"So many books, so little time." - Frank Zappa
I have loved to read since I was little, and while that interest waned a little bit when I was in school (required reading sometimes puts a damper on fun), reading is one of the great joys of my life.
I have been pretty consistent in my reading habit for the last few years, but with a lot of extra time on my hands last year and a desire to not watch the news 24/7, I kicked things into high gear. In the process, I realized how much time I could waste faffing on stupid websites, social media, etc., and how many books I could read if I was more attentive to how I was spending my time.
(Although, sometimes you just want to play Words With Friends, and that's ok!)
I use Goodreads to track what I read and it gives you a great summary at the end of the year showing all your books. (This is also a very satisfying way to celebrate yourself for reading!) After 21,051 pages in 2020, here are my top picks:
The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford
This book is one I know that I will visit over and over. I read this before I started meditating regularly, and I can't wait to read it again now that I have built a meditation habit. This book is a must for anyone with a high stakes job (like musicians!).
Deep Work by Cal Newport
I read several of Newport's books last year, and they all really make you stop and evaluate the things you do without thinking. This one focused on the deep satisfaction of craftsmanship and the benefits of learning to focus and limit distractions (not something that is exactly encouraged in our current culture). I also have to give an honorable mention to Newport's book Digital Minimalism. Like Deep Work, it encourages us to consider that what is common is not necessarily best, and that we should exercise our discerning mind rather than blindly accepting the norm.
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
I love reading about history, and basically inhaled all of Larson's books last year. They are written like fiction, weaving you through the stories of a chosen few individuals, but provide the broader context to understand what was happening in the world during events like Hitler's rise to power and the creation of the cross-Atlantic telegraph. Devil in the White City was my favorite, but they're all worth reading.
Maybe you Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
This book gives you a glimpse of what therapy is really like, and the ways in which therapists are also human. It's an endearing approach and pulls some of the stigma out of therapy. Gottlieb shares about herself and about different types of clients, and there is someone or some struggle in this book that each of us can relate to.
10% Happier by Dan Harris
This is the book that convinced me to just try meditating. It's a very down to earth approach about the ways meditation can help us, even though most of us won't achieve enlightenment. I can't recommend the app by the same name (Ten Percent) enough. Meditation is changing my life.
The Practice by Seth Godin
I have talked about Seth Godin's daily blogs before. I love the way he pulls information down into small, digestible, actionable thoughts. This book reads like one of his blogs with lots of very small chapters, but is an absolute MUST for creatives. After reading this on my Kindle, I plan to order a paper copy so I can go to town with sticky tabs and a highlighter!
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
My favorite type of reading to indulge in is fiction (usually with a tinge of history or fantasy), and this book was such a vivid read. The characters were realistic and easy to picture, and I loved the glimpse it provided into Indian culture, especially given my deep dive into yoga this year.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
V. E. Schwab's books are amazing. She writes intricate and beautifully detailed plots and characters, and I love the way she uses language. I couldn't wait to read this book, and it didn't disappoint. The characters are exquisite and the story is both uplifting and heartbreaking. I actually lost my sense of time reading the end of this book and spent an unplanned hour in tears as the story resolved itself. Who doesn't want to read a story you can completely lose yourself in?
There were a few books I read last year that I didn't like at all, but even those were time well spent. I'm already excited about the books I'll read this year and the time they will help me spend not faffing around on social media! All the books below have links if you want to read more about them or the authors. Happy reading!
P.S. Leave a comment with some books you love - I'm always looking for more to read!
We all know it's scary to try new things. There was also a time for all of us that it wasn't so scary. Maybe that was just a year ago for you, or ten years ago. Maybe it hasn't been that way since you were very, very little. Perhaps you can't even remember that time.
Over the course of our lives we've all learned new things, even in "safe" ways. We've started new jobs and been trained to do new tasks. Maybe you became a parent or got married - those are definitely new skills. If you're a student, you learn new things all the time.
So, what's the tipping point where we lose our willingness to do these new things? For some it's when we are young and we realize that someone might be watching, or a kid at school makes fun of us for something mundane we've never paid attention to. For others, we are older and realize that we don't want to do anything we don't feel absolutely sure of because we might fail.
In my case, it crept in when I reached a certain amount of "success" with work - suddenly I became aware that if anything I did didn't reach my standard someone else might judge it and think me less capable.
As that feeling crept into my work life, from the outside you might not have noticed anything different. I coasted along at my regular activities doing mostly the same quality of work as always, and to some extent that presents like success. At the same time, I stopped putting my neck out when something new and interesting popped into my head.
Eventually, this feeling that someone might notice me failing was spreading like a weed into my previously reliable endeavors. What if someone notices that high F# wasn't just right? What if they know I am nervous and can't remember what other instruments play this chord with me? What if they can tell I feel nervous?
So it went, as I continued to stuff these thoughts and feelings further and further down until a lot of previously comfortable situations made me very, very nervous.
Ironically, the pandemic and the ensuing shut downs gave me the best opportunity yet to evaluate my perspective and what started this vicious cycle of doubt.
Our mind and our body build support systems for our habits, so when I started to doubt myself a little, those thought pathways became stronger. Over time, they became body-builder thoughts. Tough, hard to move, and persistent.
I'm currently reading The Practice by Seth Godin (if you don't read his daily blog, you are missing out big time: https://seths.blog), and he delves into the reality of creating in the most digestible way I have seen yet. As the title of the book implies it is the practice, not the ensuing result, that matters.
Good decisions can still have bad outcomes, and this is where most of us run astray. We are so obsessed with the outcomes that we lose sight of building the skills and habits for our own personal goals.
We forget that we have no control over the outcomes.
We become disillusioned by what we have been taught - to be a successful musician you must be a college professor or full time orchestra musician, to be a successful learner you must produce straight A's, etc - that we stop thinking about what matters most to us.
What do you really want to achieve or do to make a difference? What do you want to create?
Reflecting on this thought pattern and cycle has give me a new energy to focus on the goals and projects I have created for myself and can create for myself, and to stop expecting external validation or criticism to provide much besides self doubt and distraction.
(Sticker and inspiration for the title from https://www.thegraymuse.com, artwork by https://morganharpernichols.com, The Practice by Seth Godin https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53479927-the-practice)