Monday, January 29, 2018

Best Books I Read in 2017

I read a lot of books in 2017 - 115 to be exact. And yes, that was while working full-time with two children under five. (How do I do it? I have a stay-at-home husband, which is the answer to almost everything in my life. Also, I take the bus to work and make time to read in the evenings instead of watching TV. But mostly it's that I don't have to do cooking/cleaning/that kind of thing.)

Here, in no particular order and without (much) commentary, are the best books I read in 2017.

Email Marketing By the Numbers

They Ask, You Answer (by the River Pools and Spas guy)

Borne - so weird.

All Our Wrong Todays - so, so, so good. My favorite science fiction/spec fic of the year.

The Art of Digital Marketing

Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe - couldn't put it down!

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

Oh, Crap Potty Training - if you have kids, get this book. It's the best one!

La Rose

The Content Trap - so good I read it twice.

The First 90 Days - recommended to everyone starting a new job.

The Dark Tower Series - somehow I had never read them before.

The Broker - the only book I could find to take place in Bologna, Italy, where I traveled in 2017.

When You Reach Me

Steve Jobs - I'm not an Apple fan, but I enjoyed the book.

The Everything Store - I am the opposite of an Amazon fan, but I really enjoyed this book.

You Should Test That - so good I bought it after I read it.

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty - poetry! If you are or know a teenage girl, this is great.

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success

The Children's Hospital - a tie with Borne for weirdest book of the year.

Google Analytics Breakthrough

City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York - awesomesauce.

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built

Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders - recommended for people new to managing

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction - I also read this one twice. It's The Content Trap lite.

Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America - if you buy food, you should read this.

The Punch Escrow - very close second place for best science fiction of the year.

The Merchant of Yonkers - which I requested from the library and discovered to my delight that the last time it was checked out was in 1948.

My least favorite book of the year was a tie between I Hate Everyone Except for You and The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Which, yes, won the Newbery Award and which everyone else on the planet loved. I can't explain it.

What should I read next?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Book Review: Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Econonmy

This book was such fun! I love narrative nonfiction and especially interesting tidbits of history, but this book looked at each of the inventions through their effects on the economy. It's a fascinating take on everyday items and ideas that shape our modern world.

One thing that stuck out at me was how many of the things that had the biggest impact did so because their primary use was to free up women's time. The plow, the pill, the TV dinner - these and so many other inventions shaped the economy because they freed women up to join the workforce. I did a stint as a stay at home mom and homemaker, and I found it really overwhelming in terms of drudgery, boredom, repetitive work - and I had a washing machine, a dishwasher, a microwave, all those things to help make my daily life less filled with the kind of work that my female ancestors would have dealt with.

Another thing that I found really interesting was how many of these inventions aren't things as much as they are concepts. Money, timekeeping, patents and copyrights - all fabrications from the human mind, not products that we can touch. The best representation of money I've ever heard was a story about a time when the banks closed in Ireland...for months. People survived by writing checks since they didn't have access to their cash, and it worked. It shows how much money is really theoretical and doesn't have much to do with paper and coins.

There are lots of interesting anecdotes like this that carry through the book, and if you have any interest in how our modern world works, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Two incomes are not always the answer to having more money. Really important stuff here! We found it to be true that as a dual-income-with-kids family, two incomes did not leave us with more money - in fact, we were paying for the privilege of me going back to work. Having only one working parent has always given us more discretionary spending money, even when that income was half of what I'm currently making.

There are additional important points throughout this excellent article, including the comment about how disability insurance for stay-at-home parents is critical (and very hard to find). We are lucky that Peanut's disability insurance from when he was working will continue to cover him now as long as we keep the premium paid on time. I couldn't find any kind of disability insurance for a no-income spouse when I was at home, and I know of only one company now that offers it.

Author Ann Patchett reflects on her year of no shopping

Two different approaches to business - do you notice these things as a consumer (or do you consider them as part of your job)?

Selection librarians from my local library system were profiled in my local newspaper, along with the most popular books of 2017. I'm a library super user, with 20+ books and ebooks checked out at any given time. The kids and I go weekly to pick up new books and return the ones we're done with. Our local branch has an excellent play area, and we've made friends with neighborhood people we see regularly. I use the hold system and the interlibrary loan system extensively, and have even checked out a power tester for free. I've also booked a number of offsite meetings for work at the library, giving us a distraction-free (and literally free) workspace for creative work and planning. Yay libraries!

But on the other hand, children learn the most important lesson away from adults. And that culture of childhood is threatened. I'll have more to say on this later in 2018.

Kickstarter math is weird. This is a super interesting (and eye-opening) look at what it takes to be successful on Kickstarter.

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 New Years Resolutions

1. Read fewer books, but more fiction. While most people who put anything about reading on their New Year's Resolutions list are probably hoping to read more, I'd like to read less. I read 115 books in 2017 (and no, that doesn't include books I read out loud to the kids). And most of them were non-fiction of the self-improvement or business/work-related type. I tend to get hooked on a topic and then read 8-10 books on the subject, but I find that after book 3 or 4, there are diminishing returns. So I don't really need to be reading more books - I'm aiming for quality over quantity this year. I'm going to try to read 2 fiction books to every non-fiction title, aiming to read for pleasure as much as for learning. I'm aiming for 75 books overall, or about 1.2 books per week. 

2. Organize my digital life. I want to DO something with the saved links, the starred blog posts, the pinned recipes, the downloaded podcasts. Yesterday, I upgraded to a paid version of Evernote, giving me more space per month, so I'm going to try to put it to good use by storing all of this kind of information in a single place, and setting a dedicated time each week to reviewing the information that I've saved for later and doing something with it. Things like, actually writing the blog post inspired by that article, or putting the ingredients for that recipe on a shopping list and scheduling a time to try it out, or actually looking back at the notes I took from all those self-improvement books I read this year. I've put a reminder in my calendar to do this weekly.
3. #1goodmoneything per day. This is an idea I got from Revanche a couple years ago - instead of always saving up for big wins, aim for a single good money decision each day. Little things add up and while it may not be super sexy to tweet about "brought my lunch to work five days this week!" that is a major contributing factor to how Peanut and I were able to grow our net worth by more than $80,000 this year. It's really in the small decisions.
4. Regular journaling. I'd like to bring a little more intention to my day and awareness to my decisions, so I was thinking of writing down big decisions and my reasons for them, then revisiting them later to see where my thinking is faulty. Then I saw Trent's recent article about his journaling habit, and I thought maybe I could combine them into one new habit. I've added a reminder onto my calendar to do this every day.
5. Inbox zero for personal email. I have a terrible habit of reading emails on my phone, then marking them unread with the intention of replying later...only I never do. So my goal is to get to inbox zero by the end of January, only open emails once, and actually respond to people in a timely manner. And this includes my drafts folder, too. Not kidding - I have drafts in there from 2012!
6. Physical movement. With the exception of my seven years with a belly dance troupe, I have always struggled to get enough physical activity. I'm a sedentary person by nature (see #1 above, about how much I read!) and I don't like to sweat. But as I get older, I notice the effects of sitting at a computer much more, so I'm going to work on it (again) in 2018. I did a push-up challenge in 2017 that did wonders for my back, so I'll repeat that. I've started doing yoga at home once a week as well.

7. Spend more time on physical self-care. I'm in my mid-thirties, and I'm starting to see the effects of aging. Which is fine - I actually like both my body and my mind more as I age - but it does mean I can't drop into bed without taking care of my skin anymore! I'd also like to use up all the samples of stuff I have lying around, from moisturizer to cuticle care to fancy pepperminty exfoliating foot stuff.

8. Be with the kids when I'm with the kids. My kids are still at the ages where they want to snuggle me, want to be read to, want to just be with me. But I'm starting to see it fading. I want to take advantage of how much they love me now - not reading or being on my phone in the evenings when we're together.