Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 Year in Book Review

There's a setting in your Google profile to enter your age and gender. Of course I don't give that info out (I let the government leak my data through OPM hacks instead), but if you don't enter it, Google guesses based on your searches. It guessed I am a 60 year old woman. That is an accurate reflection of my mental age at least since my ideal New Year's Celebration is to share what books I read this year, and then hopefully go to bed early. Posting about which books I read has become a bit of a tradition for me, but after struggling to remember what I even read last year, I'm streamlining this year's post to one sentence about each book. (Given the few other posts I've had this year, this makes my life actually sound way more boring than the 60 year olds I know.)

Of course, there are a few things I don't count because I read with somewhat regularly every year: The Bible, Morning and Evening by Spurgeon, and the blog Housetweaking. (She posts practical house stuff and just enough of her personal life that it's fun to follow along. I can't take blogs that post a million perfect house pictures. I just get depressed and overwhelmed because I can't keep up - with the house or with reading so much.)

So I didn't finish all these books, but the books I didn’t finish, I at least got 50 pages in, so I definitely gave it the old “college try.” (Although, I probably only did 20% of the assigned reading in college, so that phrase means nothing.) I used to feel guilty about not finishing a book, as if I was breaking a rule, or hurting the author's feelings.  But, ironically enough, the book Essentialism that I didn't finish reading, helped me realize that I'm only hurting myself if I read things I don't enjoy.

I started a new role at work towards the beginning of the year that kind of put my brain on overdrive, which is part of the reason I was drawn to so many books on organization and thinking.  I kind of wish I'd read them sooner.  I kind of also wish I could remember more of what I read (part of my reason for doing these summaries).

And so, I give you the books of 2015:

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo – Yes, it changed my life, or more accurately, my closet.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown (didn’t finish because too vague) – I liked the theory of only focusing on the essential goals at the moment, but I just didn’t think I could skip family obligations with the excuse that, “It’s not essential.” (I do think it would be more helpful if my job looked different.)

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, by Daniel Levitin – Probably my favorite book of the year and the reason I have become so dependent on my lists (I skipped the chapter on probability and statistics since I had multiple semesters of the topic - and still have the books to prove it – you should skip that chapter because it’s boring).

Think Like a Freak, by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner – The third book in the Freakonomics series, it was the most entertaining book I read this year, but that’s really not saying much considering my list reads like a class syllabus.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller (didn’t finish because too frenetic) – My mind jumps between topics like a pinball, but this classic book was just so scattered that I gave up, despite some witty and insightful quotes.

We are Not Ourselves: A Novel, by Matthew Thomas – While beautifully written, the melancholy ending was so drawn out, which is probably most like real life, which is probably why I don’t read fiction.

Human Croquet, by Kate Atkinson (didn’t finish because… just… so… slow) – My second attempt at fiction was even less successful, despite great things I’d heard about the author.

Bebe Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting, by Pamela Druckerman – I know I don’t even have kids, but I got into the French vs. American culture, especially after trying to feed my picky nephew. (It’s all the "lessons" out of Bringing Up Bebe, which I now want to read.)

The Art of Thinking Clearly, by Rolf Dobelli – This is the perfect summary of The Organized Mind and Black Swan, plus, the only one on the list I bought all year after borrowing it from the library.

Home: Recipes to Cook with Family and Friends, by Brian Voltaggio – I spent just as much time looking at this and trying recipes (good but complicated) as I spent actually reading most of the other books, so I think that counts for something.

Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us about the Good Life, by Shimon Edelman (didn’t finish because too scientific) – More like an anatomy and physiology lecture than like the sequel to a Will Smith movie.

Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probability and Statistics on Everything You Do, by Kaiser Fung – Clearly the author is very smart, but as much as I love numbers, he took a painfully large number of pages to make sure his points were redundantly clear. (The entire last chapter was a summary of the entire book, when a bulleted list would have done nicely).

Travels with Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck – This book made me love Steinbeck almost as much as it made me want to just pick up and move, or at least go on a road trip.

The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extrovert Achieve Extraordinary Results Together, by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, PHD (didn’t finish because even government classes I’ve taken on employee-relations have been more beneficial) – The author put me off from the beginning by making it sound as if she had personally invented the idea that there are benefits to working with someone with the opposite personality, but her watered-down examples and vague principles only confirmed I’d rather waste my time in other ways.  (It was so bad I'm not even going to waste time linking a picture.)

It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways, by Dallas Hartwig & Melissa Hartwig – I’m begrudgingly starting to think maybe my diet isn’t as good for me as I think it is, and am convinced to try the Whole30 diet in January.. starting tomorrow, of course.

Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (currently reading) – Not at all related to the Natalie Portman movie, this book about the how highly improbably events shape our behavior is the most entertaining of the neuro-psychology-related books I read this year, although it’s not exactly a page-turner, considering I have renewed it four times from the library and am still not done.

So there you have it. I'm not sure that I can recommend the entire list, unless you also want to live like a 60 year old woman.  Depending on your perspective, I am desperately in need of other book recommendations, so please feel free to share. I'll definitely need something to get my mind off all the food not allowed on this Whole30 diet!