I don’t read very well. I have probably read a half dozen books in the past decade – if that. At the end of a day, I’m more apt to binge out a Netflix show than read a book. On a lazy weekend or vacation, I will scroll my phone and read articles and tweets and look for inspiration that way.
So it was a bold resolution that I made late in 2019 to read a book a month for 2020. It started when I was picking up books for my kids at the library and walked past Vikram Vij‘s autobiography sitting on the librarian recommended shelves.
As a long time Vancouver resident, and a fan of Vij’s personality and restaurants, I picked up the book and made the decision to try and get through 12 books in 2020, one each month. Well, as December comes to a close, I’m proud to say I’ve plowed through much more than the dozen I promised.
I’ve learned the value of the Calgary Public Library this year and how convenient their app can be. Whenever I think of a book, or hear of a book I’d like to read, I search it up on the app. I then add it to my shelves, or put a hold on it. Instead of rushing around to different branches near the city, the library delivers my book to my neighborhood location.
Having books constantly being fed to me when my hold comes up in the queue has been an easy way to constantly stay inspired. Sometimes the books have come a little too quickly, and I’ve had a stack sitting on my bedside table, but it’s also let me hold a place in line for popular books by Barack Obama, Jerry Seinfeld, and Lenny Kravitz.
Will I get through another 19 next year? I’m not sure, I’ve built up a long queue on Netflix that I’d like to get to, but I have rediscovered reading and made it a habit and I’m better for it. So, if you’re looking for a resolution for 2021, try reading a book a month, here’s my 2020 reading list to get you started.
My first apartment was just a few blocks from where Vij would launch his restaurant empire, so hearing the stories of his arrival in Canada and innovative and struggling ways to make his dream come true echoed with familiarity.
The main takeaway from the book was about finding your place in a team and knowing your role. For Vij, his outsized personality was better suited to be in front of house and the host. We know him as a chef, but really he’s a personality.
2. Life – Keith Richards
This is one of the books that has been laying around my Kindle for years, and so on our vacation to Mexico in February, I started to really get into it (even though I’ve only read 59% of it at the end of the year). Keith lays bear all his adventures. It’s fascinating how nonchalant he treats his drug use, almost considering himself a reasoned professional who always used and never went over the line to abuse.
The stories of his love affair with the blues really sticks out. It completely changed the way I listen to the music of The Rolling Stones. I pay attention to the riffs and the layers, more now and I can hear that Muddy Waters inspiration in each and every song.
3. Shut Up and Run – Robin Arzón
Robin is the lead instructor at Peloton and what you see is what you get with her. She’s loud, proud, outgoing, infectious, inspiring, and doesn’t take shit from anyone.
Why should she?
She was a Manhattan lawyer who was held hostage at gunpoint in a restaurant and gave it all up to run ultramarathons and become a fitness blogger and influencer. She parlayed that career into being one of the first hires at Peloton.
Her book is written in a Tumblr style – it almost reads like a blog gone to print – combining bite sized pieces of inspiration alongside worksheets for you to get after your own goals.
4. Marathon Quest – Martin Parnell
Martin Parnell has been an inspiration to me for the past decade. I first heard of him when he was doing his Marathon Quest 250, trying to run 250 marathons in a year while raising money for Right To Play. One of the days I met with Martin, he was running back and forth on a 100m stretch of sidewalk in the dead of winter. 420 times he ran back and forth outside the school to complete his daily 42km run.
Martin later invited me to participate in a Guinness World Record on another of his challenges, and I’m just so grateful to know this man. Reading his story will have you looking inside to see how high you can set the bar for yourself. You’ll look for ways to give, give again, and then give some more.
5. You Never Know Your Luck – Keith Ogilvie
My wife is adopted. I have done random digging through Ancestry, pulling at threads of her family and a few years ago it all unspooled and I found her birth parents, cousins, and details about her extended family.
One of the people I uncovered is her great uncle Keith “Skeets” Ogilvie. He was a pilot in WW2, flying missions about off the south coast of the UK. Every now and again they’d chase the Jerrys across the Channel, and sometimes he led bombing missions deep into Europe to soften targets for the troops.
On one of those missions, just over Lille, he was shot down and captured. He spent years in a POW camp until he was the last man to escape through a tunnel from the camp. His story would famously be made into a movie, The Great Escape, but that’s just the tip of his man’s story. The book is written by his son, pulling together pages of flight logs and diary entries along with details added from family members.
It’s a front row seat to just how polite, naive, casual, humble, and brave the generations before us were. It was touching for me knowing my wife’s connection to the story, but reading about Skeets meeting the Queen, dancing with Hollywood stars, casually describing dogfights over the sea, and eventually describing life in a POW camp and his escape and capture was riveting.
6. Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
This was the first audiobook I tackled in the year. I had a long drive to Jasper and back for a round of golf (yes, I spent 6 hours in the car for 4 hours of golfing) and I loaded up Gladwell’s latest to keep me company.
The audiobook is done more like a podcast than a traditional audiobook. There’s music, audio from the interview subjects, news footage, and more to really give the piece life. It is fantasically done and really sets a new bar for audiobooks.
As for the material inside? It will leave you shaking your head. The biggest story I was left with after reading the book is about how police are trained and managed in the US. If you want to know why we have a problem with police killing civilians and police checks going awry, Gladwell lays it bare.
A particular modern philosophy of policing has them pulling more and more people over for minor infractions. Broken tail light, bad lane change. The idea is to run as many names through the computer looking for bad guys without knowing who the bad guys are. They do this in poor neighbourhoods, people are frustrated at constantly being nitpicked and, well, tensions escalate.
Even if you’re not on board with defunding the police, you will certainly support rethinking the way we police after this read.
7. No Days Off – Max Domi
Max Domi was 12 when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The son of an NHL star, all he wanted to know from the doctor was if he would still be able to play hockey.
He could still play hockey, and he still does – now with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Domi’s story is a particularly good read to get into the hands of young people living with Type 1. His story is filled with all the ways diabetes can go wrong – and as someone who has long advocated for people living with diabetes but has never experienced it – it’s exhausting. The struggle to find a healthy balance is real. F
rom poor diet to poor sleep to ignoring warning signs, Domi has been to the edge and back many times while living with diabetes. Now, as a professional, with a service dog, and a supportive family and team, he serves as a great mentor for young kids who want to know that diabetes won’t get in the way of achieving their dreams – as long as the play by the rules, pay attention to their numbers, get the support they need, and treat their diabetes with respect.
8. Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck – Mark Manson
This book has been on best sellers’ lists for years. You see the bright orange cover at every airport book stand (or at least I did when I traveled in the before times). I have always wondered about it, so when I got some bonus codes for Audible, I downloaded the audiobook alongside the Gladwell one from above.
I hated it.
Now, the free flowing use of f bombs aside, the book does make some good points about finding a purpose for yourself, setting a focus and plan, and then ignoring the frivolous. But all this excellent self-help advice is couched in the sort of dialogue that only speaks to douche bro millennial types. He goes off about drugs, sex, and Jennifer Aniston’s tits (for some reason).
I’m not completely straight-laced, and I can appreciate the approach of colouring outside the lines might work for some, but this was complete crass that wasn’t even trying to be polite and I had a hard time finishing the audiobook.
9. All Out – Kevin and Alex Newman
Kevin Newman is, perhaps, my favourite news anchor and I miss not having him behind a desk calmly and articulately explaining the days’ events.
His book is an interesting blend of his story and his family’s. Originally the book was to chronicle is life across the screen from perspectives of his wife and kids alongside his own. But he says, as they started writing, that it was really a father and son story that made the most sense.
While I loved reading about Newman’s adventures from CBC‘s Midday to ABC‘s Good Morning America, and how he got extremely lucky in his career even when he wasn’t the perfect fit for a gig, I was disappointed that much of the story away from the cameras and newsrooms was obsessed with notions of masculinity.
It is, honestly, something I have never pondered with great depth. I am who I am, but Newman really was concerned a lot about “what it means to be a man,” and that contrasts with his son Alex coming out. There are many layers to the fatherhood onion to sift through and this book would pair well with Aaron Gouveia‘s further down the list for any father trying to push aside any notions of toxic masculinity in their children’s lives.
10. Staking Claims To A Continent – James Laxer
I picked up this book in the height of a summer drowning in Trumpism and the US election campaign. I was wondering if the paths of Lincoln and Macdonald had ever crossed. I found this title through numerous searches and borrowed it from the library. I read about a third of it, the Canadian bits were easier to read than the American ones (owing to my own familiarity to the players and events).
The book is a lot of history, and not much story and reads like a textbook. It did, however, offer me insight into the systemic racism from the beginning of both nations. Lincoln, for example, wasn’t completely innocent of race-based politics. In fact, much of his fight against slavery had to do with the prevention of cheap labour flooding his support bases in the north as much as it was about equality.
11. Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer
The Into the Wild bus was removed from the Alaskan wilderness in the summer of 2020, and when I saw the story on the news, I dug in a bit to become more familiar with the background.
I wasn’t aware of it from the 90s when it was happening, nor when the movie came out a decade ago. Once I saw it was a Jon Krakauer story, I was in. Into Thin Air is one of the few books that has managed to capture my attention in the past, and so I was hoping for another riveting story.
Truth be told, this book was kind of boring, the last 50 pages basically tell the whole story. The movie was equally pedestrian.
It is hard to tell the story of someone alone in the wild when nobody really knows what happened when he was alone. So Krakauer digs into the relationships McCandless had before and why he gave up his life to live on the road. There is a lot of father/son drama to relive around parental expectations and a sons’ reality.
The most riveting, page turning part of the book is Krakauer’s own story of climbing Devil’s Thumb in Alaska.
12. Thinking in Bets – Annie Duke
A friend recommended this book to me as I was working through my list in search of a read this summer and I can honestly say reading this book made me thousands of dollars.
Annie Duke is a poker pro, but this isn’t a poker book, it’s a decision book. She looks at how poker players make decisions based on trends and odds and try to remove emotion from the book. She breaks down sporting plays and other real life decisions to show how we often let emotion force us into bad decisions.
I was reading this book as I had just borrowed some money to try and take advantage of a down market during COVID. I did well at first, but then fell into a habit of micro managing my trades, making quick and bad decisions, and not hanging in long enough. The book taught me to calm down, trust what I know, and while I did have to hold through some very down days, the stocks I knew to have promise eventually turned into very profitable holdings.
Duke will walk you through resulting, recognizing your own bias, how to think critically about information (something not typically done), seek out a diversity of opinion and have the ability to move through time to work on expected outcomes.
I’ve got her latest book, How To Decide, in my queue for 2021.
13. You Look So Much Better In Person – Al Roker
You can read this in a day. If you’re a slower reader (like me), then it will take a weekend.
I burned through this autobiography of his rise to The Today Show peppered with quirky dad jokes. As he tells the story, he takes each situation and extends it to a life lesson he calls Altruisms (al – truism).
Dealing with other people, sticking to your guns, taking chances, all the usual self help topics are wrapped around his personal story. Quick and easy light hearted weekend read.
My favourite chapter is on what he calls goober smoochers – big talking at social events. It’s funny how big media people are actually very small when the on air light is off. Yes, we can be extroverted on air and introverted off.
14. The Answer Is – Alex Trebek
Get this as an audiobook. Alex reads the more emotional and personal parts of the story (about his cancer and wife) while Ken Jennings takes the reins for the rest of it. It really is beautifully done as a collection of short stories and chapters bouncing around chronologically through Trebek’s life.
He offers advice on how to play Jeopardy!, tells a great and humbling story about meeting the Queen a few times during Canada’s centennial. There’s not a lot of depth, sometimes he talks about a big Hollywood party only to offer the point of “I had hash brownies.” His story about Sinatra boiled down to “I met him.”
Still, Trebek is a Canadian icon and hearing his voice again is soothing.
15. One Game At A Time – Harnaryan Singh
At its core, this book is the story of a small town kid who loves hockey and had a dream. Harnaryan Singh, literally, had to pay his way to make his career happen. He bought his own plane tickets to fly to call games he wasn’t getting paid for; he made his own luck.
Then the call of a goal by Nick Bonino changed his life, sent him spiralling virally across the internet, ending up in a Stanley Cup parade.
His stories read more like a chronological laundry list of events rather than having any depth, but it is a fun and inspiring read to see the incredible amount of work that goes into being an overnight success.
16. Breakaway: From Behind the Iron Curtain to the NHL—The Untold Story of Hockey’s Great Escapes – Tal Pinchevsky
I heard this book mentioned on a podcast with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, so I looked it up. While the book reads more like a newspaper article than a story, it is still amazing to read about how the Iron Curtain fell and players got to the NHL.
Many of the stories are circular and repetitive (similar efforts were needed to get players out of Czechoslovakia and Russia), but reading about hiding out in embassies, scrambling through forests in the dark, and being chased by government police through the streets is pretty good.
While the players made the money and got to play on the big stage in the NHL, it was often their families at home that paid the price for their escapes.
17. Burke’s Law: A Life In Hockey – Brian Burke
Brian Burke has the brand of being an asshole and he doesn’t care. He has a crusty outside, but peel back that crust and you will find he is fiercely loyal, incredibly loving, generous to a fault, and yes, still doesn’t take shit from anyone.
The book has a lot of hockey stories. You go inside the room for drafts and trades and Stanley Cup parades. I would have liked some more personal stories (like why does he like hunting so much), but Burke is an honorary Canadian because of his hockey stories and the book is full of them.
Most touching are the stories about his son Brendan, especially surrounding the night he died and how Brian found out. It will rip at the heart of every parent.
18. Raising Boys To Be Good Men – Aaron Gouveia
Disclosure: Aaron is a dad blogging pal of mine. We’ve known each other for the better part of the last decade and have sat on panels together at Dad 2.0. We read from the same hymnbook and this book felt like I could have written it myself.
Every single story and piece of life advice had me nodding along in agreement. Gouveia sets up and rips down every stupid stereotype about toxic masculinity.
His style is very direct, so I don’t know how many ‘real man’ dads he’s going to convince with the cause, but it still serves as a relevant reminder to those that are woke that “we have work to do” to make the future a welcoming place for all.
19. No Time Like The Future – Michael J Fox
Michael J Fox knows how to write a book.
It reads like a screenplay, opening on a dramatic scene before traveling back in time to set up the story and how one broken arm sent his life reeling.
From exploring happiness in Bhutan to appreciating new roles on tv to traveling to Africa on safari to coming to grips with a shattered arm, a tumorous spine, and Parkinson’s, Fox’s book is the perfect way to wrap up a tumultuous 2020 and breathe light into 2021.
The book is quick, it’s enlightening, and just beautifully written.