Books I read in 2021
and why you should consider reading them too
Recently in a team meeting, I summarized Microsoft’s core principles in a series of books quoting their names and authors. A colleague remarked, “If Josh was in an interview, his first question would be “What were the last 20 books you read this week?” It’s true. I have learned to love to read.
My mother and high school teachers would be astonished to learn this. Because as a student, I never read an assigned piece of literature. Especially non-text books. It’s taken me a decade to truly love reading, but 2021 was special. It was the year I became a reader.
Here are the books I read in 20211 and why you might want to consider reading them too.
Meta-learning, Reading about Writing
Last summer, in August, I published a post titled I quit my 500k job at Microsoft to start a company (NOT): You can be an FTE, raise a family, and build stuff, here's how.
In that post, I committed myself to begin a new career outside of the boundaries of my job. That new career being, learning to become a writer.
Books I read in 2021 to help me become a better writer:
The Craft of Research: Study brings with it negative imagery of cramming for an exam or studying for a certification. But research brought with it imagery of joyfully reading in a massive library with hundreds of books strewn about.
I knew there was a difference between studying and research, but I didn’t understand what makes research different. The Craft of Research illuminated the difference. It’s a book written for college students who’ve been assigned the task of writing a research paper. And it walks you through the entire process; finding a topic, formulating questions, translating questions into problems, and then problems into claims, insight, and solutions. It’s given me a new framework for writing that will greatly improve my non-fiction and technical writing.
While reading this book it dawned on me, you don't need a college degree if you love reading books.
The Perennial Seller: Every so often, I’ll come across a book and get this feeling. An overwhelming sense that I should stop whatever it is I’m doing and read the book I stumbled upon. The Perennial Seller was one of those books. After a year of effort, 177 pages, and nearing the finish lines of what I thought would be the end of the book, I got an uneasy feeling. I wasn’t done. Worse yet, I knew I needed to start over which left me feeling depressed, defeated, and discouraged. With each page I read of the Perennial Seller my spirit lightened. It felt like Ryan Holiday was speaking directly to me when he described the experience of writing his first book- saying all first-time writers experience the soul-crushing weight of artificial deadlines. And that creating a work of art that lasts takes time. I also learned that even had the manuscript been ready, I wasn’t. I was left with a sense of peace and guidance for how to do great meaningful work that lasts.
How to Read a Book: A Classical Guide to Reading: Reading a book on reading seems insulting. And a waste of time. But I assure you it’s not. Reading the advice of Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren will leave you full of remorse, knowing that you’ve been reading your entire life with a simple toolbox of dull tools. If you read this book, how you read will be forever changed. You will not only be able to better identify the books most worthy of your time but you’ll also be equipped enough to make the most of them by extracting out their meaning. If you want to take reading seriously, read this book.
I discovered Steven Pressfield’s books on writing by reading Derek Siver’s Hell Yeah or No. (Oh, yeah that’s another book I read this year. Lol ) If you’re looking to begin a creative endeavor, these books will give you the inspiration you need to kick yourself in the a$$ to get started.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work
Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way
A Writer's Time: Making the Time to Write - A keyword that summarizes this book well is “productive writing”. Kenneth Atchity lays out a plan for you to make time to write. And does an excellent job breaking down the creative process into manageable steps by giving you a blueprint for writing.
How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics, and Nonfiction Book Writers: I’ve belabored this one a bit. So, I’ll just say I started taking notes.
Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered - Share your work is the reason you’re reading this. Over the last year, I’ve tried my hand at creating various forms of content; newsletters, articles, short ebooks, podcasts, and YouTube videos. Along the way, I lost sight of what mattered most to me, which was to simply add value. Share Your Work reminded me why I do what I do. Which is to share what I learn so it may benefit others.
Last December I mustered enough courage to embark on my next manuscript. Now— a year later— I realize I was handed an idea that I wasn’t yet able to wield. And I’ve spent the last 365 days grinding away in an attempt to level up enough to be able to execute on it. To date, I’ve written 177 pages towards that body of work, but I’m still not done with the rough draft.
These are the books I read as research for the manuscript. Before you think this is a lot, let me say that Robert Greene reads hundreds of books per manuscript. I don’t get anywhere close to that, but it’s a good perspective.
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less - If you suffer from analysis paralysis, read this book. It will help you understand that abundance is just as difficult to deal with as scarcity. And that your inability to make decisions is rooted in the fact that you’re contemplating too many choices.
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked - Think your smartphone isn’t addictive? Read this book and you’ll look at the technology you use every day through a different lens. A skeptical lens. Adam Alter does a fantastic job exposing what exactly it is that makes technology— well— so irresistible. Recommending this to a friend resulted in him taking his smartphone away from his teenage daughter for 30 days. I’m sorry, but not sorry. I hope she saw that there’s much more to life than what lies within the screen.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (AGAIN) - Originally this book was casually recommended to me by my neighbor on my front lawn four or five years ago. This book was the catalyst for me wanting to become a writer. Through the pages of Nicholas Carr’s Pulitzer Prize Finalist, I learned that the technology I use changes me in return. And that the act of reading benefits you as much, if not more than the knowledge contained within the pages of a simple book.
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (AGAIN) - A practical partner to The Shallows that teaches you how to live a life with less technology.
A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload - Cal Newport hits another home run with his latest book providing you with the practical means to escape your inbox. It picks up where digital minimalism leaves off by addressing how to live a more focused life within the confines of the 9-5.
Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & Flow (AGAIN) - Dominica DeGrandis is a masterful flow expert whose wisdom on the topic is unmatched. I read this book years ago as part of a book club with my manager at the time, it completely transformed how we worked. Having read it, our engineer team began to see such an increase in productivity that our leadership took notice and started buying copies for other teams within the company.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience - Making Work Visible is based on the idea of Flow, which is a blissful state where the mind it’s at its peak performance. It’s a concept that transfers to teams. I remember that Flow was a great book, but not too many of the details. Probably because I read it before I became obsessed with note-taking. Probably best that I re-read it in 2022.
The Time-Block Planner: A Daily Method for Deep Work in a Distracted World - Yet again, another of Cal Newport’s creations. I’m a fan, but he’ll never know. :) Admittedly, Cal says he didn’t invent time-blocking. But his implementation of it is extremely practical and has transformed the way I work. Essentially you plan your work in terms of time. I’ve written about how to implement it in a digital format. Some in the digital minimalism subreddit disapprove of such scorn to the mark of being a digital minimalist. But then I must ask, “Do you have a smartphone?”— and if so they have no say in the matter. 😏
Home Education (The Home Education Series) Volume 1 - Originally I read this book at the request of my wife. She’s following Charlotte Mason's philosophy for home-schooling our children and wanted me to become aware of its principles. Reading a book from the late 1800s has its challenges. It takes a while to become familiar with the language, but I’m so happy I ended up reading it to the end. Within it are timeless lessons on habits that I think even James Clear would enjoy. Not to mention that it gives a glimpse as to what life was like back then. And you can’t help but admire those who lived in that time with nothing but candle light even in a civilized society.
Shortly after I joined Microsoft, an opportunity came up. Instead of writing content on what I had a decade of experience doing, I could write about something related, but new. I saw it as a test. Could I switch careers (engineer to a technical writer), but also switch my area of expertise?
Slightly terrified and riddled with imposter syndrome, I jumped. I’m now the lead content developer for Go on Azure.
This is the single book to date that I’ve read on Go:
The Go Programming Language - Whenever I pick up a new technology, I search for its Bible. I talk to people, read blog posts, read reviews. All trying to find out what is the most recommended resource. The Go Programming Language seemed to be that for Go. So I bought the physical version and got to work. I’m grateful that I had just finished How to Read a Book, and began to read it “superficially”. As soon as a topic became too dense for me to understand, I skimmed it and moved on. Doing so gave me the foundation I needed to do my job and enough exposure to continue my learning. I’ll likely return to the book again once I have a firm foundation and need to learn the language in more depth.
Notice that this post is titled “Books I read”, not “Books I bought”. That list is much longer. In fact, twice as long. Thriftbooks is somewhat of an addiction…
Happy New Year! 🎉 🥳
Until next time,
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