Booklists, Books | December 19, 2019

7 Books You’ll Love This Winter – And One You’ll Love Next Spring


david's top books

This is a time of year when I’m looking to wind down, while also gaining  renewed energy and fresh perspectives for the year ahead. Last year during the holidays, my family and I made a pact: we’d put our cell phones away for 23 hours and re-purpose that time for other pursuits: chatting with each other, playing games, or reading. I highly recommend it!  

My reading style is a little unusual: I alternate between fiction and non-fiction. The non-fiction centers around social issues – particularly how technology is changing our world –  or around leadership. The fiction can be about anything –  these books allow me to see the world from an entirely different perspective. 

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking about the next book you’ll be reading during your winter break. Here are seven books you might want to check out this winter, plus one you’ll need to wait till spring to read. Enjoy!

Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas

Giridharadas’ thesis is that we have created a society in which a small number of people – the global elite – use their influence and wealth to drive our society, sometimes at the expense of societal progress.

Even those of us who think we’re doing good can benefit from a good, hard look in the mirror. Are those we help engaged? Are we changing systems? What does acting responsibly really mean? 

The book is provocative in all the right ways. It’s interesting to think that we could be living in an alternative universe where I wouldn’t have to be doing the work I’m doing at Worldreader because governments would be doing it instead. 

Personally, I’m quite proud that Worldreader’s work takes a hyper-local approach. We work with local authors, we collaborate with local governments on various projects, and we employ local leadership. And we have a very government-friendly approach: in fact, our strategy is for governments to take over what we start.  Still, there’s nothing more refreshing than re-thinking how you spend your energy, and the implications of the decisions. Highly recommended.

Get the book here.

the overstory

The Overstory by Richard Powers

“You can’t see what you don’t understand, but what you think you understand, you’ll fail to notice.” 

Trees are like this. We think we know what they’re all about because we can see them. But all the important things are happening underground – the vast, interconnected life of roots and seeds that are invisible to us.

This book is a breathtaking homage to the natural world. It explores humans’ impact on the earth by telling the story of a handful of people, how their lives intersect in unusual ways, and how their existence intertwines with nature. 

It’s a poignant reminder that mother nature is a force. These trees have been around for thousands of years and they’ll be around for longer than you and I will ever live. This book put me in my place, in a good way. 

Get the book here. 

extreme ownership

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

“Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.”

This is a must-read for any leader. Written by Willink and Babin – two Navy SEALs who served together in Iraq, the book shares leadership principles about that highly disciplined, high-functioning organization. And these stories essentially translate into lessons for business and life.

The lessons come down to this: there are no bad teams, there are only bad leaders. Leaders have to take full responsibility for the bad stuff and give all the credit to the team when things go well.  

Extreme Ownership has sharpened my views on what it means to be a leader, and I try and remind myself of these lessons daily.

Get the book here.

The Institute by Stephen King 

I’ve been a Stephen King fan forever. I read Carrie and The Shining when I was 10 and they scared the heck out of me. Now 44 years later, King is still writing books that I love. I stayed up late into the night reading this one. 

It’s a classic good vs. evil tale, where (no surprise) the role of “good” is played by some very clever kids. It’s horrifying without being a “horror” book (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – a book about kindness triumphing over the dark side. You’ll love it.

Get the book here.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I’ve loved libraries since I was a kid. Every week, my Mom would drop my brother and me off at the Bethesda Library and we’d come home with a big stack of books, and then do the same the following week. Hey, it’s how we rolled.

The Library Book is a love-letter to libraries in the form of a whodunnit: Who set fire to the LA Library in 1986, and why? Along the way Susan Orlean teaches us about the history of libraries and the remarkable people who’ve led them, and does so in a way that keeps you wanting to know more – no small feat.

Oh, and maybe best of all? As I read the book, I kept thinking: “Susan Orlean needs to know about Worldreader! We’re working in four library systems, helping them move into the digital age!” And lo and behold, in the book’s final pages, a Worldreader shout-out appears! Seeing this was one of the great, small thrills of 2019.

Get the book here.

Waiting by Chica Unigwe

This one’s a short story, and it’s available on Worldreader’s main reading application. It starts out: “This is one of the reasons she does not like to shop at this time of year: too many people.” A universal feeling, right? But by the end you understand that there’s a far deeper reason that the story’s protagonist has come to dislike the holidays.

The story’s author, Chica Unigwe, is a Nigerian-born award-winning writer, but that’s not why you should read her work. You should read Waiting because the writing is beautiful and poignant. It won’t make you laugh, but it will make you want to read more.

Start reading this book from the Worldreader library via your mobile phone.

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

I love words. (In fact, that was the first sentence of my college application essay, way back when). The Internet is a vast mother-lode of informal written language – the first of it’s kind. Because Internet mines that mother-lode and walks us through the history of memes, the subtleties of emojis, and the differences between LOLs and lols.  

You’ll laugh, you’ll smile. And fellow grammarians: if you read “it’s” in the last paragraph and you cringed, you’ll love this book 😀

Get the book here.

We Need to Talk: A Memoir about Wealth by Jennifer Risher 

I recommend this book not because Jennifer is my wife (which she is), not because she’s amazing (which she is), and not because I watched her invest 14 years of her life in writing it (which she did). 

I’m giving the book five stars because it’s funny, poignant, honest, and most of all important. 

It shines light on our last taboo subject – one that matters more than ever: the way we deal with wealth. Jen writes about the weird and unexpected impact that wealth has had on our lives. She reveals how it’s created all sorts of challenges around relationships, friends, family, and raising our daughters. 

You may not agree with how we have handled our wealth, but you’ll appreciate her willingness to share her journey. Hopefully the result is that we’re all more able to talk and connect as a result.

The only catch is that you can’t read it yet. It’s coming out next year, on May 5th, 2020. But you can pre-order here!

P.S. With your help, we could bring a library of digital books to children in need before the end of the year. Will you join us this holiday season? $30 can help us reach one more child.

worldreader helps adults read to children on mobile phones