📚 My Book Recommendations of 2019 | Part 1

Elina Kapanen
11 min readDec 27, 2019

Why I read and which books do I go for?

The number of good things and opportunities that new knowledge or stories can bring into one’s life can be limitless. My favorite of them all is the following:

Through reading, the experience of life becomes more vivid. You start noticing (and understanding) the complexities in the ordinary.

I think the way I choose books contributes to this goal. Shortly put, I:

  • select each book intuitively, meaning — based on the current moment and context of my life: What type of book do I feel like right now? Is there a new interest or curiosity I have developed? …or a question that has raised in my life? Has someone recommended anything that resonates with me at the moment? Is there any author or person (who might have written books) that has inspired me lately?
  • mostly go for non-fiction about psychology, philosophy, art, design, sciences, things every person is surrounded by in their daily life, or something I know almost nothing of (my favorite ‘genre’!). I also like fiction.
  • never read on the same topic in a row
  • switch between non-fiction and fiction
  • try to avoid currently very popular books (not a must) and welcome less-known books
  • use a way to find ‘hidden gems’ (more on that in the second post 🙈)

And also, I make and keep reading a daily habit.

The recommendations

Here are some of my favorite books I’ve read this year. I decided to divide the batch into two posts. Here’s the first one.

I hope you’ll find anything useful, interesting or relevant to you. Tell me later!

Let’s start! 👀

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Matthew Walker • AmazonGoodreads

This book is the highlight of my year. During the reading, I felt that it is providing an explanation for — comically — every situation in life. My friends were probably very aware that I was in the middle of this book!

But in all seriousness — it did include many mind-shifting insights from sleep research, such as:

  • how our inner clocks work and change over time and how ours differs from or matches to other species, and even plants
  • what happens in our bodies during different stages of sleep
  • how the development of kids is affected by intruding their normal circadian rhythms
  • how far is research about dreams
  • and most importantly — why sleep is the most powerful medicine

In my opinion, this book should be a mandatory read in school.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott • AmazonGoodreads

I discovered Anne through a TED-talk on Youtube and was attracted to her personality and attitude. She’s raw, authentic, spiritual, and has a bit of self-deprecating humor that all transfer to her writing and give this book a unique character. During the reading, I felt like Anne is my old-time friend who always knows what kind of advice to give and who makes one feel understood and comfortable.

As the title says, this book talks quite a bit about writing:

  • How to approach writing in a holistic way: what is the purpose of writing or what can you, as a writer, contribute to the world?
  • How to write authentically?
  • How to start, and keep, writing?
  • What to pay attention to in character development and the storyline?

However, in my opinion, it’s about a lot more. Anne touches the hardships of her life, in an honest and humorous manner, and inspires the reader through her learnings. I think that the ideas in this book can be applied to any creative field and some of it to life in general.

Here are few of my favorite lines from “Bird by Bird”:

‘Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.’

‘Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground — you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.’

‘You just knew that there was something about these people that compelled you, and you stayed with that something long enough for it to show you what it was about.’

‘That is one of the worst feelings I can think of, to have had a wonderful moment or insight or vision or phrase, to know you had it, and then to lose it. So now I use index cards.’

I think that many people wish Anne was their actual friend. Maybe you’re one of them?

PS: I recommend watching this video and then reading the book. It’s fun to read it in her voice.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish • AmazonGoodreads

I don’t even remember how this book came to me, but I am very happy it did.

Despite not having children of my own, I found this book insightful. Listening well is an important skill for any human being, but kids in particular challenge one it that. Even if you think you are a decent listener, I think this book will make that confidence fluctuate a bit.

“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” is packed with practical and ingenious strategies that help to improve communication in a parent-kid relationship, as well as guide children to behave well and take responsibility. Here are some tips from the book:

‘As we see it, the value of the one-word statement lies in the fact that instead of an oppressive command we give the child an opportunity to exercise his own initiative, and his own intelligence. When he hears you say, “The dog,” he has to think, “What about the dog? . . . Oh, yeah, I didn’t walk him yet this afternoon . . . Guess I’d better take him out now.”’

‘Write a Note. Most children love receiving notes — both those who can read and those who can’t. Little ones are usually thrilled to receive a printed message from their parents. It encourages them to write or draw notes back to their parents.’

‘We realize now that by saying, “Try it, it’s easy” we do him no favor. If he succeeds in doing something “easy,” he feels he hasn’t accomplished much. If he fails, then he’s failed to do something simple.’

Sidenote: The idea about leaving messages to each other might come in handy in situations when words don’t work at all, one of the sides is defensive or in any other strong emotional state, or if the child is less talkative. Receiving notes will almost feel like a play and the child is, therefore, more receptive to what the parent is saying and willing to commit to an action. They might even leave a note to the parent!

Again, I think the content of this book is universal: a lot of it can be applied to any social interaction.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Jordan Peterson • AmazonGoodreads

“12 Rules of Life” is a book that gets so good at times that you want to share it with others. The thickness of the book looks intimidating but once you get into it, you will soon (and sadly) find yourself in the last chapter.

This book covers a lot. It is hard to describe what this book is exactly about, however, it takes one on an eclectic journey of thought-provoking ideas about life, Being, human nature and how to live well. Jordan Peterson seems to have an effortless skill to create connections between different areas such as religion, psychology, philosophy, sciences, and others to reason and illustrate his ideas. Here are a few of them that I took with me:

‘Being of any reasonable sort appears to require limitation. Perhaps this is because Being requires Becoming, as well as mere static existence — and to become is to become something more, or at least something different. That is only possible for something limited.’

‘Sigmund Freud, for his part, analogously believed that “repression” contributed in a non-trivial manner to the development of mental illness (and the difference between repression of truth and a lie is a matter of degree, not kind). Alfred Adler knew it was lies that bred sickness. C.G. Jung knew that moral problems plagued his patients, and that such problems were caused by untruth. All these thinkers, all centrally concerned with pathology both individual and cultural, came to the same conclusion: lies warp the structure of Being. Untruth corrupts the soul and the state alike, and one form of corruption feeds the other.’

‘Violence, after all, is no mystery. It’s peace that’s the mystery. Violence is the default. It’s easy. It’s peace that is difficult: learned, inculcated, earned. (People often get basic psychological questions backwards. Why do people take drugs? Not a mystery. It’s why they don’t take them all the time that’s the mystery. Why do people suffer from anxiety? That’s not a mystery. How is it that people can ever be calm? There’s the mystery. We’re breakable and mortal. A million things can go wrong, in a million ways. We should be terrified out of our skulls at every second. But we’re not. The same can be said for depression, laziness and criminality.’

If you open my copy of this book, the pages aren’t black and white. They’re orange. It’s because there was a lot to highlight! If you decide to read it then yours might get colorful too!

One, No One & One Hundred Thousand

Luigi Pirandello • AmazonGoodreads

Someone quoted this book on social media. The line was so enticing that I had to pick the book up myself.

The story of this 1926 novel revolves around the concept of human perception: who am I to myself?, who am I to others?. In my opinion, it is an intense book, with a tendency to question your reality and sense of self:

‘They saw in me a Moscarda that was not I, unasmuch as I, properly speaking, was no one to myself; there were as many Moscardas as there were other individuals, and all of them were more real than I, who had, I repeat, no reality whatsoever so far as I myself was concerned.’

‘If I did not wish myself or feel myself to be as I saw myself, then it was a stranger to me as well, since in addition to those features which it had, it might have had yet others.’

‘This tree, tremulous breathing of new leaves. I am this tree. Tree, cloud; tomorrow, book or breeze; the book I read, the breeze I drink in. Living wholly without, a vagabond.’

During this reading, I arrived at moments of clarity and recognition, as well as skepticism.

If you enjoy books that challenge your thinking about the concept of ‘I’, I do very much recommend it.

Norwegian Wood

Haruki Murakami • AmazonGoodreads

Since I love Haruki Murakami’s writing style and felt like taking a small break between non-fiction, this was a natural pick for me.

I don’t feel that a huge lot happens in this novel, but what makes it so enjoyable is the personality of the characters and the synergy between them. The book is mostly built on dialogue, through which each character’s peculiarities shine through beautifully. Overall themes of “Norwegian Wood” are loss, psychological problems, love, and friendship.

If you like slow-building fiction with witty conversation and interesting characters, you might enjoy it.

Designing with Sound: Fundamentals for Products and Services

Aaron Day and Amber Case • AmazonGoodreads

Picking up this book was triggered by my curiosity towards sound design and vision that bringing sounds into the product I am currently working on would enhance certain interactions. I also wanted to be more competent in starting that project.

There are many books about sound design, but few of them focus on interfaces. I, as a person with almost no background in this area, found the book compelling.

“Designing with Sound” starts holistically: How does listening compare to our other senses? How does it affect them? How to ensure the quality of sound through materials? What to pay attention to build soundscapes that will trigger or lessen different emotions?

My favorite part of the book was the practical side of it: How to choose sounds and haptics for interfaces? What kind of process to follow from ideation to implementation of the sounds?

If all of this sounds (😅) relevant to your work, this book is a recommend!

Liquid Rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives

Mark Miodownik • AmazonGoodreads

When a few people become aware of this book of my choice, their response was: “But, why?!”.

“Liquids — we’re surrounded by them. Isn’t it very relevant?” was my drive behind choosing a book like that. I like that the choice felt a bit unexpected. There’s a lot that I got out of this book.

“Liquid Rules” talks about the properties and behavior of different liquids in a subtly entertaining fashion and gives an answer to questions, such as:

  • What happens in the molecule level of water when a person swims in or jumps into it?
  • What affects the taste of wine, tea, and other drinks?
  • What is the purpose and behavior of saliva and tears?
  • How does soap work?
  • Which liquids are associated with air-travel?
  • Which contents and processes do we find inside the Earth?

as well as many others.

So, is this relevant or not? 😉

That’s it, for now. Thank you for reading!

If you enjoyed the post, I’d appreciate it if you tapped the clapping-thingy. ❤

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Elina Kapanen

Creating through different mediums and being curious about the world and humans • Lead Product Designer @ Speakly