I’m a slow reader. I took an Evelyn Wood speed reading course more than 25 years ago. I learned a few techniques to read more efficiently, but I’m still a slow reader. Still, I can plow through a book about weekly. But there are a few books that take me a year to read.
The One-Year Book
I have several books that I purposely read over a one-year time period (give or take a few months). These books share the following characteristics:
- textbook-like content
- both deep and wide on subject matter
- each chapter can stand on its own
- author is well-respected
Let’s say you are wanting to learn more about visual analytics. Let me use Stephen Few as an example since I own every book he’s written. You don’t read him fast. First, most of his books are the size of textbooks. If you read his content over the course of a few weeks, you’d forget it unless you took great notes. Instead, you feast on his content a week at a time. Then you apply it to your work. Then you start the process again and repeat until the book is over.
Think of the one-year book as your 1- or 2-semester long reading program.
Benefits of the One-Year Book
Have you ever finished a book and didn’t know what you wanted to read next? It’s frustrating. I’ve nearly eliminated that problem by having 2-3 yearly reads that are a continual work in process.
Or, if I’ve designated reading time during a busy day, but my time budget is only 20-25 minutes, I can pick up one of the yearly books that I’m working on.
My year-long books are special because those are the books that lead to development and growth. I’m purposely going slow with the content, taking lots of notes, and working through problems when/where applicable. In short, I’m reading with an intense purpose expecting outcomes at the end–ones that will lead to newer and better skills.
Opening Up About One-Year Books
By nature, I’m a private person, and I tend to be cautious when telling others what I’m reading. That’s because I feel guilty when someone buys a book based on what I’m reading and they wind up hating it. That’s because our tastes are different and our learning paths are different.
So the partial list I’m sharing below is only to provide additional context about the idea of yearly reads. My objective is not to state what books should be on a 12-month program. Instead, consider the idea and see if it works for you.
My Short List of Yearly Reads I’ll Complete over the following 6 to 12 Months
If you read enough of my content on this site and the answers I provide on Quora regarding business books, you’ll know that I like older books that are no longer in print, business history, and CEO biographies.
My bent in life is analysis. It’s an innate gift. My cognitive abilities are average at best, so I’m going to do anything I can to shape, nurture, and grow my greatest gift which is learning to dissect facts diagonally, horizontally, vertically, and any other way that I can think of. Accordingly, I’ve been reading the following in spurts until I start my next round of yearly readers:
Management Dynamics by John and Pamela Caspari
Accounting and finance books are painfully boring to read with a few exceptions. Management Dynamics is part management reporting, part lean, part theory of constraints, and many parts Goldratt.
When I picked up Management Dynamics for the first time, I knew I didn’t want to read it over a short time period. I’m reading this as though I could teach it to a high school student.
Beyond IBM by Lou Mobley and Kate McKeown
I’m a Mobley fan and have been since I read Managing by the Numbers by Kremer, Rizzuto, and Case. Managing by the Numbers is dated and the ROE math doesn’t play out well in today’s SaaS or professional services industries where I tend to work the hardest. Still, the reading is enjoyable, and that’s where I was first introduced to Lou Mobley, a former IBM leader, and teacher in another era.
I was shocked when I was able to acquire a copy of Beyond IBM as I want to learn what Mobley was thinking as he embarked on a training program for IBM managers back in his day. I’m only interested in a few chapters, but the book has earned its way to my yearly reader program.
The Entrepreneurial Mindset by McGrath and MacMillan
If I ever teach a college-level course for business managers, this is probably the book I’ll use for an outline.
My favorite way of teaching complex finance is by breaking it down into simple unit economics. I also like to work backward from earnings to sales. McGrath is an expert in this process.
On the other hand, you don’t read McGrath fast unless you have a Harvard IQ — I certainly don’t. But I still enjoy her writing which you can read or skim on HBR’s site as a starting point.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte
Jeff Rumbaugh, where are you? Thank you for recommending this book which seems like ages ago.
This was the first of some 40 books I’ve purchased on visual analysis. I’ve probably skimmed through this book dozens and dozens of times based on the looks of the front cover, but I’ve never read it as a book from cover to cover. I’m doing so right now, but taking my time.
The One-Year Book is about Learning and Mastery
I enjoy reading which is an understatement. I enjoy learning far more. Putting my knowledge to work that can help others is the ultimate aim.
That’s where the book in a year comes into play. I’m not saying you should try this. Just consider it. If chaos describes your professional life right now because your company is growing or in turnaround mode, don’t do this now. Only start this process when you know you can complete what you start.
I’ve been working through this program off and on for about 10 years, and I’ve grown from this process. You will not see immediate benefits. In time, you will.
Should you create your own one-year book journey, let me offer some final tips:
- make this enjoyable, not drudgery
- put another way, focus on areas where you want to learn
- have a purpose before you get started
- seek mastery through incorporating new teaching in your existing frameworks
- teach what you are learning to others
- keep slowing down as needed
- read the footnotes to find out how these thinkers think