Two Keys to Doubling Blog Traffic

I’ve been at my Cooking Chat blog for over five years and nearly 500 posts, so when my blog traffic doubled over the past few months, I thought it would be worth a look under the hood to see what was behind the growth. Blogging at Cooking Chat has been a fun project related to my interests in cooking and finding good wines to pair with our food. I put enough time and effort into this blog that I’ve been interested in finding ways to increase readership for Cooking Chat. For quite awhile the blog had been getting under 5,000 views per month. Early in 2014, the traffic was around 3,500, then it climbed to 4,456 in April. For June, traffic had grown to 9,609.

cookingchat chart2

My posting consistency didn’t change much during this period–I continue to post once or twice per week. I turned to my blog stats provided by the Blogger dashboard to try to get some insight as to what was driving my growth. Google was easily my top referring site and referring URL. I suspect continuing to be active on Google+ helps here. Yet I’ve been active on G+ at various levels of frequency since the service was made available, so this wouldn’t seem to explain my recent growth. Considering my site stats along with what I had done differently this spring and early summer led me to conclude there are two primary factors driving the traffic growth:

1) Connecting with a community of bloggers: I’ve always tried to connect with my fellow food and wine bloggers through post comments and engaging on social media. The new ingredient this spring was starting to participate more regularly this spring with the #SundaySupper bloggers. Founded by Isabel Laessig, a.k.a. “Family Foodie”, in 2012, this is a network of food bloggers that does weekly posts on a Sunday Supper theme, along with a live Twitter chat each Sunday at 7 p.m. ET. They have a good setup of a Facebook Group, Pinterest boards, Facebook group and more to create a sense of community among the fellow bloggers.

I’m pretty sure it’s no coincidence that my traffic growth mirrors the period of time I started participating in Sunday Supper, doing at least one #SundaySupper post per month and generally connecting with the community. The posts I’ve done tied into #SundaySupper events have gotten good traffic, and generate much more commenting activity than I typically get. In addition, several Sunday Supper bloggers are among my top referring sites now. Twitter is close to Pinterest for my 2nd best referral source, and I suspect all the shares from my #SundaySupper friends has helped with Twitter link growth.

The lesson here seems to be that connecting with a community of bloggers with similar interests can be a big boost to your blog. I’ve recently been working on a new blogging community, Wine Pairing Weekend, focused on food and wine pairings. The early returns there have been good, with my initial #winePW post topping my June traffic report.

2) Strategic Use of Pinterest: ”Food & Drink” is one of the most popular topics on Pinterest, so it’s no surprise that many of my fellow bloggers report it’s one of their best referral sources.  I’ve used Pinterest for a couple years with this in mind, but during the past few months, I’ve gotten more strategic about the photos I add to my blog posts and my pinning frequency. This seems to be paying off, as I’ve seen Pinterest climb in prominence on my blog referral list. I plan to share more in a future post on how I’ve been organizing my Pinterest activity. Meanwhile, here’s a link to my Pinterest profile if you’d like to connect there!

Are you a blogger? What have you found helps boost readership of your blog? Would love to hear your ideas!

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3 Insights from Adam Grant’s “Give and Take”

volunteers packing meals for a food pantry

volunteering can boost our own happiness

Could giving be the key to success? Adam Grant’s book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success suggests there is some real power to the old maxim that it’s better to give than to receive.  He starts the book by presenting evidence that givers dominate both the top and bottom of the success ladder, and explains that his motivation in writing the book is to “demonstrate that success doesn’t have to come at someone else’s expense.”

Much of the book contrasts the style of givers with two other groups–”takers” and “matchers”. Takers are fairly self-explanatory; matchers refer to people who are motivated by a sense of fairness, and seek to have their giving reciprocated by people they help.

I finished this book a few weeks ago and am just now getting to blog about it. Fortunately, I read the digital version of the book and highlighted 63 excerpts to quickly jog my memory about insights I wanted to share from it.  Below I’ve summarized three insights that stood out for me, in addition to the general point that giving can contribute to our own success. The book is full with insights on professional relationships, social networks and success; so I encourage you to give the book a read for yourself. In addition, you can check out Adam Grant’s website for additional resources on the subject, including an interesting self-assessment tool.

Our networks are strengthened through giving. A giving approach is a powerful way to strengthen our social networks. I had some appreciation for this concept prior to reading the book, but Grant provides interesting detail on how this plays out. For instance, he talks about how “dormant ties”, people we haven’t been in touch with for awhile, are an important source of new ideas and information. This point is consistent with Mark Granovetter’s classic work on the “Strength of Weak Ties” which explained that we are more likely to get job referrals and other resources from people whom we don’t know especially well, who can help us tap into new networks and information. Those close to us, on the other hand, tend to have information similar to what we already know.

Grant presents entrepreneur Adam Rifkin as a compelling example of how a giving approach can lead to success. Rifkin’s giving approach helped get him important leads early and his career, and now he is very intentional about cultivating a network of givers through regular entrepreneur networking events he facilitates. His real aim is to “change our fundamental ideas about how we build our networks and who should benefit from them.

Givers help create strong teams: People who are giving help make teams successful. Grant notes that engineers who freely share ideas without expecting anything back are key drivers in innovation. He also states “Givers are more likely to see interdependence as a source of strength.”

How we give is important. Seeking to explain research that shows givers rank at both the top and bottom in terms of success, Grant explains how we approach giving is important.  He notes that “when people give continually without concern for their own well-being, they’re at risk for poor mental and physical health.” There seems to be a sweet spot for giving. For instance, one Australian study found those volunteering between 100 and 800 hours per year were the happiest; those under or over had worse outcomes.  It’s not just about the amount of hours, but the approach. Grant says that those practicing “otherish giving” reap the best results. Otherish givers aren’t giving selflessly; rather, they understand and seek to fulfill their own needs while giving. Throughout the book, Grant provides many practical suggestions as to how people can practice otherish giving that helps others while contributing to their own success.

Note on links: The links take you to the Amazon pages for the books referenced. I’m part of the Amazon associates network, and get a small portion of sales sent via these links. You get the regular pricing starting from here.

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A Walking Day Around Boston

View of Boston Hancock tower from post on walking.

Walking is a great way to enjoy a city

Practical reasons had me opt to park at a MBTA subway station to take the T into my morning meetings. With a 9:30 meeting downtown at City Hall, I’d be fighting traffic all the way into an expensive parking spot. Then I had a tight connection to get to my next meeting in Dorchester, to a location that always seems to involve an extended hunt for a parking spot.

Logistics nudged me to make a choice that saved some money and fossil fuels while building some nice walking into the day. Parking at the Wellington Station garage sets up two nice long walks on this connecting pedestrian bridge:

pedestrian bridge at Wellington station builds walking into your day.Who needs a treadmill with this kind of walking?

The traffic and T timing worked out pretty smoothly so I walked around the City Hall Plaza area for about 10 minutes, and came across this landmark related to the first telephone, which I don’t recall seeing before.

Boston landmark remembering the first telephone.

In addition to the benefits of exercise, you definitely see more walking in a community; it’s certainly a great way to get to know a place. I recall backpacking around Europe after college, I’d typically walk from one point of interest from another in those great, old walkable cities, and finding neat things that weren’t in my tour book.

A view in Codman Square, Dorchester

A view in Codman Square, Dorchester

I sometimes forget how sedentary the suburban lifestyle can be until spending a day getting around Boston by train and by foot. I’m sure I got a solid hour of walking in throughout the day. We are fortunate to live by Horn Pond, a great spot I get out to for regular walks. But those 20 or 30 minute walks are often my one segment of sustained physical activity for the day, otherwise spent in a car or sitting in meetings or in front of a computer. The latest research definitely points to the benefits of integrating physical activity throughout the day.

Recall that I was nudged by practical considerations to build this healthy exercise into my day. Yesterday was a nice little case study pointing out the merits of walkable cities. The good news is, there are folks doing good work to try to make walkable cities more the norm. See for instance Walk Boston and this article about Walk Scores.

Do you build walking and other physical activity into your day? Have some good ideas for doing so as an individual or community? Would love to hear about it!

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Cheering Big Papi and Mourning a Hamster

Father son fun at Fenway ParkOur first 24 hours flying solo with Jodi away for a conference seemed to encapsulate the joys and trials of parenting pretty well. A few weeks ago, I noticed a tweet from the Mass. Public Health Association indicating it was “Public Health Day” at Fenway Park, and they had good group ticket rates available. We’re focusing more on health at Social Capital Inc. these days, so it seemed like a good thing to participate in. Of course, it doesn’t take too much convincing to get me to go the see the Red Sox! I consulted my calendar and noted that the game coincided with the day Jodi was heading for San Antonio. What better activity for the “boys” time then heading to a Sox game?

As much as the three of us enjoy our family time together, doing special things one on one with our lad seems pretty important. Pulling B. a bit early from school to head to Fenway had all the makings of that! We headed for the MBTA station, conveniently located next to a Starbucks, where my lad eagerly placed his regular order–tall Lemonade, no ice, 3 pumps of sweetener.

It’s great just to be anywhere in Fenway, but as we ascended to our right field bleacher seats just a few rows from the back wall, I could see why they could be had for $10 in early April! Long way from the action but a nice view of the new 2013 World Series Champions banner! As we were heading back to our seats with snacks early in the game, we heard our name called out and quickly spotted the fellow Woburnites who were also enjoying the game. They indicated some open seats near them which we eagerly grabbed to get a better view.

2013 Red Sox World Championship Banner at Fenway

The 2013 World Championship Banner at Fenway looks great!

Now, before I get on to the fun end to the game, let me note that sitting through a 1 to 1 baseball game doesn’t come easy to an 8 year old digital native. Especially seeing as we were still a bit far away to observe the nuances of the pitchers’ duel. Fortunately, I fended off a number of mid-game “When can we go?” inquiries and convinced him to stay. The ending seemed to pick up where the 2013 Red Sox left off. Down 2 to 1 in the bottom of the 8th, they had two runners aboard when David Ortiz, a.k.a. Big Papi, hit a monstrous blast way over the right field foul pole. High fives all around the bleachers as Big Papi touched’em all, and more high fives when the home run withstood the scrutiny of the new replay system (not a fan of that BTW). We then had a great view for the amazing closer Koji Uehara quickly getting ready prior to trotting in and ending things with his usual efficiency. I believe he got the 3 outs faster than it took to play the Sox winning anthem, “Love that Dirty Water.”

Koji time at Fenway! World's most famous bullpen cop in foreground.

Koji time at Fenway! World’s most famous bullpen cop in foreground.

But any parent reading this knows parenting is not all fun and games. I was quickly reminded of this the morning after our Fenway trip. As he was getting food for the puppies, B. started looking concerned. “How do you know the difference between a dead hamster and a hamster playing dead?” Not a question you want to hear! Unfortunately, our hamster wasn’t playing.

Our family is new to the pet scene, in part because of our various allergies, plus I’ve never been enthused about having pets.  But Jodi and B were eager to have a pet. One hamster became two, and then we got a pair of puppies last fall. I figured I’d be a good sport about it, provided they team up to do the work of taking care of them.  I felt my plate was pretty full with cooking and other household tasks.

Pet person or not, the hamster burial couldn’t wait for Jodi’s return. We figured learning to care for a pet offered some good life lessons for B, and dealing with death is clearly part of that. This being the first death of a pet for us, I turned to some Googling for advice. I gleaned some practical tips on hamster burial, and browsed for some ideas about prayers for pets. We were ready for the task.

There’s more emotional attachment to the puppies at this point, which probably made the hamster passing a bit easier for B to deal with. He wasn’t showing a lot of emotion when we first figured out what had happened, but it was a bit hard to read how he was feeling about it. I wanted to follow his cues on how much he wanted to be part of the process. He expressed interest in being involved in everything except actually touching the dead hamster, but he did hold the box  open for me to place her in. I figure it was good for him to actually see her going into the box we were burying, in terms of closure.

Practical note here in case you’ve come across this post Googling for how to deal with a hamster burial: placing the hamster in a small box was recommended, as was trying to dig a fairly deep hole and covering it with rocks, to prevent birds and animals from getting at it. We landed on an empty box of chamomile tea that was in the recycling, it had a nice picture of a cozy home and flowers on it, so didn’t require too much decorating. B. wrote the hamsters name on it and a few other words for it.

I had a someone more in-depth prayer in mind, but as we placed our hamster in the ground, I could feel we were both touched by what we were doing. I kept the prayer short and sweet. B added “Amen. Let the force be with you.” I thought that was a pretty cool touch!

My parenting takeaways from these two events? We’ve got to grab our chances to have a special day with our kids, as I did when I saw the Fenway tickets in my Twitter feed. Everyone I know with grown kids always talks about how fast they grow, and I certainly believe it seeing how fast B has gotten to age 8. Have the fun when we can, and then when a curveball is thrown, be ready to seize that moment too. Though officiating a hamster burial was in many ways not something I relished, it too provided an important experience for B and I to have together.  May the force be with you, too, in all your parenting endeavors!

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Early Spring Sunrise

early spring sunrise at Horn Pond, Woburn, MAThe early spring sun ekes out of its slumber, casting glimmers of rosy purple light across the ice still clinging to the surface of Horn Pond. The ice is still with us as we near April, but the morning bird songs have taken on a distinctly spring sound, cheerfully telling us that it will (eventually) feel like spring in our bones as well as on the calendar.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” goes the line from Alexander Pope. After a winter like this, the hope is springing forth more optimistically from the birds!

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Cooked: the New #Book by Michael Pollan

Cooked by Michael Pollan, David B. Crowley reviewI was pleasantly surprised to unwrap Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
by Michael Pollan on Christmas. I’m a big fan of his past books The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, but somehow hadn’t realized he had a new book out until I opened the gift. Good call on that one, Amanda!

Pollan is essential reading for anyone concerned about the mainstream food habits in our society, and interested in exploring healthier ways. Cooked is a another good contribution to this topic. Omnivore’s Dilemma brings hard-hitting information about the implications of our current food production system, and An Eater’s Manifesto provides practical suggestions about what choices we can make to eat healthier.  In Cooked, Pollan delves deep into the process of cooking help us gain a deeper appreciation of real food and what it takes to make it.

Cooked is organized into sections based on the four basic elements: fire, water, air and earth. In each area, Pollan seeks out experts in preparing food via the method associated with the element, then tries to master the process himself. In “fire”, Pollan describes the ancient communal process of cooking a big feast over flames, while making me very hungry for a pulled pork sandwich made by his barbecue mentor. He takes up braising in the “water” section, and made me wonder a bit about the shortcuts I sometimes take with my chopping method. (but I must credit Cooked with some inspiration for coming up with a very good Tuscan Beef Stew recently). “Air” introduces us to some passionate bread makers, including one who has been known to take his bread starter to the movies in order feed it at the proper times. I’m not much of a baker but this section, and the recipe that goes with it, might be the nudge that gets me to try making my own bread. “Earth” gets into the science of fermentation, which gives us everything we need to know about the important role bacteria play in creating so many foods and in producing good health And the section comes with a bit of info I could do with out, such as the similarity between the bacteria that make stinky cheese and those that can be found on sweaty feet.

Like other Pollan books, this one is full of great characters, stories and powerful insights. Luckily I own this book, so I could underline, dog-ear and write notes in it to my hearts content. If your passionate–or even simply curious–about how good food contributes to the health of our families and communities, you’ll want to add this one to your shelf, too.

Note on links: The links take you to the Amazon pages for the books referenced. I’m part of the Amazon associates network, and get a small portion of sales sent via these links. You get the regular pricing starting from here.

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7 Tips for Focused and Productive Digital Time

bench in shade

How can we maintain focus when we head online?

Yes, we need to seek our own version of Walden Pond to find refuge from our hectic digital world, as I wrote about here. But realistically, if your work and lifestyle is anything like mine, you are going to be spending a lot of time immersed in the digital realm most days. So in addition to considering how to carve spaces and time away from things digital, we must also seek ways to maintain focus and creativity in the time we spend online. We also need to ensure we are using online tools to serve our goals, not frenetically reacting to every ping, tweet and text that comes our way. By doing so, we can leverage today’s tools to learn, connect and be productive. Done right, when we’re done our work in front of the screens, we shouldn’t feel frazzled. Here are 7 tips for focused and productive digital time; I’d love to hear your suggestions!

1) Know your purpose and set goals: What role do online tools play in your life? Is social media a key part of your work, or primarily for fun? Maybe like me finding and sharing recipes is a key part of your cooking plan, or you use it for some other serious hobby. If like many people online tools are at least in part serving some overarching purpose, as opposed to pure entertainment, set some goals for what you want to accomplish for your use of online tools.  For instance, I want to gradually grow my influence to support goals I have for my Social Capital Inc. (SCI) work as well as increase readership on this blog and Cooking Chat. I allocate my online activities with an eye toward achieving those goals.

2) Have a plan: Go online with a plan of what you are there to do. Checking to see if you’ve had any mentions on Twitter to respond to? Sharing a photo from your walk on Facebook? Get that purpose in mind, and stick to that–or at least limit checking out other things while you are there. I sometimes write my priority on a post-it note by the keyboard as a reminder.

photo (81)

3) Set boundaries on email and social media time: Realistically, we’re not going to do just one thing each time we’re online. I believe setting boundaries or time budgets for our time is key, and linking those boundaries to our overall goals. I typically devote some time while eating breakfast and drinking my coffee to reading some online articles and scheduling tweets, but I have an end time in mind. I know there are a lot of “zero inbox” proponents out there that believe in clearing out one’s email at the end of the day. My approach, in keeping with the balance thing, is to say, “OK, I’ll spend the final 30 minutes of the day managing email.” In the spirit of proper balance, when I reach the time I set, I’m signing off to go home and cook my family dinner!

4) Realize what social media can’t do for you: Though social media does serve some broader goals I have, I need to remember growing my social media following is not the most important task on my plate. I’m not a full-time social media professional; rather, social media is in the mix of communication tools that help me accomplish my work goals. Social media definitely is helpful for our SCI goals, but it really is just a supplement to activities like targeted outreach to key partners and one-on-one contact with supporters. In fact, in the context of my work, social media is at its best when it’s well-integrated with the other planning and communication activities we are doing. For instance, in prepping for a meeting in a new community, I will see who has an active social presence in the community, engage with them and record their contact information in our  customer relations management (CRM)–currently we’re using Insightly. Keeping in mind what social media can’t do for me, reminds me to peel away from it when my social media time is up and get on to other priorities.

5) Stay on your feet: Ever say, “I’ll just do this one thing online…” before logging off to read or do some other activity for the rest of the night…and then that one thing leads to another, and you’ve spent another hour online? One trick I’ve learned is to do that “one thing” while standing, rather than getting comfy on the couch. This is easy for me as I often have my laptop open on the counter while fixing dinner, to play some music, engage a bit with online foodie friends, and check/create recipes. So after dinner, I’ll often leave it in that spot and take care of that one thing. Being on my feet reminds me of my intention not to be online much longer, and I tend to stay focused and get into a good book sooner rather than later.

6) Organize for digital depth: The torrent of tweets and other data streams can be dizzying at times. While the serendipitous finds by dipping into this stream can be fun, I find it important to organize the inflow to allow for focus and depth. I’m a huge fan of Twitter lists for this purpose. I follow a lot of people, but have over 25 lists across my accounts to help me focus on topics of interest, ranging from Boston nonprofits for work to some of my favorite Cooking Chat friends. Another thing I like to do is “favorite” tweets that link to articles that sound like I’ll want to give them a closer read, to save them for a block of focused online reading time.  In addition, I’ve worked on organizing feeds, using Feedly since Google Reader was sunset, from favorite blogs and news sources by topic, and check those several times a week if not daily. I find those feeds to be a great source for in-depth reading.

7) Consider Blogging Regularly: When I first began tweeting, my blogging frequency definitely slipped. It’s so much easier to compose 5 or 10 unrelated tweets then to string together paragraphs for a good blog post. But I find blogging regularly is a good way to go a little deeper on subjects and develop my own ideas and content. I do a combination of public blogging along with a private blog that serves more like a journal rounding up reading notes, quotes and reflections. I realize blogging isn’t for everyone, but if you are interested in developing your own personal brand, let along being anything approaching a thought leader, blogging merits serious consideration. It also is a great way to get the writing juices flowing.

OK, those are my tips…please share your ideas for staying focused and productive online!

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Four Seasons by the Pond

Among other things, 2013 afforded me plenty of opportunities to enjoy the natural beautify of Horn Pond, which we are fortunate to live very close to in Woburn, MA. Here are a few photos that capture my walks through the seasons.

Spring

mists rising off pond at sunset

Earlier light in spring gets me out for more sunrise walks, catching the mist rising.

willows begin to blossom in spring

The willows are the first to blossom

Summer

bench in shade

a shaded bench offers respite from summer heat

Brilliant sunset at Horn Pond, Woburn MA

Warm days ended with some cool sunsets

Autumn

early fall foliage by Horn Pond

The pond begins to reflect the autumn colors

Maple tree with fall foliage catching sunlight

and the sun captures the season’s brilliance.

Winter

ice forming on Horn Pondice begins to cover the pond

snow covered banks of a streamand snow covers the banks of the stream flowing into the pond.

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Aligning Big Goals and Daily Habits

bird taking off across pond

How can habits help us soar toward our goals?

With only 8% of resolutions kept , we have reason to be skeptical about goals set around New Year’s. I’ve tended to shun the resolutions as typically approached, focusing on ideas such as “Finding Flow” and “New Year’s Green Lights”. Despite some wariness New Year’s Resolutions as such, I do find this time of year tends to afford good opportunity for pause and reflection (well, after the Christmas presents have been acquired and given!). This year, I’m focusing on the link between big goals and daily habits and practices.

I tend toward setting large goals–at times too many–so the concept of setting simple daily mini-habits intrigued me.  At first I chuckled at Stephen’s description on Tiny Buddha of his first mini-habit–doing one push-up everyday. But I read on and there seemed to be something to it. Setting a goal that is so sure to be achieved begets a sense of momentum. So I’m now nearly a month into my mini-habit of writing at least 50 words every day.

Doing my daily writing mini-habit consistently, early in the day, has created a swirl of positive energy. Though the explicit goal of the habit is simply to write 50 words, I have published significantly more blog posts in the past month (10 on my personal blogs plus a few for work) than I typically would. And getting on a writing roll early in the day tends to spill over into a good flow writing when I get into the office.

One of my New Year’s realizations was that I need to harness the energy created by the habit of regular writing in service of my overall goals for the year and beyond. With the mini-habit only stating I needed to write 50 words on anything, I was creating a somewhat random assortment of content. Now, there is something to be said for serendipity, but I am ready to focus the effort toward my key goals.

One important goal I have is continuing to strive to put digital tools in their proper place. Our Sunday digital Sabbath is a key part of this, so I’ll be taking a break on Sundays from my 50 word habit. So I have 6 days to do my 50 word mini-habit. Half of those I will devote to writing that directly relates to my work at Social Capital Inc. The other three days will be for other personal interests as reflected on this blog, Cooking Chat, and yes, finally getting a book written!

aristotle quoteSo part of my thinking has been around how to more intentionally link positive habits I’ve already established to bigger goals I have. But I’m trying to work in the other direction, too. The process of thinking more about creating habits has me pushing to do so for any important goals. For instance, we have a family priority on managing our budget and saving for a return trip to Legoland. So I’m pushing myself to ask myself every day, “What can I do today to reach our family finance goals?” Finding a simple thing to do, like fixing oatmeal (bulk oatmeal is much cheaper than cold cereal) helps a bit on the bottom line, but more importantly, helps establish a mindset that keeps the goal in mind when making other decisions. I’m trying to keep in mind Aristotle’s observation: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

So what habits and goals are you working on for a successful 2014? I look forward to sharing the quest with you!

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9 #Books I Really Enjoyed in 2013

Last year’s reading recap was largely a complaint that I didn’t find many books to recommend with enthusiasm. I’m happy to report and share about the books I read and enjoyed in 2013–definitely a good reading year for me! I went into this year noting it had been awhile since I’d read a truly great new novel. I’m happy to report I read not one but three top-notch novels that I’d enthusiastically recommend.  Six very good works of non-fiction round out my 2013 list of good reads. I get most of my books from the library, so many of these books were published prior to 2013.

My 3 favorite novels

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. One of the better novels I’ve read in awhile. Does a nice job of pulling together the stories of a wide range of New Yorkers in the 1970s. The tales are linked by a real event, a tightrope walk between the twin towers.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. She opens with some powerful language, quickly drawing the reader into the world of a fortyish single woman who feels she isn’t fully living life. She then develops a complicated relationship with a family of three visiting Cambridge, MA for the year. Messud saves up a surprise for the end. After reading the final page, I was left wondering what happens next!

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. Vivid language paints a picture of the struggles of one large family during and following the Great Migration. Hattie, the matriarch moves from the South to Philadelphia as a teen, marries at a young age and ekes out an existence for herself and her children. The story covers the diverse paths her children take and her own quest to find her own happiness. This is Ayana Mathis’ first novel, a good start!

6 works of non-fiction worth reading

Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli. Disasters such as Hurricane Sandy called attention to the concept of resilience–the factors that can make a system more able to withstand crisis and change. Zolli breaks down the concept well and provides many good examples of the concept in practice.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. Definitely a top read of 2013, and one I’d encourage parents and educators to read. Tough presents research on what makes children succeed in a very accessible manner, with great examples of initiatives that help children succeed even in difficult circumstances. I wrote more on this one here.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle. This one made my 10 Books That Have Influenced Me list so of course needed to be on my best books of 2013. This book got me thinking further about how technology is changing us, and what we can do proactively to lead balanced lives in a digital age. See  10 Ideas for Finding Your Own Walden in a Digital Age for more on that.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. One-third to one-half of Americans are introverts, yet in our highly social culture the needs and inclinations of introverts are often under-appreciated. This book is a good step toward setting that straight. I wrote a bit more on this one here.  

Leadership and the Art of Struggle: How Great Leaders Grow Through Challenge and Adversity by Steven Snyder. Of course we all know it’s a good idea to learn from our mistakes. Easier said than done! This book does a good job of breaking down the process and mindset necessary for leaders to grow in response to the challenges with which we are confronted. I found this helpful to draw upon working to develop a new strategic growth plan this year at Social Capital Inc.

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti. Entertaining (true) tale of the author’s quest to find “the world’s greatest cheese” and the character that makes it in the Castille region of Spain.

I read about 25 books in total, and must have done a good job choosing them as cutting it to 9 wasn’t that easy. I left off some good books with local interest (on Terry Francona and Whitey Bulger) and a real page turner (the final Stieg Larsson novel). I hope my 2014 and yours are similarly packed with good reading!

Full disclosure: Book links on this blog go to Amazon, via my Amazon affiliates account. Should you choose to purchase one of these books, I get a small percentage of the sale.

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