2022: A Year in Books

I was a late bloomer when it came to discovering my love of reading. Sure, I read books when I was a kid, but that was really only because I liked the praise I got from adults when I told them I read books. And I usually got even more praise for reading books that were “for older kids,” which meant longer or on more sophisticated topics than the books my peers were reading. Reading felt competitive and like a job. Unsurprisingly, I don’t remember getting a lot of joy out of reading back then. 

It wasn’t until I was in college that I really started to enjoy reading for myself. I realized books were a vehicle for independent learning. Books were a tool for catching up with my peers who went to better high schools than I did. I could learn anything I wanted from books without having to disturb or interrupt anyone else (except maybe a librarian). And I was absolutely hooked.

But it has only been in the past few years that I’ve really started reading without an agenda. Now, I take a lot of pleasure in curating an eclectic reading list, recommending books to others, passing on books I’ve read, and connecting through books. So for my final blog article for 2022, I want to tell you about five books I read to give you a snapshot of what influenced my thoughts this year.

1. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters

I’m actually somewhere in the middle of this book right now, which is to say, it’s a lovely book to dip into and out of. Priya Parker is a great example of someone who has taken a deep dive into her subject matter of choice (bringing people together) and clearly has a lot of well-developed opinions to share with us.

Someone in my circle recommended this book to me, not because I throw a lot of parties (we’ve been in this house almost four years now and I’ve never thrown a party – I should probably remedy that next year), but because the art of intentionally gathering people together is a critical aspect of leadership.

As I more fully step into my role as CEO, learning how to manage the writers on my team, I’m taking with me the lessons learned in The Art of Gathering. I’m not my most comfortable when I’m leading others, but I know that I have to set down the “chill vibes” and embrace stepping fully into my power so I can empower others to do their best work.

Thank you Priya Parker for helping me to realize “‘chill’ is selfishness disguised as kindness.”

2. A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome

This book is everything I love wrapped up into a 352-page package. It’s deep, dark, and at points, even philosophical. It offers an extraordinary window into Ancient Roman thought (a period of history I’ve spent some time exploring) and made me stop and think, more than once, about my own views about murder and what it means to be human.

The best part about this book is its playful style. I listened to it on audio and I’m so glad I did because the stories are even more vivid in the spoken word, than I think they would be on the written page. I came away with a great appreciation for the strangeness of ancient life, while being able to examine it through a critical lens.

Thank you Emma Southon for bringing the murders of Caesar, Caligula, Claudius, Galba, and others to life.

3. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know

Malcolm Gladwell is always a good bet for me. I admire the way he weaves research into storytelling, and I know I am guaranteed to learn something whenever I pick up one of his books. I aspire to write like Gladwell. 

In Talking to Strangers, Gladwell explores and puzzles over how it is that some people manage to deceive experts so well. How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for so long? Why did Neville Chamberlain trust Hitler? What assumptions allowed the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal at Penn State University to happen?

I enjoy a book that explores one topic from several different angles and challenges what I think I know about different ideas, stories, and examples. Reading this book inspired me to take a closer look at my assumptions and examine where I might be jumping to conclusions.

Thank you Malcolm Gladwell for challenging what I think I know about strangers.

4. The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time

There’s nothing better than an underdog story. The Innovation Stack deconstructs several underdog stories. In addition to being a thrilling story told brilliantly, this book is bursting with business lessons. Jim McKelvey, one of the co-founders of Square (the technology that first enabled small businesses to accept credit card payments on their mobile devices), shares what he believes is the key to building a resilient, world-changing company: a strategy he calls the Innovation Stack. 

Before Square, McKelvey was a glassblowing artist living in St. Louis who lost a sale because he couldn’t accept American Express. With no expertise or experience in the world of digital payments, he and his friend Jack Dorsey (also the cofounder of Twitter) decided to question the credit card industry’s assumptions. After taking on the credit card companies, Square also had to survive a challenge from Amazon who tried and failed to launch a similar product.

McKelvey blends the story of Square with historical examples of other world-changing companies (e.g., Southwest, IKEA, Bank of America) to reveal a pattern of rare but repeatable steps to building a groundbreaking and resilient business. I loved the irreverent first-person look inside Square, but the narrative is so much bigger than the story of Square.

Thank you Tim McKelvey for reminding me to listen to the entrepreneur inside.

5. Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy

The last book I want to highlight for this year is Daring to Trust by psychotherapist, David Richo. It’s actually one of the first books I read in 2022 and it was the main text we discussed during a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. Since reading this book back in January or February, I’ve revisited it many times.

Richo points out that most relationship issues are trust issues and this seems right to me. Whether it’s fear of commitment, insecurity, jealousy, or the desire for control, fundamentally those things can be traced back to a lack of trust – both in ourselves and in our partner. Richo urges us to develop trust along four dimensions: toward ourselves, toward others, toward life as it is, and toward a higher purpose.

It’s true that relationships are the central topic of this book, but I didn’t read it as a “relationship book.” For me, the most profound insights were about self awareness. I reflected a lot on how my emotional life was formed in childhood and how that has influenced relationships throughout my life and continues to shape my current relationships. The exercises for exploring my own trust issues were truly eye opening.

Thank you David Richo for sparking me to deepen my relationship with myself and move another step closer to finding freedom from fear and shame.

Other books I read and recommended in 2022:

  • Will by Will Smith
  • This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan
  • Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris
  • Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne
  • What Works: A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal Setting by Tara McMullin