A Reading Habit
An ongoing and incomplete list of previous reads. 📚
When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think.
Books think for me.
— Charles Lamb
Reading consumes my attention more than any other pastime. At any given moment I have book in hand, another on the go in the other room, and an article or two open on my computer, work-related or otherwise. Almost invariably non-fiction, I read to explore, get away from the every day, and to expose myself to the knowledge that others have graciously shared.
What follows is a list of books that I have read over the better part of the last decade. I began to assemble this list on December 1, 2018, after previous attempts to do something similar failed; any titles consumed prior to this date have been added based on library records, Amazon purchases, or memory.
A Reading Note
This list of recent reads from is just that— a list of recent reads.
I'm working on sorting through & cataloging each individual read I can remember from the last 14 years but it is a slow process. I'm mostly working my way backwards from today but it's not a priority in life and the result is slow but steady.
Where they exist, I will add in my brief reading reviews no matter how poorly written or ill-informed they are.
In the meantime, for a more complete list of all of the reads I remember from previous years you can check out, An OLD Reading Habit.
Book Rating Scale
⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️ = Fantastic— re-read & recommend
⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️ = Great— recommend only
⭐️️⭐️️⭐️️ = Good Read— worth reading and unforgettable
⭐️️⭐️️ = OK Reading— no regrets but quickly forgotten
⭐️️ = Garbage— complete waste of time 👎
♻️ = re-read
pre-2023 book ratings
⭐️⭐️⭐️ = essential reading
⭐️ = recommend read
♻️ = re-read
Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (2007)⭐️⭐️
A take on debt, and debtor / creditor relationships observed and understood through literature, the history of human existence, and cultural manifestations. Atwood’s humour comes through in this read and is welcomed if one was expecting (like me) to be reading a dry take on a rather dry topic. I appreciated the continual return to the idea of memory and the reminder that without records, without us writing things down or caring about what a person owes, there is no such thing as debt. The one thing from this book that I could do without is the Scrooge anecdote / manifestation that makes up the majority of the last chapter— I felt like this was inconsistent with the remainder of the content and it’s deliver, and unnecessary as a result.
I Am Hutterite: The Fascinating True Story of a Young Woman's Journey to Reclaim Her Heritage (2007)⭐⭐
Although this was not the journey regarding finding one's identity that I thought I was embarking upon, it was a journey of identity none-the-less. The author articulates their life growing up in a Hutterite community in central Canada and their family's transition away towards a new beginning. While I am not certain that this work is as worthy as the overwhelmingly positive praise it received suggests, it is likely much better than I consider it to be. A good read for someone who is interested in faith-based communities, but a story that seems too commonly told across genres.
Life Is Like Canadian Football and Other Authentic Folk Songs (2021)(in progress)
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (2012)⭐️️️⭐️️️⭐️️️⭐️️️⭐️️️
Picked up on a whim due to the fact that the word 'bookstore' was in the title, and not knowing anything prior about the story itself— I was pleasantly surprised with this read. In fact, this is probably one of the best fiction reads I've read in my lifetime. Although it took me close to a month to finish it, I enjoyed every word on every page of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. The Da Vinci Code meets National Treasure is one way to describe the story line of this book. Upon finishing reading this work I immediately searched to see if there was a sequel, prequel, or even a movie based upon it. No dice.
This book is an easy keeper, re-read, and recommend.
Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age (2020)⭐️️⭐️️
The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice (2007)⭐️️️️
Talking to Canadians (2021) ⭐️️
I abandoned Talking to Canadians by Rick Mercer today after finally realizing:
- I don't like reading biographies,
- I'm not a fan of comedians, and
- I can't stand Rick Mercer even in the written word.
Next book, please.
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (2010)⭐️️️️
A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books (2004)⭐️️⭐️️
How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization (2004)⭐️️⭐️️
Quit: the power of knowing when to walk away (2022)⭐️️️⭐️️️
Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less (2023)⭐️️️
Literature Unbound (1984)⭐️️️
CITIZENS: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Us (2022)
Sometimes you need to read a book that will get you back into a mindset that was once second nature. Sometimes a friend shares with you a book that they claim brought back their focus to a topic that was once dear to both of you. Sometimes you believe that their claims are too good to be true. Then you read the book.
Citizens was exactly what I needed to read at this time in my life. Feeling disconnected from my community, and lacking energy to invest in the community activities that were once a central part of my every day; in recent months I have found myself searching for 'the thing' that will draw me back towards all things community related. While I can't say for certain if this book is that thing just yet, it definitely has pointed me in the direction I need to be moving in.
In describing the movement of individuals & collectives beyond the roles of Subjects and Consumers, Jon Alexander considers how each and every one of us can stand up to act as the Citizens we are and how we can focus the actions of our lives to improve the ways we relate to one another. With examples focused on non-governmental organizations, businesses, and governments— Citizens asks us to reconsider the agreements we enter into with others and with ourselves and to place what is best for a broader collective ahead of what we want as individuals.
Although at times this book felt like its sole purpose was to prop-up & promote the author's own do-gooding through anecdote after anecdote of their own successes— the root message that threads the pages of the book together is too strong to ignore even when often overshadowed by the author's personal, professional narrative.
Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast (2001)
As a book picked up from the common shelves in the School of Language & Liberal Studies, I was anticipating reading a few pages of this book and then discarding it. Rather than stopping soon after picking it up, I found myself not wanting to put it down. As a collection of passionate and personal stories from authors and artists from across Canada, all of whom I have never heard of, Addicted sheds light on the unlimited shapes which addiction can take. Stories of drinking, drug use, and sexual desires are shared which help to illustrate that addictions come in many forms and are not only limited to those most talked about in the popular media. Some essays were difficult to read as they contain elements of sexual abuse, unrestrained honesty from the authors regarding their feelings, and an acknowledgment that much of what may make an addict, an addict, can be passed down through generations in a family.
After giving up alcohol, now some 5 months ago, and only now reading about addiction (even if only haphazardly) I now seem to have the headspace and willingness to be open to having a discussion with myself regarding my personal addiction. While I haven’t taken any formal or intentional steps to approach or address my addiction, I can honestly say that I’m at the point where I can openly admit—if only to myself, that an addiction does exist.
I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) (2007)
Having now finished this book I completely understand why the majority of its contents did not resonate with me—I was not the target audience. While some of the content still spoke to me, the majority of the book was written for women/females. I should have suspected this as this is the main audience for most of the author's works which are in turn based on their research. I guess I had hoped that Brown would finally get to diving into some depth about shame as it relates to men. Brown touches on men in the final chapters of the book but does not offer much of value; the notes offered seem more like an after thought and an attempt at saying, "see, I didn't forget about men." I really with Brown would focus some good attention to how her work differs when men are studies. With all of that said, I did appreciate the penultimate chapter, Practicing Connection in a Culture of Disconnection, but am disappointed that I had to slog through the remainder of the book—which was full of story example after story example, to get to it. I may be more cautious next time around before I pick up another one of her works.
Essential Labour: Mothering as Social Change (2022)⭐️⭐️⭐️
Fantastic recent release on the value and power of the work which happens each and every day which we take for granted. Using her own upbringing as a source of inspiration and information, Garbes spends time looking at the various roles of mothering, caretaking, and those in the health profession. More often than not occupied by women, and specifically women of colour, such roles rooted in maintenance and care are essential to how society functions but often placed at the bottom of any economically driven values structure. Considering the critical importance of “maintenance” within one’s own life as well as the lives of those they serve, the idea of “mothering” isn’t limited to those of a specific gender or sex—in the author’s opinion, the act of mothering can be performed and owned by anyone willing to invest the labour into such essential tasks.
A Promised Land (2020)⭐️️⭐️️
For any Obama junkie, or even anyone generally obsessed with politics, this is likely a delightful read. For those of us who want a broad overview of Obama's time in office and his general perspective on the decisions made this book likely is not well received. I went into this book with the very best of intentions but found it was stifled by too much minutia regarding every single decision Obama had to make, or every single person he had ever shaken hands with. For those like me who aren't political or Obama junkies, a much better read would be Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (2021)⭐️⭐️⭐️
What a wonderful read and fresh take on the concept of time-management. Focusing more on the broad, theoretical, and philosophical underpinnings of time and its sordid history; Four Thousand Weeks presents a premise that we've been concerned with managing our time in recent years for all of the wrong reasons and in all of the wrong ways. This book easily replaces Essentialism by Greg McKeown as an annual read on identifying what’s most important in life; it presents this idea more concisely and doesn’t come across as a horribly bad business book. While not a surprise, the idea of time as nothing more than a social construct is reaffirmed. This is the first getting things done (GTD) and productivity book I've come across that takes an honest look at the root of the problems surrounding productivity and work. This book is accessible, honest, and unpretentious. Unfortunately, it is a book where those who most in need of reading it will likely never crack its spine.
Atomic Habits (2018)
I can appreciate why this book receives the hype and attention it does. For the masses, this offers some initial insights into taming lives that are out of control. Sadly, what this book offered is shallow and only goes surface deep.
Atomic Habits is like most of the other self-help books out there. Same take on a topic that has been covered a thousand times over. It's run of the mill.
It is likely best if one heeds Patrick's warning/method for consuming this book.
It is clear that Michelle Obama has had an interesting life. A life where she’s overcome many obstacles and has achieved many great things. While I am certain that some of these things likely wouldn’t have happened without being the First Lady—like the publishing of this book—most of her accomplishments she can certainly take all of the credit for. While this book wasn’t written for me as an audience, and often while reading it I couldn’t think of it as anything other than an advertisement for Barack, I know that this book is what many people need to read and highlights the important work that a strong, female, black leader is doing in the USA and across the globe.
Related: A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Year Book (2021)
Listening to this book was like attending a decent live comedy show. Although I am not a Seth Rogan fan, having him read the written account of his own life was entertaining. This audiobook is more of a standup production than audiobook. There are voiceovers, guests reading what they are actually quoted as saying (Snoop Dogg!), and just the right emphasis in the right places—something only an author who is a comedian could deliver upon. I’m not likely to listen to this book again but I’d recommend it to anyone looking to go on an entertaining trip for a few hours. Oh, and I’m now actually likely to look into some of Rogan’s films to see if there is any entertainment gold I may have missed in recent years.
Ex Libro’s: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998)
The title of this book is highly misleading—common reader. According to their Wikipedia page, the author “Anne is an American essayist and reporter. Her interests include literary journalism, essays, memoir, and autobiography.” That sounds like anything but a common reader.
A common reader is likely to be anyone you can pull off of the streets that reads books. A common reader is unlikely to be one is obsessively collects and organizes their books, one that reads to their spouse before bed, or who would carry nineteen-pounds of books home from a used bookstore. I don’t argue the fact that this book is mis-titled based on my own experiences—I would happily bring home forty pounds of books from the store to read, and have. I refute the title’s premise based on the accounts in this book are all too specific and niche.
As for the content of the book itself. Meh. This work doesn’t offer an actual common reader much in terms of value.
What a great LISTEN. And, I stress listen because I can’t imagine that reading this book would be as enraging or mesmerizing as listening to Matthew McConaughey himself read it. I won’t lie—I’m a sucker for Matthew’s voice and having him read his own written work was nothing short of a fantastic experience.
I wasn’t sure what to expect before beginning this book. Actually, I knew what I was expecting—a shallow account far too common from Hollywood types who are looking for another way to make another buck. This book was NOT that, at least in my opinion.
Filled with wonderful insights into finding the purpose in one’s life, and offering perspective on how to tackle some of the most challenging decisions we may face during our time on earth, this book was both helpful and funny at the same time.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013)
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012)⭐️⭐️⭐️ ♻️
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (2010)♻️
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2011)⭐️⭐️⭐️ ♻️
A Week at the Airport (2009)
A quick little read which provides a perspective of what it is like to spend a significant amount of time in an airport terminal. Thoughts on the relationships fostered at an airport; the economies that interact with, and exist as a result, in an airport; and the surveillance society we live in are all offered. One particular piece contained within the II Departures section caught my attention:
Our capacity to derive pleasure from aesthetic or material goods seems critically dependent on our first satisfying a more important range of emotional and psychological needs, among them those for understanding, compassion and respect. We cannot enjoy palm trees and azure pools if a relationship to which we are committed has abruptly revealed itself to be suffused with incomprehension and resentment.
This immediately hit home with me.
From Here to There: The Art and Science of Finding and Losing Our Way (2020)
A psychological take on how humans relate to everything spatial. Beginning with a history of navigation and the roots of wayfinding, the author offers thoughts on how we navigate through both familiar and unfamiliar places.
Chapters consider the reasons we become lost and some strategies to employ when we’d like to be found; the impact which holding different professions (taxi drivers in London, England), being of different ages (kids and seniors), or how being one sex over another can have on our ability to navigate through our daily lives; and the ways in which the design of our communities directly impacts our ability to navigate and have meaningful interactions with spaces.
Throughout the book the author continually touches on the fact that GPS & satnav are making us spatially stupid and are likely setting us up for failure in navigation when these modern tools are not available to us and needed most. The final chapter in the book, on the impact dementia has on one’s spatial cognition and why “wandering” is good for the brain (and the soul), was a welcomed surprised given the daily conditions which some of my family members are living with these days.
How to Do Nothing (2020)⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is, by far, one of the most important books I'll read this year and likely one of the ones I've consumed in recent years that I'll return to time and time again. Odell has a way of bringing together multiple artistic perspectives with topics such as philosophy, bio-regionalism, Indigenous understanding of being, technology, and bird watching. Combined, all of these things offer a take on space & place which I wasn't at all expecting when I opened this book. Touching on the importance of spatial and temporal context, or rather that the attention economy regularly lacks this element, helps to bring together a view that sometimes—more often than not—we need to simply be present in a space, observe, given back to places where it makes sense, and make it so that we do not easily exist in spaces that demand our attention without pushing back a little on such demands. This is a read that I will be purchasing a copy for my personal library so that I may re-read it on an annual basis.
A World Without Email Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload (2021)⭐️
A compelling work on the idea that email isn't making us more productive, but less. In the same vein as Deep Work and So Good They Can't Ignore You, Cal Newport proposes a premise about email that runs contradictory to what the prevailing understanding of this tool likely is. Suggesting that email hasn't delivered on the promise it brought with it as it came into existing—and that it hasn't aged well—Newport offers some thoughts on how to move away from work in our professional (and personal) lives in order to be productive in the things we are most skilled at.
Some of the author's proposals seem radical, and likely are depending on the organization and systems a person works within—and how much of their work processes are within their direct control. With that said, when consideration is given to the entire premise Newport is making, a person can begin to understand that it might be be a crazy premise but one rooted in sound logic. A highly recommended read especially for those who are in positions to change how their teams communicate on a daily basis.
I wish this book was a non-fiction read, unfortunately it was not and the value of it was essentially lost on me. I appreciated the attempt to critique society, gender, motherhood, individuality, and marital norms that we have come to accept as the de facto standard throughout history. With that said, I would have received this read more openly if it were written as an actual commentary of these topics and not a fictional account of what could be. Rather than coming out and clearly stating what may be wrong with the standards of the era this work was writing in, the author hides behind "what ifs" and the make believe. Perhaps I am simple minded and need things to be blatantly communicated, but I felt that the approach to Gilman's social commentary and critique masked both its importance and potential impact. I'm in absolute support of what the author may have tried to achieve in this work but feel that a better job could have been done in explicitly calling out what needed to be said.
Bibliotherapy: The Right Book at the Right Time (1980)
A quick read regarding bibliotherapy as a discipline. Half overview, half instruction, this small tomb—categorized as a “fastback”—provides a basic overview of the process of bibliotherapy and suggests some techniques that can be used to implement it. If I were a counsellor or teacher of small children this would likely provide greater value than it does for the position I’m in. For nothing else, this is a good starting point to understanding what bibliotherapy is, its historical routes, the limitations of it as a practice, and offering a list of potential reads for individuals using bibliotherapy as a form of therapy for themselves.
How to Read a Book (1972)⭐️
This work codifies the process by which an individual can choose to read a book. From understanding the purposes of the different sections a book contains, to realizing that you need not always read an entire work to consider it read; How to Read a Book functions as a great resource to better engage with, and extract value from, the books we read by focusing on analytical reading--consuming a single work and the arguments of the author; and providing some closing thoughts on syntopical reading--reading multiple works across a given topic. While this book provides a highly methodical approach to reading a book, recommending a set of rules an individual should follow, it is valuable in the aggregate as well for those who choose not to follow its prescriptive method. Although I read the updated version (1972) of the book originally published in 1940 I was surprised to see that there wasn't another revision in more recent years that made note of any changes to its recommended method in terms of the different formats books now come in. As the focus of this work was on the content of the books we read, and not the shape and forms they take, I shouldn't be too critical of this omission. In short: I wish I had of read this book before starting any post-secondary education.
A Walker in the City (1951)
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2011)⭐️⭐️⭐️ ♻️
My annual re-read of Essentialism, during No-vember, took me the entire month to read this time around. Sure, I wasn’t in a rush to read it, but for whatever reason I couldn’t find myself getting into it this year. Perhaps my brain was already mush having read so many books this year already. Then again, maybe the content and main point of the book is something I have consumed so many times that I simply glaze over much of the content. With that said, I was reminded that there is always room for improvement in how a person approaches an essentialist lifestyle and that no one is ever perfect. I am hopeful that in the future I will be in a leadership role where I have others looking to me for guidance & support and in turn employ some essentialist strategies to combat the very elements of leadership and management which drive me crazy.
How To Be An Antiracist (2019)⭐️⭐️⭐️
This, by far, is one of the most challenging books I have ever read. The language used, the perspectives shared, and the unpacking of the historically engrained stories we tell ourselves to be found un-true. If I am to be completely honest I must say that I struggled to complete this book. I found the need to investigate each sentence in an attempt to fully understand the thoughts being conveyed. Even when finished I feel like I did not give this book the attention it deserved. Whereas, White Fragility, was a wakeup call this book is the follow-up that dives deep into how we got to where we are today in a racist North American culture which offers some strategies to shift perspectives if we wish to undo all of the bad we have done over the years.
Badluck Way A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West (2013)
Picked from a box of books I purchased at a mega sale, I had hoped that this memoir would paint a vivid narrative of the connection between man and a place I know nothing about—the America west. While at times it seemed promising that I would be presented with the story I was in search of, that promise was left unfulfilled as I turned the last page. Often confusing the reader of why it was that they picked up this book in the first place, the author’s fixation with the wolves on the ranch where he worked seemed to be both the purpose of the book and an after thought at the same time. Becoming the focus of the book too late in its pages—except for some crudely written accounts, all in italics, between chapters which seemed to be wildly out of place—this memoir could have been a much stronger read and compelling story if the author stuck to other elements of his time on the ranch. I assume this to be the case, having never spent any time on a ranch myself. However, as an avid reader who welcomes new reads outside of his normal haunts, I was sadly disappointed with this book.
Huron & Erie Regional Digest: Summer (2020)
This book was the, One Book One London, read from a few years back. Had I read this work back when the rest of the community was I’m not certain I would have appreciated as much as I did today, or that it would have had the same impact as it has. While it is a work of fiction, it reads in many ways like a memoir of a young black man who great up in a suburb of Toronto. With all of the recent, race related, actions creating a watershed moment in society—both in North America and around the world—I couldn’t think of a better time to read this book. Its themes are subtle but the realities that I can only imagine young black men face, and the challenges their mothers and families must overcome, are nothing but vivid and in some ways scary how real they feel. While not my favourite of all of the One Book One London reads, this one is worthwhile to read none the less.
City Quitters: An Exploration of Post-Urban Life (2018)
This book is what it is. While there was potential to have a book full of encouraging and eye opening stories what I feel this book offered was the same single story, told in a dozen or so different ways. As I was one third of the way through the book I felt like I could anticipate what I would be reading, and seeing, on the next few pages. I had hoped that there would have been a greater variety of stories, filled with different perspectives on the same topic. What I was presented with was what seemed like a single minimalist, city quitting story, re-told over and over without much value add content beyond the first few pages.
Having been on my to-read list for a while, I’m surprised that I haven’t picked this one up sooner. Building upon what was covered in Peak by Anders Ericsson, and Range by David Epstein, Grit’s author provides a lot of food for thought. How to purpose and passion align? How does focused and deliberate practice make us better at what we do? And how much does pure force of will help us succeed over skill? For anyone interested in how to do better, and support others in achieving goals, this might be a valuable read.
From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way (2019)
I can’t recall why I picked up this volume—it was likely a recommendation in The Globe and Mail—but I am thankful I did. This is an insightful into one man’s journey as a Métis Canadian, alcoholic, and drug addict, and the twists and turns presented to him throughout life. Although I do wish that the latter portion of the book wasn’t as rushed as it was, in how it uncovered the more recent experiences in the author’s life, this isn’t a fault that is unique to this work. Far too many of the books I read I feel don’t distribute their attention adequately enough across the entire spectrum of content. But I digress. This work but a Métis scholar is worth the read for anyone interested in starting to understand the various challenges that members of Canada’s Indigenous communities face as they navigate society.
Deeds/Abstracts: The History of a London Lot, 1 January 1991 - 6 October 1992 (1995)♻️
It is ten years since I initially read this book. When I picked it up the first time I did so out of an interest for anything local; I read it but likely didn’t “get” it, thinking it was too artsy or irrelevant. Now, with a more entrenched curiosity regarding place, and the histories that tell a version of a story of who we are today, this re-read was much more engaging than my initial pass. Giving consideration to all of the histories that make up the cultural history of the places we occupy, Curnoe takes a deep dive into his home/lot/property to understand how it came to be, including all of the surrounding and external factors that shape a specific parcel of land, and the broader region it is situated within.
Huron & Erie Regional Digest: Spring (2020)
A literary magazine for my liking. A collection of pieces about not the city I live in, but the region. For it’s first issue I’m thoroughly impress and I’ve come on board as a subscriber for the remainder of the year. I am interested to see how it continues to unfold, and just maybe I’ll have a feature in an upcoming issue.
A gruesome tale of something that should have never happened. While I do think that this book is longer than it needed to be—there’s a great deal of repetition that I believe is unnecessary—I thoroughly enjoyed it, if anyone can say such a thing about the documentation of a tragedy. If anything, this is an interesting perspective into the psyche of a pair of killers and how a community has had to work through their grief, sadness, and anger. It’s not the right book for most people, and I would never read it again, but it is worth the time for the right type of person.
Deschooling Society (1971)
It’s easy for me to get behind the premise of this book–that schools have failed our individual needs and might not be the best place to encourage learning and develop the citizens which society needs. With that said, as is so often the case, the delivery of this idea is what I find difficult to accept with this book. Perhaps because of the prevailing dialog of the days of when it was published (1971) or the social and political structures the author was intending to take down–the critical discourse on education this book offers is, perhaps, too critical. Often times I believe that a more balanced approach to delivering a message might be met with greater update and understanding. Then again, this perspective is likely a result of my privileged upbringing.
A History of Reading (1996)⭐️️
As the last book of the year for me, this read was a struggle. Rooted in the history of literature, Greek and Roman cultures, and religious stories, there was a great deal of this book that I found myself not able to understand in the moment. With that said, I worked my way through the entire book and by the time I was finished I was thankful I did. The why and how the written work has come to be printed on pages, to the reader as a distinct individual; I found myself picking up enough value from the parts of the book that I could understand to really enjoy it. The last chapter titled, “The Book Fool,” was of particular interest. Helping to distinguish between High Society and Popular Culture, this section was a great way to wrap up the read. If I have one criticism it would be this: A History of Reading was hardly a complete history. Most of the 20th century, aside from a couple of mentions of specific events, was excluded from consideration within this work. Perhaps the author could revisit his work and update it to take into account new, more modern elements of reading.
A Grief Observed (1961)
A short but intense read. A series of notes written after the author's wife had passed. I particularly enjoyed—if one should enjoy reading such a volume—the thoughts on the existence of God, the dead, and the impact they can have on someone's day-to-day life. Not a read I would normally pick up, I can imagine that this would be useful to individuals in certain circumstances where they are grappling some of life's greatest challenges.
A Good Neighborhood (2020)⭐️️
A must read. A book about race, neighbours, family, lovers, and the relationships which exists among all of these intertwined elements. An intense and moving fictional image, which seems all too real given how society is unfolding daily around us. Although I can’t remember why I picked up this book, I am thankful that I did. Upon finishing the book I found myself contemplating some of the more important questions surrounding my everyday existence and how I interact with those I engage with. A highly recommended read.
Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life (2012)
I’m not certain why I started reading this piece, given that I was less than moved by the authors previous book, but I attempted to give this work an honest go. Meh. I found this read to be lacklustre at best. It’s superficial and lacks any type of depth. Perhaps there’s value in this book for someone who has yet to do any type of self reflection or introspection however, I found it to be more of an annoyance than any type of worthwhile read for myself.
Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America (2018)⭐️
An important topic, told though a compelling story. The entire pharmaceutical sector (in the USA) is a bit unbelievable, but it’s a reality. This read opened by eyes to the how integrated the drug epidemic is to the economy, politics, and our every day social structures. I think this is an important read for most people. My only criticism is that it accomplishes its point early on in the book, with the remainder being highly repetitive and offering little additional value. This book could have been 1/2 the size and delivered the same message.
Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (1995)
Not the book I initially thought I was picking up from the library, but a sequel of sorts, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Taking his theory of flow and applying it to one’s life, Csikszentmihalyi helps to uncover the essence of engagement in one’s daily activities and how to identify what type of work someone should be doing, what they should avoid, and how to get through the boring, routine, and monotonous work we all must face. Although I have yet to read the author’s initial work, Flow, I imagine this read would be more applicable to most people.
Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times (2014)♻️
A re-read in anticipation of some work with the author’s community engagement organization, this book isn’t as deep as the title would leave you to believe—and that’s perfectly ok. Providing an entrance into the idea of community, and community building, this book is a short survey of what defines community and how one can differ from the next. Full of anecdotal stories, and personal experiences, Born is attempting to speak to those on the cusp of deepening the relationships they have with those closest to them geographically. A good primer for someone new to the field of community development, or a helpful reminder to those who are already invested in this work of why it is important work, Deepening Community is anything but deep, and that’s exactly what it should be.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016)⭐️
Housing is a problem everywhere. It’s next to impossible for anyone to purchase a home anymore, including those who live in places of relative privilege in society. Renting in North America is becoming as bad, with rents much more than what most people can afford. There is a crisis. If, Evicted, offered anything—in addition to it’s compelling format and delivery of this important topic—it was a descriptive look into some of the most depressing living conditions in America. While at times the format of this book threw me for a loop, whereas I thought I was reading a work of fiction, its delivery of such an important and very real topic was a welcomed treat in comparison to other non-fiction reads on the same issue. Although after a while the stories captured seemed repetitive in nature, and proved to be more depressing—and real—than I initially thought the book would be, I was thankful I continued the book to the end. It’s epilogue on the idea of, home and hope was a highly compelling wrap up to the read and forced me, as a reader, to really think about what ‘home’ means to me, and more broadly what the ideas of belonging, identity, and place really come down to for an individual. I highly recommend this read to anyone interested in cities, social issues, poverty, or those concerned with how America is failing Americans in building the American dream.
Long live trump.
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (2019)⭐️⭐️⭐️
As my first read of the new year, this was a helpful reminder of many of the concepts I’ve come to regard as essential in living a more intentional life. Cal Newport is an author and scholar I have come to respect, and I find that his worldview, and that on the role technology plays in our lives, to be one which echos the values I have come to hold close to me. If anything, this read was a reminder of the the habits I should continue with daily, and some new practices I might find worthwhile to begin. The concepts in this book aren’t overly complicated or mind blowing, but for those who don’t have a handle on the role of technology in their daily lives this book is a good place to start. For others, like myself, who feel that they have a good “relationship” with technological and digital things, this book is a reminder that at the end of the day we are human and always have room to grow.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2011)⭐️⭐️⭐️ ♻️
My annual re-read of this book as a reminder that it’s okay to say no, and not to feel bad about it. My realization in more recent months is this—taking things in life down to the most important is essential, but at some point ‘yes’ needs to be said more often. I’ve excluded less important things for so long, to help me focus on what really matters, that I haven’t brought into my life some less-important things to help balance things out and to provide meaning and value to the things/experiences I cherish so very much. There needs to be a balance between the essential and the non-essential.
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018)
Compelling premise. Lackluster delivery. Having now made two separate attempts at this book, only being successful via audiobook, I had great expectations for this read but failed to find connection to the work. The author finds the needs to construct his own lexicon to categorize different types of jobs, the terms which seem a little elementary and less than professional. Additionally, the book’s tone and voice is highly informal and makes one wonder of it’s value and credibility. I’d still recommend the read to anyone interested in the topics of work, employment, self worth, and societal expectations, but provide the caveat that the delivery may not be what you expect.
Handbook for the Positive Revolution (1991)
throwing up sounds] I’m not really sure what I expected from this book—one of many purchased for a flat rate at a book sale—but I was highly disappointed. This work is too prescriptive and filled with little substance. Its goals are admirable, but the approach to delivering on said goals are lacking in every which way. Perhaps I simply won’t understand the purpose of the book, or was looking to get something different out of it than the others who have read it, but I can’t imagine ever recommending this to anyone.
Drinking in America Our Secret History (2015)
This book can be summed up by stating: Americans are drunks. Although it gets tiring, reading story after story of famous individuals who had intimate relationships with alcohol—the point is made after the first dozen pages—I couldn’t put this book down. Reading how America’s relationship with different types of alcohol over the centuries of its history makes for a narrative that helps to give context to why certain things are they way which they are in modern society. Not the best read out there, it’s worth a read if a person is looking to fill a few hours of boredom in their week.
Book Ends: A Year Between the Covers (2010)
Picked-up as part of a random collection of books at a book sale, I was hopeful that Wakan’s take on her year of reading would offer me some direction for what I have been trying to takeaway from my own reading efforts. However, this was hardly the case. Wakan’s own words sum up my feelings of her offerings very succinctly: “Every time I open a new book, I do so with almost breathless hope. Hope for what, I am not sure; but usually just after the middle of the book, my hope turns sour and I finish the book listlessly knowing that, yet once more, I have not found what I was seeking.” The only difference between her thought and my own process is that I couldn’t bring myself to finish this read—it was that un-fulfilling.
Anne of Green Gables (1908)
A read as part of a road trip to Canada’s east coast, I was thoroughly surprised by this book. Never having read the story as a youngster, or seen any of the filmography created based upon it, I wasn’t certain that it was going to be something I’d enjoy. I am happy to report that I’d glad I took it in (via audiobook) over the length of the trip. The book was so well written, although at times the repetitive use of certain words became a bit much, and I never once felt like it was a chore to keep up with the story. Regarding Anne herself—I know that she is a fictional character, but I really connected with her wit, curiosity, interest in language, and the conversations she could spark and carry on with anyone. I highly recommend this read to anyone looking for an escape from the everyday.
Letters from a Stoic (4 BC-AD 65)⭐️
As an entry point to get me acquainted with philosophy, I chose this book as a to learn more about Stoicism. This volume is full of great thoughts on life, purpose, problem solving, and becoming more comfortable with one’s self. Having heard that Stoicism might be a philosophy that would resonate deeply with my existing believe, I am happy to report that after an initial read I think I am on the right track. Having highlighted a number of passages, for one reason or another, I will definitely be re-reading this in the future.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (1999)⭐️⭐️⭐️
Recommended and loaned to me by a colleague, Let Your Life Speak was a quick read but one I thoroughly enjoyed. Offering thoughts on how to find your true calling, rather than moving towards a predefined path Palmer suggests you let your experiences, actions, and core values provide the necessary direction needed. I particularly found valuable the sections on: Selfhood, Society, and Service; and, Leading from Within. This little book is likely worth reading every now and again as a reminder to accept our true calling and stop wasting time needlessly going down paths we shouldn’t be going down.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)
Having been on a reading streak of 1 book a week for the first four months of the year, I struggled to complete Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Taking a month to complete this work of juvenile fiction, I’m happy to be done with it. While I can appreciate why these works are such great hits with a given crowd, I found it challenging to stay interested/invested in, and felt like I was often disappointing with the author taking “the easy way out” when it came to plot choices. Although these books are “just not my thing” I’ll probably put myself through reading the remainder 5 books just to say I did it.
How Will You Measure Your Life? (2012)
Having picked up this book based on a search for mentoring resources I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect but imagined it would be related, somewhat, to mentoring. It wasn’t. A poor attempt at combining a business book of best practices, with a self-help and family guidance/child rearing resource—this read was less than impressive or valuable. In trying to draw parallels between one’s personal and professional lives, it serves neither purpose particularly well. Additionally, near the end of the book the primary author, Christensen, begins to tote the importance of God and his particular brand of faith for providing meaning in life. This addition to the book seemed sloppily added. If one’s faith is an essential element in developing a perspective on life, and how to identify and find meaning, I would have hoped this would have been a central element found through the book. It was not. I can’t recommend this read.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (2018)
A follow up to the handful of other books she has penned, Brené Brown offers thoughts on leadership and trust in the context of shame and vulnerability. Coming as a difficult time in my career, where I feel like I’m now unable to trust my direct manager and have lost almost all respect I’ve had for them as a result, this read has me rethinking how I approach leadership roles and the ways I interact with the teams I am a part of. Questions I find myself asking include: how can I more authentically be myself around others?; how am I contributing to negative workplace cultures?; how can I build empathy with those who look to me for support?; and, how can I open up, be vulnerable, and let my personal life meld, appropriately, with my professional image?
Experience and Education (1938)
Comparing and contrasting “traditional” and “progressive” approaches to education, Dewey proposes that both ways of educating are incomplete, and in many respects mis-educative. Believing that a carefully developed philosophy of education is essential regardless of how an educator or system approaches the “problem” of fostering learning, grounded in either traditional top-down methods or rooted in experience, Dewey leaves readers with the following thought:
What we want and need is education pure and simple, and we shall make surer and faster progress when we develop ourselves to finding out just what education is and what conditions have to be satisfied in order that education may be a reality and not a name or a slogan. It is for this reason alone that I have emphasized the need for a sound philosophy of experience.
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (2018)
In many of the same ways as, Educated by Tara Westover, did earlier in 2018 when it was published, Heartland tells the story of a young woman and the challenges she faced growing up in a society that wasn’t welcoming to her. A tale of place, poverty, identity, and belonging; Heartland seems to have brought Brené Brown’s, Daring Greatly, to life. Not a challenging read by any meaning of the words, and leaving a little left to be desired: the book jumps around far too much for my liking, and wrapped up as many books do—in a rushed manner; I would still recommend this read to someone looking to gain some perspective into their personal situation regardless of how dissimilar it may be from the story being told.
Fifty Days of Solitude (1994)
This book was a beautiful look into a person’s soul and what makes them the way they are. In addition to Grumbach’s own thoughts on solitude, and the multifaceted forms they take, the inclusions of others’ interpretation of what solitude is, and isn’t, brought more depth and meaning to her words. Thoughts on friendship, community, the purpose of life, and what really matters on an essential level are themes found throughout this book.
A compelling read about the life of a series of broken homes, the children who grew up in these homes through the years, aging and passing loved ones, and how their story is shared with the world. While a work of fiction, Commonwealth caused me to pause for a moment and consider my family interactions and what I value most of the community I am a part of.
This book is not what I expected it to be. A “slow build” of a story, by the end of reading this work I could not but help to think about the story of long-term abuse it depicted. As someone who has not read memoirs in the past, this book may be a gateway to a genre that can provide a bridge for me between the non-fiction works I almost only read, and those of fiction that I would like to become lost within.
Your Money or Your Life (1992)
Hailed as a “classic” of sorts in the personal finance world, I was not overly captivated by this read. The how-to nature of this book did not speak to my needs or interests. With that said, the broader theme which is was created out of—simple living, and working towards identifying and providing for one’s means—is certainly something that stuck with me. I might say that this work belongs on the more radical, and somewhat unnecessary end of the personal finance spectrum, but to each their own.
Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design (2012)
Having re-read this book in an attempt to join a local book club I had high hopes, I was rather unimpressed (again) with the book. Funny enough, I was also unimpressed with the purpose of the book club itself and organization. I feel that this book is only surface deep and fails to recognize all of interconnected realities of the cities we live within.
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (2017)
Having been moved, last year, by Daring Greatly I was hoping that this work from the same author would have done the same. Unfortunately, it did not have the same impact on me. I am hoping that in 2019 perhaps I can revisit this, along with Brown’s new work, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (2018), to reconsider if it/they provide as much value as her breakout hit did.
The comments above also go for, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution by Brene Brown, which I also recently read.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2011)⭐️⭐️⭐️ ♻️
An annual re-read, I took away this time around that saying “no” sometimes is not enough. If an individual finds themselves saying “no” long enough, without any “yeses” to provide a necessary balance, both personal and professional lives may be unfulfilling. My anticipation is to re-read this again in early 2019 to provide some perspective for the year.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2011)⭐️⭐️⭐️ ♻️
Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places (2014)
Detroit: An American Autopsy (2013)
Keep Your Love On: Connection Communication And Boundaries (2013)
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012)⭐️⭐️⭐️
Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary (2006)
Etta and Otto and Russell and James (2015)
For the Love of Cities (2011)
An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture (2016)
Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change (1992)
Less Is More: The Art of Voluntary Poverty (1996)
Living Walden Two: B. F. Skinner’s Behaviorist Utopia and Experimental Communities (2005)
Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do (2016)
Design for Real Life (2016)
Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want (2015)
Let the Elephants Run (2014)
Leadership: For Active Creative Engaged Communities (2012)
Into the Wild (1996)⭐️ ♻️
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2008)
Better Together: Restoring the American Community (2003)
Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs (2016)
In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist (2012)
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011)
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2011)⭐️⭐️⭐️
Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude (2010)⭐️
Animal Farm (1945)
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990)⭐️⭐️⭐️
Everything I Know (2013)
Coffee Shop Contemplations (2013)
You Can’t Go Home Again (1940)
Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology (2004)
Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook (2011)
Living in the Sprawl: Ideas for a suburbia that gets better with age (2012)
Over half of Canadians and Americans live in the suburbs, yet a perfect storm of economic, ecological, and social trends threatens to undermine the quality and livability of these communities. - Gracen Johnson, Living in the Sprawl
Yesterday my email chime went off and I quickly checked my inbox, it was a notification that Gracen Johnson’s short ebook, Living in the Sprawl: Ideas for a suburbia that gets better with age just published. Not only am I a sucker for anything urban panning related but I’m always interested to read and share resources that make the topic a little easier to understand and digest. Given that Gracen grew up in London, Ontario and the book was only a couple of dollars I quickly jumped at the chance to download it.
Last night I sat down with this book and decided to give it a read and It did not disappoint. While not a long read by any means (I finished it in under 90mins)1 I found it to be a good primer for those wanting to learn more and understand how suburban neighbourhoods formed, how they transition and how they can move forward.
... so, much of our dialogue surrounding the future of suburbs is not inclusive or empowering to suburbanites who are at once most vulnerable to neighbourhood decline and the greatest hope we have to make things better. There is a depth of amazing research, writing, investment, and design that can inform and inspire us to make changes in our own communities. This short, introductory volume is an attempt to make that accessible and meaningful to the average suburbanite without any planning expertise. - Gracen Johnson, Living in the Sprawl
The main content of the book is broken down into six main sections that walk you through the many facets that make up the traditional North American suburbia.
Johnson looks at what makes the suburbs so interesting including the notion that more often than not the people that show opposition to them are the ones that reside in them. She touches on the cycle that is subdivision development and how what we are facing today is nothing new.
We’re given a brief overview how the subdivision came to be and the important roles that transportation and infrastructure have played in their creation. This section is complete with hand drawn illustrations that ad some comic relief.
Johnson provides a snapshot of how we got here, why all this sprawl, congestion and ugliness we see on a daily basis. She outlines a number of the causes that have collectively brought us to today but she is optimistic that if we’re creative, innovative and determined we can “retrofit suburbs into thriving, friendly communities we dream about”.
Presenting the reader with some major names in urban planning and design theory Johnson looks at the potential for redesigning future suburbs as well as what we can do with the ones we already have. Once piece of advice she does offer that I think many people need to pay attention to is that “problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them”. She indeed borrowed that thought from Albert Einstein
She looks at the idea of Transition Towns (which she includes London as an example) and the need for the people of suburbs to transform life in them. Johnson notes that engagement among citizens and by citizens is possibly more important then the design of places, although proper design can’t hurt.
And to my surprise Johnson wraps up the book by looking at the role that local food plays in building stronger communities. That if we use local food (which we grow in our backyards or that we buy at the local market) as a conduit for other things we can strengthen suburbs, connect people, raise spirits and build places people can call communities. I wasn’t expecting this but welcomed it in the end.
Although it is short, this book is focused with a purpose. Living in the Sprawl: Ideas for a suburbia that gets better with age isn’t going to teach you everything you need to know about the suburbs and it certainly won’t make you an urban planner but it is a good primer, a starting point, for anyone who wants to gain a better perspective on suburbs and their place in cities.
We all have our preconceived notions and misconceptions about the suburbs, I know I do and I’ve spent most of my life in one, but if there ever is an opportunity to change that and learn more it is now. I suggest Gracen Johnson’s short ebook, Living in the Sprawl: Ideas for a suburbia that gets better with age as a good starting point.
Regarding its length. The ebook is short, Gracen warns of this, but it is full of value. While the main content makes up slightly more than 50% of book the remainder is an extensive notes section that not only points the reader to more traditional sources of information (read: academic text books) but includes reference to TED talk videos, online journals/articles, films and other resources. While I haven’t yet gone through the notes section extensively I can tell you that this is where some of the great value in this read lies. ↩︎
The Social Life Of Small Urban Spaces (1980)⭐️⭐️⭐️
Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto (2006)
Deeds/Abstracts: The History of a London Lot (1995)
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000)⭐️
It Will Be Exhilarating (2012)
The Flinch (2011)
Do the Work (2011)
Civil Disobedience (1849)
Keeping It Straight (2011)
Into the Wild (1996)⭐️
focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction (2010)
The Truth about Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know (2010)
Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality (2012)
Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design, and Engineering of Contagious Ideas (2011)
Poke the Box (2011)
Community Conversations: Mobilizing the Ideas, Skills, and Passion of Community Organizations, Governments, Businesses, and People (2008)
Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life (2013)
At Last There Is Nothing Left To Say (2000)⭐️⭐️⭐️