Straight from childhood, I was a frequent mental inventory taker, scanning my consciousness for objects of concern, kind of like pressing a bruise to see if it still hurts.

— Dan Harris, 10% Happier

My alma mater was books, a good library – I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.

— Malcolm X

2017 Fiction & Nonfiction Recommendations

This year was more about reading textbooks and peer-reviewed journal articles but somehow I found time to squeeze in a few books as well. Two books stand out and conveniently one is fiction and the other’s non-.

Fiction: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

I’m not sure I would read this if I just looked at the book jacket or an Amazon review. It came as a recommendation from my sister Larraine and I’m glad I followed her advice. My Absolute Darling is an extremely challenging read; it centers on an 8th-grade girl who calls herself Turtle and lives off the grid in NorCal with only her father, as he “prepares” her for a post-society world. Turtle’s dad sexually abuses her and there are many scenes, whether sexual, psychological, or physically violent, where I cringed as I read. Through that, though, is a book where you learn about a unique, brave character whose voice is so clear it becomes ingrained in your mind and you think about her long after you’ve read the last page.

Non-fiction: The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple

Part of our post-election delusions is that someone might be able to control Trump. It wasn’t Priebus, Jared, Ivanka or now Chief of Staff Kelly. The Gatekeepers is about the history of the Chief of Staff position and covers Chiefs of Staff from the Nixon White House to Obama’s. The book covers failed approaches like the “spokes of the wheel” model used and abandoned by Gerald Ford or having no Chief at all, which hurt Carter. It also gives insights into how Chiefs mold their office and approach depending on the Presidency as well as how Hillary and Obama made Chiefs of Staff course-correct early Presidencies. I’d recommend this book if you’re into politics, organizational design, management/leadership, and team dynamics. I shared more details about The Gatekeepers in an earlier post as well.

My other 2017 reads:

Fiction:

  • Homegoing
  • The Last Novel (re-read)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Nonfiction:

  • Work Rules!
  • The Everything Store
  • The Happiness Industry
  • A More Beautiful Question
  • Chaos Monkeys
  • The Coaching Habit

My notion is that once progress made it easy to acquire the necessities of bodily life, other forces set about making those needs complicated and hard. Much of daily life is turned over to life maintenance at the very moment you’d think we’d be free to pursue higher goals.

Spectacles, sights and sounds, measures and sums, are made from former areas of privacy. This exposure to sight generates all sorts of new pleasures and new fears. But the ceaseless grooming and optimizing of ordinary life stands in the way of finding out how else we could spend our attention and our energy.

— Mark Greif, Against Everything: Essays.