Books Read in 2020

kindle 2020
“Kindle 2020” by Leon Chan

You figured with a pandemic and the shutdown of social gatherings; I would have a ton of time to catch up on reading. However, I only read 7 more books than last year. I got distracted by video games and various side projects during the second half of the year. 

With remote work, I spent less time in my car the past year and, therefore, listened to fewer audiobooks. My favorite audiobook this past year was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It was read by the author himself. He did a wonderful job using different voices for the characters. It felt more like audio theater than an audiobook.

My reading followed my personal interests in 2020, which sounds like an obvious statement. I started the year reading a bunch of self-help books focused on entrepreneurship. I then transitioned to science fiction and fantasy. I got into Chinese science fiction after reading Paper Menagerie. I ended the year with a couple of sports betting books.

The most impactful book this past year was Getting Things Done by David Allen. I used the organizational methods described in this book throughout 2020. I start Monday mornings by pulling up the book’s weekly review checklist. The weekly review goes over every process involved in the GTD system, such as next actions, projects, waiting for, and someday/maybe lists. 

Books read in 2020:

  1. Stumbling on Happiness
  2. Getting Things Done
  3. The Magic of Thinking Big
  4. E-Myth Revisited
  5. The Inevitable (Audiobook)
  6. Essentialism
  7. Little Fires Everywhere (Audiobook)
  8. The Courage to Be Disliked
  9. Flash Boys (Audiobook)
  10. Food Rules
  11. Anything You Want
  12. Head First HTML & CSS
  13. Awareness
  14. Atomic Habits (Audiobook)
  15. The Graveyard Book (Audiobook)
  16. Paper Menagerie and Other Short Stories
  17. The Amber Spyglass
  18. On Writing Well
  19. Fooled by Randomness (Audiobook)
  20. White Fragility
  21. The Three Body Problem
  22. The Dark Forest
  23. Hell Yeah or No
  24. Single Blade of Grass
  25. Beat the Sports Books
  26. Sharp Sports Betting
  27. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Betting Odds

betting ticket
“Betting Ticket” by Leon Chan

My latest hobby is betting on NFL games. I spent a lot of time watching football games and digging into player news and injuries over the past few months. I figured I can turn that knowledge into profit with sports betting.

I picked up several books on gambling to aid in this pursuit.  I’ve found tons of fascinating information, especially with the math involved in gambling. I am going to share what I’ve learned in a series of posts, starting with this one. It’ll be a great way to solidify my reading.

American Odds

The first topic is the odds that sportsbooks offer. Since I reside in US, bets are offered and placed with American odds. These odds are centered around winning or wagering $100 on any given bet. For example, a sportsbook might offer the Los Angeles Lakers at -200 to win their next game. Another bet could be the Kansas City Chiefs at +150 to win the Super Bowl.

Let’s break down what these numbers mean. I’ll start with the negative numbers or what I call minus odds. Minus odds are used when an outcome is favored or more likely to happen. The number shown after the minus sign is what you have to risk to win $100.  This means the amount risked is more than the net winnings.

Let’s say I like the Lakers to win their next game at -200 from the example above. I would go to the sportsbook offering that bet and give them $200 for a ticket. If the Lakers win, I will redeem the ticket and receive $300. My net winnings would be $300 minus $200 for $100. I am risking $200 to win $100 at -200 odds.

The bet does not have be $200 but it makes the math easy for this post. I could bet $60 on the Lakers instead of $200. However, if they win, I would receive a net winning of $30 instead of $100.

On the other side, the positive numbers or plus odds indicate an outcome is unlikely or an underdog. The number after the plus sign indicates the amount won per $100 risked. This translates to the net winnings being more than the amount risked.

Once again using the example from above, I want to bet on the Chiefs at +150 to win the Super Bowl. I would go to the sportsbook and hand over $100 for a ticket. If the Chiefs end up winning the championship, I would cash that ticket for $250. My net winnings would be $250 minus $100 for $150. I am risking $100 to win $150 at +150 odds.

However, if the Chiefs do not win, the ticket is worthless and I would have lost $100. The same situation also applies in the Lakers’ example. However, I would have lost $200 in that bet as I paid more for the minus odds.

Implied Odds

There’s more to these minus and plus odds than just conveying the net winnings of a bet. The numbers can also be translated to a probability. This probability can be used to evaluate whether the bet is a good one.

Let’s start with minus odds. Remember, these are favored outcomes, so the probabilities should be higher than 50%. To calculate these probabilities, take the odds and divide it by the odds plus 100. For the -200 Lakers bet, the implied probability is:

200 / (200 + 100) = 200 / 300 = 67%

I would need to believe the Lakers are going to win the game more than 67% of the time if I want to be profitable with that bet. Another way to think about is: if the Lakers played this game 100 times, are they going to win more than 67 times?

The implied odds for plus numbers are calculated with a similar equation. These outcomes are unlikely, so the probability should be less than 50%. To calculate these probabilities, divide 100 by the odds plus 100. For the +150 Chiefs bet, the implied probability is:

100 / (100 + 150) = 100 / 250 = 40%

I would need to trust that the Chiefs win the Super Bowl more than 40% of the time to make money with this bet. Another way to put it is: if the season was played out 100 times, would the Chiefs win it all at least 40 times?

Its that easy?

As shown in the examples above, understanding the odds and the implied probabilities makes it easier to evaluate a bet. However, you won’t beat the sportsbook with only that information. You’ll need to come up with your own probabilities to compare it with the sportsbook’s lines. And this is hardest part of profitable sports betting.



“Donations” by Leon Chan

As the calendar flips over to the new year, I take time to review the past 12 months. This review includes looking back on the experiences, activities, books, and purchases that produced the most and least joy. One of the items that produces significant meaning is budgeting a small percent of my paycheck for donations. This money could definitely be used for a shiny new iPad or invested in my retirement fund. However, it’s important to me to set aside a certain amount of money for worthy causes every year.

I first came across the idea of annual charitable donations while researching career advice in 2018. One of the takeaways from that research was I wanted to make a positive impact on the world. According to 80,000 Hours, the most effective way to do that is a career in research, government policy, or non-profit organizations. However, people in any career can make a significant impact by contributing financially. Since I’m not in any of the aforementioned fields, I’ve decided to do my part with donations.

I donated to the following charitable organizations in 2019:


Youth Rally is an organization dedicated to helping adolescents living with bowel and bladder conditions. I made this contribution because my friend asked for donations as his birthday present. Money is a taboo subject and asking for it can be difficult. So whenever one of my friends ask for donations and it’s within my means, I do what I can to contribute.


Teach for America‘s mission is to provide an excellent and equitable education to all children. They believe, as I do, that where you are born should not determine your opportunities. Being a former Corps Member, I feel compelled to donate every year to this cause.


Most of my donation dollars go to the the Effective Altruism Fund. This fund uses analysis and research to determine the best causes to work on. The people behind the fund do all the leg work to determine the best and most effective charities. This frees me up to concentrate on other aspects of life while still making a positive impact on the world.


The 5 Love Languages

love languages
“Love Languages” by Leon Chan

The 5 Love Languages | Gary Chapman – I finally decided to read The 5 Languages after taking the quiz more than a year ago. The book was a quick read and I finished it in a week. There were no surprises with the main points of the book. You can find the five love languages and their descriptions by searching the internet. The book illustrates each language with stories from Gary Chapman’s career. These were helpful in discerning the different ways to express and receive love.

My two main takeaways from the book doesn’t deal with the love languages. It comes from the themes that Gary Chapman weaves throughout the chapters.


Love is more than a feeling that springs from the chemicals firing in your brain. Love is the actions you take to show appreciation for your loved one. You choose to love your partner by filling their “love tank” with acts in their love language.


This point perfectly ties in with the previous idea. In love and in life, you waste time and energy by worrying about things outside of your control. You can’t make someone love you. You can give them the opportunity to show their love by making requests. It’s their choice to respond and show their love for you.


Books Read in 2019

books 2019
“Books 2019” by Leon Chan

This past year I used a Jibun Techno B6 Slim as my main planner and journal. One of the sections in this notebook is a book list. The template inspired me to keep a record of all the book I’ve read or listened to throughout the year. Now that the year is winding down and I’m transferring to the 2020 journal, it gives me the perfect opportunity to review my list and establish a digital record.

In 2019, I consumed 20 books, 14 read and 6 listened to. There are a handful of books that didn’t make the list because I started the book but didn’t finish it. I’m learning to be more selective with my reading and move on from things that don’t keep my interest. This year’s list also leans heavier on nonfiction. Books were more a learning a tool than a form of entertainment for me this year.

I started using Libby this past summer to borrow e-books and audiobooks from the public library. I discovered that audiobooks were a joy to listen to. It was like listening to a longer and more in-depth podcast. It also felt more intimate to actually hear the author’s voice instead of imaging the sounds in my head. It wasn’t all positive, as I had difficulties with “reading” comprehension, especially while driving. I became confused during my listen of the Joy Luck Club. I didn’t catch the transition from the main narrative to the side stories and had to do some internet research to piece everything together.

My favorite read of 2019 was When Breath Becomes Air. Paul Kalanithi does an excellent job weaving medical information and philosophical theories with details from his own life. The writing is excellent and does a fantastic job making you think about what death and life really means.

My most fun read of 2019 was the His Dark Materials series. Philip Pullman creates these big overarching questions that pull you in. The wonderful thing about the questions is that the characters themselves don’t know the answer, so you get to discover the answers with them.

My most impactful read of 2019 was Fluent Forever. I’ve been wanting to learn Japanese for years and this book gave me the road map on how to do it. After reading the book, I purchased the learning aids from the Fluent Forever website and haven’t looked back. I believe SRS, spaced repetition system, and mnemonics are great tools for memorization, especially for new and foreign vocabulary.

Books read in 2019 (in chronological order):

  1. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!
  2. The Ego is the Enemy
  3. The Bottleneck Rules
  4. Moon Palace
  5. When Breath Becomes Air
  6. Men Without Women
  7. Scrappy Little Nobody (Audiobook)
  8. On Writing Well Audio Collection (Audiobook)
  9. Fluent Forever (Audiobook)
  10. Thinking in Bets (Audiobook)
  11. The 5 Love Languages
  12. Designing Your Life
  13. The Joy Luck Club (Audiobook)
  14. We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons
  15. Born Standing Up (Audiobook)
  16. Draft No. 4
  17. I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Second Edition
  18. A Geek in Japan
  19. The Golden Compass
  20. The Subtle Knife


“Meditations” by Leon Chan
What I’ve Read:

Meditations | Marcus Aurelius – I’ve mentioned Stoicism a handful of times in the recent past and this book has a lot to do with it. This book along with Disclosures and Selected Writings by Epictetus and Letters from a Stoic by Seneca make up the holy trinity of Stoicism Books. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD. Meditations is the collection of journals he kept during his time as ruler. The pages are filled with his thoughts and self reminders about Stoic philosophy. He uses this framework to reflect on what it takes to be a “good” person.

I have favorite lines and passages underlined and highlighted throughout the book; I bought the paperback edition for specifically this reason. However, the most memorable part of this book for me is in the forward provided by the translator, Gregory Hays. He breaks down Stoic philosophy into three components: will, action, and perception. Will is having the grace to let go of the things out of our control. Action is to treat others fairly and justly. And perception is viewing things not as good or bad but just as they are. The practice of these three values will lead to a life well lived.

The following are some of my favorite lines from the book:

The best revenge is not to be like that.


You can hold your breath until you turn blue, but they’ll still go on doing it.


Forget the future. When and if it comes, you’ll have the same resources to draw on -the same logos.


Books and Rugs

“Rug” by Leon Chan

As is the case lately, these two reads presented a moment of reflection. I somehow managed to take more than just the intended messages from the pieces. Out of the two, I would say the second one has a more profound message. I liked the use of Navajo rugs as a reminder of the growth mindset. That mistakes are okay and part of life.

What I’ve Read:

Learning to hate Stephen King, and other lessons from reading 5 books in 10 days | Beth B. Cooper – I first found out about Beth B. Cooper through her app, Exist. From there, I stumbled upon her blog and have been following the RSS feed ever since. I liked reading her monthly reports on personal goals and reviews of Japanese planners and stationary.

This post is longer than her usual writing but I enjoyed reading the journal-like entries of her ten days. When she reads a book, she likes to use the metaphor of spending time with the author. This is unique and something I haven’t thought about before. I believe this turn of phrase works when you read a memoir or personal essay because you dive into the writer’s deepest thoughts and feelings. It feels like you are reliving that experience with the author. It made me think of those who read my writing. Do you feel like you’ve spent five minutes with me when you read these updates?

Her piece also made me contemplate the way I read and process advice from books. I usually finish all books I start and don’t put something away because it was boring or not applicable. Although, I can’t say I never do this because I did put away Gilead after a couple chapters. I also don’t criticize the advice offered from authors I’ve read. I always felt that they are more successful than me, so what they have to say holds weight. But it wouldn’t hurt to put their words under a microscope. To see if it really makes sense to me.

A mistake is just a moment in time | Signal v. Noise – I can’t remember the first time I’ve heard the saying, “a man is only as good as his word.” But the idea has stuck with me since childhood. As a result, I’ve felt that my words were permanent reflections of my personality and values. I hesitate to say things that I feel might not be true one day. But lately, I’ve been questioning that belief. Just like those rugs, something I’ve written or said, was probably true at that moment in time. But as time goes on and I change and grow, those words might not be true. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite but someone who changed his beliefs in the light of new information. This essay and those rugs are reminders to express what I feel, even though those feelings might change in the future.

P.S. – I’m oddly proud of my sketch this week.


Mountain Bull

bull mountain
“Bull Mountain” by Leon Chan

This week’s links are all reads and fairly lengthy ones at that. It’s an eclectic collection with themes dealing with death, social expectations, and the art of making milk tea. As always, the common thread is that these stories were ones I’ve found fascinating and wanted to share.

What I’ve Read:

The Bull on the Mountain | The New York Review of Books – The late Oliver Sacks pens this wonderful story about hiking along a mountain in Norway. It’s one of those pieces that made me fall in love with reading again. I absolutely enjoyed every word from beginning to end, especially his meditations on death towards the end of the story.

I’m in my 40s, child-free, and happy. Why won’t anyone believe me? | The Seattle Times – Wonderful piece from a female author in her 40’s about being single and enjoying it. I love the way she redefines the metrics of a fulfilling life. She has many close relationships with her family, friends, and their children. She also has the freedom to travel and do what she wants without anything tying her down. But most of all, I admire her ability to shut out the outside voices and focus on her own definitions of a good life.

How Hong Kong-style milk tea became part of local culture | South China Morning Post – I’m not sure how I came across this article, it was buried in the middle of my Pocket list. But I’m glad I dug it up because I got to learn more about my mother land and one of my favorite drinks. I’ve been wanting to visit Hong Kong again to see my dad’s side of family, especially my ever aging grandma. So this might be the nudge I needed to finally book a ticket after six years of being away. I can’t wait to wake up every morning to a steaming cup of Hong Kong milk tea.



“31” by Leon Chan

A little late on the update from last week, but it’s better later than never, right? There’s a bunch of pretty insightful links in this update. My favorite of the bunch is the short podcast from On Being. It’s a quick reminder to examine your own mind and not be so hard on yourself.

What I’ve Read:

3.1 Lessons Learned on the Way to 31 | Thought Catalog – The title seems like total click bait but I read and respect the author, Ryan Holiday, so I looked past it. I also just turned 31, so I thought this piece was especially relevant. The lesson that hit home the hardest was, “It Always Takes Longer Than You Want Or Think.” I’ve always prided myself as someone who is persistent and tries his hardest to get what he wants. But recently, I’ve learned to let go of things that are out of my control. To be patient and, to quote Mary Oliver (again), “let things take the times they take.”

Bluets: Maggie Nelson on the Color Blue as a Lens on Memory, Loneliness, and the Paradoxes of Love | Brian Pickings – In typical Mary Popova fashion, she pulls excerpts from a book while reflecting and connecting thoughts to other authors and ideas. From the samples provided in the piece, this books meditates on the feelings of love through the color blue. The paragraph that really stuck with me is where Maria contemplates where does the love go when time has passed and feelings fade. After much thought, my answer would that it goes back to where it first came from, whether that be nature, the universe, or some other divine source. Because where do those intense feelings of love and passion come from in the first place?

What I’ve Heard:

Living the Questions: How can we embrace vulnerability in ourselves and our culture? | On Being – Krista Tippett has started a new segment called Living the Question within On Being. In this series, Krista answers questions from the viewers that deal with the spirit in every day life. The episodes are pretty short, each one is around ten minutes long. In this episode, she gets asked how we embrace our vulnerabilities. As expected from Krista Tippett, her answer is very profound. She says to acknowledge the feelings that vulnerability bring up. Then to give yourself grace and acceptance for those feelings and ask why do you feel that way. This response reminds me of the self awareness onion from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.


Back to Basics

“Cherry” by Leon Chan

This week I’m taking a step back from all the self improvement and reflections. I’m going back to sharing reads and listens that I just plain find interesting. I had to dig quite a bit but was reminded of a great story when I did stumble on something.

What I’ve Read:

The Maraschino Mogul’s Secret Life | The New Yorker – This story starts off as a quirky mystery about red colored honey in the New York area. But as the details unfold, the features evolves into a profile of an eccentric and hard working cherry supplier. I liked the complexity of the story and its characters, how the main character isn’t just painted in black and white. This is a pretty hefty read at over 35,000 words but I found that the plot pulled me through and it felt a lot shorter than the word count.

What I’ve Heard:

‘The Office,’ S4E9: “Dinner Party | The Recappables – The Ringer just came out with their top 100 TV episodes of the century (so since the year 2000). To generate interest and additional content, they are recapping some of the episodes on their Recappables podcast. I just watched this episode of ‘The Office’ and have to agree this is definitely in the top five of all ‘The Office’ episodes. I love podcasts like this one because it feels like you are among a group of friends discussing your favorite thing.

Acoustic | Above & Beyond – I recently had a conversation about the Above & Beyond acoustic concert at the Waikiki Shell back in 2016. It’s always a little surprising to find out someone you know now was at the same place as you. That if somehow fate intervened a little earlier, you might have met each other earlier. Anyways, I remembered that I really like the A&B acoustic album and wanted to share as I listened to it again this past week.