Reading highlights from 2018

Below, in no particular order, are highlights from a year of reading in 2018. I find that publishing these highlights each year is a good way to reflect on my influences from literature, and also an insight into my priorities and challenges faced during the year.

Last year’s highlights were numerous, varied, and heavy on fiction. This year’s highlights are more sparse. 2018 was a busy year, with a renewed focus on family and business. I found that in 2018 I read a lot less than other years, and often struggled to settle on what to read.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to read in many directions at once. Sometimes, depending on where my head is at, I will read to escape. During 2018, in one of these escapist modes I discovered Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, a fantasy series with great writing and an engaging, if at times a little immature, plot. As a kid I leant on fantasy in this same mode and often I will return to the genre to hang my hat when the pressures of work or life beg for a simple nostalgic release. I have found few fantasy series that lead with good writing, and Rothfuss’ (unfortunately unfinished) series is a rare example of storytelling over world building.

In work, I looked for new ideas and horizons, settling on Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. Running a creative business is hard work, and seeing the forest for the trees is a constant challenge. Like many non-fiction books I found Blue Ocean Strategy to be a mixture of insight and repetition; it could have been a single chapter and just as effective (though likely harder to put on a bookshop shelf). It gave me some new perspectives, confirmed a few things, and overall was an effective way of kickstarting a new line of thinking about how to compete (and how not to).

Overall though, I struggled with reading in 2018. I found myself distracted and while this highlights list is brief, it doesn’t include the numerous Kindle samples and other books I started and never quite stuck with. My aim for 2019 is, predictably, to dedicate more time to reading, but not necessarily to simply read more. I’m not the kind of person that needs to optimise for quantity or range.

Sometimes life throws us too many influences, too many ideas, and it becomes difficult to focus and stick to any one thing long enough to adequately judge and reflect on ones thoughts about it. Dedicating time for reading however, is dedicating time to focus, which is a good resolution for a new year.

Onto the highlights…

The facade of the building bore an array of saints in their niches and they had been shot up by American troops trying their rifles, the figures shorn of ears and noses and darkly mottled with leadmarks oxidized upon the stone.

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy. I admire McCarthy’s mastery of evocative language, using it so effectively to lift a simple description into visceral prose.

Too bright, perhaps, for sometimes I thought I could detect in her that profound compassion that women show only for men who have lost them.

Berlin Game – Den Leighton. My ongoing penchant for crime fiction. While this series sometimes fails to grip, Leighton has some inspired observations and Berlin Game is a good entry for newcomers.

There is a sound of distant reapers, and yonder rises a blue line of cottage smoke against the woodland.

Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame. I re-read selected parts over the year, always impressed by the depth of Grahame’s description, but also the darkness and complexity of theme that lies beneath what has always been thought of as a charming tale for children.

To fundamentally shift the strategy canvas of an industry, you must begin by reorienting your strategic focus from competitors to alternatives, and from customers to noncustomers of the industry.

Blue Ocean Strategy – W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. Helped kick start a new line of thinking about my business, where it’s headed, and unexpected directions for new growth.

The more accurately and precisely we fathom what we really care about, the more we stand to discover that our interests and their associated pleasure points exist in a far broader range of occupations than we have until now been used to entertaining.

A Job to Love – School of Life. It’s true that we spend a great deal of time thinking about our jobs in terms of what we might be good at, without really ever considering the underlying skills that determine why we’re good at them.

The innkeeper nodded. His expression was so easy and amiable it almost wasn’t an expression at all. “I expect you’re right,” Kote said. His voice was perfectly calm. It was a perfectly normal voice. It was colorless and clear as window glass.

The Wise Man’s Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Book 2 – Patrick Rothfuss. There is a warmth of language and heart to this series that makes it hard to put down.

One problem that was proving very obdurate was adjusting the plants to the paucity of nitrogen on Mars.

Green Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson. Having slogged through the first book, I felt obliged to return to the next stage of Mars’ epic terraforming series. At times I am equally bored and inspired by Robinson’s achievement. This passage both a warning and glimpse for newcomers of the density of prose one must often slog through to enjoy this truly unique hard sci-fi series.

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