Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 year in review - literary edition


That was the goal, and on December 26, I finished Oil by Upton Sinclair, my 50th book of 2010.

I shared this goal a while back as a way to motivate myself to keep learning. It worked. I learned, for example, about

  • The 14th Century (A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuckman)
  • Running (ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer)
  • Randomness (The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb)
  • Lewis and Clark (Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose)
  • Ebola (The Hot Zone by Richard Preston)
  • Leadership (Next Generation Leadership by Andy Stanley, among others)
  • Philosophy (Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar... by Cathcart and Klein)
  • Social networking, childhood disorders, personal finance, communication, trans-racial adoption, evolving definitions of manhood, etc.
The fastest reads took only a day. The longest was about 10 months. The average, obviously, was about a week. Many of the books were in audio form, allowing me to make good use of commute time. One was on a Kindle. Most were borrowed from the library.

When I set the goal of 50 books, I wasn't sure if it was reasonable, or even possible, what with three kids and all. I'm a fast reader, though, and having the goal kept me focused on continuing to read. Like any discipline, just keeping at it is the most helpful thing.

The thing that struck me toward the end of the year, though, was how many more books I haven't read than those I have. 50 is a small number next to the 10 on my bedside table, the 87 on my library list, and the 130+ on my Amazon list. Taleb (in The Black Swan), talks about the importance of the unread books. So I'm OK with having more unread books than read ones, but for 2011, I am making more specific goals than a simple number. In the interest of public accountability, here are 2011's book goals:
  • 25 books by dead people. This will force me out of my tendency to read fluffy business books and encourage a little more intensity of material. (Note that while this does allow me to count Peter Drucker and Robert Jordan, I am counting on my good faith to not abuse them for the sake of the goal.) Specifically, I'd like to include at least
    • The Old and New Testaments (counts as 2 books, not 66)
    • One Shakespearean play
    • One classic Greek drama/tragedy/comedy
    • One 19th Century British
    • One Russian
    • One Southern writer (I may not actually be able to stomach this)
    • One famous philosopher
    • One church father
  • 3 books on personal finance
  • 3 books on parenting
  • 3 books on energy
  • 3 books on marriage
  • All the books currently on my nightstand
That totals to 47, though there will be some overlap between categories. The rules are the same, I have to "read" the whole book, and finish it during 2011's calendar year. Audio books are encouraged, and the Kindle will play a much bigger role now that I have one of my very own. The clock starts in 90 minutes. Game on.

This post has been pretty self-centered, and there's probably not much here for others to actually read. With a quarterly posting schedule, I don't count on many readers anyway. If you've made it this far, though, I'd love to hear what your read in 2010, what your plans are for 2011, and if you've got any recommendations for my list. Happy New Year, and happy reading.

PS - For those who are curious, the complete list in order of completion can be found here. I've put my top five recommendations in italics, though there are plenty of good ones on there (and a few I'd skip). If you'd like additional thoughts on any of them, let me know.


Stephanie said...

Way to go, David! Nathan and I were just discussing that we need to make reading lists for 2011 - some books to read together, some not. The point is for some accountability.

Speaking of books, Nathan has an architecture book he wanted to send you (per a conversation at Christmas, I believe). If you want to read it, I guess it can be added to your list.

snapladylisa said...

I just added four of your top five recommendations to my library list, (they didn't have one). I won't be making a goal like yours, but I do feel the need to sharpen the saw, so thanks for letting me benefit from the breadth of your experience. I do have one recommendation, since you asked: in your marriage category: Love and War, by John and Stasi Eldredge. All the best to you and your family.

David Wallace said...

Lisa, thanks for the recommendation. It's on my list at the library now. Let me know what you think of my suggestions, and good luck with your sharpening.

snapladylisa said...

Well, so far I've read The Book Thief, and I'm about two-thirds of the way through Comeback America. My review of the former is as follows: I laughed out loud a few times and cried several. The use of Death as the narrator was an interesting choice. I think sometimes setting a story in Nazi Germany is a little like setting one in a post-apocalyptic world. You can take certain things for granted without having to explain them.
As to Comeback America, the author has a unique perspective because he was the Comptroller of the US, and he criticizes politicians throughout, but I can't help feeling that he's moe contaminated by our political class than he realizes. Some things he makes flat statements about are just nonsense to me.

David Wallace said...

Lisa, I don't think you can work in any environment for long without absorbing the atmosphere. Can you give some examples of those nonsense statements?

snapladylisa said...

Sure, but in fairness to the man, let me finish the book, because he may further explain what he means later on. And obviously, they'll reflect my own definition "sense," which is limited by my own lack of experience and knowledge. You may know more about it than I do.

snapladylisa said...

I feel like I could write a book in response to Comeback America. I appreciate Mr. Walker's attempt to awaken the public to the dangers of our debt, and I think he presents some reasonable ideas, especially about wars, and how to pay for them. I know he steers a nice, centrist path between the two political parties. But I do take issue with some of his ideas. So I'll try to limit myself to two examples of nonsense. On page 34, he mentions the "strict budgetary controls" called PAYGO, and gives them partial credit for the budget surpluses during the Clinton years. That's nonsense to me because PAYGO never actually worked or did what it was supposed to do, (from other sources) and those "surpluses" weren't real, either, which he explains later in another chapter.
In the chapter on health care, he claims the root of the problem is the fee-for-service structure, which causes doctors to order unnecessary tests just to prevent lawsuits. I like his suggestion to form special courts to handle only medical malpractice cases, because to me, that litigiousness (and the gravy train of settlements) is a major issue. He suggests paying doctors based on a "capitation system, where a physician takes a flat fee for taking care of a patient or group of patients." This is all based on his assumption that the government should provide basic health care for everyone. I won't even go too much into that, except to say that's exactly what Mexico claims to provide for its people, and it's pitiful. So just assuming that he's right about that, and we "have to" fix our "broken" system with more federal government intervention. Okay, this would make doctors like teachers, in that they get paid for taking care of a group of people. This is not going in a good direction. Ok, say you were able to develop a system of health metrics that measured the health of the patients when they entered a doctor's care and scaled pay to the doctor based on improvements over a two-year period. Ok. Maybe. But forgive me if I'm skeptical. I think it would more likely turn out to be like it already is in the obstectrics area of health care, where counties set the "global fee," an amount that OB-GYNs and midwives get for their services to each patient. Under this system, no matter how many times your go see your doctor or midwife, no matter how long your labor goes, no matter if you're a first-timer, or an experienced mom, they get that same fee. This has resulted in very poor care for many women, because a doctor has zero financial motivation to spend one second longer than necessary with a patient and, in fact, the only way to make more money is to see more patients. I think this is largely responsible for the unfortunate infant mortality rate he cites.

David Wallace said...

Good comments, I appreciate your thoughts. I think it makes the point that none of this budget stuff is easy, and the data is hard to interpret. Solutions are going to be complicated and require compromises from all sides. That's what I liked about the book. Specifics aside, it was the first time I'd read a reasonably level-headed description of cutting expenses and raising revenue...both sides are looking necessary to dig out of this hole.
Keep reading and keep thinking.

Tom Susco said...

Wow...50 books! That's an accomplishment! This has been a goal I make year after year, but I've yet to make it to 50. Great motivation to aspire to. How have the first 3 months gone so far? I'm interested about the two books by Dale Carnegie - those are on my list to read. Great job!

David Wallace said...

Tom, note that this was the 2010 year in review. 2011 ended far short of the goals stated with only 43 books read and no blog post. Looking at the list, I see that I included such things as Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, so the quality widely varied. 2012 is at 7 so far, well behind pace.

It's also hard to go wrong with Carnegie. "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is a classic for good reason and worth reading annually, I think.

Tom Susco said...

Still impressive in my opinion. Being that I'm jobless with no solid career option in the near future I've used you as motivation to increase the amount of reading I do the rest of the year. And I do like how you've made a point to vary what you read. It's a good goal to push beyond my own reading comfort zone. I just can't believe you have the time to read that much with such a busy family life! Great work!

Post a Comment