/art that lasts a long time have certain characteristics in common. The book is all about what makes something a Perennial Seller.
Here’s a few notes about Perennial Sellers:
– The product needs to be great in the first place. It’s a prerequisite. How do you get a great product? Hard work, continuous iterations, editorial oversight, learning from the greats, testing testing testing.
– If you can’t explain your project in one simple sentence, then you need to redefine it. Fill in these blanks, “This is a _____ that does ______ for ______. This helps people _____.” Then move on to defining it one paragraph than one page. The clearer the better.
– To have works that last, you need great marketing. There are plenty of tools for marketing, but the most important will be to foster word of mouth. How do you do that?
– Get the product out there. Don’t underestimate the power of free. Giving away the work to people that matter creates traction and possible word of mouth.
– Price it as cheaply as possible without damaging the perception of the product.
– Create a platform. Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans theory. “Platform: combination of the tools, relationships, access, and audience that you have to bear on spreading your creative work over the course of a career.”
– One of the easiest and best ways to build a platform is through an email list. Subscribe to our newsletter.
Stoner is a surprising inclusion on this list because I read very little fiction and it is essentially an academic novel. The plot itself seems unremarkable at first glance. The book follows the life of William Stoner as he finds a career in academia, quickly gets married, battles with one of his students, has a whirlwind affair with a colleague, rediscovers his love for literature, and ultimately dies.
The time spent going about my daily life when I was reading this book, I found myself wondering what would happen next to William. The writing has a way of putting yourself in his shoes. There were parts of the book when I felt physical pain to what was happening to Stoner and other times when I couldn’t help but smile as I was listening to a wonderful passage.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that I enjoyed the book. In 2013, the New Yorker published a review for the book and titled it, “The Greatest American Novel You’ve Never Heard Of.”
A wonderful book to get yourself lost for a few days. I know it accompanied me well as I drove through our city streets. It made the traffic bearable. Even almost desirable so I could listen to the book more.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
Back in April 2017, I took a surf trip that lasted almost a week. When the trip ended, I found myself day dreaming about the experience for months. I longed to revisit the days on the shore just looking out on the waves. I knew it was going to be some time before I could do that again. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life allowed me to day dream about what it would be like to go back out there.
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life is a memoir of William Finnegan, a political journalist, on his obsession with surfing. It chronicles his experience discovering surfing and how it impacted a huge part of his life. The book talks about his travels around the world, much of it dictated to looking for good waves. He devotes thousands of words describing in detail how a specific wave would hit the shore, how best to ride it, what to look out for, and the other people who dedicated their lives to surfing.
It’s impressive how he found the words to write pages and pages about surfing, even more so that he won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Biography for it. I’m not an expert in good writing, I just know how it made me feel as I read it. If my feelings of delight and wonder are any indication, the award was well deserved.
This is the second time Shoe Dog will come out on a book list of mine. The first time was on a blog post called These Books Taught Me How to Run a Business. Here’s what I wrote:
“Let’s face it, plenty of business books are boring. Many of them explain the concepts, give examples, then reiterate the concepts again. One of the more entertaining ways to learn about business is through biographies. The Shoe Dog is a memoir by Nike Founder, Phil Knight. It’s a story about how a scrappy startup in the 70’s fought goliath, failed, thrived, and eventually won. Sometimes in our entrepreneur’s journey, we need stories like this to keep us going. The Trough of Sorrow is real. Knowing about the struggles of other entrepreneurs is important and gives us a sense that what we are going through is surmountable.
Hire good people and let them do their jobs. It might seem obvious, but many businesses don’t take the necessary steps to hire good people. And when they do, they don’t allow them to do their jobs. Phil Knight’s story is as much a story about his crew in Nike. Without them, Nike wouldn’t be what it is today.”
Stephen King: On Writing
There’s so much to learn when focusing on a craft like writing. When I downloaded Stephen King: On Writing, I had never read any of his books, I just wanted to improve my writing. Who better to learn from than from one of the most prolific writers in history?
Fortunately, the book granted me with so much more than just tips on writing. Stephen King: On Writing was part memoir, part writing instruction. He explained many of his techniques by weaving in his personal experiences with the craft.
The most enjoyable parts of the book were about when he would delve into his personal life. I found myself liking the man more than I anticipated. I have yet to read another book of his, I just don’t read many fiction books. But his expertise and the help of the book is undeniable.
The book was filled with so much gold about writing. Fortunately, I found a site that listed Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers. But the book is so much more than just writing tips, it’s how a master in his craft came to be. Well worth the read for the inspiration alone.
What books impacted you for 2017?
PS – I’m currently reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I suspect it deserves to be on my 2017 book list by the time I’m done. So I’ll give it a bonus mention here.