Initially, this post was going to be about the most influential books I’ve read this year, and I quickly realised how limiting that was. Instead, I will focus on all the different types of reading I’ve done this year, and which have been the most important and impactful. More than music, television or movies, books and magazines are my favourite way of consuming media. As my goal in 2017 was to improve my writing, reading is one of the best ways to improve my comprehension, vocabulary and grammar.
So, if you are looking for suggestions about books, eBooks, websites or magazines to read, I hope some of what I consumed in 2017 will inspire you for 2018!
For the 16th year in a row, I renewed my Economist subscription, and I still manage to read it weekly. I started reading it regularly right after 9/11 since it was a comprehensive and necessary source of an international perspective. I found that it was to the right of my political views, but I was okay with that. Even when it took a stand I didn’t agree with, they would always offer the counter-argument and take reasoned opinions. Everything about The Economist seems well considered.
As we are now in an era defined more and more by radical ends of the political spectrum, I find myself falling more and more in-line with the positions of The Economist. Maybe it is the years of influence that they have had on me or my advancing age, but when I read “Is The Economist left- or right-wing? Neither. We consider ourselves to be in the “radical centre”, I found myself nodding in agreement with this philosophy.
Since I don’t buy physical books anymore, all my reading is on Amazon’s Kindle App. I’m not in love with the idea that one company controls all my book reading, but my 10-year-old, multi-device library is a treasure to have in my pocket.
While I read just under 20 books this year, I just wanted to point out the five that I enjoyed the most.
- On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, William Zinsser. On a quest to write better, I decided to tackle this classic book on writing. It is a timeless reminder of some of the essential tricks of the trade to writing with more clarity, simplicity and purpose. It reinforced the biggest problem with my writing process, that writing is only the first step in the process, and that editing and refining my texts deserve as much attention as the core first draft.
- The Mystics of Mile-End, Sigal Samuel. While not a perfect book, it was a pretty impressive effort for someone’s first novel. Her ability to paint a picture of the interactions within a Hasidic household were rich, while a few of her descriptions of “hipster” Mile End culture seemed simplistic. Overall, I found myself engrossed in her characters, the structure and pace of this novel.
- Everybody Writes, Ann Handley. This books helped to reinforce the key lessons I learned in On Writing Well and focus my attention on what it takes to be successful at writing on a daily basis. When I finished the book, I found myself for the first time with a set of tools and rules that I could apply immediately.
- American War, Omar El-Akkad. I haven’t finished this novel just yet, but it will probably go down as my favourite book of 2017. The world he has created is both eerie and entirely believable. The cast of characters is small, and the story focussed, and I honestly have no idea how things are going develop.
- Letterman, The Last Giant of Late Night, Jason Zinoman. When Dave switched from NBC to CBS, it didn’t take me too long to lose interest in his show and only check in on it occasionally. What this book did was remind me how obsessed with his NBC show I was, and enamoured with a cast of characters that showed up every night of the week at the ungodly hours of 12:30. High school was a bit of a sleepy haze thanks to Mister Letterman.
I have a few books in the queue for 2018, and plan on starting the year with Radical Candor, Kim Scott — The Daily Show, An Oral History — Walkaway, Cory Doctorow — The City & The City, China Méville — The Book, Playing the Percentages in Baseball, Tom M. Tango.
While many people have moved on to getting their news from social media, I still depend daily on a list of carefully curated RSS feeds from some of my favourite websites. More than a decade ago I set up a Google Reader account and over time built up an archive of just about 100 different sites that I wanted to check in on daily in an organised manner. When Google shut down Reader in 2013, I switched to Digg Reader since it seemed their interface was the closest to what I had become accustomed to.
Rather than skim through a feed of randomness from Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (not that I don’t also do that) I take time every day to review about 100 different RSS feeds, that provided around 1000 articles, of which I read about 50 items. This routine takes place at one of two times during the day, just as I finish work or after dinner when I settle in for a quiet and relaxing evening.
Near the end of 2017, I finally broke down and joined an organisation known as SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research). While I am neither a professional baseball writer or researcher, I am an avid enough fan that I have been considering joining this organisation for a while. Once I discovered that membership meant I would have access to their online archive of roughly 50 baseball books, I signed up immediately. Now I have at least 10,000 pages of baseball-related material to get through.
Sounds like fun to me, may seem like torture to you.
IMPROVEMENTS FOR 2018
I plan to invest more time this year reading French. I’ll admit that given how good Google Translate has gotten, I’ve been lazy and clicked that pesky “Translate” button more often than I should have. I also need to reduce my habit of skimming some texts, since I want to quickly move onto the next important point, paragraph or chapter. I find that I’m reading less for the enjoyment of it and more for the opportunity to consume as much as I can.
Happy reading in 2018!