Why I Tracked Every Book I Read in 2017

This year, I decided to track all of the books I read to see what was making it’s way into my mind. As part of my year of devotion and paying more attention to where I spend my mental energy, I kept a running list of all of the books I read. I also tracked the order I read the books, as well as a short summary of each on my website. Today, I want to talk about what I learned by doing this, the best books I read this year, and then I’ll share the complete book list of all of the books I read at the bottom. 

My goals were to

  • Read 34 books in 2017.
  • Read more books by women and by people of color, specifically at least 50% and 25%, respectively. 
  • Write a short summary for each book I read.

Why I tracked the books I read

The act of tracking what I consumed each month gave me data about what I was reading, as well as what I was remembering. Some books I wanted to read for enjoyment, in the moment. Other books I wanted to be able to recall and articulate, and add them to my self-learning. I also wanted to make sure that I was reading a wide variety of sources, and not just reading one point of view. I dig deeper into this in my annual report, if you’re curious, and I’ll continue to track what I’m reading in 2018.

What changed when I started tracking my reading list

Perhaps the most notable change from 2016 to 2017 was that I began finishing books again. For a while, I was only reading a few chapters from a book before I’d move to another book, getting distracted, and reading a half-dozen books at a time. The biggest habit shift that focused my attention was two-fold: first, by deciding to track the books I read, it became a priority to finish books.

Second, I took several social media sabbaticals. During the month of July, when I took a month away from social media, I read more books than I’d read in entire years past. Our attention is going somewhere, and often we’re not aware just how much time reading the news (and newsfeeds) takes up. I’m no longer advocating for getting rid of social media entirely, but for me, the antidote is taking prolonged, repeated, deep time away. Because of my experimentation around social media, and taking nearly two full months without access to social, I ended up reading far more books than I expected.

The stats: 53 books

  • Total number of authors: 58
  • Total number of books: 53
  • Women authors: 39 (67%)
  • POC authors: 14 (24%)

Note: in some cases books were by multiple authors, and so I calculated the total reading diversity by the number of authors, not the number of books. 

Overall reading recommendations

The top three stand-out books of the year for me were Between The World And Me, A Uterus Is A Feature Not A Bug, and When Breath Becomes Air.

Captivate and Braving the Wilderness gave me new ways to show up in the world in my behavior and conversations. Simple Matters kept me focused on keeping my house spiritually and physically peaceful. And for the second time, The Artist’s Way led me through a 12-week writing journey.

Deep WorkEssentialism, and The ONE Thing were deeply influential in how I thought about my work and my habits, although the major drawback for me was how many of the references and anecdotes were linked to other male authors. Deep Work, for example, had fewer than five percent female authors or references, which, given my new focus on reading more books by women, lends me to wonder if the research truly applies to me, or if it’s missing part of a bigger picture.

Books that changed my understanding of the world: Roots, for continuing to teach me about our history of slavery and colonialism; The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian look at what our world could quickly become; and The New Better Off, a reframing of what we might understand as The American Dream.

The parenting books that inspired in more than just how I show up as a parent, but how important children are in our lives and the importance of their psychological development were Montessori: A Modern Approach, which made me rethink how much adults need children, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, which could also be a management book, and Nurture Shock, a book I describe as “Freakonomics for parenting.”

Eminently practical books were The Coaching Habit (I reference the questions all the time), and The Fifth Trimester (a book I send to almost every new parent I meet).

Now let’s get into the complete list of books I read.

  1. A Kind of Freedom, by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
  2. Appetites: Why Women Want, by Caroline Knapp.
  3. Are You My Mother?, A comic drama by Alison Bechdel.
  4. Bad Feminist (need to finish), by Roxane Gay.
  5. Between The World And Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
  6. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.
  7. Bleaker House, by Nell Stevens.
  8. Body of Work, by Pamela Slim.
  9. Braving the Wilderness, by Brené Brown.
  10. Captivate, byVanessa Van Edwards.
  11. Deep Work, by Cal Newport.
  12. Drop The Ball, by Tiffany Dufu.
  13. Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.
  14. Exactly What to Say, by Phil M Jones.
  15. Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy, by Chitra Ramaswamy.*
  16. Hiding in The Bathroom, by Morra Aarons-Mele.
  17. Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance.
  18. How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, by Joanna Faber and Julie King.
  19. I Quit Sugar, by Sarah Wilson
  20. Kindred, by Octavia Butler.
  21. Montessori: A Modern Approach, by Paula Polk Lillard.
  22. Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
  23. Playing Big, by Tara Sophia Mohr.
  24. Poser: My Life in 23 Poses, by Clare Dederer.
  25. Reset, by Ellen Pao
  26. Roots: The Saga of An American Family, by Alex Haley.
  27. Settle for More, by Megyn Kelly
  28. Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti.
  29. Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight
  30. Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More, by Erin Boyle.
  31. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron.
  32. The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks.
  33. The Coaching Habit, by Michael Bungay Stanier.
  34. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.
  35. The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. (Re-read)
  36. The Fifth Trimester, by Lauren Smith Brody.
  37. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.
  38. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas.
  39. The New Better Off, by Courtney Martin.
  40. The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.
  41. The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy.
  42. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, by Mark Manson. 
  43. The Upstarts, by Brad Stone.
  44. The Whole30: 30-Day GuideIt Starts With Food,  and The Whole30 Cookbook.
  45. The Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell.
  46. Truly, Madly, Guilty, by Liane Moriarty.
  47. Unsubscribe, by Jocelyn Glei.
  48. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi.
  49. When I’m Gone, by Emily Bleeker
  50. White Hot Truth, by Danielle LaPorte.
  51. Women, Race, and Class, by Angela Y. Davis.*
  52. You Can’t Touch My Hair, by Phoebe Robinson.
  53. Your Move: The Underdog’s Guide to Building Your Business, by Ramit Sethi.

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5 Responses to Why I Tracked Every Book I Read in 2017

  1. Vicky says:

    Sarah, thank you so much for putting this list together! We have so much books in common and goodness – I am that person – I don’t finish about 50% of books that I read!!! I either get bored or get more interested in another topic. So good to know there is hope for me and that I CAN become a person who actually finishes books!

    Thank you so much for inspiring me to document the books that I read this year (it will be a VERY interesting list) I’ve written down a lot of books you’ve mentioned so I can too, read them! You are amazing!

    • Sarah K Peck says:

      I know what you mean! I find that it’s still okay to put a book down if it’s not for you — not all books are worth reading all the way through, sadly. One way I love figuring out if a book is right is by reading the first and last chapter. Sometimes, frankly, that’s all I need to read.

  2. Matthew says:

    Thanks for sharing this list, Sarah. There’s a lot of books listed here that I’ve read, and a lot that you’ve just introduced me to.

    I’ve been trying to read outside of my comfort zone, and to expand the range of ideas I surround myself with. Being mindful of the gender and background of the authors I read is something I’m going to take into the new year with me.

    Keep up the great work here!

    • Sarah K Peck says:

      I’m so glad! It’s an interesting way to parse the reading you’re doing to check if it’s all one source. Good luck and let me know what surprise standouts you find in 2018!

  3. I’ve just started doing this too, but you’ve got me thinking now about tracking a little more detail about each book than just its title and author. I’m always amazed by how much I forget.