I love books. For as long as I can remember I’ve always had at least one book on the go, and more often than not I find myself working through several at a time. This results in getting through a lot of books each month which really adds up over the course of a year.
When you read a lot of books I have found it’s important to have a practice of underlining and note taking while reading in order to really have the important ideas in the book stick. Then in addition, I have found it’s helpful to go back and review my notes a couple weeks after the book to aid in retention and help me to apply what I’ve learned.
I thought it might be fun and helpful for me to take a look back at the books that I read in 2016 and make a list of the top 5 that I really enjoyed or that had the biggest impact on me.
1. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
The Checklist Manifesto is a beautifully written and throughly convincing case for the use of checklists in the daily life and work of professionals.
On the surface this may appear to be somewhat obvious and just basic common sense but in fact many consider the use of checklists a trivial exercise that is beneath them. Especially for very highly trained individuals they can tend to look down on the use of checklists as something just for beginners, not for experts like themselves.
The book counters those notions with incredible stories of how checklists are making a real difference in many industries including health care, airline and financial. They are not only helping to save time and money but even saving lives.
The book was a joy to read, Atul is a masterful storyteller and an incredibly gifted and engaging writer. The reason I put it here on this list is that in addition to simply being a great book, it really impacted my life and got me to be more disciplined in my use of daily checklists in my work as a software developer. Not only do they help me avoid errors but primarily they get me to work thoughtfully and with intention. Before I start work, I first have to think through what to do and make a checklist outlining what I need to do and how I will accomplish the work. I have found this both increases my focus and productivity, making much better use of the time I have.
2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
A Walk in the Woods is an account of Bill Bryson’s attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz. The Appalachian Trail (aka the A.T.) is an incredible hiking trail in the eastern United States that stretches from Georgia to Maine, going through a diversity of terrain over 3,500 kilometres.
I personally love hiking and so I was drawn to this book as our hiking season here in British Columbia was coming to a close. The book did not disappoint. I’m not sure if I’ll ever hike the A.T. myself but I came away from this book with the desire to just do more hiking and spend more time out in nature.
3. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
I’m certainly not the first in stating that Gilead is a masterpiece of modern fiction. It is a novel of incredible beautiful and deep spiritual insight. It draws you into it’s world slowly and wraps you up in the story and the characters.
Suffice to say, I loved this book. It’s almost like reading poetry, the narrative is so beautiful and the characters are so nuanced and complex and that you almost feel like they are real people. It’s a story from a different time and a very different place to my own. I love books that can transport you into a different world from your own and bring you into new experiences that you would never have otherwise.
4. Confident Ruby by Avdi Grimm
I had to include at least one technical book here in this list. I read quite a few programming and software design books in 2016 but Avdi’s Confident Ruby really stood out from the pack. It’s a fairly easy read but incredibly deep. As I work primarily with Ruby in my day-to-day job, there were immediate take-aways and principles I could being to apply immediately as I went from chapter to chapter. It made me a better programmer and I had fun in the process, can’t ask for more than that from a programming book.
If you are a Ruby programmer and have not yet read it, I would highly recommend it.
5. Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn
The subtitle for this book is “discovering the secrets of the fastest people on Earth”, and the book takes you into the relatively unknown world of some incredible Kenyan runners. Although spoiler alert - through the course of the book Finn discovers that there really is no one secret to the success of the Kenyan runners. Life is never that simple That said, there were some incredible insights made into how the Kenyans have come to dominate the world of long distance running.
I am a runner and so I love to read books that tell stories about other runners and inspire me to go further and faster and be more consistent and disciplined in my running practice. Running with the Kenyans hit me on all those levels and I found myself soaking in the narrative which then translated into my actual running.
In the book Finn moves with his family to a small village in Kenya called Iten where so many of the world class long distance Kenyan runners train. Before reading this book I didn’t really understand how dominant the Kenyans are in the field of long distance running and so that was eye-opening. As I read Finn’s heartfelt accounts of his time in Kenya I couldn’t help but feel a longing to be able to take the same journey he did and run alongside the Kenyans.
Regardless of whether you are a runner or not I would highly recommend the book.