A look back at 2017 (in books)!

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crushable.com via pinterest

It’s hard to start a new year without, well, properly closing out the previous one. Last year was a big one. I moved houses, changed continents, pretended to write a PhD thesis, became a mom, and reconnected with loved ones. I moved back to the DC area while public servants and politicos are under a microscope. But this town is tougher than it looks. Between Ta-Nehisi Coates book launches hosted by Sankofa Bookstore and Solange concerts at the Kennedy Center, haters are going to have to come harder. Even with all the crazy politics afoot, 2017 was quite good to me.

Despite all the changes, one thing that stayed the same, however, was my love for books. In 2017, an audible subscription and a lengthy vacation contributed greatly to my successful consumption (I dare not say “reading” since, I audio-booked it out a lot) of 50 books over the course of the year. There were countless articles and excerpts mixed in there too, but that’s neither here nor there. “I done good,” if I may say so myself. You can see the full book list here, so you can say so too.

In keeping with tradition, here are my top 5. Perhaps you’ll want to pick them up for your own 2018 challenge!

(I have to apologize in advance to you fiction lovers out there, I’m a non-fiction aficionado. Novels aren’t really my schtick.)

34556334.jpgBraving the Wilderness – Brene Brown

You should already know that anything by Brene Brown is enlightening and well worth the cover price. In this text, she explores vulnerability even further, by contrasting it with the idea of belonging.  She goes into her own family experiences, as well as a confrontation with someone who assumes she’s an NRA supporter. Yea, it’s worth reading.

 

18540613.jpgSettled Strangers – Gijsbert Oonk

This text is a really interesting read about Indian immigrants to East Africa. The premise of the book is a bit novel in that it tries to contest the idea that all Indian immigrants were success stories. Oonk brings in the notion that the stories of failure simply never get told, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. For research and for history, I see this book as a significant contribution to the body of literature about Africa’s diversity .

 

13073498.jpgUnsettling Memories – Emma Tarlo

I’m learning a lot about what I don’t know about India. Yes, you heard me. The more I read, the less I know. I had no idea that the world’s biggest democracy had a period when it suspended democracy.  Did you? During this period, there was an extensive effort to incentivize sterilization in exchange for urban resettlement for the poor. Sad, but true. This book explores it all, so get your tissues ready.

 

368593.jpg The 4-Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferriss

Anyone who has talked to me in 2017 knows how much I am fixated on retiring at the earliest possible opportunity. I discovered that that’s my lot in life after reading this book. A friend gifted it to me and it’s been a signpost of success ever since. It helps combine my inner productivity nerd and my outer personal finance ambassador, for a balanced life.

 

25744928.jpgDeep Work – Cal Newport

This book tells us to quit multi-tasking. We actually suck at it (even though we think we don’t) and it’s draining (even though we think it’s a time saver). I loved reading it and should probably re-read it every quarter, because I’m a horrible and compulsive multi-tasker. I’ve already relapsed, but you should save yourself!

 

Since there weren’t any flat out duds this year (woo hoo!), I’ll share some honorable mentions in recommended categories:

13642929.jpgI read lots of memoir & essay by people of color this year, namely Phoebe Robinson‘s break out You Can’t Touch My Hair, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, Trevor Noah‘s Born a Crime and Sonia Sotomayor‘s My Beloved World. This is a new genre for me, especially since most of these folks are considered too young to really have a story to tell. I mean, Phoebe is 33! Even Justice Sotomayor only writes about the earlier part of her life, pre-Supreme Court. Anywho, it goes to show that the canon is changing. Just as Roxane Gay is redefining what it means to be a Bad Feminist, so too are emergent writers shifting the meaning of what is worth writing (and hence, worth reading) and that seems to include the experiences of younger voices.

723122.jpgLast, but not least, I’ve done a lot of reading about birth and parenting lately. For any expecting parent, I’d recommend Hypnobirthing, by Marie Mongan. It helped me immensely to prepare for and to experience labor (with no medication of any kind). It worked very well for me. I also took a 5 session course to practice the techniques. Find a hypnobirthing class near you.

All thumbnail pics lifted from goodreads.com

Get Geeky with It!

I’ve become an efficiency junky, which apparently has a following and a crew. Yes, we are nerds. We are geeks. But, we can come up with processes and systems to evade the minutiae of the daily grind quickly and get back to pretending to be social. Whoa, have I found my people. How did I come to this?

Well, I started working in a very inefficient office and started losing my marbles, one by one. I would send an email, never get a response, but be told that I must have lost it. My inbox must be full. I had piles of paper in my office that date back decades, with no apparent purpose. I would answer the same questions over and over again all day long. And while that’s bad in its own right, I had to do it with a face that did not betray the very fact that my soul was weeping for each breath spent so uselessly. I was exhausted and agitated, constantly annoyed. And I figured, somebody had to have more info on how to get free. I could not possibly be the only person struggling with this. I gravitated toward a podcast that has actually changed my life: Asian Efficiency (The Productivity Show).  Here are the top 3 things I learned from this podcast that I think can help everyone.

  • Running efficient meetings. My organization, like many others, believes that meetings are must. However, I personally believe they are the Devil’s brew for inefficiency and paper cuts. People talk much, say little, while others just enjoy the camaraderie of looking “the team” in the eye. I think talking to people should be reserved for genuine strategic thinking and brainstorming. Otherwise, I resent the entire process. So, this podcast helped me think through ways to run effective meetings, how to bow out of ones that really don’t pertain to me, and how to streamline ideas so that people know what to do after they’ve talked themselves into a frenzy in the group.
  • Free your inbox. Well, I still use topical folders, despite the podcast’s insistence that the search function on most email programs is the fastest way to find emails in your inbox. But, one thing I learned that I use every day is setting frequently used template messages as “signatures,” so with just the click of a button I have 90% of my email messages self populate! I can make a few individual tweaks. Change she to he, insert a name, and I can be free to do something that really requires my undivided attention.
  • The ultimate to-do list should capture everything you need to do, but it should be apparent when and where things need to be done. First, capturing everything comes from “Getting Things Done” and its teaching that people shouldn’t rely on their memory to capture what they need to do. Even when one has a great sense of memory, the brain isn’t smart enough to trigger you at a time when that thing can actually be done. It triggers all the time. Combining David Allen’s philosophies and tactics, by adapting a Mattieologie’s Slay your Day planner, I created 2 systems – one at work and one at home to capture all of my to-dos in a transparent and trackable way. No longer do I wake up in the middle of the night to send off an email, so that I don’t forget tomorrow. Now, I just take a half-hour each day to write it all down and an hour or two a day getting it all done. The rest of my life is mine.

True story, I still work long days, but they are smart days, not hard days.  It’s made all the difference in managing my sanity and my workload. And, while I still don’t know what work/life balance actually means, I feel like I have more time for life and spend less time toiling over work. I’m not sure if geeking out can help your quality of life, but it’s helped mine immensely… check out the podcast and see for yourself. #trypod