“Don’t get used to normal”. This is the advice I was given on the first day in my job, and I must say it has served me well.
I work in Local Government, a sector which is under considerable pressure to change, as we face increasing financial and population pressures. The ability to be flexible, to challenge assumptions, and try new ways of doing things is essential.
The problem is that once the novelty of a new job has subsided, it’s very easy to get used to ‘normal’, to find your place in the pecking order and stay there. While this is a comfortable existence, it won’t move us forward…
I’ve been making a conscious effort to challenge my sense of normal, and one way I’m doing this is through reading. I challenged myself to read 75 books this year; I’ve now reached number 63 and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience.
These are the pick of my favourites so far; favourite because they surprised me, challenged me, or gave me a different perspective.
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell
A truly unique take on autobiographical writing, documenting the seventeen times the author almost died, but lived to tell the tale. Some parts of this book make for difficult reading, as they are a stark reminder of the fragility of life, but to me this is not a sad book; it is a call to action. It reminds me of how grateful I should be for my life and everything in it, and that if I want to do something great I should start now while I still have the chance.
We Do Things Differently by Mark Stevenson
I read this book while I was sick and house-bound, and it did wonders for my mood! It contains a series of case studies where people have taken on challenges with non-conventional approaches, and succeeded. Many of these people are ‘ordinary’, with no particular expertise or capital or formal power, but through thinking differently and being persistent they have enhanced their communities.
How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb
The importance of gender equality has been prominent in recent news, and while I am familiar with the female side of the debate, I have been blind to the challenges faced by boys and men. Robert Webb’s memoir makes for compelling reading, as he tells of negotiating society’s expectations of masculinity and identity.
What If? by Randall Munroe
Equally amusing and fascinating: scientific answers to a collection of hypothetical questions. Proof that there is no such thing as a silly question (and even if there is, you can learn something from working out the answer).
The Poirot Novels by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie has been on my must-read authors list for a while, and this summer I finally opened my first Poirot novel. They are short, satisfying reads with the inevitable (yet always unexpected) twist. I have continued to read my way through the series, as these books remind me never to assume, because I will almost certainly be wrong.
Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg
If you read the news every day, as I do, you could be fooled into thinking that everything is wrong in the world: this is the 21st Century and our world is still blighted by war, disease and inequality. This book with its charming yellow cover is a reminder of how far our species has come. We may not have solved every problem (far from it), but we are moving in the right direction.
Watching the English by Kate Fox
Possibly my favourite book of the year so far, although I have loved so many… A series of pin-point observations on typically English behavior (highlights of which include talking about the weather, drinking tea, and the hallowed art of queuing), showing how much of our environment we assume to be normal and universal, even when it isn’t.
So these are the best of 2017 so far (I’ll let you know if any gems appear in the final 12…), and I will continue to seek out books that give different perspectives on life. If you have any recommendations, I’m always keen to hear them, so please comment or tweet me your suggestions 🙂