I joined Audible in 2011, ten years of listening to hundreds of books. My iPhone app lists 372 titles in my library. I haven’t heard them all, and some are kid’s books, but I have gone through many of them.
The key to my reading has been to listen to stories across a variety of genres. I enjoy religious books, self-help books, business, history, biography, memoir, as well as a half dozen fiction genres. Changing up the book I read helps to keep the process enjoyable and reduces the chances of feeling burned out on anyone type of story.
A friend of mine requested a list of my top ten books. There are far more books I’d recommend, but I’ll start with ten, and share a brief paragraph on why I enjoyed each. I’ll keep this a spoiler free zone, and share across genres.
Science fiction. Andy Weir has an ability to connect with the audience and characters in a way that brings depth and richness to his stories. The Martian is one of those rare books that I’ve read more than once. Instead of a story about a man who is trying to save the world, this book flips the script and has the world trying to save a man. Books and movies will sometimes evoke a feeling of humanity coming together; The Martian accomplishes this beautifully. If you don’t mind a little colorful language – the protagonist is in some dire straits throughout the story so it feels warranted – then I believe you’ll love this story. My favorite parts are the deep dives into the daily life of the main character, and the ingenuity required. It’s a lot of fun. Also, if you already read this book, I highly recommend Project Hail Mary, by the same author. It’s a spiritual successor to the book, and I enjoyed it just as much. Where the first book primarily follows a single character, Project Hail Mary follows a different type of story telling narrative. I love both, and don’t want to spoil either.
The Guns of August
History. This is the number one history book I recommend to friends. On the surface it sounds like a bit of a weird choice; a book about World War I. But as I dove into the story, I got lost in the political intrigue and wartime communications of the great powers of Europe. The author, Barbara Tuchman, has a way of ramping up the tempo, of bringing the story to a point, and pulling the reader with her. Her narrative view of Germany, Britain, and France, all pushing and vying for control of the continent, helps to convey the tension and emotion of the great powers. The key moments that cemented this as one of my favorite books came in the resistance from tiny countries such as Luxembourg and Belgium. Their attempt to slow down the inevitable march of the German clock, to give more time to the opposing powers, gave me chills and helped convey bravery individual characters forced into one of the worst wars of all time.
Non-fiction. Stephen King is one of the best storytellers I’ve read. I’ve listened to many of his books over the years. He has an ability to create connection and conflict between characters, to breathe life into them. On Writing describes the way he approaches fiction writing, and the process he goes through to bring stories to the page. This was an inspiration for me and helped give me the start I needed to write my own works of fiction. It’s written like a story, and carries with it the emotions and drama of Stephen’s own life as he sought to become a writer.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
Non-fiction. Lori Gottlieb, an accomplished therapist living in California, uses this story as the backdrop to explain what great therapy can accomplish, and why it’s important. She shares her own need to see a therapist, and breaks down what’s happening in each session while working through problems in her own life. The key takeaway is the realization that our brains don’t perceive distress as relative. While our analytic mind can say that our problems are smaller than someone else’s, our emotions have no way of recognizing the difference. It’s important to allow those emotions the space they need in order to work through them. This book was an inspiration, and I’ve recommended it many times to friends.
World War Z
Fiction. This book is pure joy for me. Warning, the book is about zombies. But it’s one of my favorite stories from that genre. It does something unique, using journalism for storytelling in a fiction story. Instead of following a single character, the book jumps across time and continents to capture the retellings of people who saw and felt the effects of the world’s change under a viral attack. This book helps to bring the feeling of human connection and humanity, all working together for a greater cause. Although the genre is different, this story captured the same feelings as The Martian. It’s one of the few fiction books I’ve read twice.
Fiction. The author is a genius at taking an exciting premise and breathing life into an ancient story. I knew nothing of the tales of Circe, the witch from ancient mythology. This character, a weak god among greater gods, must live as the lowest of all in the great courts of antiquity. Through various events she’s forced on a small island, and must live her days as queen of the island. It’s a premise that should lose my interest, but it doesn’t. Each chapter pushes the story forward and brings color and character to this mythical protagonist. The book was a joy to read, and I’ve recommended it several times to friends.
The Hidden Life of Trees
Non-fiction. The author spent most of his life in an ancient forest in Germany. His job is to hike the trails across the forest and investigate the health of the flora and fauna within. The premise is interesting for some with a specific interest in nature, but the book goes further than that. The author’s insights are valuable for a universal audience. He combines his observations with scientific understanding of nature and helps to bring the forest alive in our minds. I loved learning about the emotion of trees, the familial connections they make, and their resilience and intelligence across years and decades. It’s an amazing tale and helps with understanding the beauty of nature around us.
So Good they can’t ignore you
Non-fiction. Cal Newport is a brilliant author. I’ve read most of his books. He has an ability to dive deep into a topic, understand it, and describe learnings in a way that I can extract meaning. The major premise of the book is how to do work that is meaningful. Instead of following your passion for a career, he suggests that passion results from craftsmanship. Instead of jumping entire careers, he suggests finding the overlap from one job to another, and bringing insights from the previous forward into the next line of work. It’s a great career book and has insights for life as well.
Non-fiction. Ken, one of the first half dozen engineers working on the iPhone, writes about his long history at Apple, and the opportunities he had to build some of the most used software in the world. Ken describes the creative process that his team approached to building software for the iPhone, the Mac, and the iPad. He also describes interactions with Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall. Throughout this narration of his time at Apple, Ken weaves anecdotes on the connection between design and engineering, and gives concrete examples on how to emulate that in our own work. I’ve read this book twice and will probably pick it up a third time.
Fiction. I disappeared into the world that Orson Scott Card created. Ender’s game is a story of humanity fighting together against a foe, and attempting to come out on top. The premise is not new, but the book has a unique take on how the protagonist will defeat the enemy. I knew nothing about the story going in and listened through to the end without spoilers. I’d suggest you do the same. Orson wrote the book in such a way that a second reading feels required. For that reason the author wrote a sequel, Ender’s Shadow, which relives the events of the first book through the eyes of a second character, giving color and meaning to the decisions you see in Ender’s Game.
I’m stopping at ten books for now, but there are more; so many more. I only went through about half of my Audible library so far as I thought through previous titles. I might have to come back later and write a second post with more favorites.