My Top 15 Books of 2012

So I read 137 books in 2012. I already gave the full list, but below are my top 15 favorites from the year. I shared this list in my recent book, 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, in which I explain how I managed to read so many books (and talked to someone who read a lot more books than me).

I tried to narrow my list down to a top 10, but there were just too many good books to talk about. So here we go:

  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
    Most of this book takes place in a multi-player online game (like World of Warcraft, only bigger), which makes it very geeky. For that reason I’m always a little hesitant to recommend it. But if you can get past that (and the author makes it very approachable), it’s an incredible story. Geeky and fun, full of pop culture references (both real and made up), fast paced with plenty of action. I already want to read it again.
  2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    Every time I tell people about this book they look at me like I’m crazy. It’s a funny story about two teens dying of cancer. See? Crazy. But it’s amazing. The teens are sarcastic and funny and full of life, even though they’re on the verge of death.
  3. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
    I have a hard time getting into nonfiction, but this book tells a story that is so captivating it’s easy to forget it’s real. It helped that I got into running this year and found this book to be very motivational. Check out my blog post explaining the book and my own journey into running this year.
  4. Every Day by David Levithan
    This book didn’t just have a unique idea—a person wakes up in a new body every day—but the way it tackled that idea was so interesting and engaging. There were so many unique things: Like the fact that the main character doesn’t have a gender because they don’t have a body or the author’s willingness to go to difficult situations, like the body of a druggie in withdrawal, a suicidal case or an illegal child laborer. Plus, the actual story centers around a really good romance that gets to the idea of what we’re actually falling in love with.
  5. 11/23/63 by Stephen King
    Time travel and thwarting a presidential assassination? What more could you want? This one is long, but with Stephen King’s writing that’s no worry. There’s a love story in this one too, which makes the whole thing even more engaging.
  6. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
    This one and World War Z are very similar—varied accounts of the robot or zombie uprising. The different perspectives make both books engaging, but Robopocalypse keeps coming back to the same characters and letting you see how they’re getting along. That makes it more cohesive and interesting, gripping to the bitter end.
  7. Without Warning series by John Birmingham
    At first glance, this series sounded stupid: A mysterious and impenetrable “bubble” descends on the United States and wipes out every living person, isolating most of the contiguous United States. But good stories aren’t about what happened, they’re about what happens now. (For example, I think LOST derailed when they tried to explain what happened. The show was interesting when they focused on what happens now. Mythology and explanations can be interesting, but they can also be a distraction.) Weird set up aside, the what happens now in Without Warning was engaging. It was fast-paced, apocalyptic action and—like a good Stephen King or Joss Whedon story—you never knew when a character might get killed. The second installment slowed down a little bit, but the finale picked up again.
  8. Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
    Post-apocalyptic zombie horror. This one was crazed, edge of your seat action. The story had a lot going on, it kept up a frightful pace and the characters were engaging. As fast as it was, I also liked that the author knew when to slow down and let you feel safe again. My only complaint is that it’s the first in a trilogy, so there’s no sense of closure at the end (something I realized in horror with 40 pages to go).
  9. For the Win by Cory Doctorow
    I read three novels by Cory Doctorow this year and I was tempted to put all three on this list. But I went with For the Win as the best of the three. It’s one of those multi-thread stories where the threads eventually overlap and intertwine. As usual for Doctorow, he explores an interesting tech scenario and pushes it further. Good stuff.
  10. Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
    This is a story told as a poem that can easily be read in one day. It’s the heart-breaking tale of a Sudanese boy who comes to Minnesota as a refugee. The free verse style does an excellent job of communicating the language barrier. It really  helps you understand the perspective of a refugee.
  11. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
    A good kick-in-the-pants book for creatives. Short, simple and full of fun illustrations. Check out my review and interview with Austin Kleon over at Church Marketing Sucks.
  12. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
    I discovered this book during my first real trip to the South and it was timely. I’ve always been interested in the Civil War and coming to terms with the current take on the Confederacy has always been kind of weird. Good book to help me process some of that. My blog post exploring the book.
  13. Wrecked by Jeff Goins
    A great little book about how to deal with the incredible brokenness of life. Check out my review and interview with author Jeff Goins over at Church Marketing Sucks.
  14. The Search for Wondla / A Hero for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi
    I found this series to be delightful. It was just full of, well, wonder. Very childlike and engaging.
  15. Gone series by Michael Grant
    Another sci-fi story with a bubble, this one with a lot of trappings of Stephen King (oddly enough, he has his own bubble story I read this year). Gripping, engaging story, even when the premise seems ridiculous. In this case, all those bubble trapped teens started developing super powers. The series has ups and downs, but I think it’s worth riding it out to the end (the last book comes out this year).

What were your favorite books of 2012?

137 Books Video

I like to read a lot. That should be obvious. Especially since I wrote a book about how to read a lot. Said book launches next week.

So I’m in promotion mode, frantically emailing people, whipping up marketing ideas and every now and then enjoying that glorious moment when someone loves my book. And then slipping right back into the frantic terror you feel while waiting for the reactions to a creative project.

Today I created a video for 137 Books in One Year. I like to think I have a reputation for creating homemade videos, since that’s exactly the level of quality I can create: homemade. I did it for Foursquare in 2007 (wow, that was painful) and for the Table Project last year (not quite as bad), both projects where the idea was to make a video that was less than professional.

Of course this time my only excuse for being less than professional was because I am. I wanted to make a video that was slightly more than just me talking at a camera, without taking more than a day to do it. The result? Homemade goodness! Hey, I’m no Kid President.

Here it is in all its embarrassing, awesome glory:

Remember to pick up a copy of 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading (the digital version will be free Feb. 5-7)

I’m Committed to Commitment

Last year I read Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life by Jeff Goins and found the section on commitment curious. Jeff was challenging our commitment-averse generation to stick it out when things got tough. When a job becomes difficult or challenging or boring, instead of quitting and moving on to the next thing, Jeff challenged his readers to make a commitment and see it through. His point was that only by sticking through the difficult times would we make it to the rewarding times.

It’s a good lesson, especially these days when it seems like no one can commit to anything. Nobody works for a single employer their entire life anymore, let alone for more than a handful of years. People can’t commit to each other, as our divorce rate shows. We can’t commit in politics, getting tired of our candidates before they’ve even run (how many front runners did the GOP have before the 2012 primaries? Expect more of the same from both parties in 2016). Our athletes can’t commit to a team and our teams can’t commit to a city (unless we build them a shiny new stadium).

I think Jeff makes a good point. But I think I have the opposite problem. Instead of being commitment-averse, I love commitment. I want to marry commitment (and that is just a Barney Stinson line to score a one night stand, I think it fits).

  • I’ve been doing the same job for nearly 10 years. OK, I’m self-employed so that doesn’t really count. But as a freelancer, I’m all about commitment.
  • I’ve been the editor of Church Marketing Sucks since 2004.
  • I’ve been working with iThemes since 2008.
  • Come to think of it, most of my best clients I’ve been working with since the beginning.
  • I’ve been going to the same church since 2001.
  • I’ve been married since 2000.
  • I’ve been blogging since 1998.
  • I’ve been living in the Twin Cities since 1997.

I like commitment. What this probably means is that I like things to stay the same. I like comfort and safety (though not too much—we do have kids after all).

The danger for me, as opposed to bouncing around and never sticking with anything long enough to reap the rewards, is that I’ve got a lot of inertia. I’m wary of new things. I don’t exactly like change. I’m too likely to sit back and get comfortable instead of pushing ahead to forge new ground.

Hopefully I’m combating that the best I can, trying new things and not getting too stuck in my ways.

What about you? How do you feel about commitment?

My New Book: 137 Books in One Year

137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With ReadingI read a lot of books last year. A lot of books. 137 to be exact.

So I put together a little booklet sharing some tips and ideas for how to read a lot. It’s called 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading. You can go ahead and buy it for the Kindle or the print version, but when I officially launch it on Feb. 5 the digital version is going to be free for a few days. So you might want to wait.

The booklet includes 10 tips for how to read more, with practical ideas like taking a book with you everywhere you go and reclaiming idle moments. It’s basically examining my reading in 2012 and trying to figure out how I read so many books. I’m sharing what works for me and it might work for you.

While the title feels like a lot of bragging, the booklet also includes an interview with someone who read even more books than me.

I hope you’ll check it out on Feb. 5 and help me spread the word.

One Act of Thanksgiving When Things Go Wrong

What kind of people are we when all we ever do is complain?

Not good people. Not friendly people. Not the kind of people you want to be around.

I feel like that’s what we’ve descended to. We complain about the cashier. We whine about the business that we think screwed us over. We rant about not getting the kind of service we think we deserve. We scream about the idiot politician.

Sometimes I think social media just magnifies it all.

That’s not the kind of person I want to be. I’m tired of being the person who complains that the express cashier at Target is going so slow because he insists on scanning every item before bagging, a process that involves juggling the items on the tiny counter space he has because it was freakin’ designed for him to immediately bag each item after scanning it. Clearly the holiday help is not as well trained or as well practiced.

I seriously stood there getting so annoyed at this poor Target cashier. I’m tired of being negative all the time.

If I’m that negative over something stupid, what happens when it’s something that matters?

“One act of thanksgiving when things go wrong is worth a thousand when things go well.” -John of the Cross

Those words came to Madeleine L’Engle when her granddaughter was hit by a truck. L’Engle was across the country and opened her prayer book before bed. Two things fell out. One was a picture of her granddaughter from a few weeks before, the other was a card with those challenging words from John of the Cross. L’Engle confesses in Walking on Water that she had to make that act of thanksgiving.

I wonder what she was thankful for?

It was 10 days before L’Engle’s granddaughter regained consciousness and they knew she would recover.

I want to be the kind of person who is thankful, not just when life is good and it’s easy to be thankful, but also when life is dumping on us and it’s so very, very hard.

  • I’m thankful for a giant white dome that went up in my city this year and enabled me to go running in the middle of January, which is not an easy thing in Minnesota.
  • I’m thankful that today is Pajama Day and Lexi is so excited.
  • I’m thankful that after a minor fever and a day at home, Lexi’s temperature went back down and she was beyond excited to go back to school.
  • I’m thankful that Milo still takes a nap.
  • I’m thankful that Milo can turn almost anything into a dragon, give it a name and decide what breed it is.
  • I’m thankful for a stack of good books from the library.
  • I’m thankful for the Star Wars socks I got for Christmas that allow me to put laundry off one more day.

Kids Creating Stuff Online

Kids Creating Stuff Online: Inspiring the Innovators of the FutureI’m a big fan of the Internet. I’m also a big fan of kids doing stuff online. That should come as no surprise—I did publish a book with my daughter (The Stephanies!) and helped her turn her drawings into $675 for Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

The Internet enables a lot of cool things and age is not a problem. In fact, kids often come up with the best ideas.

That’s why it’s important that we help our kids understand the Internet and make the most of it. There’s a lot of potential online, both for harm and for good. Frankly, I’m tired of the sad stories of pathetic things people have done online. I don’t want to read another story about students being expelled over something posted on Facebook. I’d much rather hear about the cool things kids are doing online:

  • Like coding and selling their own Justin Bieber whack-a-mole app, Bustin Jieber.
  • Or launching a fashion magazine that would make Oprah jealous.
  • Or creating an artificial intelligence to better diagnose breast cancer (I don’t even understand that one).

Every example above is a project launched by someone under 18. How cool is that?

And they’re all in the free ebook, Kids Creating Stuff Online: Inspiring the Innovators of the Future.

It’s a project I put together for WordPress theme and plugin developer iThemes that explores how kids can create stuff online. Initially we were going to explore kids coding, but as I got into the topic it seemed so much more interesting to explore kids creating all kinds of stuff online. So we talk about coding, design, writing, music, causes and so much more.

The book explores the benefits kids get from creating stuff online, from becoming better thinkers to improving their relational skills.

Then it explores how kids can create stuff online, practical strategies and tips to make things easier.

There’s a section about being safe and smart online, how educators can help kids create stuff online and a slew of resources and tools to help kids. All throughout the book are examples of kids creating cool stuff.

It’s a fun project and I hope you’ll check it out and pass it along to your friends. After all, it’s free. Grab a copy: Kids Creating Stuff Online: Inspiring the Innovators of the Future.

The Kickstarter Yo-Yo

The King's YomenOnce upon a time I was a yo-yo master. I was one half of the yo-yo performing duo known as The King’s Yomen. I slung a yo-yo on the corner of Michigan and Pearson in Chicago, a bonafide street performer. I’ve even reflected on how the yo-yo became my salvation from a soul-sucking chapter in high school. Heck, my company even celebrated its five-year anniversary with a yo-yo.

That’s all once upon a time. I still have lots of yo-yo’s. There’s even one sitting on my desk. But I don’t throw a yo-yo on a daily (or hourly) basis like I used to.

But my friend Adam does. He’s the one who taught me how to yo-yo and dragged me on stage as the other half of The King’s Yomen. A couple years ago I saw his face in Walgreens, plastered on a yo-yo and still spinning strong. He’s still at it today, cranking out how to yo-yo videos at

This week Adam launched a Kickstarter campaign to create his own yo-yo. Not just some wood yo-yo with his name on it (been there, done that), but a $90 aluminum yo-yo with ball bearings, perfectly balanced and designed for advanced players to do 1A string tricks.


That’s right, you’ve just had a glimpse into the intricate world of yo-yo geekery.

I knew it existed it, I was neck deep in it once upon a time. We had $90 aluminum ball bearing yo-yo’s in my day (Look: Here’s my 15-year-old self playing with one), but they weren’t that good. And we didn’t produce them ourselves.

Now before you dismiss this as being too geeky and not worth your attention: Adam’s Kickstarter campaign has raised $4,700 and counting in less than three days. The geeks shall inherit the earth.

Adam has another 30 days to raise funds, so it’ll be fun to see where this goes. You can get his fancy new yo-yo for $75, but if that’s not quite your speed you can get a beginner yo-yo for $15 (and learn how to use it at

Check out their video and see some amazing tricks:

I love Kickstarter. Now I just have to decide how badly I need a $90 yo-yo.

2012 Reading List

Every year I like to catalog my reading, look back on what I’ve read and what I’ve learned. This year was a bonanza.

For some reason the reading clicked in 2012 and I read more than any previous year. Way more. Like double my previous high. I’m not sure what happened, but I fell into a rhythm and just became addicted to reading. How addicted? 137 books.

I know, right? I’m not sure how I did it either.

OK, that’s a big lie. I have some ideas about how I managed to read so many books (and no they don’t involved ignoring my loved ones or giving up TV) and I’m currently forming them into an ebook that I hope to release in the next month (yes, a book about books—deal with it).

But until that’s ready, let’s take a look at what I managed to read in 2012.

Favorites in 2012? I’m still trying to compile a top 10 list, but my top favorites would probably be Ready Player One, The Fault In Our Stars and Born to Run. You can also check out my Goodreads page to see rankings on all these books and what I’m reading now.

Finally, check out my previous reading lists: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001.

Continue reading 2012 Reading List

Embracing Mistakes, Pain & Failure

Lexi BikingNobody likes to make mistakes, feel pain or experience failure. But that’s how we learn, grow and succeed. It’s something we’re losing today.

A 2004 article in Psychology Today explores this phenomena, and if anything it seems more relevant today. The article bemoans the way parents over-protect their children, keeping them from experiencing the mistakes, pain and failure that will teach them important life lessons. Kids are coached through play and never learn how to skin their knee and get back up again. Parents swoop in to resolve every playground conflict and kids never learn to handle their own disputes. Parents fight with teachers, trying to gain every advantage for their child. In the end, kids learn how to work the system instead of how to overcome challenges.

If allowed to, learning how to get along with others would actually make kids smarter: “Social engagement actually improves intellectual skills. It fosters decision-making, memory and thinking, speed of mental processing”

The article points to college as the time when the “emotional training wheels come off,” but now kids totter and crash. Relationship problems used to be the biggest issue for college students, a developmentally appropriate concern. But since 1996, anxiety has overtaken relationship woes. Now 15% of college students nationwide are depressed. Those relationship woes haven’t gone away, but worsened, with stalking on the rise. Anorexia and bulimia now effect 40% of women at some point in their college career. Binge drinking is a steadily growing problem.

Yikes. College students don’t know how to cope. And in some ways colleges have caved. At one point 94% of seniors at Harvard were graduating with honors. It reminds me of one of the conflicts in the Pixar super-hero film The Incredibles: If everyone is special, then no one is special.

It’s not just college students either. Adolescence has extended into the 30s.

“Kids need to feel badly sometimes,” says child psychologist David Elkind. “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.”

Get Up Again
It’s a hard thing. Nobody wants to see their kids hurt.

I think about teaching Lexi how to ride her bike last summer. Failure seemed to shut her down. But more than failure, the fear was the most crippling. Fear of falling down, certainly, but also the fear of failure more than the failure itself. I realized more than anything I had to teach Lexi how to get up and try again. I let her “crash” into the grass at one point, proving that she could dust her self off and try again. She almost didn’t.

I’m hardly an over-protective parent. But even in a simple example like learning how to ride a bike I see these difficulties in coping with mistakes, pain and failure.

Somehow, we need to learn to embrace them. Only then can we rise above them.

Thank You Bruises
As Dallas Clayton says in An Awesome Book of Thanks, “Thank you to… those bumps and bruises that turn ‘couldn’ts’ to ‘coulds.’ Thank you to those for they make us all stronger. They make us all smarter. They make us last longer.”

“If you want to double your success rate you need to triple your failure rate.” That’s the mantra of an off-the-grid, quasi homeless character in Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema who learns to maximize his panhandling to the point that he does it to help the truly homeless and destitute rather than himself.

We can’t be so afraid of failure, because failure is what leads to success. You have to try, try and try again. As much as I hate to admit it, Yoda was wrong.

Finally, writer Neil Gaiman says it like this in his New Year’s wishes from last year:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.