This time last year, I made a resolution to read more. I have always enjoyed reading, and loved the switch to pleasure reading from assigned reading that came with graduation. After a year and a half of this freedom, I realized I could read much more if I only made the time for it. So my goal was 24 books in 2017. Two books a month was manageable, but more than I had been reading without any sort of goal. There were some easy reads that took only a few days, and longs books that set me back but were worth the wait. I chose to use photos to keep track of my progress because for me, books are like songs and smells in that they can evoke the intangible feeling of the time that you first read them. 2017 was a year of big transitions, so I wanted to document a little bit of what was going on in my life as I read each story. Below is a description of my thoughts on the first twelve books and the connections I found between seemingly unrelated titles.

January and February collage

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Taken in at my apartment pool in West Palm Beach

The Orchid Thief is special because it was a gift from my mom, who loves all things Florida and plants. The main storyline is that of John Laroche, a man who was arrested for stealing rare orchids from a Florida swamp called the Fakahatchee Strand. It was an especially fun read while living in West Palm, sitting by the pool in the January sun. Orlean’s descriptions of Florida, the perils of orchid hunting, and the eccentricities of “orchid people” are rich and captivating.

The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Taken with flowers outside my apartment in West Palm Beach

I had started this book a few years ago because I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis, but found it more meaningful this time as Michael and I prepared for marriage. My favorite sections would have to be his descriptions of patriotism and authentic friendships. I didn’t find The Four Loves as compelling as Mere Christianity or Lewis’s more narrative works, but it was a solid and logical read with many great ideas.

Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry

Taken with the view off the balcony of my apartment in West Palm

This book is a laugh-out-loud read for any Floridian. I picked it up on a trip to Key Largo and couldn’t put it down. From nutty “Florida man” headlines to cheesy theme parks and retirement homes, Barry’s wit shines through every chapter.

There Is No Alternative by Claire Berlinski

Taken at the beach on Singer Island

My dad gave me this book a few years ago, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it because I was so inspired by Berlinski’s thoroughly researched account of Thatcher’s career and personality. Her journalistic style gives character to those close to Thatcher and I learned a lot about the history of Britain’s economy along the way.

January and February collage

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Taken in Hawaii on my honeymoon

As a child who was very sentimental about growing up, I was captivated by the story of Peter Pan. Partly because getting married felt like the last step of becoming an adult, and partly because a biography of Margaret Thatcher seemed like an unromantic beach read for the honeymoon, I pulled Peter Pan off the shelf just before the wedding. This is a great re-read for adults who are still children at heart!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Taken at the beach on Palm Beach island

Aptly titled, this is the book that has most affected my day-to-day life. Michael and I tidied with the “KonMari” method before our move from Florida to Princeton, and it saved us time, energy, and money that would have otherwise been spent on possessions we didn’t really want. Marie’s simple but effective strategy for surrounding yourself only with things that “spark joy” has changed the way I shop, discard, organize, and even how I fold my clothes.

1984 by George Orwell

Taken in my bedroom in West Palm

In grade school, I read Animal Farm and Brave New World, but somehow was never assigned this classic and wanted to remedy the omission. I think this book would feel relevant at any point in history and is certainly good food for thought today. The use of historical revisionism for the manipulation of memories was an unintentionally exceptional lead-in to Tides of Minds.

The Tides of Minds by David Gelernter

Taken at Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ

This one was a lucky bookstore find. Michael and I were visiting Princeton to look for a place to live, and ventured into Labyrinth. I read a few pages in the store and was intrigued by the fact that the author is a renowned computer scientist, yet employs literature and the psychology of dreams to contradict computationalism (the belief a real, conscious mind could be built out of software). Gelernter presents the idea that throughout the day, we move up and down a spectrum of consciousness with the high end for being logical and focused, and the low end for processing our memories through dreams. Tides of Minds inspired me to start writing down my dreams when I remember them, and the Tolstoy excerpts strongly influenced my next pick.

January and February collage

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Taken at the pool on Floatmingo

One of my motives for making the 24 books resolution was to become better versed in classic literature. Motivated by Tides of Minds, I embarked on one of Tolstoy’s best known novels. It took me the longest to read out of the 24, but not for lack of interest. In the early chapters, I could hardly put it down. There are many analyses of this book much more insightful than I will ever be here, but to sum up my impressions: 1) The character development is unparalleled, 2) In knowing the character Levin I feel like I know Tolstoy, 3) The story touches on so many topics and does them all justice.

Lilly by Kathryn Livingston

Taken with my Lilly Pulitzer beach towel

Let me start by saying, I love the Lilly Pulitzer brand. If you aren’t enticed by bright colors, wild prints, and the tropical chic lifestyle epitomized by Palm Beach, this book may not be for you. However, I felt had to learn more about the fashion icon while I still lived just across the intracoastal from the where her company began. While the book is disjointed at points, I found it to be an engaging account of Lilly’s business and personal life overall. Most of the tangents are to describe relationships and accomplishments of 20th century American social elites. I found it particularly mind-boggling just how intertwined the Pulitzers, Kennedys, Carnegies, and other socialites were. Like the British royal family, it’s hard to look away because it’s too much fun imagining what it would be like to be in their shoes.

Valley of the Gods by Alexandra Wolfe

Taken on a flight from West Palm to Richmond

I’m a big fan of the HBO show Silicon Valley. Although it is a hilarious depiction of start-up life on the west coast, I was curious to get a non-fiction writer’s take on the subject.

This book surprised me in two ways. First, Valley of the Gods was similar to Lilly in both subject and disjointed, journalistic style. Instead of yachts and debutante balls, Wolfe chronicles the aspiring modern elite of Silicon Valley — where an old Facebook t-shirt denotes more wealth than any fancy suit ever could. It jumps between storylines of various 2011 inaugural fellows from Peter Theil’s “20 Under 20” program, which granted twenty students $100,000 to “stop out” of college and move to the valley instead. There are tangents, but similar to Lilly, I don’t mind because they are often about the topic that drew me to the book in the first place: the oddities of Silicon Valley.

*Spoiler Alert*

Second, I was not expecting the ending, and was pleasantly surprised. In the final chapter, Wolfe writes about how the obsession with “playing God” in Silicon Valley can be a turn-off for some, including Theil fellow John Burnham. There is a section about David Gelernter and reference to Tides Of Minds. John ends up on the humanist spectrum of computationalism, goes to a small Jesuit college, and is confirmed as a Catholic.

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Taken at the Princeton Public pool

Vance’s persistence in getting to know one of the most influential figures of our time really pays off in this fascinating biography. I knew a little about SpaceX and Tesla before starting this book, but now have a better understanding of Elon’s greater vision and how all of his endeavors aim to accelerate the possibility of a Mars colony. It sounds far-fetched, until you realize the man leading the charge has an unparalleled work ethic and ability to turn failure into motivation. I highly recommend this book as a means to truly appreciate the extent of Elon Musk’s failure and success at disrupting multiple industries by doing things faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than his competitors.

Another great thing about a modern biography is that Elon Musk’s story is still unfolding. Since this book was published in 2015, he has fitted houses with Tesla’s solar roof panels, unveiled the Tesla Model 3, launched The Boring Company to solve traffic congestion, proposed a 30-minute Hyperloop train between New York and Washington DC, and completed the world’s first reflight of an orbital class rocket. Any of these feats could stand alone as the accomplishment of a lifetime. Combined, they indicate something pretty incredible.

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