Favorite Books I Read in 2018

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Albeit a bit late, but I thought it would be good to share my favorite books from this previous year. Books offer me a portal to information and imagination that YouTube videos, movies, and TV shows cannot. And with that, here are my seven favorite books that I read in 2018!

7) Learning Python by Mark Lutz, David Ascher

It felt like so long ago I learned Python, I forgot that I did it this year. During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I desperately wanted to learn new programming languages, and I saw that Python was rising in popularity so I thought – hey why not join the bandwagon and learn it? At the time I only knew Java, C++, JavaScript as my main programming languages, but I grew to love Python for its community, its use in data science, and its elegance and simplicity. Taking a month to sit down and read this gigantic book cover to cover was one of the best decisions I have made as a programmer – I essentially learned every nook and cranny of Python and now I can say it is my favorite programming language.

6) Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni

Written by one of my favorite New York Times Op-Ed columnists, Frank Bruni’s informative book about the hysteria behind college admissions was the book high school me desperately needed. How I wish I read this book sooner, in the midst of senior-year college application season when me and thousands of other would-be high school graduates were scrambling to put on a vanity show for admissions officers. It shows the ugly realities behind the admissions process, how stress-inducing it is, but this book also shows that success is a result of a person, not the university they attended. With many anecdotes from people who attended “less prestigious” universities, Bruni truly shows that while a prestigious university is nice to have on a résumé, anyone can succeed anywhere.

5) The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell

The Room is a bad movie. But it’s the best bad movie of all time. When I found out that they were making a movie about the making of The Room, I was excited. But when I found out that this movie was adapted from a book written by the actor that played Mark – I knew I needed to read it. Greg Sestero’s writing style is sharp, witty, and comedic. It also helps that he’s writing about the absurd creative processes that Tommy Wiseau partook in and subjected his cast & crew to during the creation of The Room. This includes: forcing actors to be on set when they are not supposed to be filming that day, having his own personal toilet, nudity, and building sets when it would have been cheaper to simply film on location. Overall, despite sounding and feeling like fiction, The Disaster Artist is a story about failure and how to overcome failure. How one can fail many times to the point where it feels like the universe is against you and still strive for your dreams.

4) Educated by Tara Westover

This book felt like fiction. Or at least I wanted it to be. Tara Westover’s autobiography about drifting from her fundamentalist, survivalist family to receive an education and go on to receive her doctorate’s was truly an amazing story. The traumas, awful memories, and awful experiences that she went through were all poured out into this single book. This is the best coming-of-age story I have ever read not because it was happy, but because it was real. Tara transitioned from blindly following her family’s doctrines and beliefs to questioning them, and finally to exploring the world and learning as much as she could even if it meant to betray those that she loved. She left behind the comfort of her Idaho lifestyle to venture into the unknown, to challenge her own beliefs, and discover a world that was hidden from her for so long. The raw realities of this book truly shine: Tara is a human being, she falls, she makes mistakes, and sometimes she doesn’t get up entirely. I didn’t watch a character learn to overcome her hardships, I watched a person slowly evolve and grow up and learn to follow her own path.

What I appreciated most about this book is that her story is still being written. The ending feels abrupt but only because the book has caught up to Tara in the present-day. Like all humans, our stories are never truly complete, we will always struggle or have problems in our lives, and this book ends with many of Tara’s problems left unsolved or unfulfilled. Many things in her life actually do not end well for her but that just makes this book even more real.

3) The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Being a pretty neurotic person and borderline perfectionist, this book helped to quell some of my anxieties. I am a person who tends to overthink things, to plan and plan and plan and plan but never do. I would make schedules and plans but never follow through with them, either out of fear of failure, or fear of leaving my comfort zone. However, this book taught me that comfort zones are not always good. In fact, comfort zones are limitations, keeping us from achieving goals and things that we really want. This book takes and approach to simply say: “f*ck it!” and just do something. Being an overthinker, it took me a while to heed the advice of this book. Because this book is not about caring about more things, it’s about caring about only the things that matter. This book taught me not to be indifferent, but to not care about being different. That the only opinions that matter are yours and those closest to you, and that ultimately one’s happiness can only be created by oneself and not by another.

2) The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Entering my 20’s and now in the midst of my college years, one of the many things I have trouble with is focusing and keeping track of time. I remember one day just sitting in my apartment and thinking: How did I end up here? Wasn’t I just entering middle school? Then high school? And now I am halfway through college and into the workforce and I am beginning to miss my years. I had struggled with this for a while, and still struggling with it a bit today, but I realized the reason I felt like my life was going too fast. Why I felt like I wasted many years of my life. It was because I wasn’t being present. I was always drifting away, thinking about years in the future without ever getting involved with the present moment.

Eckhart Tolle’s book details the steps towards meditation, towards becoming present and being in-tune with your pure consciousness and learning to keep your thoughts and mind and emotions under control. Humans love to think, but many times when we think, we are ignoring the realities around us now. We ignore the people around us, the places we are in, the moments that will soon become memories. I realized that I have been doing this for most of my life, and when I took the effort to focus on the present moment, time immediately slowed down to a halt. My life was now under a flow of time that I was in control of. My thoughts could not cause me anxiety or regret if I was fully involved with the now. I read the book over the course of two weeks and it has made a significant impact on my mood – I found myself more present and at more peace with every day I practiced the book’s steps to becoming fully involved in the Now.

1) The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins

This book needs a show. At least an HBO mini-series please. I read this entire book over the course of three days because of how engaging it was. It is a non-fiction book that follows the lives of the most stressed out high school students in this one high school in Bethesda, Maryland. Struggling to be the best, competing in varsity sports, trying to get perfect SAT grades, attempting to maintain perfect GPAs, writing dozens of supplemental college essays, extracurriculars, all while trying to maintain one’s sanity, social life, and happiness. Needless to say, it’s not easy.

Being a recent high school graduate that was near the top of my class, this book spoke to me, and I feel like it speaks to everyone who is pressured to succeed. The kids who take seven AP courses. The parents that spend thousands of dollars on SAT and ACT tutors. The hypercompetitiveness that prevails in high schools, where students are literally sabotaging each other, social-climbing, and betraying their friends in hopes of getting into better colleges and universities. This book felt like it could have been written by students from my own high school, where this competitive nature was a thing, where people would judge you based on what colleges you got into and didn’t get into.

High schools in media are not portrayed accurately at all. The movies, the TV shows, even many young adult books depict its characters outside the classroom: at their houses, in the hallways between periods, at clubs – they seem to forget all about the part where these characters are actually students. Where overworked high school students are driven to a building from 7AM to 3PM, then do their extracurriculars, then volunteering, maybe even work a part-time job to pay for prom or college applications, and then go home to do homework. The overworked students are never shown, their perspectives never shared. Mental health for teenagers is only deteriorating more and more as the pressure to succeed becomes more and more intense and I have never seen it so rawly portrayed as in this book.

I feel that anyone who has struggled in high school, or in college, or even parents who wonder what their children are going through should read this book. It shows high school for what it truly is: not television sitcoms where characters are always in the hallways, not coming-of-age movies where characters are racing down the highway to The Smiths or Snow Patrol. It shows high school as school, and the academic pressures placed upon today’s youth.