A collection of book covers for the books Brandon Smith read in 2017.

What I Read in 2017

8,512 pages across 28 books

Here’s what I read in 2017, in the order I read them. The list includes a mix of hard copy, ebook, and audiobook versions.

(As a side note, this article is not monetized with Amazon Affiliates, just in case you were wondering.)

Catalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One Novel

by James Luceno

For the most part, this book wasn’t too thrilling. It did a great job building a bridge between the movies Start Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the start of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

I read Catalyst after watching Rogue One, and it helped fill in some character-building and lore gaps that could never have fit into the movie, so I appreciated that. But Catalyst lacked action, which made it feel like a slog at times. That said, it was still an entertaining listen, because the narrator was fantastic, along with some neat sound effects and music.

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air is the heartrending memoir of a young doctor named Paul in his last phase of life. Dying of cancer and unable to continue the career and life he wanted, he turned to the one other thing he wanted to do: write. The result? This book.

While I didn’t enjoy the narrator that was chosen for the audiobook version, I can’t say the same about the book. I thought it was a beautiful account of our humanity when faced with certain death. It’s one of those books that really makes you think about your priorities in life.

Highlight: Paul’s wife writes the epilogue, and it’s a tear-jerker.

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)

by Pierce Brown

An epic conclusion to a thrilling and sweeping trilogy filled with space battles and mythology, Morning Star is full of twists and turns and nonstop excitement. A total blast to read.

I recommend the whole trilogy. It wouldn’t make sense not to read all three.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell has a way with unearthing cause and effect from real-world stories. This is probably his most popular book, and for good reason. It’s a great resource for understanding business, human nature, and virality.

The Graveyard Book

by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, and this is the most delightful audiobook I’ve ever listened to. Sporting a full cast and fantastic narrator, I felt like I was listening to a movie.

The Graveyard Book will transport you to strange and fascinating places. The story isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. The experience is enough to make it worthwhile.

The Catcher in the Rye

by J.D. Salinger

I never read this book in high school, since my teachers never assigned it. While I appreciate what Salinger did with his infamous first-person narrator, Holden Caulfield, at this stage of my life, he infuriated me. And I’ve decided that’s okay.

What makes this book so lasting is that Salinger has told a timeless story that will make readers see it so differently depending on what stage of life they’re in. It’s brilliant.

Breaking the Time Barrier: How to Unlock Your True Earning Potential

by Mike McDerment (CEO of Freshbooks) and Donald Cowper

Breaking the Time Barrier is a fantastic read for freelancers, and it certainly helped me think differently about the way I approach pricing and presenting my freelance services. It’s about pricing in terms of value — and finding a practical way to do that—rather than pricing by time.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

by Seth Godin

I loved and agreed with most of the ideas and principles in this book. Halfway through it, I realized that the way a linchpin thinks (by Godin’s definition) is already the way I think, in most respects. Which was reassuring. Although I still did get enough out of this to improve myself.

Ishmael

by Daniel Quinn

This is a hard one for me. I don’t quite know what to think about it. In some respects, it made me question reality a bit. It surprised me with observations I’d never considered before, and I always appreciate that.

On the other hand, this book infuriated me. It wasn’t a story, but it was wrapped like one. It was really the author’s own philosophic discourse, told through a telepathic gorilla and a terribly forgettable first-person narrator.

At the end of the book, I didn’t feel like I’d arrived anywhere.

If you like philosophical discourse, this could be for you. While I welcome contradictions to my worldview (and this book certainly did that), I felt like its argument fell apart at the end.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

by Seth Godin

Truly good marketing isn’t about marketing at all. It’s about building an audience, leading a community of people who are passionate about what you do. It’s about listening and meeting them at eye-level, rather than looking down at them. It’s about sharing and giving. Products and services don’t improve in a vacuum.

The Kite Runner

by Khaled Hosseini

Poetic and haunting, The Kite Runner is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. Since I don’t know much about the Middle East than what’s dished on the news, The Kite Runner served as the looking glass I’d craved to better understand the lives of everyday people.

While the narrator, Amir, is a child of privilege, the story provides vivid glimpses of struggle and injustice through Hassan, Amir’s childhood friend and servant.

At it’s core, The Kite Runner is a tale about the human condition, about the opposing natures of peace and violence.

This is a book I will not soon forget.

Grit

by Angela Duckworth

Grit. It’s something so vitally important to success, yet so seemingly absent these days in most of the populous. Everyone wants to take shortcuts, to have it now. Many of us give up far too easily.

The truth is, you’re going to suck at first, no matter what it is you want to do with your life. You’re going to be bad at it. But that’s no reason to give up.

Duckworth explores the depths of grit and what it really takes to pursue a passion. If you want a primer to get to know Duckworth, her work, and her message, watch her TED Talk.

Anansi Boys

by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman’s books. His literary voice is so unique and weird and special. Anansi Boys is a hilarious romp of a tale. Part comedy, part adventure, part fantasy, it’ll take you places.

Fat Charlie is the son of a god, but is a mere mortal. The brother he didn’t know he had shows up when their father dies and turns Fat Charlie’s world upside down.

The Design of Everyday Things

by Donald A. Norman

I took my good, sweet time to read this. I wanted everything in it to sink in. And yet, it’s so packed full of useful information that it demands a re-read. Which is why it now sits on my desk at work, so I can open it whenever I please.

Einstein: His Life and Universe

by Walter Isaacson

You think you know all there is to know about someone until you read their biography. I was astounded by Einstein’s story. Like all of us, his life had its ups and downs. And his genius — despite what elementary history or science books would tell you — wasn’t omnipresent.

Isaacson has painted an intimate and eye-opening portrait of Albert Einstein that I found endlessly captivating. I feel I’m a better person having listened to it.

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

by Steve Krug

Don’t Make Me Think is revered as a design classic. Now I know why. I loved this book. From its deeply practical usefulness to its good humor, there’s a reason why I’ll keep it on my work desk from now on.

If you want to learn and apply the principles that make websites usable, this is a must read.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson

I’ll preface by saying that f*ck is my least favorite word in the English language. I know, I’m weird. I’m a f*cking outlier.

That said, I still found this book amusing. Manson’s central argument—that caring too much about things that don’t matter or deserve our full energy—to be a valid one. Good advice for recovering perfectionists like myself.

Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline

The only low point I found in this book was the fact that it had to explain itself and its systems multiples times throughout. Granted, it’s built on an idea that’s alien to most people, and showing instead of telling would be extremely difficult.

The story itself, the characters, the adventure, were a joy to listen to. Ready Player One is a nerd’s dream. Cline clearly loves retro video games from the medium’s earliest days. Many of them I was familiar with, many I wasn’t. Not knowing didn’t bother me so much; because at the end of the day, this is a hero’s journey story in futuristic wrappings. Hero’s journeys are universal.

And this one’s a delight.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

by Daniel H. Pink

This is one of those books that could have just been a blog post. While I agree with the Pink’s ideas that the need for creative thinking will continue to proliferate, this book provides only menial insights which are paired with links to other resources the reader should explore outside the book.

This book is essentially list after list of resources. Again, it could have been a blog post. This was extremely inconvenient from an audiobook standpoint, because Pink was sharing links I should go to or things I should look up while I was busy driving.

I never will go look those things up, because I don’t have the patience to listen to this thing again when I’m not driving. Which renders this book useless to me.

Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire, #1)

by Michael J. Sullivan

Sullivan takes an interesting approach to series writing that I really admire, as it’s something I’d do, too. He writes the whole series before he publishes the first book. In the event that big revelations come to him in the course of writing later books, he can go back to the earlier books to weave it in.

While I don’t yet know how this will play out in practice (having read only the first book), I’m intrigued.

For the most part, I liked Age of Myth. I like the world and mythology Sullivan is building.

The biggest negative commentary I have for this book is the sum of typos and sentence structure issues that plague the book. They cause roadblocks that detract from the flow and enjoyment of the story, and aren’t always easy to get past.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works

by Dan Harris

I listened to this book on two 4-hour drives from Salt Lake City to Jackson, Wyoming and back.

It was entertaining.

It was realistic.

I appreciate how Harris wrote a self-help book that doesn’t set out to provide lofty advice that will change your life! Instead, it’s about focusing on things that make you just 10% happier. Because 10% is normally all it takes to feel happier. 10% is enough.

Mastery

by Robert Greene

Impressively researched and incredibly deep, Mastery is a fantastic guidebook for those looking to go beyond the day-to-day grind and reach a level of proficiency that most people are too afraid to pursue.

This is one of the few audio books I’ve listened to that I want to buy in hard copy too.

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

by Brené Brown

I love Brené Brown’s work. I love the messages she shares.

This book, though well-reviewed by readers, didn’t strike me quite like her past work has. I didn’t feel like Braving the Wilderness shed light on anything new, at least not for me.

Part of this, I think, is that this book felt like it was drawn more from experience than from study, as her previous work has been.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

by Malcolm Gladwell

Format: Audiobook

Like all of Malcolm Gladwell books, Blink is full to the brim with relevant and engaging real-life stories of people who possess the qualities that help him boost his argument. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s a method of “show, don’t tell” that books of this ilk need.

In Blink, Gladwell tells the stories of individuals with an uncanny ability to make smart, spur-of-the-moment decisions based on intuition and gut feeling. Essentially, people who have built successful careers by making quick decisions without thinking.

I don’t think Gladwell gives enough credit to the amount of life experience it takes to be able to make such decisions. It required one to have experienced enough variables enough times to know the possible outcomes — and the most likely outcome — without needing to stew in thought for lengthy periods of time.

While still an enjoyable read, Blink doesn’t carry the same weight or power that Gladwell’s other books, such as The Tipping Point, possess.

UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products That People Want

by Jaime Levy

Since I was recently hired as a UX Strategist, it seemed logical to read this book. And it was. Jaime Levy’s UX Strategy is a fantastic companion for anyone in the user experience industry.

The only caveat with this book is that much of Levy’s experience is with projects that require shoestring budgets. This can make some of her advice seem inaccurate or oversimplified for some audiences. Even so, there is plenty to work with in UX Strategy — plenty of reasons to refer to it again and again — which is why it now has a permanent home on my desk.

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

by Charles Duhigg

Format: Audiobook

(This will probably be the lamest review I provide in this list, and not because it’s a terrible book. It’s not. It’s actually quite good. Anyway, you’ll see…)

In 2016, I listened to the audiobook version of Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business and learned a lot about how habits form, and how one can build good habits and destroy bad ones.

Smarter Faster Better felt equally valuable to me, but I’ll admit I was a bit distracted most of the time I was listening to this. I was busy thinking about other things while listening to this on my morning commute. Mostly because I’d just started a new project at work and had that to think about. I shouldn’t have tried to multitask. Ironic that I happened to be listening to a book about productivity.

What I was tuned in for, I really enjoyed and found valuable. I just need to give it another listen.

Dark Eden

by Chris Beckett

I have rarely felt so transported by a book before. Through simple, rhythmic prose, Chris Beckett breathes to life a richly imagined alien world that had me captivated from the first page till the last.

Dark Eden is a novel ripe with humor, linguistic ingenuity, and populated with a tapestry of lovable and despicable characters. The book starts 160 years after five human beings landed on a dark, rogue planet they named Eden. Three of them left to return to Earth, and two of them stayed.

Eden has no sun; it’s warmth comes from underground, brought to the surface by trees. Animals and plant life alike possess bio-luminescent features, the planet’s only source of light.

Deceptively simple yet deeply layered, Dark Eden explores the human condition in novel ways that kept me and my book club buddies discussing it for hours on end.

The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love

by Donna Lichaw

Ever since I’ve worked my way into a design career I’ve endeavored to find ways to bring storytelling to my work. Thankfully, there are many good books written about the subject, and this is one of them.

The User’s Journey is a pleasant, quick, visually-engaging read that beautifully explains how to bring storytelling into product design. Customers become characters traveling along a story arc, and it’s up to the designer to chart the course they’ll take — the lead-in, climax, and resolution they’ll experience with each task they perform.

WHAT DID YOU READ THIS YEAR?

If you made it this far, you’re a rock star! Let me know in the comments what your favorite book(s) you read in 2017 were. I’d love to add some good recommendations to my reading list for 2018 :)

Designer, writer, and photographer dwelling in Los Angeles.

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