The Best Books I Read in 2015
I read a lot of books in 2015 - 33 non-fiction books for professional development and self improvement, and 11 fiction books for fun. Here’s the best of what I read.
On Writing, by Stephen King
Stephen King is the reason I decided to become a writer when I was 8 years old. My mom had a bookshelf in our living room stuffed full of books by Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. She was into sci-fi and horror, and so I was into sci-fi and horror. I liked Bradbury, but I loved King.
I’m not much of a fan of Stephen King these days, but he’s a master of the craft. Being a writer is about committing to doing the work. It’s not about waiting for the perfect time to write your masterpiece. There never will be a perfect time or place.
The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield
The thing I loved most about this book was finally getting a name for the internal force that keeps me from writing when I know I should be writing. That thing that sits somewhere between laziness and greed, and makes it easy for me to put tasks off until later so I can play video games now.
Pressfield names it “Resistance”, and I’ve found it’s easier to stay on task now that I have a name for this phenomenon. It’s a solid motivational book for any creative.
On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
Zinsser likens writing to being swept up in a current. It’s the writer’s job not to worry about where the current will take him, or complain because he’s off course. The creative process isn’t something you have complete control of.
I’m an architect, not a gardener (as George RR Martin would describe it) but I’ve found characters saying and doing things that never appeared in my outlines. I’ve seen plots veer off on a tangent, with neither respect nor concern with what I imagined would happen.
When you sit down to write, you’re discovering the story as much as you’re creating it. A wonderful book for any writer.
Tested Advertising Methods, by John Caples
Caples was doing data-driven marketing way back in the 1920s. This book was originally published in 1932, and it’s still relevant, fresh, and inspiring for any marketer working today.
Caples was an early advocate of taking a measured and scientific approach to marketing. Marketing should be an accelerant. It should be tested, measured, and provable. Otherwise, you’re just taking your best guess.
Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Rework is a general book about business, about rethinking how business is done, and how to build the kind of company you want to work at. I’ve been a big fan of the team at 37signals (now Basecamp) for years, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading this book.
Bonus: while I read Rework, I became aware of a shift in the types of books I like reading. I’ve moved away from a hard focus on practical, by-the-numbers tutorial type books and content. I’m more interested in concepts these days.
I don’t want to learn how to accomplish a specific task. I want to gather more insight into how to think about tasks in general, and then apply that input to my own career.
The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum
In the past year, I didn’t read as much fiction as I would have liked, but I found time in February to sit down with The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. You may know me as a fan of horror. You may also know I’m not easily scared or unsettled.
The Girl Next Door was almost too brutal for me to finish, even as I found myself eager to continue reading. It’s some of the darkest, most disturbing work I’ve ever read.
Thoughts On My Reading System
My reading system worked out pretty well. I wanted to read 30 books for the year, so I broke that down to 3 books per month. Assuming 30 days per month, that means I had 10 days to read each book.
From there, it was a matter of dividing each book by 10 to come up with a reading count per day.
I started 2015 with the goal of reading 10 books on marketing, 10 books on copywriting, and 10 books on writing. It was a good structure, but I found it a bit restrictive as the year went by. My interest in copywriting began to wane as I became more interested in other kinds of marketing. I got interested in growth hacking in the summer, and read tons of articles (and a great book about the subject).
My total for the year was 44 books, as you can see here on My Year in Books on Goodreads. I read a ton of Berserk trades, and I’m still not sure whether I count graphic novels as reading. But they’re in there, anyway!
I’m happy with what I read in 2015, though this system can stand to be improved. (Then again, show me the system that can’t be improved!)
Looking ahead to 2016, I’m starting with a rough sketch of the kinds of books I want to read. I’ve got a brand new spreadsheet loaded with books on marketing, productivty, psychology, business, programming, and creativity. I’m still shooting for 30 non-fiction books for professional development, and this year I’m adding 10 fiction books to my reading list.
There was a time I devoured every book I could get my grubby mitts on, and I want to spend less of my spare time playing video games and more time reading. I’ve sorely missed reading for pleasure.
Jessica gave me a copy of House of Leaves for Christmas, and I’ve recently renewed my library card. Let’s do this!
What about you? What are the best books you read this year?