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

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.


The Subtle Art

subtle art
“Subtle Art” by Leon Chan
 What I’ve Read:

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck | Mark Manson – I’ve heard about this book for a while now, it was published in September 2016, but have shrugged off reading it. I was judging the book by its cover, or rather it’s title. In my mind, the title suggested a shallow and cliche premise; that you shouldn’t care (or give a f*ck) about what others’ thought.

Despite my previous thoughts, I picked up the book on Amazon Prime Day. It was a relatively quick read at a little over 200 pages; I was able to finish the book in about 3 nights. After reading the book, I can say that I was completely wrong about its contents. The first chapter does go into detail about identifying your differences and being comfortable with them. But the rest of the book covers a whole lot more than that.

Basically this book describes Mr. Mason’s philosophy on life, which is closely tied to teachings of Zen Buddhism and Stoicism. The book is littered with clever examples and personal stories to illustrate his points. Most of these examples were familiar to me because of my extensive dive into his blog. However, the paragraphs between the examples are what make the book special. Without giving too much away, the book starts by explaining why values are important, then goes into Mr. Manson’s personal values.

One of the chapters that caused a shift in my thinking was the chapter titled Happiness is a Problem. I didn’t appreciate the double meaning of the chapter title until this reflection. Mr. Manson’s theory is wanting to be happy actually causes discomfort. What gives us joy is solving problems. So the way to a good life is to choose the problems you can live with. He gives an excellent example in physical fitness; if you want to have a great body, then you have to deal with the pain of putting in the hours at the gym, the day-after soreness, and sticking to a diet. There’s always going to be issues that come up in life but you get to choose which ones to give a f*ck about with your values.

Overall, I think this is a great “self-help” book that causes the reader to think about life differently. I got around the excessive use of expletives but replacing “giving a f*ck” with “caring” or “worrying”. But in the end, Mr. Manson is just following his advice and not giving a f*ck about the number of times f*ck is used in the book.



“Mindset” by Leon Chan

I recently came across a couple of blog posts that discuss the difference between the fixed and growth mindsets. These mindsets help describe how we see our personality traits. In the fixed mindset, the belief is you are what you are; your intelligence, character, and skills do not change over time.

On the other hand, those in the growth mindset believe that life is a process. They view every mistake as a lesson and opportunity to learn. Being bad at something is only temporary, with hard work and practice they feel like they can get better at any skill.

I was introduced to the idea of the growth and fixed mindsets during my time at Teach For America. The organization instilled in us that the growth mindset was critical to students’ development. We wanted the students to believe that being good at math isn’t because you were born with a big brain. It was because you put in the time to learn and practice the concepts of geometry and algebra.

Being exposed to this concept made me realized how much I was stuck in the fixed mindset. At Institute, our group of Corps Members would play volleyball during our off time. I was invited to play but would always decline as I viewed myself as a bad volleyball player. I couldn’t handle the embarrassment of sucking. I remember not trying a bunch of things because I was scared of being exposed. I needed to protect my frail ego from failing or being noticed failing.

Over my two years of teaching, I would fail… a lot. My students didn’t pass the standardized tests in the percentages required by the state. I would spend hours creating lessons with intricate props that would bomb within the first ten minutes. I couldn’t control my classroom of twelve students, it was as if I was ran over by eleven year olds. I felt like I wasn’t making a difference and was just playing teacher. But I wouldn’t change anything about that experience.

The funny thing is I probably learned more about myself than the students did about math, which meant I really failed at teaching. I began to embrace the growth mindset and my failures as much as I hoped my students would. I admitted to not knowing how to bike and was taught by my roommate. I also went surfing for the first time and actually stood up on a surfboard. I got in front of a classroom of students and commanded attention even though I generally don’t like being the center of attention. I leaned into my shortcomings and worked to gain new skills.

However, this doesn’t mean that I’m totally immune to the fixed mindset. At karaoke, I find myself being embarrassed to sing after someone belts out a perfect ballad. I’m still not confident in riding a bike and failed miserably about a year ago. I shy away from social events because I don’t think I’m outgoing enough.

These articles and my experience in Teach For America remind me that those things can change. I can go on Youtube to watch video lessons on singing and vocal chords. I can ask my friends if they would give me bike lessons and practice until I become competent. I can keep going to these events and work on just saying hi to one new person. I wouldn’t want any of my former students to believe that they can’t change for the better, so why would I limit myself to that belief?

What I’ve Read:

Fixed mindset vs Growth mindset | Derek Sivers – Short post that summarizes the differences between the fixed and growth mindset. Great to read if you don’t have time and just want to get the gist of it.

Fixed vs. Growth: Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives | Brain Pickings – Awesome longer post that weaves Maria Popova’s thoughts into the subject.

Mindset by Carol Dweck | Derek Sivers – This is Derek Siver’s notes on the book that inspired the two blog posts shared above. I like reading his notes because it’s like getting the cliff notes on nonfiction books. The most meaningful notes for me occur towards the bottom of the page. These notes deal with how the growth and fixed mindset affect relationships.

What I’ve Heard:

Tritonia 220 | Tritonal – This is a random nugget thrown into about 800 words about mindsets. Last weekend, I went to a Tritonal concert and had a blast. That might also be the reason why this update was late. For the last month or so, I’ve been listening to their radio show Tritionia in anticipation of the show.


I’ve been thinking about my TFA experience more after this update. I think I’ll use this as a draft to a longer piece about my entire time teaching. Plus, it’ll be nice to have something written that I can refer to when my memory starts fading.


Year of Yes

year of yes
“Year of Yes” by Leon Chan

I was catching up with an old friend and mentioned that during the past couple of years, I found myself saying ‘no’ more often than not. I would say ‘no’ to going out to concerts, work related events, and hanging out with my friends. I didn’t have better plans but just felt more comfortable at home. I believe it was one of reasons that led to the end of my relationship. So to turn things around, I decided that I was going to say ‘yes’ to almost anything within reason. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and experience new things. It didn’t make sense that I love to learn but was doing it mostly through reading, podcasts, and writing instead of doing things.

My friend said my story reminded her of Shonda Rhimes’ memoir, Year of Yes. Shonda Rhimes is the creator of some of the TV’s most iconic dramas: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. During Thanksgiving, Shonda’s sister calls her out for always saying ‘no’ to incredible opportunities. This led to her saying ‘yes’ to everything that scares her over the course of the next year or so. I’m sure the book is much more nuanced than that short description but I’ll have to read it to find out.

I’ve put the book in my to read list. But to give myself some inspiration, I found an NPR interview and Shonda Rhimes’ TED talk about the subject.

What I’ve Watched:

Shonda Rhimes: My year of saying yes to everything | TED Talk – After watching this video, I remembered seeing this TED Talk before. I didn’t take away much from this talk the first time around. I thought the lesson was very cliche, don’t spend all your time at work. This time around, the video had a more profound impact. It reminded me that my time away from work is for leisure. I don’t have to be using all my time away from work pursuing writing, reading, or whatever my current obsession is. I should spend some of that time having fun with friends and family.

What I’ve Heard:

For a year, Shonda Rhimes Said ‘Yes’ To All The Things That Scared Her | NPR – I recommend listening to the extended interview that’s about halfway down the page. This interview provides a wider scope of the book than the TED Talk. I felt the TED Talk was focused on how saying ‘yes’ reignited Shonda Rhimes’ love of writing. While this interview, and I’m assuming the book, explores how that year transformed more than just her work life.


Modern Romance

modern romance
“Modern Romance” by Leon Chan

This week’s read is sort of like a book recommendation. Most of the update was done before my hiatus from writing but I couldn’t find a good way to conclude it. As you might have noticed, the latest updates have been focused on my most recent relationship. As a result, I thought about how that relationship fit into the scope of “modern romance.” It provided a way for me to connect to the book and offer a conclusion to the update.

What I Read:

Modern Romance | Aziz Ansari – As mentioned in the introduction, I didn’t pick up this book because of my recent break up. I read this book in the beginning of the year, about the time when allegations against Aziz Ansari came out. My first reaction was to take a break from the book and read a couple of short stories. I eventually decided to continue reading the book to completion.

The title of this book explains its premise pretty well. This book is about dating and relationships in the current environment. From my friends’ summaries of the book, I thought this book would mostly focus on online dating and the current slew of dating apps. I was pleasantly surprised to find out the book covers more than that. It gives a bit of historical context on romance. It also goes beyond just dating and looks at how technology has transformed long-term relationships and marriage.

Since it’s been over two years since the book has come out, I was already familiar with some of the material. I feel like a few of the episodes in Ansari’s show, Master of None, pulls its theme straight out of the book. I can understand why Aziz wanted to do the television series. He could get his message out to more people by presenting it in another medium.

I could relate to the book in many ways because my last relationship was heavily influenced by current technology. I wouldn’t have gotten my former girlfriend’s number if it wasn’t for Facebook. And I’m positive the long distance part of our relationship would have been much harder without FaceTime and Snapchat. These services helped shrink the distance and made me feel more connected to her.

However, I’m also currently experiencing the downside of being so easily connected. I dread logging onto social media and seeing her pictures pop up. However, this may be an unfounded fear because I haven’t seen too many posts about her. Additionally, I hate to admit it but I have gone through Instagram to see if she deleted our pictures together or, even worse, blocked me from her feed. These are inconveniences that past generations didn’t have to face but they also didn’t have the benefits I described earlier. I haven’t decided if it’s better or worst, it’s just different and what I have to deal with now.


An Unnecessary… Book Review

“Unnecessary” by Leon Chan

This week I’m going to switch it up a bit. Instead of sharing a pair of articles that I’ve read, I’m going to give my thoughts on a book I just finished. This book has been sitting half read in my kindle for over five months. I used the time off during the holidays to pick it up again. It quickly grabbed my attention and I completed it just after the new year.

What I’ve Read:

An Unnecessary Woman | Rabih Alameddine – This book is character driven rather than most of the plot driven stories I’ve read previously. That’s not a knock on the book because the character behind the first person narrative is extremely interesting. The main character is a seventy two year old book translator named Aaliya. The actual timeline of the story is only about a week but you basically live out 70 years in Beirut as her mind often wanders to memories of the past.

Aaliya translates classics from English or French to Arabic. As such, many of her thoughts are punctured with quotes and lines from Russian and Greek philosophers, authors, and poets. To be honest a lot of these references go over my head but I was still able to grasp the meaning from the context of the writing. Another thing that got lost on me were the callbacks to the civil war in Lebanon during the 1990’s. I’m a bit rusty on history of the Middle East. Therefore, I had to use the internet to provide additional background to some of the events in the book.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the context of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing is witty and the images of Beirut made me want to visit. To that point, I felt like I was right there with Aaliya every time she slipped into the past. Those short stories of her life, and the book overall, were immensely satisfying.