As I read books this year, my plan is to write monthly reviews chronicling my recommendations and missteps. The short monthly format of these posts was inspired by 52Books, and is bound to be an improvement from my well-intended, poorly executed weekly posts from past years. Occasionally I will write an additional in-depth post about a book – especially those I find particularly interesting, well-written, or useful – like Daniel Pink’s Drive and Lisa Bloom’s Think.
Night, Elie Wiesel
I first read this book in my Jewish Literature class as an undergraduate student. When I read it this time I felt like I had not heard it the first time (and quite likely, I hadn’t). Not only is the writing beautiful, but the message transcends time and place. Thought it is technically fiction, it’s absolutely autobiographical in its intent and impact. As I reread it, I felt the pain of the narrator and a guilt I had not experienced before. To think that the holocaust was happening and people turned a blind eye to the terror and tragedy — and yet — how much do we do this now with the human trafficking and genocide still happening in 2013? I will read this again and hope others will do the same.
The Dip, Seth Godin
Giving this book only three stars feels like an injustice to Seth Godin and his writing, but it is honestly not my favorite of his works. The concept of being the best in the world (or at least whatever world it is that your work lives in) is intimidating. I am a competitive person and certainly want to be the best at what I do, but something about the way he wrote this book didn’t compel me to make any dramatic changes toward that pursuit. The greatest challenge I had in reading this book was attempting to relate it to my work as a Student Affairs administrator and educator. In the end, it was a quick read with a few highlights. One of my favorite passages: “Every day you stay is a bad strategic decision for your career because every day you get better at something that isn’t useful – and you are another day behind others who are learning something more useful.”
Well Being: The Five Essential Elements, Tom Rath and Jim Harter
This book has been passed around and discussed by a few colleagues I respect, including Ann Marie Klotz who hosted a series of five guest blogs on The Five Essential Elements. The concepts in the book are not rocket science but are a clean synthesis of information we have surmised, supported by Gallup polls and research. To achieve well being we ought to focus on improving five elements: Career, Social, Financial, Physical, and Community. The strength of this book is in its companion assessment. Unlike the series of Strengths books – also by Gallup – the assessment instrument is designed to be taken several times over time to measure change and progress. I look forward to seeing which areas I am strongest in – and what improvements I can make in other areas.
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walters
Jess Walters writes some of the most beautiful prose I have read in a very long time. The book jumps around in time and follows a few characters through both the past and present, which can be confusing if not unnerving at first. It took me a long time to fall in love with the characters, but I did and I fell deeply in love with them. The story bounces between Italy in the age of old movie royalty (circa Elizabeth Taylor) and new Hollywood. The ending is not what you want it to be, or what you hope it to be – but rather, what it needs to be. If you can hang around long enough to get the timeline straight and to have the patience to let the story tell itself to you — it will be absolutely worth it. Thank you to my long time friend Jessi Behrendsen for sharing it with me – I love falling in love with books suggested by friends.