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  • Writer's pictureMary Elizabeth Wieder

2023: Another year, another Book List

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Why keep an annual book list? Every new year start, most of my colleagues and friends are vowing to read more, and since knowledge is power, why not also share what we're reading? My picks throughout the year are a mix of continuous education in business, cultural reads, a mix of English and Italian language and, hopefully some good fictional reads as well.

Here is my list, with my review of each book, so leave your thoughts, comments and suggestions!

1. And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham -- LINK

As an American, I sometimes like to select some books that give further insight into our history as a relatively young country and attempts to explain why our society is shaped the way it is today. There are numerous books and biographies on Abraham Lincoln, the President that freed the slaves and saved the Union. This book was gripping and almost a page turner as it told the life of Lincoln while also painting a picture of American life in the 1860s. It sets the tone for the North vs South and racial struggle we still see today.

2. All About Love by Bell Hooks -- LINK

It's understandable why this is a best seller, as most people are looking for explanations about why love is lacking in their lives or why they have lost love in the past. I personally found it too spiritual, too philosophical and too subjective. With some valuable insight to reflect on, it didn't leave me with any overwhelming revelations. I was hoping for more lessons on empathy rather than self-therapy.

3. Less by Andrew Sean Greer -- LINK

Ok, so I admit I misunderstood the plot of this book when I ordered it. However, this book surprised me. This man's journey around the world to escape failed love, a failed career, cope with his 50th birthday all to come to a startling realization at the end. No spoilers, but my favorite dialogue in the whole book was Less' conversation with a woman he met in Morocco on the eve of his 50th birthday about how do we know what real love is. From New York to Mexico to Italy, Germany, Morocco, India and Japan, it was a surprisingly delightful ride.

4. Il Resto della Settimana by Maurizio de Giovanni -- LINK

I need to keep up with my ratio of throwing Italian-language books in the mix in order to improve my vocabulary and train my verb tenses (passato remoto...). So I chose a Napoletano author who decided to write a novel about the daily Italian habits of visiting the local café which is much more than just a morning pit stop for coffee. I enjoy reading about Southern Italian culture, so while I somewhat enjoyed it, I didn't expect a story entirely centered on football (soccer). Therefore, it lost me halfway.

5. Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson -- LINK

The title certainly grabbed my attention, and I am not quite sure how Amazon ended up recommending this book to me (other than the confirmed suspicion that our devices are listening to us and know how much I've been complaining about, well, being surrounded by idiots). The book's author is one of the co-founders of the famous TTS Insights tests often used by Human Resources departments to analyze personality types among job candidates and new hires. It sums our personalities up into 4 categories (or colors). It may seem too simple to label someone a "color", but the premise of the book will at least make you stop and think about why the person you are interacting with doesn't think or act the same way you do. It will also help you stop and analyze yourself and maybe identify some key communication flaws caused by your character traits. One thing I felt was missing from this analysis: how do you address a group that is a mix of colors at one time (for example, a boss addressing a team)?

6. The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman -- LINK

When I think about the 90s, I love it as a decade. It seems like the last time life was simpler and we didn't worry about being "connected" every second. It's also strange to read about a decade you lived through as if it were a history book. I was between the ages of 5 and 15 in the 90s, so I can definitely attest to the "feel" of 90s in this book. The book combined an interesting mix of culture, current events and politics to explain how the 90s was actually the perfect bridge between simpler times and the digital age we've come to encompass. The book covered everything from pop and hip hop music to the phenomenon that was Titanic, however I felt it left out a significant moment of the 90s: the death of Princess Diana in 1997. As a 13-year old at the time, I felt this was one of the first earth-shattering events that linked the entire globe in real-time. It was the first time I felt the whole world was watching the same thing at the same moment, which was pretty groundbreaking for that time. Very quick and insightful, and at times fun, read especially for anyone that grew up in the 90s.

7. Le Otto Montagne by Paolo Cognetti -- LINK

This is a great Italian-language novel about lifelong friendship and tackling life's challenges alongside your personal dreams. It's a great story about the beauty and uniqueness of the Italian mountains, and different from how most people out think of Italy. We often don't picture the "mountaineer" when we think of Italians but northern Italians are actually quite attached to the mountain ranges surrounding it. Great read! It was also made into a movie.

8. Entrepreneurial Marketing: Beyond Professionalism to Creativity, Leadership and Sustainability by Philip Kotler -- LINK

Some say Kotler, the guru of marketing, is old news. However, his latest work proves that he still gets it. While Entrepreneurial Marketing isn't necessarily a mind blowing glimpse at the current and future state of marketing, it provides an essential toolkit for marketers today and pieces together all the aspects that are rapidly changing business and marketing's role in these changes. Marketing is not a silo role within companies. Most importantly, the book reinforces the impact of sustainability and social impact in a company's business model. If you are not building a dynamic and flexible business model and marketing strategy, you are destined to fail long term.

9. Broke Millennial takes on Investing by Erin Lowry -- LINK

If you're in the Millennial category like myself and looking at different investment opportunities as we (hopefully) continue to climb the career ladder, this is a good informational book to get you started or help you "level up". The stock market quite frankly still scares me, as it does most Millennials, but it's important to remember the cyclical nature of the stock market and understand the most basic terminology and investment options. It also helps navigate the digital options available to first truly digital generation. It led me to revisiting investment options and checking out some online advisors, especially those for women like ElleVest.

10. How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith -- LINK

Easy read, but quite powerful! The book talks about twelve habits that keep many women from being successful in the workplace as told through various real life stories as well. This work follows up on Goldsmith's previous work on habits in general that keep people from being successful, but found that most of that research applied to men. Gender, in fact, does need to be taken into account when we talk about behavior and expectations at work. While readers might not identify with all 12 habits described, it's almost guaranteed we've fallen victim to a few. One potential weakness in the reseach: it seems to focus on only high profile careers like lawyers and engineers. Regardless, I've recommended this book to several female colleagues and friends.

11. La Bella Estate by Cesare Pavese -- LINK

My Italian-language quota for the summer is a novel based in Torino (Turin) from one of Italy's beloved authors of the last century. I am not really sure what draws me to these novels, I think maybe the idea of discovering a part of Italian culture or history I haven't experienced yet. Pavese tells the tale of two young women in the 1930s in Torino with a friendship that borderlines on a potential attraction and romance and how they struggle with life, love and morality during one long summer.

12. Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano -- LINK

As summer reading rolls on, this was a best-selling novel and an Obama recommendation that captured my attention. A novel that expands over 400 pages and four decades, it was an interesting and attention-grabbing read that follows the story of a Chicago family of four sisters and what happens when a "damaged" stranger enters their lives. It's a strangely twisted story of sisterhood, love, feminism and an outright look at mental health. I think the genius of this novel is that, even though there are many characters in this book, at some point the reader can identify with all of them in some way. It can be a beach or by the fire read, highly recommended!

13. The Right Call: what sports teach us about work and life by Sally Jenkins -- LINK

As a lifelong athlete myself, I have never doubted the connection between the skills needed to succeed in sports and, well, life in general. I usually thought about soft skills and characteristics like time management and work ethic. In this book, famed sports journalist, Sally Jenkins, talks about the elements that all successful athletes have in common - conditioning, practice, discipline, candor, culture, failure and intention - and how these all need to be applied to leaders off the field. Very good read even for occasional athlete (what does Nike say - "If you have a body, you're an athlete"). One heads up: the examples and stories are of American athletes and professional teams.

14. The Color Purple by Alice Walker -- LINK

It's a world renowned novel, in some places even banned, about being black, particularly a black woman, in the southern United States in the early 20th century. Alice Walker's painstakingly honest story has been made into a movie twice now, and it's not difficult to see why this novel draws attention: the characters and their emotions are vividly detailed, some plot lines will make you uncomfortable but you still can't turn away, and the tactic of writing the novel as letters makes it an inevitable page turner. The very first chapter will set the stage for what is about to come.

15. The Power of Fun by Catherine Price -- LINK

I saw this book recommended by several pioneers of the LEGO® Serious Play® methodology, of which I am a certified facilitator, so I was curious as to how we can convince adults and business people to incorporate more fun into their lives. I think the book describes what fun is and why it's important, but then drags on a little bit in how to have fun and with whom. However, it hammers home the point that fun fosters creativity, motivation and even attention. It also points out what "toxic" fun might look like - for example endless scrolling on our phones or video game addictions. It will definitely get you to rethink how much useless time you spend on your phone and how you spend your 24 hours in a day.

16. Good for a Girl: a Women Running in a Man's World by Lauren Fleshman -- LINK

I guess this book just hits too close to home: a female athlete facing the challenges of trying to succeed in a male-dominated world and athletics programs that are built for men to thrive. As a former track and field star turned celebrated coach, Lauren takes us through her life as a child athlete, to teenage running prodigy to collegiate powerhouse to professional athlete and all the hurdles she faced along the way because of her gender, and how we as women often fail to even notice the gaps (like accounting for biological differences, gender pay gaps between pro athletes, etc). As a former collegiate Division I athlete (in softball) and now a competitive runner, I read the book while training for my first ever marathon. I would advise any sports fan to give it a read to understand the differences between male and female athletes.

17. How to Think like a Roman Emperor: the Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius by Donald J. Robertson -- LINK

This book kept popping up on my suggested book list and the title did intrigue me. Philosophy isn't a subject we spend much time on in American classrooms, yet Europeas seem to be well versed in philosophic lifestyles. The idea of Stoicism seemed interesting for someone like me who is easily stressed, has little patience, can be full of anxiety, and at times, struggles to control my anger. This book is a great combination of history, as the author tells the story of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, and philosophic wellbeing: how to let things go, how to deal with anger, how to earn respect of others, by following the Stoic philosophy. Stoicism basically focuses on the "well-lived" life, something I think we all strive for.

18. Quaderno Proibito by Alba de Céspedes -- LINK

This book was published on the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2023, mostly because of the republish and translation into English. I was intrigued to find an Italian novel published in 1952 on this list, especially by an Italian-Cuban author from Rome who was the daughter of the Cuban ambassador to Italy. The novel follows a women in 1950s post-war Italy after she buys a journal from the local tobacco shop and starts to write down her secrets and feelings of being a woman in that era, including the unusual love story she forms in her office and the difficult relationship she carries on with her children as they enter adulthood, especially her daughter who challenges stereotypical ideals of female independence. In its own simplicity it is a very powerful novel, and could still serve as a sort of feminist message today. One of my favorite reads over the past few years.

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