In 2021, I read over 165 books – an increase of five books over the 2020 total. I suppose when travel is non-existent and any out-of-home activity is limited, a book is my refuge, my escape. Unlike 2020, I did not struggle to read fiction this year; rather, I wanted to read it all of the time and occasionally let some exceptionally great plots distract me from the writing of my own book.
I do not start the year with a predetermined number of books to read or even have a specific topic or set of books I desire to read. Rather, I let the books pick me – and then, when the time is right, I read the book. Some books lead me to pick up other books because of a reference made by the author or because the title is similar or a natural continuation of a topic and / or narrative. One-by-one the books I consume form my #BookDNA.
So what informed my 2021 #BookDNA?
As an independent researcher / consultant involved in digital civility, literacy and leadership / organizational transformation projects, I stay-up-to-date with current trends and published research. This year, the stand-out book in a sea of leadership and change texts is: Leadership in Complexity and Change: For a World in Constant Motion by Dr Sharon Varney. This book is both a reminder that change is constant and a guide through the wilderness or change landscape. Complex does not mean complicated. Earlier this year, alongside my Cohere podcast co-host, Bill Johnston, we interviewed Dr Varney about some of the key concepts discussed in this book. Check it out!
The books I have selected this year to represent my #BookDNA are a reflection of my ONE Word for 2021 – CREATIVITY. At the beginning of the year. I compiled a list of several dozen books – all claiming a method, framework, or approach to spark my creativity. Instead of feeling inspired reading these books, I felt overwhelmed or apathetic about the work I wanted to create. I changed course. I reviewed my #BookDNA and began to seek out non-fiction and fiction books about experiences from voices I found missing or underrepresented in my #BookDNA. This changed everything.
This course correction then informed a curated list of books recommended by a bibliotherapist. My partner is a fan of The School of Life, “an organisation built to help us find calm, self-understanding, resilience and connection – especially during troubled times.” One of the services offered is a bibliotherapy appointment. You read this correctly. You identify what ails you and a book therapist matches you with a set of books as your prescription. When he stumbled upon this article mentioning the service, he immediately made me an appointment. I completed a questionnaire about my reading habits and desires before meeting with one of Bibliotherapy’s founders, Ella Berthoud, an artist and author from Brighton. We spoke about what I read and why I read – she asked me about the types of emotions and insights I gleaned from certain books. I also informed her about the challenge I had set for myself: to seek out new voices and stories.
The bibliotherapy appointment was delightful and supplied me with a set of books I have since absorbed into my #BookDNA. The conversation with Ella felt familiar – the type of conversation I might have with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances when I share what I have read or recommend a book to another for a specific, personal reason. Here is my prescription:
- The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam
- A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
- Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman
- Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
- The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
- Knife (Book One) by R. J. Anderson
And finally, in no particular order, here is a list of my favorite reads of 2021-
- [2021 ‘The Year of the Artist’ / ONE Word = Creativity selection] The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday by Rob Walker
- The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow
- Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm by Christian Madsbjerg
- Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power, and Thrive by Kristin Neff
- Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke
- Systems Thinking for Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results by David Peter Stroh
- [2021 ‘The Year of the Artist’ / ONE Word = Creativity selection] AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan
- My Monticello: Fiction by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
- Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
- The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
- Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta (Author)
- Rabbits by Terry Miles (Author)
What will I be reading in 2022?
As I wrap-up 2021 researching the science of empathetic leadership and digital civility, I am preparing for ‘The Year of the Scribe’ – In 2022, I will be exploring research and writing practices / rituals. What books would you recommend I read in 2022 to support ‘The Year of the Scribe’?
What will YOU be reading in 2022?
I want to know! I share many of the books I am reading on Instagram and Twitter. Follow #BookDNA and tag your own recommendations.