I love reading. This wasn’t always the case, but as I have read more and more (thank you work commute on public transportation), I have recognized how valuable it is, and have come to genuinely enjoy it. A year has passed since I wrote about my favorite books read over the course of a year, and it is time to do it again! Since last October, I have read 27 books totaling 7921 pages. I took some time to look back on them all, and here are the books that rose to the top as my favorites of the year (alphabetically, as usual).
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People actually wasn’t new to me this year, but rather I read through it for the second time. This second passing really reminded me of how applicable the seven habits described in the book are to nearly every area of my life. It has become a classic in books on personal development for good reason, and I find myself using the habits as reminders as I go through my daily routine. I really think it is a book that anyone could benefit from reading, and while it is unlikely that every anecdote presented by Covey will resonate with you, there is certainly enough wisdom here to be applied with positive results in anyone’s life.
Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards is a book that I picked up on a bit of a whim after running across some of Yu-kai Chou’s work online and reading some positive reviews for the book. I found it to be a fascinating read, really combining two topics that I find very interesting: game design and how humans think. The book’s focus is around applying principles of human motivation found in games to other systems such as companies and products. This is interesting in and of itself, but I found it even more cool that his Octalysis framework was powerful for understanding motivation not just in the context of “gamification,” but in games and game design as well. I plan to read it again at some point and really focus on applying the analysis to my own game projects and games that I enjoy playing.
As a software engineer by trade, as well as a game programmer in my free time, I am often looking for ways to sharpen my skills and knowledge through various technical resources. Books that fall into that category don’t tend to top my lists of favorites, but something about Clean Code jived with me more than a lot of previous books I had read. It is all about writing better code, but I found that it really made me think about some of my own programming habits and challenged how I approached writing or refactoring code. It makes my list for that reason, and I could see it being a book I reread every so often to remind myself of the kind of internal questions I should be asking as I write code.
The Creative Habit
I have found that artists in different mediums can learn a lot from each other, and I think it is very interesting to learn the techniques of any experienced creative individual. Twyla Tharp is one such individual, and while I have no personal interest in the creation of dance choreography, so many of the creative lessons that she has learned in her career are universally applicable to artists. In The Creative Habit, Twyla gives insight into a lot of her creative process, and how she has consistently lived a creative life for so many years. No matter what your creative pursuits are, I think it is a book that can offer a lot of valuable advice and resonate with the realities of trying to live a creative life.
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is a very, very unique book. Largely focused around Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, Hofstadter weaves together concepts of logic, language, music, art, programming, biology, and artificial intelligence into a fascinating and challenging intellectual journey. It is definitely a difficult read; my background in Computer Science (specifically my Theory of Computation graduate class from a few years back) as well as programming and music theory certainly helped me get the most out of the book. But given my interest in those subjects, the alternating fable-like dialogues and technical explanations were like a challenging intellectual roller coaster, the cleverness of which had me smiling to myself on multiple occasions. I definitely cannot recommend this book to most people, but if you have a strong interest in logic and programming with a touch of science and philosophy, there really is nothing else like it.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence explores the concept of “grit” and how many successful people made it to where they are simply because they stuck with things despite adversity. I truly believe that modern culture puts way too much emphasis on “talent” and misses the fact that in most cases, the person is more talented simply because they have spent more time working on that particular skill. Not only does Angela Duckworth’s research support that idea, but she redirects the credit into another character trait: how “gritty” you are. I find this idea empowering as it makes talent achievable for anyone that is willing to stick with things, and I think it is a great read for teachers and parents as it describes many practical examples on how to encourage this kind of growth mindset in kids.
Kobold Guide to Board Game Design
The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design is another book that I had read before, but was reminded of how much I enjoyed it while reading it again. Essentially a compilation of essays on board game design from a variety of successful designers, I found it to provide a lot of practical insight into the process of making board games. I am always thinking about new ideas for board games, and while I don’t always have a lot of time to explore them (don’t worry, they are all saved away in my virtual notebook), am sure I will come back to this book on many occasions to remind myself of how to effectively attack the design process.
Being able to look back on all of these books and allow them to shape and influence my thinking is something that has become a centerpiece in my personal development. Perhaps there was something from my list that interested you, but even if not, go check out what books are out there! You would be amazed at the variety of high-quality literature that exists, and you are bound to find several that would make your list of favorites.