2021 Book Reviews: Last year I read or listened to 48 books. That’s not a number particularly worth bragging about (I think my bookworm mother probably read twice that many). But, it was enough that I felt like I was learning, re-learning, or being entertained from other authors constantly.
Of the 48, below are those selected for recommendations this year, arranged by topic. For past recommended books, check the Resources page. It includes other recommendations for finance, lifestyle, and life improvement books.
19 of the 48 I read were fiction. Of those, The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams, was my favorite. Taking place in Oxford, England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it chronicles how certain words were left out of the original Oxford English Dictionary. Told from the point of view one of the original editors’ daughters, it reveals the subtle dismissal of women, of the poor, and the uneducated through leaving out their vocabulary. The daughter, who starts out as a youngster underneath her father’s working table, makes her own collection of “lost words” that were literally left on the cutting room floor. Ultimately she becomes a respected scholar, though still with the inferior rank of being a woman in a man’s profession. Women in male-dominated professions everywhere will relate well to this story.
Psychology of Money
I always include this topic in the annual book review list. Last year finally saw the publishing of a book with the actual title The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness, by Morgan Housel. Housel reviews the many different tricks our minds play on us when it comes to money, why, and what we can do about it. The field of behavioral economics, upon which the book is based, is difficult to explain in layman’s terms, but Housel does an excellent job.
Reverse Mortgages, by Wade Pfau, Ph.D. Dr. Pfau upended the financial planning profession nearly 7 years ago when he published research saying, “Financial advisors are not doing their jobs if they aren’t at least considering reverse mortgages.” Initially brushed off, subsequent independent studies have confirmed his findings. Regulations have tightened and these products have evolved into a legitimate option for many different financial goals. His book outlines the details, which can be quite complex, but understandable to non-professional readers. It’s now a reference book on my shelf. I am including it here for the second year in a row because I referenced it enough in 2021 to have read it again.
Life-Improvement: (also known as “self-help”)
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport, was a perfect segue from reading “Rest” two years ago. Both books emphasize the importance of pausing, rest, and breaks in doing work that requires great focus. Newport begins by listing all the ways that society and our screens keep us distracted. We end up working mostly on superficial tasks. To get into the deep work space, most people require a great deal of uninterrupted, undistracted focus time. In the past, I would try to squeeze in that time between working on the superficial tasks.
As a result of reading the book, I made more changes to the calendar. Larger blocks of time are now set aside for client meeting time, preparation, and followup, in addition to writing time. So I might have 10 days straight of meetings, followed by 5 days of writing and working on course development. I cannot report, sadly, that I am sticking to the plan as well as I thought, but I can definitely sense improvement. (To clients, you may experience longer than expected email response times. But hopefully the responses will be better thought-out than before.)
Life-Improvement XXtra Help
These next two are perhaps controversial and definitely don’t belong on a financial planning reading list, but I learned so much from them I want to include them. Along with money, sex and our sexual anatomy are the most under- and mis-communicated, misinformed, and misunderstood topics in our society. These two books spell e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g out in simple, understandable, relatable and occasionally humorous terms. If all adults of all ages would read BOTH: The Vagina Bible: Separating the Myth from the Medicine by Dr. Jen Gunter and The Penis Book: A Doctor’s Complete Guide – From Size to Function and Everything in Between by Dr. Aaron Spitz, oh, how much happier we all would be. I considered giving both books to my adult nieces and nephews for Christmas presents but realized they might not open them, and I still want them to visit me once in a while.
What books were life-changing for you in 2021? Let me know in the comments below.