Ah, the joys and sorrows of putting together the annual GoodReads booklist.
Reviewing the books I have read in the past year is a joyful experience, and yet also forces me to make tough decisions amongst an all-star list of books as to which ones will make the cut to be titled as the best of the best.
Choosing which books to put on my end of the year list is almost like picking a favourite child; it can be done if you’re completely honest but someone is certainly going to feel left out and dejected.
It becomes even more challenging considering the time and detail that goes into choosing the vast majority of books that I’ll even sit down to read.
To find worthy literary works and then dedicate the many hours to reading it is a rare treat and yet a massive commitment in a world where you blink and today’s headline becomes yesterday’s old news.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at which books made it to the top of the pile for recommendations in GoodReads 2017.
“People do not give up their loves and hates as long as life lasts. Waves of feeling come and go with the passage of time. […] The world is always full of the sound of waves. The little fishes, abandoning themselves to the waves, dance and sing and play, but who know the heart of the sea, a hundred feet down? Who knows its depth?"
Musashi is an incredible book. If you’ve never read it, you need to put it on your list now. It’s based on the life of the samurai Miyamoto Musashi who has his own non-fiction work in the Book of Five Rings, which this book is loosely based upon. If you follow my Fortissimus Friday newsletters you may recall me mentioning Musashi several times throughout the past year.
On episode 50 of the Jocko Podcast, Jocko Willink said that eventually he’d be covering Musashi in an episode and wanted to give everyone enough time to dig through the monstrous book before the spoilers from that episode came. It was set to coincide with episode 100 of the Jocko Podcast.
I prepared myself well in advance by reading Musashi in the spring and was blown away by the book.
It follows Musashi through the challenges that made him into the legendary samurai as well as great complexity with the interwoven stories of the other characters he crosses paths with. It’s a really engaging way to get a glimpse into some of the history of Japan as well as the samurai.
“A man’s emotions are what define him, and control is the hallmark of true strength. To lack feeling is to be dead, but to act on every feeling is to be a child.” - From The Way of Kings
More often than not when I’m reading fiction, I’ll pick out a book that’s part of a series so that the story can be continued on and on. The Stormlight Archives was recommended by a friend of mine after I expressed my frustration in being left waiting on multiple fantasy series that I had caught up with and now had to sit on until the next books were finished.
If you are a fantasy fan, you’ll get really into this series very quickly.
Like most fantasy novels I’m hesitant and unsure when I embark upon the journey as to whether I’m going to enjoy the major investment in time that these gargantuan books and series require.
The first novel, The Way of Kings, starts out very slow, in a good way, because there are many character storylines being woven together and you don’t really know whether the characters you are reading about are passing through the narratives or will be a mainstay.
There are lots of complexities involved in the ‘magic' of this world that takes a while to start to piece together and understand but once it builds and you figure things out, you’ll appreciate the story you’ve been brought along for.
I timed it just right with at least the first few books, as the third book in the series was released in November and I’m reading it now. The sheer volume of each book at around 1000 pages or more means once I’m done the third one, I’ll be stuck for quite a while looking for another series until the next one comes out.
“Then when Fingon heard afar the great trumpet of Turgon his brother, the shadow passed and his heart was uplifted, and he shouted aloud: ‘Utúlie’n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, utúlie’n aurë! The day has come! Behold, people of the Eldar and Fathers of Men, the day has come!’ And all those who heard his great voice echo in the hills answered crying: ‘Auta i lómë! The night is passing!’"
If you didn’t already know, Middle-Earth is the wellspring of my inspiration for everything literary.
The Lord of the Rings served as the original foundation of my love of reading and fantasy stories.
My relationship with The Silmarillion is a little more troubled.
I read through it for the first time several years ago and with the exception of a few tales, like Beren and Luthien, I didn’t take the time to note the character names and the connections and so was completely lost and unable to comprehend what was going on.
This time around I was much better prepared.
My inspiration for rereading The Silmarillion came from the Tolkien Professor podcast, in which, after going all the way back to the beginning, I had reached the point from about six years ago where the topic of the discussion was The Silmarillion in a college seminar the Tolkien Professor taught and recorded the audio for called the Silmarillion Seminar.
This podcast exceptional if you are a Tolkien fan and the Silmarillion Seminar, which is 30-something hours in length, is top-notch.
After listening through several episodes, I was inspired to go back to the beginning and read along with the seminar, covering the book chapter-by-chapter. I got way more out of reading the book this way and was able to appreciate many more of the nuances and the ties to The Lord of the Rings from this origin story and older tales from the Tolkien world.
Having the Tolkien Professor tell you what to take particular note of in the book and hint at connections is like having your own tour guide take you on a journey into Tolkien’s mind and the realms of Arda.
Most of the fiction I read is dictated by what fantasy series I’m working on; the tougher choice of is deciding which non-fiction books will make the list each year.
90% of the time I painstakingly pick and choose the books I read at any given time in order to help me with a challenge that I am facing by turning to those who are wiser than I am for mentorship. In doing so, each book is well suited to my time of need and therefore serves a specific purpose.
This makes it really hard to weed out the very best from all the rest, as it’s rare that I find a book that’s completely unhelpful to me and without any insightful points to make.
“fatigue is only an early warning system, extreme athletes can routinely push past what seems to the rest of us like the natural physical limits of the body. […] the limits of self-control are just like the physical limits of the body — we often feel depleted of willpower before we actually are."
The Willpower Instinct looks at the science of self-control and despite being heavily backed up by science throughout the entire book, it is highly readable for any audience. McGonigal is a brilliant scientist and also great communicator, which brings together a really great book for anyone undergoing changes and needing help with understanding self-control. This book follows the same path as a university course she teaches on self-control and willpower, so it follows a logical progression.
There are no tricks or hacks to creating more willpower, but through understanding the facts better, we can become more self-reflective and turn automatic thinking and behaviour into conscious choices.
“We can choose partners, make friends, hire people who make us feel faultless. But think about it — do you want to never grow? Next time you’re tempted to surround yourself with worshipers, go to church."
Having come from an educational background in Psychology, I am infinitely fascinated by these topics that help us to better understand and control our own minds in order to help us with whatever we strive to do.
Mindset is another fantastic book on human psychology; the focus of which is around fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets.
In essence, a fixed mindset creates a lot of blame on external factors and is stuck in thinking of things as being "as good as they get."
People with growth mindsets on the other hand will take accountability for downfalls, but won't dwell on it. Instead, a growth mindset will look to how improvements can be made and try not to repeat the same error again.
We all are a blend of the two mindsets and the purpose of the book is to help challenge you to become more centrally growth mindset-oriented in order to find greater success in your endeavours.
A wonderful blend of real-world examples, scientific evidence, and actionable advice make this book highly enjoyable.
“Mythologizing natural talent lets us all off the hook. It lets us relax into the status quo."
Another brilliant psychologist looking at another aspect of the mind to make us capable of weathering any storm.
Grit bridges the gap from The Willpower Instinct to Mindset.
Grit is what takes you from having the willpower to ultimately developing a growth mindset and back again. It's the resiliency to endure struggles and keep pushing forward.
Grit is in some ways the same as willpower and is much of what entails a growth mindset. Angela even makes reference to Dweck’s work on mindset in the book.
Grit is about sticking with things when they get tough and not giving up, because on the other side of obstacles is ultimately the success you seek.
Choosing just one
If I could only pick one of the three we have on the psychology of success, or more importantly - if you only have time from one, I think I would recommend the "original" of the three which is Mindset.
Dweck paved the way for the other two to be successful and even though they are a little more contemporary, I think that Mindset does the best job of encompassing what all three books ultimately mean.
“In his 36 years of contact with these people, he had never seen a case of malignant disease among the truly primitive Eskimos and Indians, although it frequently occurred when they became modernized."
Paul Chek is one wacky dude. If you’ve ever seen anything from Paul before you’ll know this to be true. He’s a holistic-to-a-fault kind of guy, but also seems to be one of the most well-grounded and enlightened human beings I’ve ever encountered.
It can be highly intoxicating to listen to someone like Chek when they speak. You want to believe in what they say, because they say it with so much conviction and seem to be coming from a perspective of greater clarity in their own life.
I like a good amount of what Paul Chek has to say on health and wellness but I think that instead of becoming a devout follower, if you pick and choose what works for you, it will make you happier and healthier without having to completely overhaul your entire world.
Paul Chek appears to be an extremely well-read individual, which is something I can always get behind, but doesn’t always back up everything he believes in with sound scientific evidence. So if something doesn’t sit right with you, don’t be afraid to question it and maybe don't worry so much about it if it doesn’t work well for you.
I think this book might be out of print and has become very expensive online. Check your local bookstores for copies or look for a used copy to save money.
“Those who do rely on metrics to dictate their every move are making a simple error. If we outsource our consciousness to a machine, we come to think that data is understanding. It’s not. Rather, data is knowledge that requires interpretation to be applicable."
Technology has become a real challenge to living well and staying grounded. Unplugged explores the issues surrounding technology and health, with a focus on wearable technology changing the way we look at exercise.
A beautifully designed book with tons of advice to get yourself rebooted from being plugged into the matrix all the time.
Pairing this scientifically-sound advice with the more radical views of Paul Chek is a nice way to remain skeptical of anything that seems a little too “out there,” while still grounding yourself.
If you’re also feeling unconnected to nature in your fluorescently lit office and thermostatically controlled home, the Unplugged challenges included in the book are a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone and reconnect with the natural world.
“If you can see yourself doing something, you can do it. If you can’t see yourself doing something, usually you can’t achieve it.” - “SEAL" aka David Goggins
Speaking of getting outside of comfort zones, Living with a SEAL is a really fun read that I simply couldn’t put down once I had started.
Jesse Itzler recruits an anonymous ex-Navy SEAL to live with him and train him for a month. In this month they do a ridiculous amount of push-ups and run many miles every day while Jesse tries to balance his every-day life with the ultra-disciplined, drill sergeant ways of the SEAL who later is identified as David Goggins.
I was curious to read this book after discovering about David Goggins from several podcasts this year. I was intrigued to learn more about this 260-plus pound Navy SEAL who ran the last 30 miles of a 100 mile race with broken tibias.
Goggins talks about embracing the darkness with his alter ego to get through mental challenges that virtually any other human being would quickly shy away from.
If you need a hit of motivation, read this.
“The most newsworthy thing to do is usually the one you’re most afraid of."
Ryan Holiday has become one of my favourite writers since discovering him in the past couple of years, as should be apparent from him holding down two spots on last year’s list as well as this year’s GoodReads list.
He has done it again with the Perennial Seller; a book that combines his usual format of great anecdotes with actionable advice, this time in order to create businesses and creative works that stand the test of time.
If you’re looking to write a book, create art, or start a business, consider sitting down with Perennial Seller and think through the examples of the greats in your field that have defined it.
"As Diogenes, the famous Cynic, once said, 'It is the privilege of the gods to want nothing, and of godlike men to want little.’ To want nothing makes one invincible — because nothing lies outside your control."
The Daily Stoic deserves an honorary spot on the list, not only for this year but for all years henceforth.
Everyone can create immense value in their own way when reading through The Daily Stoic each day of the year. The short meditations are meant to serve as little reminders or guiding points to help you in living “The Good Life.”
I don’t think Stoicism need be the philosophical viewpoint of every person, but it’s hard to see how each person can’t find something in these short chapters that resonates within them.
A good universal example, I think, is the Stoic philosophy that less is more and that you should simplify your life for ultimate happiness.
“Most men, even in this comparatively free country through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them”
Even though I felt that I had included enough on this list already, if you've read this far, it can't hurt to include one more book on the list this year.
Walden deserves a bonus spot on the list as I found it was incredible in its simultaneous complexity and simplicity.
In the 1840s a man goes into the woods, builds a cabin with his own hands, and lives off of the land.
Even in a time where technology wasn’t constantly pinging him, Thoreau desired to escape the ‘bustle’ of the city for the solitude and connectedness of nature from living at Walden Pond.
This book is like the bridge from the Stoic philosophy of The Daily Stoic, or any writings of the Stoics really, to Unplugged.
I loved the great detail that Thoreau took into describing the simplest of things about Walden Pond.
From the cost, down to the half-penny, to build his 10’ x 15’ cottage, to his earnings from farming his garden, to the critters that become his neighbours, every minute description is a meditation on the beauty found in simplicity and nature.
Walden is also available for free as public domain.
What’s on your book list from 2017? What books are on your to-read list as well?
Let me know what great books you read this year and recommend! While my to-read list grows ever longer, I always appreciate book recommendations and will be sure to check them out. If you’re an avid reader, find me on GoodReads and add me. I love to see what everyone else is reading!