During the last week in December I like to scan my bookshelf, searching for those books I’ve read over the last year. Upon finding one, I readily recall the impression it left on me (Books always leave a mark). What surprises me, however, is just how hard it is to remember a particular quote or even the title of the first chapter.
In fact, I’m embarrassed to say that if you asked me to summarize a book I’d recently read, I would not be able to do it justice on the fly. But, that wouldn’t mean that I didn’t get anything out of it. On the contrary, the impression or imprint that a book leaves on a reader can be as strong as that of a coach, teacher, or parent, even if it can’t always be verbalized.
But summaries are useful to have. So, here are 5 brief reviews of the 5 books that impacted me most in 2015.
1) So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
This book was my favorite read last year. Its premise, I’ve found to be true in my life. Newport believes that Skills trump passion in finding the work you love. He recommends adopting a “Craftsmen” mindset over a “Passion” one. “A Craftsmen mindset focuses on what you can offer the world,” Newport writes. “A Passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.”
With that in mind, Newport encourages us to be so good at something that our skills can’t be ignored. That’s how you step into a satisfying career. That’s how you arrive at doing work every day that you love.
Here are a few quotes from the book:
“Telling someone to ‘follow their passion’ is not just an act of innocent optimism, but potentially the foundation for a career riddled with confusion and angst.”
“All of us who do creative work…you get into this thing, and there’s a ‘gap.’ What you’re making isn’t so good, okay?…It’s trying to be good but…it’s just not that great. The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase.” (This is actually a remark from Ira Glass quoted in the book, but it does a good job of capturing the book’s theme.)
2) Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis and his writings always strengthen my faith and exercise my mind. The Problem of Pain is chocked full of intelligent and fascinating answers to life's toughest questions. Is there a God? If so, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? If God is love, then why is there a hell?
Here are few quotes:
"Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself."
"We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character."
There are so many more great quotes by C.S. Lewis in this book. In my opinion, The Problem of Pain is required reading, even if you are not a Christian.
3) Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl
This book always makes the list of Top 10 books of the 20th century. I'm glad I finally read it. The first half of the book is devoted to the story of Frankl's experiences in Nazi concentration camps. It is sobering and gripping. You’ll find it hard to put the book down.
The second half, Frankl discusses his brand of therapy, called logotherapy: the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in one's life that is the primary motivating force in our lives.
Here are a few quotes:
"If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an eradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete."
"The sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually."
"Often it is just such an exceptionally external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself."
4) Good to Great by Jim Collins
Another book I loved is the business classic, Good to Great, by Jim Collins. Jim and his research team clue us into what essentially makes a company exceptional. There are a lot of average companies out there. Jim helps us better understand what it takes to become a great one. The answers he and his team uncover may surprise you.
Here are a few quotes:
“We (Jim and his research team) expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats—and then they figured out where to drive it.”
“Good-to-Great companies appear boring and pedestrian looking in from the outside, but upon closer inspection, they’re full of people who display extreme diligence and a stunning intensity.”
5) Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
Austin is one of those guys who understands the new realities of living and working in the digital age. I tend to think that this book and his other, Steal Like an Artist, should be required reading for every High School graduate. In Show Your Work, Kleon shares 10 ways you as an artist can get discovered. But the book is more than that. It’s also about understanding how one makes his work remarkable and thus something worth finding.
Here are a few quotes:
“Overnight success is a myth. Dig into almost every overnight success story and you'll find about a decade’s worth of hard work and perseverance.”
“One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life's work.”
“Don't think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self invention machine. Fill your website with your work and your ideas and the stuff you care about.”
So that’s my list for 2015. These 5 books made a strong impression on me, and I’ve already begun putting what they preach into practice this year. I’m grateful to each and every one of these authors for taking the time to share their learnings with the world. 2016 is underway, and I just finished reading my first book. It’s a doozy. I bet it makes my 2016 list.
How about you? What made your list for 2015? What are you reading right now that you think I should read? Email me at email@example.com or send me a tweet @joshdavidbailey. I’d love to hear from you.