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My top 7 books of 2017

Author: Mohammed Issa

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” ― William Styron.

In one of my earlier articles I discussed the power of reading and its positive effect on my life. In the past 10 years, books have dominated my life. Some have revolutionised my thinking, while others have made it easier for me to traverse the vicissitudes of life.

I keep getting asked what my favourite books are, or to recommend a book or two that I’ve just read. However, reading is very subjective, and as such we all have differing opinions. All I can do is suggest several books that I enjoyed, inspired me and resonated with me.

In 2017, I read 44 books. 24 were general non-fiction, seven were memoirs, and 13 were fiction. In total, I read nearly 11,000 pages, averaging 30 pages per day.

Here are my top seven books of 2017. They are not in any specific order and are mixed in the genre;

1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

Every few years or so, there’s a book that comes out which is not only refreshing but shocks our system. Mark Manson’s self-help guide is such a book. It's an antidote to all the fake and indulgent self-help advice that's being dished out all the time.

His voice is strong, no-nonsense and straightforward, one that I resonate with. He uses scientific research, philosophy and psychology to tell us that life is not always a bed of roses. There is also suffering. We must accept our limitations and find the courage to confront painful truths to find meaning in our lives.

Main Lesson: In Manson’s words; “It turns out that adversity and failure are actually useful and even necessary for developing strong-minded and successful adults.”

2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

A beautiful memoir which describes the time when Paul Kalanithi, a brilliant neurosurgeon at Stanford University, is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of 36.

However, this is not just a book that details the facts of his cancer and his apparent death but rather a more profound look at life and death. Kalanithi is also a brilliant writer, one that marks us with words and sentences that stay with us long after we finish the book.

He approaches death with courage, dignity and grace. And that is transferred onto the pages of the book to leave us questioning our sense of mortality.

Main Lesson: In Kalanithi’s words; "Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.'"

3. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

Karen Blixen under her pen name Isak Dinesen writes a memoir about her years as a farm owner in the foot of Ngong Hills outside Nairobi, in what is now Kenya. It’s an account of the years she spends in Africa.

The authenticity of the story lies in the fact that she had left her comfortable Danish home to become a pioneer woman farmer in a land that is entirely foreign to her.

I was mesmerised by her portrayal of Africa as a pastoral landscape and how she uses the sights, sounds and smells of Africa to capture our imagination. She drew me into a more profound understanding of Africa even though I’ve lived in it most of my life.

Main Lesson: Only in embracing authenticity, can we ever live a full life. It’s Africa’s landscape, culture and history that make it so uniquely Africa and not its westernisation as is the case now.

4. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

This book inspired my article--How Deep Work Can Give Your Life Meaning. Deep work is a forgotten skill; it shows the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.

In this increasingly digital age, the ability to focus and work efficiently is a precious asset. To produce brilliant work, we need more than just passion; we need focused attention. Author and Professor Cal Newport breathes life in this book with relatable examples and insightful strategies to implement.

Main lesson: What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore play a big part in defining the quality of our work and life.

5. Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream by James Altucher

James Altucher is one of my favourite bloggers. He’s unconventional in his approach to writing. He’s blunt when it comes to his countless failures, but it is what he learns from failure that has made him the successful author and entrepreneur he is today.

It is this vulnerable and conversational tone that transcends into his book. Altucher discusses the importance of networking, entrepreneurship, happiness and success from a unique perspective. Rather than going down the conventional, tried and tested path that involves earning a degree and working in the corporate world, he shows you how to “Choose Yourself” while working towards placing priceless value on yourself and your skills.

Main lesson: Choose yourself all the time. Our self-worth comes first if we are to live a prosperous and joyful life.

6. Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin

There is nothing more inspiring than finding out how our heroes became so. In this memoir, Steve Martin chronicles the evolution of his career from a stand-up comedian to actor and author of acclaimed New York Times bestsellers.

Though Martin is talented, he describes the sacrifice and discipline that was needed to become the comic icon he was in the mid-seventies. However, in working so hard, he became distant from his family and that it took him decades to reconnect again with them.

Main lesson: Steve Martin’s famous words, “become so good that they can’t ignore you,’ has entered the modern day lexicon of self-help.

7. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight

The eighty-year-old mogul and co-founder of Nike Phil Knight bares his soul in this memoir. He describes in great detail the rise of Nike, which he started with $50 from his father selling low-cost athletic shoes from the boot of his car to what it is today, a $30 Billion giant.

Shoe Dog is man’s journey of grit. Knight tells it all —the achievements, the failures, and the competitors he had to face. It is a constant reminder that having a vision is what can help you build your business from scratch into an unshakeable empire.

Main lesson: Phil used to tell himself, “Let everyone else call your idea crazy…just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

The writer is a motivational speaker and CEO of KIMO Home