In 2023 I read 25 books:
- Nine books about business/self improvement
- Six books about education
- Four Shakespeare plays
- Three memoirs
- Two fiction books
Like most people I don't have a concrete plan for my reading. Whatever titles strike my fancy are what I wind up reading. This allows for nice surprises but also keeps books I have been meaning to read, like the Power Broker, perpetually waiting to be read!
I am not surprised that I read so many books on education and self improvement. I try and read books during the school year that will improve myself and my ability to teach.
I had set out to read a lot more Shakespeare last year as part of my Shakespeare challenge to read all his plays in one year. I was hyper ambitious and that was a mistake. But lesson learned; don't try and set a goal with an artificially imposed deadline for accomplishing. I will read all of Shakespeare's plays but setting a year long goal doesn't make sense; if it feels like I'm in graduate school then I will resent it. I can still set a goal of reading his plays but at a sustainable pace.
Memoirs are a new category for me. I haven't read too many memoirs before. I enjoyed them and will continue.
I am surprised how little I read in terms of fiction. In 2022 I read at least a dozen books in my favorite sci-fi series called Warhammer 40,000. Maybe that was too many and I just avoided seeking out new fiction.
Choosing the single best book is impossible. But I can share the best book from each category. I'm linking to the books but I am not doing any kind of affiliate program at this point; I just enjoy sharing things that I find valuable.
Best self improvement book: The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
Everyone has goals they struggle to achieve. We often say to ourselves that we do not know enough or are not capable of achieving our goal in our current state. The Slight edge argues that we have everything we need to achieve any of our goals. To succeed at achieving anything we just need to take these four steps:
- Commit to a goal,
- Take a sustainable step towards that goal every single day.
- Continue taking the steps for a long period of time.
- Adjust your course as needed over time until you have reached your goal.
If you can keep those four steps in mind then you will achieve any goal that you truly want to achieve.
This was incredibly useful to me. I enjoy reading self improvement books but I have used them as a placebo. I get the kind of self satisfaction from reading these books that I could get from working towards my goals but the satisfaction from reading is much easier to attain than the satisfaction that comes from writing and producing some kind of creative work.
Anyone that gets into the trap of reading too many self improvement books would benefit from this book. Anyone who overthinks would benefit. Anyone who starts things and doesn't follow through on them will benefit. In short... everyone would benefit from this book. Full review is here.
Best education book: A Billion Wicked Thoughts; Sai Gaddam/Ogi Ogas
I love books related to evolution and evolutionary psychology. The idea that our brain and neural pathways evolved in response to survival and reproductive selection pressures is a compelling notion but it is difficult to prove these things because we can't look at neural patterns of large numbers of people over time. It is also incredibly difficult to figure out how much of our choices are due to evolutionary pressures and how much of our choices are due to societal and cultural pressures.
But combing through billions of searches over decades offers extraordinarily compelling evidence in favor of sexual choices and preferences being due to evolution pressures.
Sai Gaddam and Ogi Ogas provide extremely compelling and large scale global data that point to patterns in what people search for throughout the world. The patterns that they see about what men and women are looking for in their online erotic searches throughout the world suggest that our desires likely have more to do with evolution than particular cultural norms.
The book was written in 2011 and I would love to see a follow up to this book or at least an update. This was a fantastic book for upper school teachers or anyone who wants to understand some of the differences between men and women and our sexual choices. If you want to read my full review from early 2023 it is right here.
Best Shakespeare play: The Winters Tale
The Winter's Tale is not my favorite Shakespeare play (Midsummer Night's Dream still holds that title) but it is the most moving of the plays I have read as of this point.
The story of Leontes's jealousy and immediate suspicion of his wife conducting an affair with his best friend comes off as ludicrously irrational on the surface but Shakespeare doesn't care to deal too much with the surface. The play is an examination of the pressures of running a kingdom, the question of how do friendships maintain themselves after we have grown into adult responsibilities and issues of lineage and trust.
If that weren't enough Shakespeare tackles the question of redemption and grace for someone who has committed a vile act but repents. The grace that is offered to Leontes at the end brings us to this idea that one can be redeemed and transformed through the act of repentance and love.
This is a play that everyone should see. Original review is here.
Best Fiction book: The Little Book, Selden Edwards
The little book is a fascinating science fiction and historical fiction novel. Wheeler, the protagonist, finds himself transported from 1988 California to Vienna in 1897. In his time in Vienna he encounters Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain and other important historic figures.
The science fiction aspect of this takes a far back seat to the vividness of the backdrop of Vienna, who is the real star of this novel. The excitement of the city at such a pivotal time in history is captivating and the author does an impressive job at describing the city and the excitement that could be found throughout every corner of the city.
This is one of those books that will appeal equally to men and women regardless if you are a fan of science fiction or historic fiction.
Best memoir: I Shall Not Hate
After October 7th I began reading books that could help me get a better understanding and give me greater context to what was happening and why. I have done this as long as I can remember; whenever tragedies occur I try to understand them as best as I can.
I was at first interested in reading up on the history of Israel and Palestine but I have put that on the back burner. This is such a contentious issue that figuring out who can be trusted to accurately tell the history is difficult. I'm more interested in understanding who is trying to work towards justice and peace today.
I don't have much faith in governments to solve massive problems. If Martin Luther King and the Southern Leadership Conference had waited for the federal government to outlaw Jim Crow I suspect we would still have segregation laws on the books. But I do have faith in people to work towards peace and so I want to understand who are those people on both the Palestinian and Israeli side that are committed to that vision.
I decided I wanted to read memoirs from people who are alive today who are committed to peace and bridge building. I am reading about people on the Israeli and the Palestinian side. I've read two books by Israeli authors so far and will cover them in a future essay.
Dr. Abuelaish is an OB/GYN who has lived his whole life in Gaza. He was the first Palestinian doctor to complete his residency in Obstetrics and work in Israel. Dr. Abuelaish shares the story of his family life and how he managed to become a doctor and the challenges that he had to circumnavigate in order to become a doctor and practice in Israel.
If the story was just about how he had to go through interminable checkpoints and curfews and all of the challenges it took for him to complete his residency that would be a compelling human interest story. What makes his story so important to hear is the death of three of his children in 2014 when an Israeli tank fired at his home.
Dr. Abuelaish came into international prominence at that point as he narrated all of the events to international news organizations through the events of 2014 including the shelling of his home that killed his daughters. He was live when an Israeli tank destroyed his home.
Despite his grief and unbearable heartache Dr. Abuelaish maintained his fervent belief and desire to never hate the Israelis. He describes how much love he has for so many Israeli people, many who helped and supported him throughout his journey to become a doctor.
This is an incredibly inspiring man who strikes me to be in a similar vein to Mahatma Ghandi and MLK. He is reaching out across the aisle to share his story and to find common ground with people. An ardent feminist who has been very critical of how women are treated in Palestine, his foundation, Daughters for Life, seeks to advance women's empowerment in the Middle East. The foundation raises money to help women from Palestine, Israel, Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries to pursue higher education.
Dr. Abuelaish makes clear distinctions between anger at governments versus anger at people. He talks about his frustrations at government bureaucracy from both sides that kept him from being able to care for his patients. He talks about the unfathomable conditions that Gazans have lived under for the last 17 years and how impossible life and hope have been living under blockade for so long and how these conditions are the fault of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, the Egyptian government and the international community.
It is hard to understand this man's patience and love. When asked how he has been able to continue despite the horrific losses he has suffered, he said, "If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I could accept it". I would like to think that I could have that kind of love for mankind to do this but I can't promise that. I am so glad that I do not have to ever test my love of people the way Dr. Abuelaish has had to all of his life.
Regardless if your political sympathies lay predominately with the Israeli or Palestinian perspective I believe that most of us want to live in peace and see our children happy and safe. If we had more people like Dr. Abuelaish in this world then we would see that peace. I can't recommend this book strongly enough regardless of where you stand politically. It is the most important book I read in 2023.
Do me a favor and share this list with any of your friends that love reading, drawing and thinking.