Two years ago, if you told me I would read 24 books in the year 2020—or any year for that matter—I would have laughed and made a joke, asserting that they'd have to be picture books.
It has been an incredible journey getting back into reading and rediscovering that passion. I never could've imagined how much of an impact it would play in my life.
So, with it being the first day of a (hopefully better) year, I thought it'd be a wise time to reflect. I want to share with you a few key themes of my reading, a dose of the books I read, and a few of my takeaways from these books! A lot of good stuff here...
🚨 And spoiler alert—I'll let you in on the titles I already have queued-up and at the top of my 2021 reading list!
🌱 Starting off with the first theme of 2020 for Jacob: Personal Growth.
I Am Malala—Malala Yousafzai
The Gift of Our Wounds—Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka
David And Goliath—Malcolm Gladwell
Leaders Eat Last—Simon Sinek
Daring Greatly—Brené Brown
Without a doubt, 2020 has been a tremendous year for me in terms of personal growth. While I have learned a great deal about how I operate, I learned a greater deal externally from my reading primarily about perspective and leadership.
Perspective, as I wrote about earlier this year in a blog post, is one of the reasons why I read. While every single book I read provides a certain layer of perspective, some of these proved to provide an extra, deeper cut. From Malala Yousafzai being shot by the Taliban for standing up for what she knew was right—women’s right to education—to Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist, and his transition from hate to love and hope, these impactful stories not only prove that people themselves can change, but that people are fighting for change, every day.
Even Malcolm Gladwell (a current favorite author of mine) lays out an interesting narrative in David And Goliath: that all is not that it appears when thinking about an underdog. These so-called underdogs have a unique resolve and secret weapons they have leaned on and strengthened over the years to help them outperform others, making them not so “under” after all. Another great lesson to learn.
Now, shifting from perspective to leadership, I never took time to expand my thinking around what a real leader looks like, or what characteristics they embody. I always just used the ‘you’ll know it when you see it’ barometer. But, after a year of enlightening reading, I now understand that people who persevere, have a passion for what they do, that dare greatly, these are true leaders. Speaking of perseverance and passion, these two traits are the paragons of grit, as outlined in Angela Duckworth's aptly-titled book, Grit, which expounds upon what underlies success—especially in leadership positions. Brené Brown encourages us all—leaders definitely no exception—to be vulnerable which, “sounds like truth and feels like courage.” Dr. Brown simply asks that we show up, let ourselves be seen, and be courageous.
While many other books, be it those listed below or others that I read, could be included in this list, these books helped me realize my true potential by showcasing—tangibly—how fortunate I am to be where I am and instilling within me the tools required to seize the opportunities I have to act as a leader in all areas of my life. Though success is never guaranteed, every day is met with newly discovered growth, and with the insights from these books guiding me, I'm confident in where I am headed.
📢 Speaking of growth and discovery, my next theme: Social Justice.
How to Be An Antiracist—Ibram X. Kendi
Automating Inequality—Virginia Eubanks
An African American and Latinx History of the United States—Paul Ortiz
This year, if nothing else, has finally made me aware of the inequities in our society, particularly the inequities experienced by people of color and the poor. There has been an incredible amount of learning, and, just as important, unlearning.
First, I had to put myself in the shoes of those affected—or, at least try to. Paul Ortiz helped. An African American and Latinx History of the United States touched on the collaboration efforts between the Black and Latinx communities, their fight against slavery, and their continued efforts for equal rights—movements I never took the time to learn about. Ortiz dives into the economic impact slavery had on this country and the importance of keeping the status quo to create, then maintain our nation as the most powerful the world has ever seen. I learned of the poisonous roots based solely in self-interest from which America sprouted. Roots that then developed into the racist power and racist policy evident and embedded in society today that keep the oppressed, oppressed.
Ibram Kendi’s book, How to Be An Antiracist, is a powerful book and, quite frankly, a must-read. He creatively aligns historical events and figures with his personal journey and struggle with racism—giving me a sense of what it is truly like to be Black in America.
Now—unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly—these aforementioned 'poisonous roots' affect more than just people of color. Virginia Eubanks and Matthew Desmond shined a bright light on the various ways society feasts off the poor, while simultaneously keeping those in poverty incapable of escape.
Virgina Eubanks—in Automating Inequality—provides a historical approach on poverty, looking at how poor houses through the years have changed only in name and are still oppressing the poor, felt most acutely by minority communities. Matthew Desmond—in Evicted—provides a fascinating perspective through his use of ethnography here in Milwaukee, following select persons, both the poor and property owners. Both Eubanks and Desmond speak passionately about the ill effects of poverty and why this issue needs to be talked about today.
These books opened my eyes—while simultaneously lighting a fire in them—to the tragedies that are happening right in front of us. The scariest part is how covert these tragedies truly are. But leaning on the Personal Growth theme, all we can do is show up and be courageous, expressing and showcasing our love for our brothers and sisters through tangible and intangible actions.
🥳 While most of my reading is focused on growth and learning, I do still read For Fun!
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl—Anne Frank
Stories That Stick—Kindra Hall
Tipping Point—Malcolm Gladwell
Words That Work—Frank Luntz
Churchill: The Unexpected Hero—Paul Addison
If you know me, you know I love history. A fascinating character from one of my favorite eras—WWII—is Winston Churchill. Learning about his life and how much he was genuinely disliked by most, yet kept to his ways, speaking emphatically but showing a willingness to change his perspective as needed, it was easy to see why he earned the nickname The British Bulldog—becoming the unexpected hero Britain and the world needed at the time.
Speaking of great orators and people with the gift of gab, Frank Luntz and Kindra Hall taught me the power of words and their storytelling capabilities. I always thought the greatest speakers were great because of who they were, not how they told their stories or which words they used. Obviously, these two facets played a role, but I thought them to be less crucial than the teller. Luntz and Hall taught me that I was wrong. Good storytelling does not rely on a good storyteller, but rather in the story and how it is told. Just about anybody can become a great storyteller—a much desired skill in every component of life.
In Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell—who you will see a couple more times further down (I said he was a favorite...)—outlines how to get something to “tip,” or gain mass adoption. While Gladwell doesn’t explicitly mention storytelling, he does mention the 'Law of the Few,' which is a structure of our social network and how messages (aka: stories) are passed through word of mouth. Interesting also was the idea that there are three types of people: connectors, mavens, and salespeople. This is a great book for understanding how certain ideas go from nothing to something—and the people and frameworks that make it happen.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite books I have ever read—Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I first got the inclination to read this book while preparing for a trip to Europe, in which Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House (The Secret Annex) were destinations. While the trip was ultimately cancelled (thanks, Covid...) I found this book to be filled with laughter, pain, love, and growth not only within Anne, but within me. Reading her thoughts allowed me to live vicariously through her—and I will tell you, what a sense of humor, and self-deprecating humor at that, she has!
While Anne’s diary was extremely sad—especially because of the known outcome going into the book—it prompted deep thought...
🤔 A perfect segue into my next theme: Thought Provoking.
The Courage to be Disliked —Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
The Infinite Game—Simon Sinek
Talking to Strangers—Malcolm Gladwell
10 Arguments to Delete Social Media Right Now—Jaron Lanier
Through a philosophical lens, Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga provide a creative dialogue between a youth and a philosopher, helping the reader learn about Alfred Adler and his teachings. While I don’t agree with all of his teachings, it undoubtedly challenged me and allowed me to reflect on the ways in which I was establishing power in relationships.
From a business perspective, in The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek (another one of my favorite authors), taught me that the end result shouldn’t be about winning or losing, but rather to further an organization’s mission. While this might seem and sound rather obvious, it is easy to play in accordance to the 'finite' game, which is shackled to establishing winners and losers essentially blinding you of the real game afoot: the infinite game. Simon is a great storyteller, too (what do you know about that!) which allows him to explain his thoughts concisely without sacrificing key, reality-driven details.
Now, back to Malcolm Gladwell (told ya!)—always one to provide captivating descriptions and stories—who, in Blink, challenges the way you think, both in your brain and your gut—well not your actual gut, but your gut feeling! He explains the idea of thin-slicing and how our inclination, based off experiences and oftentimes through intentional and deliberate practice, can best determine a situation in a matter of seconds. Obviously, that last sentence alone should cause you to understand why I placed this book in the Thought Provoking theme.
Malcolm’s most recent book, Talking to Strangers, is much the same in that it provides such unique stories that force you to tag along with Malcolm on his thought-provoking journey. This one focuses more on our lack of understanding when it comes to others, much to our dismay. According to Malcolm, “Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don't have enough doubts about them.” Boom! Think about that!
While I appreciate and believe social media is beneficial because of its power to capture reflection-worthy moments, Jaron Lanier sings a much different tune—one that is much scarier. He goes so far as to urge you to delete your social media not tomorrow, not next week, but right now. Often times, as he points out, when something is free (i.e. Facebook), you are the product. Invasive tools, such as tracking eye movement, ensure that the perfect video or post lands on your timeline at the right moment, all in an effort to maximize your time on the platform—because more time on the platform means more advertising opportunities and more money. I'll spare you the details regarding what else these major technology companies are doing with your data, mainly because the list grows by the day, but feel free to explore this topic further in Jaron’s book, 10 Arguments to Delete Social Media Right Now.
Whew! You made it through. While there are certainly readers out there who read far more—and some who read far less or not at all—I encourage everyone to read! It has transformed my life and I can say matter-of-factly that I wouldn’t have the same outlook on life, nor the tools to become a better person, if it weren’t for reading.
🚨 I wish I could fill these pages with all my takeaways from my reading excursions from this past year, but hopefully this blog post will suffice. Now, for the spoiler alert for 2021! Here are some books on my horizon:
What The Dog Saw —Malcolm Gladwell
Yes To Life—Viktor Frankl
Bad Feminist—Roxanne Gay
White Rage—Carol Anderson
A Gentleman in Moscow—Amor Towles
By now I hope you are not surprised by the Gladwell appearance!
Nevertheless, thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on the books I read in 2020 and for the opportunity to share a small peek behind the curtain into what 2021 has in store. If you have any thoughts to share, please drop a comment below! Let's talk!
Also, I am always looking for choice book recommendations. While my list for 2021 is admittedly much longer than what I provided, I'm certainly open to adding to it!
Listen, 2020 sucked. But, in what I read, I strived to make it as impactful and as positive as possible. While this past year taught me plenty, I learned specifically how to dare greatly, fight justly, and think provokingly, all while having fun. I know that 2021 will provide even more—can't wait.