Books in Review Q4 2019

I’ve loved seeing so many friends post all the books they read in 2019! You are adding many more books to my list.

To return the favor, I’ll add my 4th quarter readings. I got a little bit out of control with reading this quarter, apparently, but a lot of these I read to skill-up at work. They’re in no particular order except then I’ll categorize them in the reviews, just to keep me on my toes.

  • A Place to Belong: Reflections from Modern Latter-day Saint Women
  • Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
  • The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church
  • The Visual MBA: Two Years of Business School Packed Into One Priceless Book of Pure Awesomeness
  • The Next Mormons: How Millenials are Changing the LDS Church
  • Wizard for Hire
  • House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery
  • The Graveyard Boook
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • A Wind in the Door
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
  • Harriet: The Moses of her People
  • The Great Alone
  • The Story Girl
  • A Merry Christmas: and other Christmas Stories
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Atomic Habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones
  • Contextual Design
  • My Name is Lucy Barton
  • Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace
  • Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights
  • Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards

Inspiration

A Place to Belong: Reflections from Modern Latter-day Saint Women

Edited by Hollie Rhees Fluhman and Camille Fronk Olson

This is a compilation book of essays from Latter-day Saint women who share various life experiences and thoughts related to truth, identity, motherhood, careers, education, and so on. I had a heads up that this book was coming out and that I needed to read it and I am so glad I did. The ways in which women live their lives and their faith can be and definitely are different and it’s not only OK, but it’s great. I was so inspired by these women. The only criticism is that in a book intended to help women feel they belong no matter what their circumstance is, I felt (just a bit) like I need to do more to be like they are (instead of trying to embrace their message, which is to be me). But worth the read for sure!

Books on Data (I don’t know what else to label these)

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

By: Caroline Criado Perez

Audiobook: Great

A friend sent me a podcast on 99% Invisible that introduced me to this book. Perez wrote this book to expose and discuss a major design flaw that is extraordinarly prevalent. The flaw? Women are often left out of the conversation/data concerning the very design of our lives. For example, until 2011, car crash test dummies were generally based on an average man and ignored anatomical differences between men and women. Another? We know that queues for women’s restrooms are longer and we know why, but we don’t do much about improving the problem. The list continues. This book covers what is happening, but I wish it got more into what to do about it. But it’s helped me open my eyes even more to gender data bias and try to do something about it.

The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church

By: David John Seel, Jr.

“Our millennial children, as well as nonchurchgoing millennials, are both the church’s greatest challenge and its most exciting new opportunity” (David John Seel). This focuses on the impact of millennials in the evangelical church. It explores the decline of religiosity among US millennials, what is causing the decline, and what can be done about it (how to message and change to meet the needs of a different generation). I found it a fascinating read and would recommend it.

The Next Mormons: How Millennials are Changing the LDS Church

By: Jana Riess

This book, as you would imagine, is about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With that lens, it explores the impact of the millennial generation’s views and their impact and influence on the Church. This is done largely through survey results from millennials in and out of the Church as well as by using anecdotes from one-on-one interviews. I’ve seen quite a few criticisms of the validity of the data, but nonetheless, this was a helpful read and helped me consider some new ideas in my work and in my faith.

Biographies

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery

By: Liz Rosenburg

While I have long loved and admired and spent hours with the kindred spirits and bosom buddies of L.M. Montgomery’s works, I hadn’t delved too much into her life before. I love reading about my favorite authors because I so much aspire to their brilliance. This is a very well-written biography of her life, bringing in the beauties, the adventures, the love, the losses, and the suffering. I loved learning her thoughts on writing and the creation of our beloved Anne of Green Gables. But while her works are beautiful, this book is at many times depressing and disheartening. Maud’s life was filled with tragedy and heartache and my heart hurt for so much of what she went through and struggled with. An empathetic read to feel of her life’s struggles.

Harriet: The Moses of her People

By: Sarah Bradford

A film recently came out called Harriet, which is about the life of Harriet Tubman. While I haven’t seen it yet, I have read many reviews to know how well they represented this fearless, amazing, spiritual, and iconic woman. I wanted to know more for myself of her own feelings and experiences, so I looked for a good work on her life. This book was first published in 1869 when the author asked to tell Harriet’s story so she could raise funds for Harriet to provide for herself. Definitely recommend this read and I am even more in awe of Harriet and her work, courage, faith, and conviction.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

[This book straddles the line of biography/autobiography/memoir because of the second author so don’t get too stuck on the genre]

By: William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Audiobook: amazing! Definitely a great one to listen to

I was so inspired by this book. As a young Malawi schoolboy, William Kamkwamba loved experimenting with all things electrical and thinking of new ideas. When he is unable to attend school due to the high fees, he still studies by accessing the school’s library and learning about physics and electricity. He begins salvaging parts to build a windmill so that he can provide electricity to his family. His ingenuity, spirit, hard work, and determination are inspiring. Definite recommendation.

Fantasy

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

By: J.K. Rowling

Honestly, if you haven’t read these books, are we really even friends? Ha. As big of a Harry Potter fan as I am, I am not 100% sure I’ve read the whole series through again since the first time I read the series as they came out. I read the previous books a few times the next book came out, but not every time. At any rate, I wanted to read these again, but I was also terrified that the magic would not be the same. To be real, it wasn’t exactly the same, but I have loved reading these just the same, and the magic has just been different–I still love them. I promised myself I would pace myself and read these leisurely, and I feel only reading four in the last quarter was a good pace, haha! I have caught so many new and interesting details reading through again, and it’s also interesting to read through knowing the whole end of the story.

Wizard for Hire

By: Obert Skye

Audiobook: Fun

14-year-old Ozzy’s parents were kidnapped when he was young and he was left to fend for himself. As he finally ventures into the world on his own, he tries to understand the difference between fiction and reality and decides to get help from a wizard to find his parents. It’s not the most amazing book, but it’s a fun book to listen to, despite a few continuity questions (but that comes with the territory of dipping into the magical realm).

The Graveyard Book

By: Neil Gaiman

Audiobook: Excellent, of course as it is read by the author

This book has been recommended several times, so I finally got to it. The book begins (literally the beginning, so I’m not really giving away spoilers) with a man named Jack who murders a whole family, except a toddler who mysteriously escapes to a graveyard. The “residents” of the graveyard offer their protection to the child, who they call Bod (short for Nobody). As he grows he has many strange adventures (as one would naturally expect of a child who lives with the dead). An engaging listen and creative book although my heart hurt at the ending and also some parts are quite suspenseful!

Sci-Fi/Fantasy

A Wrinkle in Time; A Wind in the Door

By: Madeleine L’Engle

Audiobook: Excellent

I’ve read these books a few times now, and I just keep going back to them. I always feel so inspired by the words and work of Madeleine L’Engle because of her faith and her words that just…get me.

“To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.” (A Wrinkle in Time)

“We don’t have to know everything at once. We just do one thing at a time, as it is given us to do.” (A Wind in the Door)

“I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming – making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers, because there are places throughout the universe like your planet Earth. When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.” (A Wind in the Door)

Fiction

The Story Girl

By: L.M. Montgomery

As I read House of Dreams, I realized I wanted to read more of L.M. Montgomery’s works. This book was quite popular when she first published it, but is hardly known at all today. There is no specific plot arc in the story–it is more of a “year-in-the-life” of several cousins who are very dear friends. And the Story Girl tells fantastic, morbid, and fun vignettes all throughout. It is delightfully written–I loved the use of words and the beauty they conveyed.

A Merry Christmas: and other Christmas Stories

By: Louisa May Alcott

This is a compilation book of several short stories Louisa May Alcott wrote that include the theme of Christmas, including the beautiful Christmas scene from Little Women (oh, my heart). This lovely little gift to me was a short and beautiful read from an author I love.

The Great Alone

By: Kristin Hannah

Audiobook: Pretty good

So many people have loved and recommended this book. But…I found it a difficult book for many reasons. It is about a family that moves to Alaska to escape problems. The book addresses family issues such as mental illness, abuse, addiction, loneliness, the effects of war on veterans, and so many other things. So it was hard for me to read because of its weightiness. The story is an interesting idea, and it is compelling, but I personally don’t think I’d recommend it. As the book progresses, it gets more and more unbelievable. I KNOW it’s fiction, but it was too outlandish how everything played out in the end.

My Name is Lucy Barton

By: Elizabeth Strout

Back story. I usually only get audiobooks from the library because I’m trying to avoid being subscribed to death by other services, and the library is free. But that means that when one book ends and I don’t have another checked out, I just look for audiobooks that are available to borrow. Such was the case with this one, which is by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, so I thought it would be good. I didn’t like it. It’s about a woman whose unexpected hospital stay brings her estranged mother to her and addresses the challenges with their relationship. Wouldn’t recommend this book.

Self-Help

Atomic Habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad one

by: James Clear

Audiobook: Good

It is amazing to me how often I read books about improving how I set goals and how to be better at my life. Alas, this is one of those. It’s a good read. There’s not anything super novel to it, but a lot of interesting concepts about how atomic (small) habits can change things. I thought of something I wanted to change as a result and made the tiniest of changes (literally moved a pillow off a chair) that has led me to a bigger change that I was seeking. So, you know, it works. I guess I just have to read a habit-changing book every time I want to change something so I have the motivation. 🙂

Biz’ness Books

The Visual MBA: Two Years of Business School Packed Into One Priceless Book of Pure Awesomeness

By: Jason Barron

One of my co-workers created/designed/illustrated/wrote this book from notes he took while getting his MBA. It’s a fun idea, and he funded it with a Kickstarter which is also cool. This was a good read to refresh myself on a lot of the concepts I learned from my MBA, and it is always a joy to support a friend’s great idea.

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

by: Steve Portigal

In my new role at work, I am diving into really understanding those we serve and provide messaging to. This involves really, wholeheartedly, empathetically listening to people. This book helps you get into the right mindset, know how to execute on empathy interviews well, and use what you learn to change your work. Quick and easy read if you need these skills, too.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace

By: Gordon Mackenzie

This very quick and interesting read was written by a former Hallmark Cards executive. He discusses the challenge of getting caught in the giant hairball at work–all the rules, processes, traditions, systems, etc. and how to still work with all those, but orbit around them, so that you can get work done. He does come across as a little bit arrogant at times, but I still thought it was an creative read and different perspective, and I really need to follow some of the advice.

Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards

By: Yu-kai Chou

If you haven’t heard the word gamification, it is basically when you make a game out of things that are not necessarily traditionally games (think something like an exercise app that motivates you to exercise each day through various tactics). This book explores the motivations and psychology behind gamification and how to effectively use it in your work. It is hard to get into, but gets easier to read as you go along. And/or it got easier because I believe this book was self-published and had a ton of proofreading errors, which I got tired of, so I made a game of proofreading (and even editing) the book, trying to find as many errors as I could, haha! Still an interesting read.

Contextual Design
By: Karen Holtzblatt and Hugh Beyer

This introduces the idea of how gathering data about how people work or perform a task by watching them contextually perform it can drive better design ideas and decisions. This is an excellent way to gather insights into software/technology development. It is a process/ideology that I’m also trying to learn how to do to develop deep understanding of users. A VERY dry and heavy read, but it did generate a lot of thoughts.

And that’s it. I’m hoping that in 2020 I will start reviewing books every month as it gets tedious to review so many at a time!

(Visited 121 times, 1 visits today)

3 Replies to “Books in Review Q4 2019”

  1. A handful of these books are either on my nightstand, or on my Goodreads list! A few others I will now be adding. Thanks, Liz!!! XOXO

  2. I always love reading your reviews. I hated The Great Alone and would not recommend it either. As far as a goals/habits book goes, I really liked Atomic Habits because I felt like it gave simple, actionable suggestions that can have almost immediate impact. Keep reading and sharing.

    1. lizwritesthis says: Reply

      Thank you! And yes! I really liked the suggestions in Atomic Habits–you’ve just gotta start small sometimes!

Leave a Reply