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My 4th Annual Top Five Books

Once a year I look back through my list at to ID the top five books that


most inspired me. As an author and consultant, just about any book might be “THE book” that inspires my own work. That means I can justify when I read and how much I read, and in 2016 I devoured 117 books in a whole lot of different genres.

Curiously, none of the business or self-help or psychology or education books (the kinds of things I write) were as impactful as, well, here they are…

The Sense of Style by Stephen Pinker

At last, a reference for providing great answers to the grammar police–and for making sure you’re policing for the right issues yourself. The only trouble with reading this book is that it just may color your reaction to the next books you read. You’ll be excruciatingly jarred by each poor sentence, misused word, ridiculous application of outmoded conventions, etc. This book will stay close to my laptop for frequent reference. Whether you blog once a year or write for a living, check out the wisdom within these pages.

Why read it if you aren’t a writer? Because even emails can be clearer. Because…with the deluge of content out there, why not learn to quickly recognize the very best, be it in blogs or books or board correspondence?

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

The end of this book came far too fast. One moment I’m lost in how the characters are navigating the horrors of World War II and all of a sudden, there are no more pages. Kudos to Cleave for creating people that we care about, sparking thoughts about how we might have responded to the unthinkable, forcing us to consider the impact of class and race on how the war would have affected us, and building scenes and relationships and events that transport the reader into the nightmares of the London Blitz and the siege of Malta.

Why read this instead of nonfiction? Because fiction is often the better source for truth about human beings. This meticulously-researched story will teach you more than facts about war.

Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life by David Treuer

5 stars for information. 5 stars for provoking thought. 5 stars for blending personal narrative, biography, historical and political analysis to foster understanding of how the past affects the present, as well as what might be most important now. The author’s approach mirrors the complexity of the issues American Indian leaders are working with. Treuer is Ojibwe Indian from Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye

Too often these days, the cry goes up to paint public figures as either all saint or all sinner. People are complex. Circumstances affect who they are. Great people learn from reflecting on the best and the worst of their actions. This book lets us in on Kennedy’s experiences–what he did, how he worked, how others viewed him, what he said.  The author endeavors to make sense of the trajectory of his growth, development, seeming changes in philosophy, family influence and relationships, and ever so much more in the complex and short life of Bobby Kennedy. Rich food for thought in this era of politicians being afraid to be anything but caricatures of party positions.

Why read it if you don’t like the Kennedy’s? Because you just might discover you either relate to who he was or who he became–and either way you’ll be better equipped to evaluate today’s leaders.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

How, in just a few words, can an author create windows into tragedies, the characters’ minds and feelings, a different culture, history and philosophy, and more? Erdrich takes us through a crime of intense horror, but uses the tale to help the reader ponder the kinds of issues that should be front and center in our minds. I’ll be reading this several times to absorb all the nuances of story and character. Then I’ll read it again and again, gleaning what I can from the author’s mastery of plot, character, voice, setting, theme, description, history, beginnings and endings.

Why read it if you avoid tragedies in modern literature? Because you’re going to relate to these characters and the events that propel them forward in ways that foster new insights and skills in empathy.

Runners Up

Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Lynn Hammond. We need to stop stereotyping a “culture of poverty” and start implementing the practices that help children really learn.

The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy. If “Santini” managed to rebuild relationships with most of his children, there is hope for every family.

What would you add to everyone’s 2017 reading list?

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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