2021: A Year in Books

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Stack of books sitting on a desk

Since I started my business, I’ve done a variety of posts to mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next. I’ve created some fun infographics with meaningful stats, talked about my word of the year, among other rituals. To mark the end of the beast of a year that has been 2021, I want to tell the story of my year through books.

I attended a virtual conference last week on Letting Go and Beginning Again. The whole conference was cathartic, intense, and full of strong emotions. Honestly, I think I’m still reeling from it (evidence: this weekend I ordered Christmas gifts for my parents and had them shipped to myself, by mistake). But during one session led by Melissa Dinwiddie, I made a discovery.

The exercise: Take 3 minutes and build a tower out of only what you can reach from wherever you are sitting. Then write a “gallery talk” about the sculpture you created.

To build my tower, I stacked all the books I had strewn on and around my desk. The photo posted with this article is the result. And as I started to write my “gallery talk,” I realized that each book tied into a particular story about a particular moment of 2021. So I thought telling you about the books in my tower would be a lovely way to wrap up my year.

1. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat

One of my Facebook friends received this book as a Christmas gift last year and she talked about how reading the introduction made her feel connected to the author’s story and motivated to try some new recipes. As the primary cook in my house and someone who gets easily bored with the same old meals, I’m always on the lookout for new recipes and cooking techniques. 

I’d also heard Nosrat talking about the book during a few NPR and podcast interviews, so I picked it up and started reading. I’ve even gifted this book to others, so it connects my past, present, and future.

Favorite recipes I’ve tried: 

  • Red Wine Vinaigrette
  • Steamy Saute: Garlicky Green Beans
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Glazed Five-Spice Chicken
  • Fresh Ginger and Molasses Cake

2. Start Finishing by Charlie Gilkey

I haven’t cracked open this book, though it has been sitting on my desk for about six months (it makes a good base for a tower though, I wasn’t the only one in the group who used this book in my tower). I suppose it’s time I get started on finishing this book!

My friend and colleague, Susan M. Steele, and I did a series of leadership book reviews this year and Start Finishing was next on our list, until life happened and we decided to hit “pause” on the book reviews this fall. I first met Susan at the beginning of my LinkedIn journey. I love how I’ve met so many experts, each on their own journeys, as I’ve been hanging out more on LinkedIn.

3. How the World Sees You by Sally Hogshead

This is a great reference book to have on hand. As I’ve been researching the world of self-assessments this year, I’ve taken basically any test I could find online (StrengthsFinder, Enneagram, Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, VIA Character Strengths, Tasha Eurich’s Insight Quiz, etc.). Although I’d never suggest that one — or even several — personality tests could determine your identity, self-assessments can give you some interesting data points to file away. 

Hogshead’s Fascination Advantage report is one self-assessment that I share with my clients because rather than focusing on how you see yourself, it focuses on how others see you. It’s helpful in answering some key branding questions, like “Who do I really want to work with?,” “What is my ideal client really thinking?,” and “What are my key communication strengths?” 

Plus, according to the assessment, I’m the Provocateur (Innovation + Mystique) and I love the sound of that! 

4. My Journal

I am not a big journaler (I’m not even a small journaler). Maybe it’s because I spend most of my time writing, and I have nothing left to put into a journal. Or maybe it’s because I prefer to do my self-reflection in my head. Or maybe it’s because I’ve never made journaling a priority. Whatever the reason, I bought a journal midway through the year because I thought using paper and pen might jog my thoughts about the book on self-awareness I started writing at the beginning of the year.

Spoiler alert: As beautiful as it is, the journal has not jogged my thoughts about my book. Nor has it magically made me into a person who journals. Mostly, I’ve used it to collect journaling prompts. I’ve decided to let the journaling happen. I trust that when the words are ready to come, they will flow. And this is the approach I take to all of my practices. When I am ready for a particular practice (breathwork is the latest of my discoveries), it will show up.

5. Think Again by Adam Grant

I’ve said a lot about this book already because a lot of bits and pieces have stuck with me. I read most of it on the flight home from my sister’s baby shower in September, taking notes as I went along. Think Again is a social science book full of interesting stories that make the research come alive. I’ve read very few research-filled books that I felt as if I couldn’t put down, but this is one of those books. Do yourself a favor and read this book, if you haven’t.

6. The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron

This is all about the Enneagram. To be honest, I was pretty skeptical about the Enneagram until I read this book. I’d taken a few Enneagram tests online and the answers about my type and what it all meant simply didn’t resonate with me. But reading about the history of the method and all the client stories Cron provides gave me a broader perspective that helped me understand my type.

My Enneagram type: 5 (The Investigator).

7. Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar

I bought this text after a particularly intense meditation session early this year. My yoga teacher read an excerpt from it about how spiritual freedom is a state of non-doing. And although I’d heard these words (or similar ones) many times before, in this moment they held a different meaning for me. Instead of trying to intellectualize my way to a logical understanding of what it means to be in a state of non-doing, I simply allowed myself to experience the truth.

I’ve read other books by Iyengar, but Light on Life is one that has sat on my list for a long time. I’ll pick up and read a few pages before meditating or when I’m in need of a few bits of wisdom. I don’t know if I’ll ever read it straight through from start to finish.

8. A Power of Your Own by Nikki Groom

This is a lovely book full of some beautiful tidbits about brilliance, resilience, and self-care. I read it one weekend after another virtual conference where I heard Nikki Groom speaking about how she has learned to think of her business as a system. A Power of Your Own contains some really great prompts for business growth and change. 

One pearl of wisdom: When using affirmations it can feel disingenuous to say, for example, “I am happy. I am healthy. I am safe.” And when you don’t feel the words you’re speaking, it can defeat the whole purpose of saying the affirmation. So, instead you can try saying, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe.” I’ve been remembering this whenever I do an affirmation practice.

9. Insight by Tasha Eurich

Insight is one of the best books I’ve read about self-awareness and the best book I know of for appreciating how crucial self-awareness is for leaders. Eurich does a brilliant job of laying out the science behind self-awareness (did you know that it actually has internal and external components?). I read this book as part of my research into self-awareness. And I’m sure I’ll revisit it often. I also love getting her newsletter in my inbox.

10. How to Take Smart Notes by Sonke Ahrens

I love to take notes, so when I heard there was a book designed to help me take better notes, I got uber excited and impulsively purchased this book. However, after watching it collect dust on my desk, I did some reconnaissance and decided that I really only needed to read one chapter. The book is great for a high school or college student just learning how to take notes. But I know pretty well at this point what works for me. I’ll be giving this book away soon.

11. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

This book sat on my coffee table for several months this year and eventually migrated to my desk. The Myth of Sisyphus is a symbol of hope for me. Within its pages is as good an argument as any I know for persistence — for keeping on when we just don’t feel like keeping on. I can only talk myself out of seeing the absurdity of life for so long before I need another angle. Camus gives me another angle. When I’m in the mood for a philosophy fix, this has been my go-to this year.

12. Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown

Emergent Strategy is a book I have a difficult time describing. It stands apart from any other personal development book I’ve ever read. I will certainly be returning to chew on bits of this one.

From the back cover: 

“Inspired by Octavia Butler’s explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is a radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is a constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a steam of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This is a resolutely materialist “spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.”

13. My Yoga Journal

When I said that I’m not a journaler, that was partially true. It’s more accurate to say that I’m an occasional journaler. This is my yoga journal. I like to write about my practice from time to time. It helps me to remember where I am and how far I’ve come. It helps me to track my progress. And seeing this journal in my tower reminds me of how much goodness I experience when I take a precious moment to reflect on how I move my body each day.

14. High Profit Book Blueprint by Robin Colucci

I grabbed this book on a whim after someone told me about Robin Colucci who is a book coach and publishing consultant for authors. The big idea here is that writing a full-length book is not necessarily the key to success for everyone. In fact, writing a short, sweet booklet can have a bigger impact and result in more business growth than spending hours toiling away on your book or spending thousands of dollars to publish and promote your book.

15. A box of artificial succulents

The only non-book part of my tower is the white box on top. There’s a story here too. This year, I decided to get crafty. We had a lot of wine corks lying around, so I turned them into mini flower pots with moss and fresh succulents. It was a cute idea I saw on Pinterest. But after most of the succulents died twice in a few months, I decided to go for the artificial ones. They came in this box and there are a few leftovers.

This is not a comprehensive list of all the books I read this year (as you can see, I didn’t even read all of the books in this stack), but it does tell a unique story about where my head was at this year. I enjoy looking back in this way. It’s satisfying to see and document what has stuck with me.

Thanks for your lessons and teachings 2021! I will carry them forward into the new year.

P.S. I’m always looking for reading recommendations, so if you read anything that stood out to you this year, I’m all ears!

Photo credit: yours truly