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My Kindle Life 2016

It looks like I forgot to do this last year. Not sure why, but it didn’t get done.

Ever since I was a kid, books have been a part of my life. I wasn’t so much a fan of reading, but for as long as I can remember, my father more or less read a book a day. He once told me that he would “rather go hungry than not have book money.” That’s one of the reasons why I loved working on the Kindle during my time at Amazon.

The awesome team over at Goodreads has made it easier to share my year in books by auto-generating a page for me.

While the page is super cool, it’s not something which I can embed in this post, which is somewhat disappointing. To fix that problem, I snipped the following:

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I’ll start with some commentary on this image, and the dive into some reviews. Since starting to use Goodreads back in 2013, I have been creating a new shelf every year to track which books I read that year. This year I read 109 books (which includes graphic novels) which is a nice step up from 2015 where I only managed 72. It’s not quite the 120 I read in 2014 though, so I’ve got work to do if I am going to make continued progress on my father’s tradition. Most of the rest of the reviews are for the books which received 5 stars from me. There are a few non 5 star books, but for the most part if I have a review below and unless I say otherwise, it’s worth reading.

Shortest

This year saw a fair bit of reading related to Real Estate, in an effort to help my wife with her business. That’s the source of my shortest book “The Constant Agent,” which netted 2 stars and is not worth discussion here.

Longest

It was a re-read of “Cryptomonicon.” It’s interesting that I found it slightly better on the re-read (4 stars this time around, versus 3 stars last time), but the one issue I have with Stephenson is his utter contempt of brevity. Reamde suffered from a similar lack of editing. I really liked that one too, and I’m not claiming that there was fluff or that Stephenson is padding his word count, but he does tend to go on, and on, and on.

Most Popular

Man’s Search for Meaning,” which netted 4 stars. I feel like that is almost heresy given the much beloved status of the book, but I didn’t connect with it the way I suspect many previous readers have.

Least Popular

Living off the Road,” which netted 2 stars. Given the extremely esoteric nature of the title, and the fact that it is clearly a self published tome, I am surprised that there was even one other reader of it. I have been exploring ideas related to adventure/fantasy camps for age group athletes looking to go have what I call “training vacations.” Part of my research was to come to grips with the idea that if I did this that I could find myself saying “congrats, you just bought a motel.” This book was a pretty raw and thorough accounting of a motel owner. I don’t want that job.

Highest Rated on Goodreads

I am on record as a lover of the manga series “Vinland Saga.” It’s fantastic, and this year added another omnibus title. “Vinland Saga Vol 8” is another outstanding addition to the series. It started in a bit of a disjointed way, though I didn’t re-read any of the titles when this one showed up from my Amazon pre-order. I was so excited I just dove right in. I love this series, and hate that I have to wait a full year for these omnibus titles to come out.

Best Current Events

I was really, really surprised by how much I connected with “The Hillbilly Elegy.” This title popped in my feed during the election cycle, and I took a flyer on it. Without getting too personal here, there are many things from my upbringing which echoed true from reading this book. The author does an amazing job of recreating the imagery and feelings of growing up in an unstable and difficult environment, and the dichotomy an individual feels when they leave for something better. Empathy is a skill which I know I sorely need to continue improving, and I think the country at large could use a healthy dose of it.

Best Business Psychology

Win Forever” by Pete Carroll was a quick read, but gives a really good glimpse into the mind of a great coach. Yes, there were problems at USC. Let’s not have that discussion here. The winning tradition he started at USC, and continued with the Seattle Seahawks has been great to witness. Reading this book doesn’t leave you thinking you are getting a watered down, ghost written title. You hear the words that Carroll uses over and over again to describe his philosophies in the words of his players when they speak to the media. His ethos permeates the team and organization. His philosophy is best summed up as “always compete,” which is to say that winning is a habit, so teams should practice competing every day so that they always understand what is at stake, and always develop the drive to win.

Best Self Improvement

Since starting my year off from traditional work to design the life I want, I have spent a fair bit of time reading various books on how to approach life, happiness, work fulfillment, etc. I really liked “Level Up Your Life.” It’s not the deepest book, and one could argue that it’s not scholarly, but the inner D&D nerd in me loves the idea of designing life around a series of ever increasingly difficult quests to undertake. I love this idea, and have taken to using this model for changing some things in my own life.

Best Non-Fiction (and Best Book)

Hands down, without question, the best book I read was “Sapiens.” Talk about a book that really makes you think, reconsider what you thought you knew, and challenge your mind to reconsider truths. I loved this book, and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Best Sports

I have a tendency to read a bunch of books about sports. Some would be classified as biopics, others are training methodologies, and others are more mental and psychological. “How Bad Do You Want It” was a very good book, but fell short of a 5 star rating. The book that completely blew me away was “The Secret Race,” which is a tell-all from disgraced American cyclist Tyler Hamilton. He is incredibly raw and honest in this book, and it reveals a much more nuanced backstory for the doping challenges of the pro peloton. Even if you don’t love cycling, this is a great book.

Best History

The freakiest moment of reading “Black Flags,” a book about the rise of ISIS, was realizing that the CIA operative responsible for bringing down Al-Zarqawi was not only a neighbor, but our kids were very close friends. For the entirety of the relationship between our kids, I had no idea what she did for work. The book itself is intense and amazing, and really gives a solid footing for the tumultuous times of the last couple of years.

Best Fiction

I am not sure how I found myself reading David Benioff’s (of Game of Thrones notoriety) book “City of Thieves,” but this is a fantastic book. In the strictest of senses, this should really be a non-fiction book, since he is recounting a family story from WWII, but it’s fictionalized in that he is painting a tapestry based on conversations with a family member. This is a great read, and is much more a character study than it is a historical piece. Loved this book.

Best Business

I am not a bitcoin user, apologist, fan, or otherwise. I am curious, sure, but I don’t have a long term belief in bitcoin itself. My personal opinion are that there are simply too many infrastructural issues with the base bitcoin platform. With that said, “Digital Gold” serves as a really good reference point for understanding bitcoin, the desires of the creators and evangelists, as well as provide enough information to help the reader build their own point of view about the future of public ledger rights management. A close second in this category is “The Looting Machine.” This is a historical reference on what has been happening in the economies of the African continent, and the nature of economy building in countries which are based on extractive resources.

Most Surprising

Given the number of books I read in a year, there are always that one or two which I didn’t know about, didn’t expect to enjoy, and found myself nodding and appreciating. It didn’t get 5 stars, but “Algorithms to Live By” was a surprisingly awesome read. It’s very approachable for the non-nerd, but even the geekiest reader will find something to love in this one. Also, I had never heard of “Usagi Yojimbo Saga Vol 1,” which is somewhat surprising given the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle origins, but this was a much appreciated manga title. I meant to read more, and purchased them, but haven’t yet. Fun title though, and very deserving of 5 stars.

Science Fiction

I hate to have to write this, but “Children of Time” was terrible. It started out as a good idea, but just got so bogged down in the bifurcated story structure, and simply couldn’t get to a resolution fast enough. I include this category because “Children of Time,” like “The Sparrow” are sci-fi/fantasy titles which were highly reviewed and recommended and they just did not deliver. I couldn’t even finish “The Sparrow.” It just couldn’t get tot the point. Similarly “Ancillary Justice,” another highly touted book I couldn’t get through. These authors spend so much time with their world building and overly clever plots which have too many twists and turns. I am sure someone will call me unrefined, but so be it.

I’m not sure if I am out of the mainstream on what makes up good sci-fi/fantasy these days, but I found that I got roped into reading high reviewed titles which just plain sucked. “Three Body Problem” doesn’t quite completely fail, but it’s another one that was highly regarded but the execution felt ham-fisted. Some interesting ideas, but the overall execution was poor. Similarly, Ted Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life,” which is the short story upon which the movie “Arrival” was based was another highly touted book. I enjoyed it, and there were some very novel ideas, but not earth shattering wow. This is a long way of saying that I am pretty disappointed in the sci-fi/fantasy books I read in 2016 and really need some winners. I love this category of titles. It’s my favs. I need some great recommendations.

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More Stories By Brandon Watson

Brandon Watson is Director for Windows Phone 7. He specifically focuses on developers and the developer platform. He rejoined Microsoft in 2008 after nearly a decade on Wall Street and running successful start-ups. He has both an engineering degree and an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as an MBA from The Wharton School of Business, and blogs at www.manyniches.com.

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