At the end of 2016, I felt I squandered too much of my time on bite-size internet content: tweets, headlines, memes, and blogs. These give short-term gratification, but leave me feeling empty. They harm my ability to focus. Ultimately, they’re forgettable. Can you remember a Facebook post you saw four days ago? I can’t.
Unlike browsing the internet , reading a book elicits a compounding effect. It’s not a scattered experience. Each paragraph upon a narrative, argument, or idea. Books force me to ignore the temptation of my iPhone, thereby improving my ability to focus. Books are memorable. I have much stronger recall of information that I read in a book compared to something I read on my Facebook feed.
Inspired by avid readers like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, I set a goal of reading 50 books for 2017. I wound up reading 43. While I’m somewhat disappointed I didn’t make it to 50, I’m proud of the volume that I read and the habit that I formed.
Reading has clear benefits: entertainment, education, vocabulary expansion, empathy building. I noticed a handful of less-mentioned side effects that impacted my daily life:
- Improving sleep
I can categorize my nights into two kinds: nights that I read and sleep like a baby and nights that I don’t and I toss and turn. Since adopting a nightly reading habit, I’ve never slept better in my adult life.
- Starting conversations
People love talking about their favorite books. I keep an ongoing list of books I want to read on my phone’s Notes app. When someone talks about a good one they’ve read recently, I add it to my list. This is a win-win. I get new book recommendations. The person I’m talking to feels flattered that I added their recommendation to my list.
- Reclaiming wasted time
I read before bed and on bus commutes. These are times I would typically be on my phone. I can’t otherwise use this time to be productive.
- Rekindling my love of the library
Seattle has a wonderful library system. I love the tactile feeling of a physical book. It’s encouraging to see how many pages I have left in the book before I finish. Borrowing a book motivates me to read to completion before the due date. The best part: it’s free.
My 10 favorite books that I read in 2017:
1. The Remains of the Day — Kazuo Ishiguro
This reminded me of how I should measure my life.
2. Sapiens — Yuval Harari
This taught me how fiction and myth are the glue that connects humankind.
3. The Undoing Project — Michael Lewis
This showed me the extent of human irrationality, and the brilliant ideas that come through collaboration.
4. Crossing the Chasm — Geoffrey A. Moore
This taught me how to frame B2B go-to-market strategy as a leader in an early-stage technology company.
5. The Black Swan — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
This reinforced my skepticism of so-called experts and forecasters, and showed me the benefits of zigging while everyone else zags.
6. Shoe Dog — Phil Knight
This is a sheer delight. It showed me the long slog of one of the world’s most iconic brands: Nike.
7. Slouching Towards Bethlehem — Joan Didion
This shed light into the dark side of the counterculture movement in 1960s California, an era that endlessly fascinates me.
8. Confessions of an Advertising Man — David Ogilvy
This showed me how to be a better marketer. It’s also packed with witticisms like, “Pay people in peanuts and you get monkeys.”
9. Hit Makers — Derek Thompson
This drove home the concept of the “familiar surprise” and MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) as frameworks for creating compelling content.
10. The Hard Thing About Hard Things — Ben Horowitz
This taught me how to be a better contributor to my startup company, and imparted practical management advice. A few questions I ask colleagues on a regular basis come straight from this book: “What’s the biggest opportunity that we’re missing out on? What are we not doing that we should be doing? What are we doing that we shouldn’t be doing?”
What books do you recommend?
Every one of the books on my top ten list was recommended to me by someone. I plan to maintain my reading habits in the coming years, and am always looking for new suggestions.