Taking A Moment to Read

Stop flipping through a social feed and really read.

On this day last January, as part of my #SOLS goals, I wrote about a challenge that I had set myself to complete during 2017: to read 12 books in the year. In January 2018’s first post, I discussed my failed writing challenge and mentioned I would return to the subject of books. Of my 2017 aims, the reading objective was much more successful.

Towards the end of 2016, I realised that I was not spending enough time reading: it was too easy to flip open my phone and aimlessly scroll through a social media feed. I have a lot of books that I would like to read, but I would go for months without starting one and, when I did, I would only skim pages. People I admired are often quoted as saying how important books were to them and their careers. In my post, I quoted Bill Gates and linked to a list by Barack Obama. Equally useful would have been reading lists from Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. The signs all suggested I should read more.

At work, sometime in late 2016, each member of our team committed to a personal goal, and I decided mine would be to stop flipping through a social feed on my phone while I sat on the train to and from work. I was going to read a book and, what’s more, I decided that they would be old-fashioned, bookshop-bought, books. As January came around, I decided my reading objectives ought to be public, and so I joined the Goodreads challenge.

Of the 14 books I completed, I found Elon Musk’s biography inspirational and Jony Ive’s story was remarkable, showing how vital your passions are in life. David Ogilvy’s experience, told through The King of Madison Avenue, was a fascinating blast from the advertising past. I read David Lloyd’s Radio Moments book – a marvellous insight into life in the British radio industry from the 1970s to the present day – in one sitting on a flight I was taking for work. That one brought back a lot of memories. It took considerably longer to get through Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express which I found a hard to plough through even though the voyage across the South American continent sounded fascinating.

My favourite books were both surprises. The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman was an imaginative look into the future and what the world will be like in one hundred years. Although I will never know how much of it comes true, it’s fun to imagine and more accessible to comprehend when there are the theories George brings to support his predictions. The other big surprise was also a story of the future – and the past – in Elan Mastai’s novel All Our Wrong Todays.

I ended the year with perhaps the least challenging of all the books I read across the 12 months. A trio of crime/action fiction novels – from Grisham, Connelly and Flynn – was a lovely easy read to end the year: all three were gripping in a way only master story-tellers like these can do.

What was most unexpected was that I discovered that I was enjoying reading and, even more, the act of turning pages in a book was especially satisfying. At the end of the day, I was arriving home more relaxed, and I believe much of that was to do with the ability to focus on something other than work. My boss encouraged all of his team to commit to something through the year, and I’m happy I chose a book challenge because it reminded me how much I enjoy – and can learn from – something more in-depth than a 160 character social post.

My Goodreads Reading Challenge 2017 can be found here. I have publicly committed to reading a few more books in 2018, so you might want to follow my progress.

A Reading Challenge for 2017

I made a simple resolution as we went into 2017: I would drink an extra small bottle of water everyday to improve my hydration. So far, that one is working.  Back in December I also decided that, on the last Sunday of every month, I would write something for this site.  It wasn’t really a resolution, rather an updated version of the Blog Every Wednesday in August task I set myself a few years ago: the idea was to write something here to make paying for the hosting worth it. This new commitment was given the title “Sermon Of the Last Sunday”.  As with all things these days, there’s a hashtag #SOLS. See if you can work out which came first: the series name or the hashtag.

Also at the end of last year I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read 12 books in 2017. This shouldn’t be the hardest commitment as it’s just one book a month but, if I succeed, I will end up reading more than I did last year.  There are plenty of people that inspired me to try this challenge (which you can follow on Goodreads) but, possibly, I made my decision after reading Bill Gates’ favourite books of 2016. He manages an eclectic list of recommendations. I hope to have as diverse a range of books on my ‘has read’ list by the end of the year.

More recently, Entertainment Weekly published a list of Every book Barack Obama recommended during his presidency. Another eclectic, and inspirational, list. Seriously, if he can be such an voracious reader and run America then I can read 12 books this year. As Bill Gates says,

Still, reading books is my favorite way to learn about a new topic. I’ve been reading about a book a week on average since I was a kid. Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading. [source]

So, when trying to come-up with the first SOLS entry I thought I’d review one of the books that ended last year. It was the book I was reading when I read Bill’s list; it was fascinating and a little hard-going at times but it took me out of my daily commute and made me think about something else.  Which, I think, is something a good book should do.  I have reviewed books here before, and I am not sure I will attempt to review all 12, but it’s such a well written book I’d recommend adding it to your own reading list.

I’m grateful to the staff of Waterstones in Chichester who persuaded me that this was a book worth reading as I was browsing their store at some point last year. I don’t often spend time just wandering book shops but there was an opportunity and I took it. I’m very glad I did.

Cover of SkyfaringSkyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot

For some people, a job takes you to the same place each day, surrounded by colleagues who you see daily and get to know over time. Not quite so for pilots, especially those flying long haul, where the variation in crew is almost as changeable as the constantly altering view from the cockpit.

Mark Vanhoenacker, a British Airways 747 long haul pilot, writes about flight through series of chapters documenting the experiences of moving from one part of the world to another with chapters such as Place, Wayfinding, Night and Return.

It’s not a biography of a pilot, a technical guide to flying nor a travelogue rather it’s a rhapsodic love affair with flight and all it involves and, so, it’s a little bit of all those things put together with some beautifully written, almost lyrical, prose. Don’t expect a chronological guide to flight but a collection of chapters that take their subject and describe the experience from the complex to the minutia; written from a vantage of someone obviously captivated by the charm of flight.

The style is vivid and descriptive, but the detail of the language can sometimes make reading it hard work. Don’t let that put you off because it’s worth a little perseverance to get close to understanding why the experience of flight it both magical and disorienting at the same time.


Skyfaing, A Journey with a Pilot, available at Amazon.

Admonished By A Snack Food Wrapper

I’m a crisp packet who’s about to fine you £50.

I love Anna’s writing. Captain Crisps and FagEndBoy is one of my favourites:

It’s got to take the shine off your manhood, being publically admonished by a snack food wrapper.

Little Red Boat certainly has a way with words, she makes me laugh almost every day.