Reading is one of my favorite hobbies and one that has become ingrained in my routines over the past 5 years. I typically read for at least a half-hour every day, and each year my reading volume has increased. Since my annual post last October, I have read 29 books totaling 11,754 pages, almost a 40% increase from the previous year!
I have also transitioned to a more balanced selection of fiction and non-fiction books, and that balance is reflected in my favorites for this year. Out of the 29 books that I read, there were 10 books (consolidating a couple of series into a single entry) that I ended up rating 8 out of 10 or higher. Here they are (alphabetically), and why they resonated with me!
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Biographies and memoirs are such a great way to mentally walk in the shoes of someone who has a very different life than you. Tara Westover’s story that she details in Educated is a riveting reminder of how influential our unique upbringings are, and how no one gets to choose what family they are born into. The story of her transition from a remote, fundamentalist Mormon upbringing to discovering truths about the world that she didn’t know existed is very thought-provoking, and it is a book I highly recommend.
Fermat’s Last Theorem
Fermat’s Last Theorem sat on my shelf for a long time, and for some reason, I kept picking other books over it. I had enjoyed The Music of the Primes, and I think part of me just thought Fermat’s Last Theorem would be more of the same math history. Turns out I enjoyed it even more! Simon Singh does a great job of telling the story of a mathematician’s quest to solve a famous problem in a way that makes it a compelling page-turner. I definitely have an interest in math and puzzles that draws me to books like this, but I think even someone who has a very mild interest in those topics could find the story of humanity’s quest to crack a seemingly simple problem to be fascinating.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I had heard of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but never really knew much about it. As I expanded my reading wishlist with more fiction, I ran across recommendations for Douglas Adams’s series, as well as some quotes that were funny and clever enough to pique my interest. At this point, I’ve read the first three books in the five-book series, and I’ve found them very enjoyable; though the first is probably still the best. Adams has a very witty writing style and a way of weaving absurdity, intellect, and humor in a way that I haven’t seen before. It won’t be everyone’s style of humor, but I found myself laughing out loud and appreciating the clever writing consistently throughout the first three books.
The Hunger Games
I saw all of the Hunger Games movies before reading the books, but when I saw the whole trilogy in a thrift store for under $5, I figured, why not? They were quick reads, and I found them to be enjoyable even when lacking the element of surprise. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are both about equal for me, whereas I didn’t find Mockingjay nearly as enjoyable. As much as I love big epic stories of fiction that are aimed at adults, there is something about the fast-paced, no-fluff style of young adult fiction that is refreshing and gives you a lot of bang for your buck. And if the story is good, who cares about the target demographic?
A large bulk of my reading this year was spent in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere, as I completed over half of the primary books in his signature universe. The Mistborn series is possibly the best example of Sanderson’s style, which places an emphasis on “hard” magic systems that have specific rules that are then applied in logical combinations. The world of Mistborn is all about characters who have the ability to consume metals and then “burn” them for abilities based on the type of metal. He explores the implications of this system in interesting ways, and I was pleasantly surprised that the series went in a direction that I wasn’t expecting. The final book is probably my favorite, but all three were good enough to make this list.
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
I have only read a few of Timothy Keller’s books, but I can already tell that he has the potential to be one of my favorite Christian authors. Prayer tackles a fundamental spiritual topic in a practical and applicable way that makes it easy to apply. I would venture to say that most Christians miss out on the potential of their prayer life, and Keller’s book on the topic is an invaluable tool in reversing that trend.
Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand was one of my favorite books from last year, and her earlier book Seabiscuit makes it clear that she has a knack for taking extraordinary stories and adapting them into best-selling books. Getting a glimpse into the horse racing culture of 90 years ago was interesting, but Seabiscuit’s story is simply riveting whether you are interested in horse racing or not. Learning about the harsh realities of jockeys was also a highlight, and hit that empathy muscle that I always like to work out when reading stories of past lives.
Stumbling on Happiness
Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness probably appeals to me for many of the same reasons why Thinking, Fast and Slow is one of my favorite books: it is interesting to learn about how we are not nearly as rational as we think we are. Stumbling on Happiness explores the shortcomings of our brains, but specifically hones in on the question, “why are we so bad at predicting what will make us happy?” In a world that funnels everyone onto the hedonic treadmill of chasing the next big thing, Gilbert’s book is a breath of fresh air that most people could benefit from reading.
Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life
Being an avid reader of the self-help/self-improvement/productivity genre is a tricky thing, because the more you read, the more you realize that a lot of the books are just reiterating the same points. Visual Intelligence manages to hit a fresh new angle that puts it in a category of its own, and I think that is a big reason why it made this list. Amy Herman’s thesis is that we have the ability to practice and sharpen our perceptive skills, which could have a huge situational impact, and one of the best ways to practice is by analyzing art. It is an interesting concept and one that is explored with practical examples and clear expertise from the author’s experience teaching her Art of Perception class around the world.
The Way of Kings
Reading through Brandon Sanderson’s books set in his Cosmere universe eventually led me to the first entry in his magnum opus series: The Stormlight Archive. A series that is planned to include ten books, all coming in at over 1000 pages, taking Sanderson’s style to epic proportions. The epic scope definitely appeals to me, and despite its lack of overall resolution, The Way of Kings is probably my favorite Sanderson book so far. His writing formula can come through in a way that makes it a little hard for me to let the author fade into the background and get lost in the world, but the result is still full of intriguing worldbuilding and compelling plots that keep me wanting more. Next up is Words of Radiance, which, of course, is even longer.
I’m looking forward to a lot of the unread books I have on my shelf and would love to have my reading volume continue the pattern of growing every year. What about you; any favorite books you’ve read recently? I’m always on the lookout for new recommendations, so let me know!