In past years, my book goal has been volume: read lots and lots of books as fast as I can.

This year, I wanted to try something a bit different. I started off 2019 with a goal of reading big, long books — the types of books I normally give up on because they take forever to get through. I made it through three of them. (One appears in my favorites list; 33% success rate isn’t bad.) Then I started re-reading books that I previously loved. I made it through two. After that, I took on a yearlong book challenge mid-way through the year, retroactively trying to fit certain books into certain categories.

Long story short, my year of reading was unlike any previous year of reading and taught me that there is no one “right” way to read books. I was lucky enough to read 62 books, despite my fits and starts. So at least part of me still loves volume.

Here are a few of my favorites, as well as a full list of everything I read. Let me know any you want to talk about.

You can see last year’s list here, as well as 2017 and 2015 (but not 2016 for some reason).


Alchemy (Amazon)

People don’t use reason to make better decisions, but simply for the appearance of being reasonable.                

Best business book of the decade! I loved this one so much. Rory Sutherland, of the famous Ogilvy advertising agency, has so much wisdom to share about branding, marketing, advertising, and psychology. It’s somewhat an untraditional business book — there aren’t any charts or formulas. But it’s such foundational stuff and such an enjoyable read that I think anyone with an eye toward marketing or selling should read this book, nay, consume this book.

Super Pumped (Amazon)

“Super pumped” was a particular point of pride. In Uber’s early years, every employee was evaluated on a list of eight core “Uber competencies,” from qualities like “fierceness” to “scale” and “innovation.” Scoring low could mean termination, while scoring high influenced pay raises, promotions, and annual bonuses. But it was an employee’s level of “super pumpedness” that made all of the difference in a performance review.

That quote above really says it all. When your company is founded on a bedrock of “super pumpedness,” you are begging to have an exposé written about you. Sure enough, that’s what happened here with Uber. This book is a riot: It’s incredibly well-paced and does a good job of filling in Uber CEO Travis Kalanick with as much context and sympathy as possible, considering the facts of what happened to Travis and how he ran his company. I sympathized, at least. I can’t really justify anything that happened, but I can see how things got to where they did.

Nothing to See Here (Amazon)

They didn’t want to set the world on fire. They just wanted to be less alone in it.

Nothing to See Here is the story of a thirtysomething woman who goes to work as a nanny for her former college roommate and friend. The friend just got news that she and her husband will be primary caretakers for her husband’s children from a previous marriage, twin boy and girl who, when they get agitated or upset, burst into flames. Yeah, for real! The metaphor is somewhat obvious if you look right at it, but when you’re reading, there’s a subtlety and nuance to the themes of the book: parenting, acceptance, unconditional love, belonging.

The Friend (Amazon)

Everything terrible is something that needs our love. 

As you might have guessed from the cover, the book is about a dog, er, rather it’s about the main character taking ownership of the dog and all the various thoughts, feelings, and lessons that come along with pet ownership. There’s a lot of really well-written sentiment about life and death in this book, along with many good doggo insights.

Dune (Amazon)

“A world is supported by four things….” She held up four big-knuckled fingers. “…the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous and the valor of the brave. But all of these are as nothing….” She closed her fingers into a fist. “…without a ruler who knows the art of ruling.”

Dune is one of the most celebrated sci-fi novels ever, and it is long. So long that I never had the willpower to pick it up and start reading. I’m glad I did this year! About 25% of the way into the book, the story really took off for me, and it was smooth sailing for the rest. The book will become a movie in 2020, so i won’t spoil too much. There is sand, sandworms, supernatural moms, and drama.


Sidenote: As I was putting this list together, I thought it might be interesting to see the breakdown of how many authors, among the books I read, were men and how many were women. I try to read a wide variety of genres and a wide variety of writers. I’d never put numbers to it before.

Of the 62 books I read, one-third were by female authors (22 books total).


All the books I read in 2019

⭐️= favorite

📼= re-read

Fiction

  • To the Bright Edge of the World 📼
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer
  • Fleishman Is In Trouble
  • Dept. of Speculation 📼
  • Nothing to See Here ⭐️
  • Normal People
  • American Spy
  • The Friend ⭐️
  • The New Me
  • Skinny Dip
  • A Little Life
  • Fight Club
  • Inland

Sci-fi and fantasy

  • The Light Brigade
  • The Oracle Year
  • Blackfish City
  • Recursion
  • Dune ⭐️

Essays

  • Florida
  • Asymmetry
  • The Incendiaries
  • Impossible Owls
  • Medallion Status
  • Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory
  • The Largesse of the Sea Maiden
  • Calypso

Biography and memoir

  • There Will Be No Miracles Here
  • How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
  • A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety
  • And Now We Have Everything
  • Heavy

Business

  • Product-Led Growth
  • Alchemy ⭐️
  • Get Together
  • Good Strategy, Bad Strategy

Historical non-fiction

  • The First Conspiracy
  • The Last Pirate of New York

Non-fiction

  • Three Women
  • Parable: The One
  • The Library Book
  • The Dinosaur Artist
  • Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber ⭐️
  • Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times
  • American Prison
  • Cod

Parenting

  • The Highly Sensitive Child

Writing

  • Three Uses of the Knife

Inspiration / Personal improvement

  • Big Magic
  • Keep Going
  • Atomic Habits
  • How to Do Nothing
  • The Person You Mean to Be
  • The Courage to Be Disliked
  • Live Like a Hydra
  • 12 Rules for Life

Graphic novels and comics

  • Paper Girls, Book One
  • Far Side Gallery, Vol. 1

Poetry

  • American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
  • Inside Out & Back Again

Misc.

  • The Best Interface Is No Interface
  • How to Turn $100 into $1,000,000
  • Flour Water Salt Yeast
  • The Butter Battle Book
Posted by:Kevan Lee

VP of marketing currently living in Boise, Idaho. I work with the lovely folks at Buffer. You can join my email list to get an inside look at marketing and branding and team-building in tech.

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