Michael Cordell's Blog

2021 Reading in Review

At the start of 2021, I set of goal 30 books in the year. It has been a winding and busy year, but I was able to hit this goal in mid December. I lost my self in fiction and found it difficult to cull down to a top 5. However, I retained a good mix of fiction and non-fiction (14:16). On the non-fiction side I once again found that the more lengthy books were higher quality. As I kick off 2022, I’m looking to change my goal slightly, focusing on smaller categorical goals rather than a single quantitative goal.

Non-fiction

  1. Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns Goodwin
  2. Goliath - Matt Stoller
  3. The Cult of We - Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell
  4. Slack - Tom DeMarco
  5. Lifespan - David Sinclair

My favorite non-fiction book of the year was Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This is a highly-praised biography of Abraham Lincoln. Its title draws from the cabinet lincoln formed out of his once political opponents. Goodwin paints a picture of an incredible man who faced incredibly situations with humility and high spirits. This one that I will likely re-read in the future. Further, it is on the list of books I would give my kids if they asked me “What books must I read?”. My book notes here.

Goliath is a detailed accounting of the battle between democracy and monopolies. In starts at the beginning of the 20th century and runs up to today. What you are struck by reading this accounting is how much the problems of today with big tech are merely repeats and echoes from earlier in our history. The author Matt Stoller also writes a substack BIG on the topic of Monopoly power. My book notes here.

The Cult of We charts the rapid rise and fall of WeWork and it’s charismatic founder Adam Neumann. WeWork is/was an over-hyped real estate company masquerading as a tech company. I am a sucker of these types of tech biography / post-mortems. If you enjoyed this book, I also recommended Bad Blood about Theranos and Super Pumped about Uber.

Slack is the best book I read this year related to my work. In short it argues that having redundancy and extra capacity in an organization is necessary for agility and robustness. The idea of cutting an organization to the bone, being as efficient as possible, is deleterious for the long term health of the org. My book notes here.

Lifespan My book notes here.

Fiction

  1. Harlem Shuffle - Colson Whitehead
  2. Project Hail Mary - Andy Weir
  3. Billy Summers - Stephen King
  4. My Year of Rest and Relaxation - Ottessa Moshfegh
  5. Delta-V - Daniel Suarez

Harlem Shuffle is my favorite fiction book of the year. The writer beautiful combines an entertaining crime story with a unique backdrop (1960s Harlem), and prosaic writing style. It was not a page-turner per se but Colson Whitehead painted a picture in each scene. If you are in the mood for a well written page-turner, Stephen King’s latest Billy Summers follows a hitman whose cover story is being a writer. King creates excellent characters as always and the book is entertaining from start to finish.

I was on a deep sci-fi kick this year. Project Hail Mary is the most entertaining of the bunch. It is the third novel from the author of The Martian Andy Weir. Its an imaginative book with cinematic story telling and the pure fun of The Martian. Delta-V is very similar to Project Hail Mary with a focus on space mining. It is almost as entertaining and fun as PHM. I also read The Dark Forest, the second of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. This is harder science fiction book with a strong political element. It just misses the top five due to it’s density and you must read the first of the trilogy.

My year of Rest and Relaxation is a dark comedy/satire that follows a female narrator who seeks to sleep for a whole year straight through various medications. It was a compelling read and the observations and critiques of modern culture are spot on.

Honorable mentions:

My reading habit

I’ve continued to try and read ~35 minutes a day. I strung together some significant streaks of consecutive days and this small habit piles up. I am able to make smooth progress through my “to-read” stack. I try to read multiple books at once since my mood for fiction / non-fiction varies day-to-day. I’ve recently (re)discovered Goodreads and use my “to-read” shelf actively to remember and pick from what’s next.

For my most recent non-fiction books I am trying to take a more active approach to reading. I try to summarize what I’ve learned in my notes at chapter breaks. This means much slower progress through books but I’m hoping more retention in the future. I’m certain I’ve lost novel and interesting thoughts from books I’ve read more passively.

Goals for 2022

In 2022, I want to change my reading habit. For non-fiction, I want to preserve my active reading style. At the same time, I’m going to be more judicious about not reading cover-to-cover. If a non-fiction book is a “one-idea” book, I’m going to try and extract that idea quickly and move on. For fiction, I like my current selection, but what to broaden my horizons a bit.

Given that I want to change the way I read, I also want to change the nature of my reading goal. Rather than going for a specific quantity I’m focusing on a few qualitative goals (progress as of 2022-08-29):

  • ⬜ 1 biography
  • ⬜ 1 non-fiction book on a topic I wouldn’t usually read about
  • 🟩⬜⬜ 1 deep dive on a topic (3-5 books on the same topic)
  • ⬜ 1 Russian novel
  • ⬜ 1 book on writing
  • ⬜ 1 book on reading
  • 🟩⬜️ 2 books related to my job
  • ⬜⬜ 2 book by a Person of Color
  • 🟩🟩🟩🟩✅🟩🟩🟩 5 books by female authors
  • 🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩✅🟩 10 fiction books

Stats for 2021

Non-fiction 16
Fiction 14
Pages read 10,878
Average Book Length 362