On this Chinese New Year’s Eve, or the morning before Chinese New Year if you are in the US, I figured I would share a bit of love in this Monday Morning Mojo in the form of book recommendations that delight and inspire. These come both from me and a few of the regular MMM readers. As part of Chinese New Year tradition, consider these lucky 21 recommendations as your red envelope of knowledge, insight and inspiration on this very important day before the Year of the Water Tiger.
I decided to focus on books that delight and inspire because I have been the recipient of two books sent anonymously from one of the Monday Morning Mojo community members. The books sent to me are both by Mitch Albom, the former sportswriter from Detroit who is now a best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter and playwright. Albom wrote the inspirational book, Tuesdays with Morrie, I read on a flight from Beijing to Taipei years ago. This story, about the meaning of life and life’s most important lessons, was incredibly touching and certainly evoked a tear (or more like a waterfall). Anyway, Mitch Albom is a wonderful storyteller, and obviously someone in the Monday Morning Mojo community believes so too, because they sent me two of his books, Have A Little Faith and The Stranger in the Lifeboat. First, whoever you are, THANK YOU for your kindness and the books of inspiration. I hope you reveal yourself. Second, I read Have A Little Faith and enjoyed this very much. It is a story about faith and depicts Albom’s eight-year journey between two worlds, two men, two faiths and two communities. Both men are religious leaders, and it touches on Albom’s own experience with faith. It is classic Albom; nice, easy to read and very inspirational. Yet, to be honest, I am more intrigued and touched that someone out there took the time to send these, so thank you! Comments on The Stranger in the Lifeboat to come.
My book recommendation for this holiday is How Will You Measure Your Life? by the late Clayton Christensen. I was introduced to this book years ago by Chris Graves, my former boss and Founder and President of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science. I followed up by buying about 100 for Ogilvy’s senior leadership in Asia, and I subsequently bought these books for my kids as well. Samuel, who is an avid reader, also suggested this as one of the best books he has read. I asked him why and he said, “because I love the emphasis he places on doing something you love that matches your authentic self, instead of just chasing money.” What I appreciated about this book is the whole section on “Finding Happiness in Your Relationships.” I have written a lot about relationships and the communities surrounding us, and I feel they are even more important and necessary as we navigate our lives through this pandemic.
My wife, Lisa, who is a voracious reader, often staying up very late deep into her book collection, liked TB Song’s book project this year, In Celebration of Red — Ogilvy China Start-Up. A former Ogilvy staffer herself , she enjoyed reading the stories by each of the chapter authors, yours truly included.
Jackie, my daughter, who has fallen in love with surfing, has been captivated by Pulitzer Prize winning surf memoir, Barbarian Days by William Finnegan. This book has provided an escape for her by following the world travels of Finnegan in search of waves. More than anything, she loves and shares the author’s point of view of “surfing – its depth, or potential depth, as a lifelong practice.”
My sister-in-law, Kathy, who is incredibly smart and has great taste in books, suggested All The Light I Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This is a Pulitzer Prize winning book about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Years ago Kathy recommended The Color of Water by James McBride and it is one of my all-time favorites. The Color of Water is a story about a black man’s tribute to his white mother.
One of my next-door neighbors from the past, who is a regular reader of the Monday Morning Mojo, is Joyce Beach. Mrs. Beach is the matriarch of the Beach clan, who lived in Western Hills in Flint, Michigan during my formative years. You should know, Mrs. Beach is also an accomplished author, and I asked her for recommendations. She replied, “years ago, Leon Uris wrote QB VII. His protagonist winds up at Queens Bench 7 for writing about his family’s extermination in a concentration camp. I tend to pick it up for another read every ten years or so.”
George Smith, another Monday Morning Mojo community member who deserves a separate blogpost for dedicating his life to those in need, is a good friend from Beijing and Director of New Business at Orbis International, a non-profit organization that brings people together to fight avoidable blindness. He recommended, Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets by Al Ramadan. According to George, “It was very insightful and really informed me during our recent strategic planning project.”
My brother Brian, who inflicted a lot of pain on me as a kid brother :-), suggested Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe about the Sackler family and the oxycontin crisis they created. His brother-in-law, Stuart Litwin, also a very smart, engaging and successful guy, suggested Cloud Cuckoo Land, also by Anthony Doerr. This book tells the story of Aethon, a man who goes looking for a “utopian city in the sky” called Cloud Cuckoo Land. Along the way, he has many adventures (transformed into a donkey, captured, escapes, transformed into a fish, eaten by a sea creature, transformed into a crow, and more) before he finally finds Cloud Cuckoo Land. Doerr is obviously a Litwin family favorite!
Rounding out the Kronick recommendations, my sister Dana recommended, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This book ponders the infinite possibilities of life, and it is about a young woman named Nora Seed, who lives a monotonous, ordinary life and feels unwanted and unaccomplished. My sister Erin suggested the popular Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, which is an allegorical novel about a young Andalusian shepherd in his journey to the pyramids of Egypt, after having a recurring dream of finding a treasure there. Our stepmother, Peggy, also a big reader, is beginning The Premonition by Michael Lewis, which I have read. Everything by Michael Lewis is usually very good, and this book about the beginnings of Covid and our ability to manage this was fascinating.
TB Song, my longtime boss and good friend, recommended Los Detectives Salvajes by Roberto Balano. This book, translated in English is called the Savage Detectives, and tells the story of the search for a 1920s Mexican poet, Cesárea Tinajero, by two 1970s poets, the Chilean Arturo Belano (alter ego of Bolaño) and the Mexican Ulises Lima. TB always finds very interesting books to read and I am sure this will not disappoint.
Two other Beijing friends sent in their recommendations. Jim Gradoville, my former neighbor who was featured in an earlier Monday Morning Mojo recommended Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. This book exposes the struggles the United States has experienced due to the preservation of the constraints and legacy of slavery that still leaves its mark on our modern society. Bill Rosoff, another friend living in Beijing who has a wonderful library of great books suggested, China’s Civilian Army by Peter Martin. Martin’s book is described as the untold story of China’s rise as a global superpower, chronicled through the diplomatic shock troops that connect Beijing to the world.
For those readers who like business books, I have always enjoyed Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. This book is based on 10 years of study, provides a practical and systematic way to create ideas that are understood, remembered and have long-term impact. This book was also recommended by Chris Graves, so I asked Chris what he was reading recently he would recommend. He suggested, The Undoing Project, also by Michael Lewis. The Undoing Project explores the close partnership of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, whose work on heuristics in judgment and decision-making demonstrated common errors of the human psyche, and how that partnership eventually broke apart.
Finally, for those that choose books on tape as opposed to reading, my good friend Dan Krassenstein suggests, Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, which he listened to on his long bike rides in Los Angeles. Boys in the Boat is a book about teamwork, both in the sense of working as part of a literal team and the metaphorical sense of trusting and cooperating with other people.
Well friends, that’s a wrap. Above you have 21 books by many people who I respect and admire, and who inspire me. Perhaps a few of these will make their way onto your nightstand in the Year of the Tiger, or into your smartphones. Thanks again for being part of this community and I wish you the very best for the year ahead.
Xin Nian Kuai Le!