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

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.


Drought Update

water rights
“Water Rights” by Leon Chan

This week’s read on water rights trading feels like an update to an earlier newsletter on the drought in California. The solution mentioned in the article seems like a legitimate way to ease some of the water issues. However, ProPublica does a great job of covering both sides of the story and shows the downside of transferring water away form farmland.

What I’ve Read:

Liquid Assets | ProPublica – This article explores the concept of trading water rights as a means to solving the water crisis on the west coast. During the 1900’s, water rights along the Colorado River were given to farmers as an incentive for moving west. In recent years, various municipalities and entrepreneurs bought these rights off the farmers to divert water to urban cores. They argue that it would cut down on waste and deliver water where its needed most. However, as this piece shows, the answer is not as clean cut as it seems.

The Blissfully Slow World of Internet Newsletters | WIRED – In this article, the author sells the reader on the fascination behind email newsletters while weaving in some of his favorites. If you are reading this on my newsletter, it’s quite a meta and self serving. Here’s a newsletter recommending an article about the wonders of the newsletter.


Information Overload

“Overload” by Leon Chan

Like last week, there’s only one link this week. However, I found the topic discussed in the podcast highly entertaining and enlightening. I hope you enjoy the listen and become less overwhelmed by information.

What I’ve Heard:

Infomagical | Note To Self – This project by WNYC’s Note To Self explores the consequences of information overload and how to manage the data absorbed in this digital age. The series starts with an introduction of “infomania” and how it affects our daily lives. The following episodes offer small challenges to combat this creep of information and distractions. My favorites from the series are “Magical Phone” and “Magical Life.”

Magical Phone” focuses on cleaning up the cellphone home screen, making it less cluttered. The idea stems from Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but applied to the digital realm. This was an idea I thought about and wanted to write on but I guess I was beat to the punch again. My home screen isn’t completely clear but I did reduce the number of icons from 12 to 8. I felt that the change did break the mindless habit of jumping from one app to another.

Magical Life” wraps up the series and offers a few suggestions on how to sustain the “infomagical” lifestyle. The host, Manoush Zomorodi, implores the listeners to create a simple rule that will remind them of the project. Her own guideline, which I stole and posted under my computer monitor, reads, “Think more about what you read.” It’s a short sentence but one that reminds me to take the time to process what I’m actually reading. It also helps me develop more thought out ideas and brings clarity to my writing.

The introductory episode is 25 minutes long and each challenge ranges from 8 to 15 minutes. They are relatively short listens but if you are crunched for time, I recommend the two I listed above.


One Million Words

“Words” by Leon Chan

This week I got a curious email from Pocket. The email (shown below) congratulated me for being in the top 5% of readers and laid out some of my reading statistics. I felt better about not reading more books last year and felt a strange pride in going over the seven digit mark in words read through the service. What’s even more exciting is that I’ve shared a good chunk of those words with the readers of my newsletter and site. Let’s continue this trend with this week’s reads.

2015 Summary from Pocket
 What I’ve Read:

I was 35 when I discovered I’m on the autism spectrum. | Vox – A few weeks ago I shared an article by Malcolm Gladwell about the spread of gun violence in high schools. The story revolved around a teenage boy on the Autism spectrum. This week’s read is a personal story from another male on the Autism spectrum. His story is well told and made me feel hopeful about my former student.

Confessions of a social engineer | The Kernel – When I read the title for this piece, I thought the plotline would be centered around using math and behavioral science to predict the results of an election or something similar. However, I was wrong and instead read about how one person scammed companies for free products. It reminded me a little of Ocean’s Eleven and Hustle. I enjoyed the read but am a bit worried about the story inspiring others to go “social engineer” a couple iPads.