Happy New Year!
Reading continues to be one of my passions, right up there with cycling, so I am excited to share my annual blog post listing the best books I read during the year.
“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” –John Locke
As usual, these are the books that I rated four or five stars on Goodreads during 2018. They are in alphabetical order by category.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, by Michael Finkel—I found this account of Christopher Knight’s solitary, 27-year stay deep in the Maine woods fascinating. Knight simply chose to vanish into the woods at age 20. He stayed there for 27 years, until his arrest for burglary. He relied on breaking into unoccupied cabins for his food and supplies. While I wouldn’t choose a path that entirely alienated me from society, required sleeping in dangerously cold conditions or necessitated theft for survival, I could relate to his desire for solitude. That aspect certainly holds an appeal for me and left me craving more solitude in my own life.
The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body’s Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You, by Sylvia Tara—Tara presents fascinating biochemical information about fat. I learned a great deal. For instance, I had no idea that body fat is now considered an organ. She presented information about the individual nature of fat from one person to another, depending on a range of factors, including genetics, gender, age, microbiome and exposure to viruses. I did find Tara’s description, toward the end of the book, of her own strategy for keeping her weight manageable to be rather extreme, but she presents it as her own commitment, not as a prescription for anyone else. All in all, this was a very interesting and educational book.
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls—I loved this book! I read it as part of the WSU Reads book selection committee, and I am always a little apprehensive when someone else “chooses” a book for me because reading is such an important part of my life and such a treasured escape. This one fully met my needs. Walls’ captivating narrative of her unbelievable childhood in a family with an alcoholic father and unmotivated mother contains so many lessons and could be an excellent selection for college students. It is a reminder that we have no idea what challenges and hardships other people are facing. Much like Ruth Wariner in The Sound of Gravel, Walls included her siblings in her escape plan. Despite the incredible disadvantages she faced as a child, she became a successful journalist and author. Great book!
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance—I read this book for the WSU Reads Book Selection committee and wasn’t too excited about it, but it turned out to be great. Using a combination of sociological analysis, storytelling and personal reflection, Vance illuminates the struggles of the Appalachian and Rust Belt poor. His deep love for his family—especially his grandparents—is obvious, and so is his honest acknowledgement of the personal responsibility the people in these regions must accept for their circumstances. He recognizes the complexity of the relationship between circumstances and personal choice. Although telling his story from “the other side,” as a lawyer, he clearly still identifies as a hillbilly. He tells his story with courage.
Rusch to Glory: Making the Journey from Ordinary to Extraordinary, by Rebecca Rusch–Rebecca Rusch is a woman of remarkable athletic achievement. In her memoir of her long professional athletic career, which encompasses rock climbing, paddling, adventure racing and mountain biking, Rusch shares the lessons and wisdom endurance sports have taught her. Despite her incredible record of success, she comes across as relatable and humble. She is a multi-year winner of the Dirty Kanza. Although I am a road cyclist and haven’t ridden that, it was cool to see a home-state event described in her book.
The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, by Tyler Hamilton—This book grew on me as I read it. At first, I thought it was going to be interesting, but not great. By the time I got several chapters into it, however, I really liked it. Tyler Hamilton and his co-author, David Coyle, provide the most detailed account of doping in professional cycling that I have ever read. Tyler fully admits to his own role in the problem, while he shares his personal experience on Lance Armstrong’s team and, later, as Lance Armstrong’s enemy, when Tyler told the truth.
She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, by Jennifer Boylan—This is the courageous story of how James Boylan became Jennifer Boylan. From the time he was a small child, Jim identified as female. Jenny Boylan shares the story of her personal struggle, her transgender journey and her family’s love.
Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward, by Elizabeth Ford—Touching memoir of Ford’s devotion to the most unwanted psychiatric patients in NYC—those incarcerated in the NYC jail system, before sentencing. Ford sees them as humans, when many do not.
The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner—Ruth Wariner tells her amazing story of growing up in a polygamist cult. It is both tragic and hopeful and demonstrates the tremendous courage that was necessary for Wariner to escape the clutches of the cult and her abusive stepfather and to save her younger siblings. Hers is a powerful story that needs to be told.
Straight Pepper Diet: A Memoir, by Joseph W. Naus—Excellent memoir of Naus’ childhood, alcohol and sex addictions and incarceration. He is honest and shares what he learned. It was both informative and intimidating.
Surfacing: From the Depths of Self-Doubt to Winning Big and Living Fearlessly, by Siri Lindley—I found a lot of great quotes—inspirational nuggets of wisdom—in this book. Beyond simply sharing her fascinating story of her neglectful childhood and her discovery of triathlon, Lindley bravely tells her story of self-discovery and acceptance of all parts of herself, including her sexual orientation. Her book is a pretty quick read and left me with some nice motivation.
The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, by David Epstein—This fascinating book taught me quite a bit I didn’t know about genetics, in general, but especially about the influence of genetics on athletic performance. Epstein does an excellent job of sorting out and explaining the relative contributions of nature and nurture in athletic performance. It was captivating from beginning to end, and I have shared it with my son to read because of his growing interest in running and his endurance background and exposure through our family. There is much to learn within these pages about individual athletes, cultures and ourselves.
Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row?: The #100HappyDays Challenge, by Dimitry Golubnichy—I read this book because I enjoyed the online challenge so much and was preparing to implement the challenge again in my Facebook group. The book is a very quick, easy read, if you read it straight through. It contains lots of simple, useful happiness-building strategies. Light and pleasant.
Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave, by Patty Chang Anker—I needed this book because I was struggling with my concern that I was being held back and limited by fear. I was feeling fear in areas of my life where I have not previously and/or to a degree much greater than in the past. Patty shares her own fears and her journey to overcome them. One of the things I liked the best about this book was that Patty did a lot of research and used other people’s ideas to help convey her message. I learned from them, as well as from Patty.
Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, by Carmine Gallo—This is an excellent guide to delivering powerful presentations, whether on major stages, like TED, or in smaller, more intimate settings. Gallo has researched extensively the methods used by the best, most popular, most effective TED presenters. He shares their strategies here, in a way that is engaging, memorable and useful.
TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, by Chris J. Anderson—This is another really good book about giving talks that make an impact. Many of the same examples of excellent speeches were given in this book as were given in Talk Like TED. I guess that is because they are truly exemplary presentations. This book gives different details, however, about crafting your presentation. It is not conflicting information, just focusing on different aspects of great talks. Both books were useful, and this one is written by the current owner of TED, which adds an interesting twist.
The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, by Kelly McGonigal—This is a potentially life-changing book for me. McGonigal presents a “mindset intervention” aimed at helping the reader rethink stress—which it did for me. I admit that I was a hard sell, and I still need to process some of the ideas she explains. However, she was convincing, and I have come to view stress differently. I think the most powerful idea for me was this: “A meaningful life is a stressful life.” I realized that she is correct. Almost everything that has meaning in life is also a source of stress, on some level. I have begun talking myself through stressful situations by noticing the benefits of my body’s physiological stress response. The book was full of a lot of great research, including studies showing that it is how stress is viewed, rather than stress itself, that creates health risks. I think this is a book that will affect me for a long time, in a lot of different ways.
Wait, What?: And Life’s Other Essential Questions, by James E. Ryan—This short book carries some good advice and interesting ideas for introspection. It is not so much the specific questions Ryan suggests, but the ideas he shares around those questions, that inspired reflection.
You Are a Badass®: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, by Jen Sincero—I can’t even remember how or why, but I got this book as a free audiobook. Typically, I do not listen to books, but it felt like a particular gift to listen to this one, read by the author. I started the book and then stopped listening for several months. I started again after I made a firm and clear decision that I was on the right path with my coaching practice. This time, it was exactly what I needed to hear. The book is amazing! The author delivers her message with humor and passion and convincing, no-nonsense firmness. I was disappointed when it was finished. I felt lonely for her voice and the inspiration in her words. Read this book when you are ready to take big steps forward in your life.
You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth, by Jen Sincero—I just LOVE Jen Sincero. This was another terrific book. I liked the first one so much as an audio book, that I got this one as an audio book, too. Her description of her time house-, horse- and goat-sitting while writing the book made me laugh so hard, and her message is consistently inspirational, encouraging and motivating, while hilariously delivered. I will listen to this and her other book again and again.
Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine, by Michael Michalowicz—I learned about this book in the Wellness Business Podcast, and I felt like the presenter was speaking to me. I’ll be honest. I don’t fully understand why, but money scares me. The financial aspect of my coaching business was causing me great anxiety and befuddlement. I ordered this book on Kindle as soon as I learned about it. Again, being honest, I have made some modifications in the system (which Michalowicz recommends against), but just the part that I have implemented so far has greatly alleviated my stress and increased my confidence around managing my business finances.
The Prosperous Coach: Increase Income and Impact for You and Your Clients, by Steve Chandler & Rich Litvin—There is so much to consider in this book, so many areas to examine how I can implement their ideas. In one of my business mentorship groups, there has been a lot of discussion and excitement about Rich Litvin’s work. After watching some of his videos, this book quickly rose to the top of my to-read list. I was surprised at how difficult it was to obtain a copy. It doesn’t seem to be available for Kindle, and the paperback and hardback versions are quite pricey. I listened to the audio book, which was a great way to get exposed to their concepts quickly. I really enjoyed that, but I want a reference copy, so I ordered one through interlibrary loan and ultimately purchased a paperback copy. Chandler and Litvn teach building a coaching practice through referral and invitation only. It is an interesting concept that appeals to me.
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg—In this excellent book, Charles Duhigg put to good use his experience as a journalist for the New York Times to uncover fascinating stories and situations that illustrate his research findings on the science of productivity. The thing that most impressed me was the level of originality in the ideas and recommendations in this book. He drew on research from gerontology, aviation and education, among other areas. It made for interesting reading and thought-provoking inspiration.
The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler—For many years I have heard about the performance of the Monologues, but I had never seen it. I decided that the 20th Anniversary book a good opportunity to read them. I felt like I was carried back to my days as a Women’s Studies minor as an undergrad. The Monologues themselves are powerful, but what impressed me most is how they have become a social movement, embodied in several forms. A great deal of money has been raised through the movement, funding a wide variety of efforts to protect women from victims of sexual and physical violence and to help women worldwide who have been victimized.
Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, by Anne-Marie Slaughter—This is a very well-written book that addresses the important issue of work-life fit, specifically the need for the US to give equal value to caregiving and making money, for both women and men. Slaughter draws on her personal experience making the decision to step down as Director of Policy Planning for the US Department of State to return home to Princeton to spend more time with her teenage sons, as well as her expertise in public policy, to draw a complete picture—from personal to policy—of how this value might be more equally distributed.