Leah’s Yearly Reads

2023 Reads

The Lean Startup – Eric Ries

  • I wanted to learn more about startup culture and wasn’t disappointed to match many of the buzzwords I’ve heard with definitions. While I’m still uncertain how to get started with a startup, the lean startup is a framework to help those who are living the life. I learned some key tactics that can be used in businesses of all sizes, such as rapid iteration, data driven decision making, and early customer involvement. I also learned that minimum viable products (MVPs) don’t have to be full formed ideas- they could be videos, slide decks, or a crappy web site. Another key theme is cultivating and studying the innovation in an organization. We need to hold employees accountable for innovation and companies should aim to become a learning organization that is constantly evolving. More public private partnerships can help companies truly research their work. This book is jame packed with stories and theories that provide more context. It was a great read.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing – Marie Kondo

  • I didn’t think I would love this book as much as I did. Marie Kondo changed the way I think about stuff and caring for my stuff. I am now a proud follower of the KonMari method: only buy and keep what you need, get rid of what you don’t, take care of what you have. After reading, I purged my home of 5 bags of unused and unloved things, and I’m happier for it!

That Month in Tuscany – Inglath Cooper

  • Is it a decent poolside read you could finish in a day or two? Yep. But don’t expect it to be a life changing experience. I liked many parts of this book- the writing, the style of chapters, and the settings. It was hard for me to relate to Lizzy, the main character – I felt there was a general lack of depth to her character until the end when she found a tiny passion in photography. I also can’t imagine what it’s like not to work. As far as the storyline, I just felt there were way too many scenarios going on in one book to really explore each one, making the kidnapping scene seem rushed, the husband’s dalliance seem stereotypical, and the husband’s super tracking skills seem like luck. Maybe if the book was longer, there would have been more time to explore characters.

One Italian Summer – Rebecca Serle

  • This book is well written and imaginative. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent, but I have to imagine the loss as a single child is unbearable. I think the discovery process Katy goes through to learn more about the depth of her mother and her passions is well detailed and creative. I loved the details in each of the scenes- the smells, the sights, the food, the walks- it makes any reader want to visit Positano. I think the new found interest Katy finds in Adam while leaving threads hanging with Eric complicated the storyline, a bit. I felt like Adam served a purpose; but I’m not sure if Eric did. It is a great poolside read.

I’m Glad My Mom Died – Jennette McCurdy

  • This was one of the best memoirs I’ve listened to. All I can say is ‘wow’. Jennette’s writing and details really brought her story to life. Her relationship with her mother was complicated- clearly her mom was loving, and did what she could in her situation with her family (using her daughter to support them). On the other hand, her overbearing tactics had a detrimental impact on Jennette. Dealing with eating disorders, being under bodily and acting scrutiny, falling into a drinking spiral, and dealing with extreme anxiety is something no teenager should have to endure. Most importantly, Jennette was so unprepared for many of the realities of life, which caused her to turn to many vices. There simply is no other way to read this book than audio, because of how Jennette brings her words to life. It was a fantastic, eye opening read.

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups – Daniel Coyle

  • The culture code is filled with stories about what has made great culture in different organizations and circumstances. Some stories that stood out were about the San Antonio Spurs and Zappos (this book is great to pair with Delivering Happiness, which I felt lended more specific details on creating great culture). However, all the organizations are large and innovative in their own way. What I felt was lacking were stories about ordinary, everyday companies. I also felt the key steps were too varied and complex to really carry through to one’s own workplace.

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose – Tony Hsieh

  • This is definitely one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read. I loved learning about Tony’s early entrepreneurial life, just as much as what gave him purpose later on. I learned a lot about how Hsieh meticulously curated and discerned the why in what he did and how he co-created culture with his employees and customers, as well as friends. This book proves you can find success alongside friendships, and why sticking out bad investments sometimes pays off. Most importantly- a company should never outsource its core competency, like logistics for Zappos. I’d argue that this book taught me so much more about how to create good company culture than any book with that purpose that I’ve read. It also taught me to focus in my career: to focus on one thing I want to be the best at. Obviously, his self-reflection and intentionality throughout his life and leadership paid off with the Amazon but out of Zappos. I listened to this book on Tony’s own voice, and I’m glad he had a chance to share it before his tragic passing.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dweck

  • This is THE book of on growth mindset. It’s packed with data, stories, and tips. The examples are spot on for supporting a growth mindset in children. The data is spot on for why a growth mindset is the only way to get the best out if life. And tips for developing a growth mindset in the self and ones kids is extremely helpful. If you can get past the slow beginning, this book will provide you with the know how for changing your life and the lives of those you love ❤️

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

  • This the least favorite book I’ve ever read. I didn’t like the thoughts about thoughts, the vague and hole-filled storyline, and the lack of real depth in the characters. Mostly, I didn’t like the writing style, and the continued dedication to lead the reader down stories that meant nothing to the overall story. I have so many questions left over at the end of the book, whose answers could have made the story stronger.

Don’t Keep Your Day Job: How to Turn Your Passion into Your Career – Cathy Heller

  • I was looking for an entrepreneurial read to motivate me. Cathy’s voice in the audio book is the perfect motivational companion to the interesting content found in this book. It is filled with very different stories about how creatives have cobbled together talents and services to earn a full income. The first part of the book was my favorite. Listening to Cathy’s story about how she’s been able to evolve her career as she evolved is inspirational. My only point is that this book is really backed by creative examples. A follow up would be great to feature other industry examples.

Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life – Marie Kondo

  • I liked this book more than I thought. Marie’s thoughtful reflections paired well with Mark’s technical and practical how-to’s. It provides permission to delete, de clutter, and deep clean our work environments- physical and digital. I’ve definitely thought more deeply about what to respond to, invest time in, and retain. My biggest learning from this book is ‘the urgent vs. the important’. It is something so small, yet to me, has made a huge difference in how I approach what to spend time on and prioritize.

Everyday Millionaires – Chris Hogan

  • This was one of my reads during my ‘finance February’ and was a great compliment to Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. I was able to better understand the long term path to becoming a millionaire through my 401K and Roth. I upped my investments and I’ve seen a huge boost in these savings, even though I don’t feel a huge pinch. I’ve also recommitted to tackling my debt. I should have my car paid off in a few months and then will begin to tackle my home equity loan. The stories of everyday people who are now living comfortably later in life due to the small sacrifices they made early on were inspiring.

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness – Dave Ramsey

  • I read this book during my ‘finance February’. It provided a blueprint for getting my financial life in order and a kick in the pants to cease my ridiculous spending. Because of this book, I now have a small emergency fund saved, I’m on the path to paying off my car, and on a path to be debt free in 5 years, so I can begin to tackle my mortgage. I thought I would always be riddled with debt, but the Ramsey strategy is a no-nonsense way to chip away at debt to make small and incremental gains.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph – Ryan Holiday

  • The Obstacle is the Way shows us how to turn obstacles into opportunities, but it also creates a framework for acting like a strategist:

    1. Start from the middle ground. Sometimes winning the war isn’t glamourous. It might be a long road with tiny wins, inch by inch.

    2. Adapt your tactics. At each point, focus on finding a way through. When you reach a river, consider building bridges or piers. Be like water, and find a way through.

    3. Follow the process. Think about what needs to be done in this moment. The letters B-Y are needed to get from A-Z.

    4. View ourselves as a start-up of 1. Iterate as many times as it takes. Learn from our failures and move on.

    5. Focus on the future. Don’t dwell on the past.

    6. Hold on and hold steady. Persevere and just keep going. We don’t control the barriers, but we do control ourselves.

    7. Understand problems for what is within them and their greater context. Then, take action.

    The Obstacle BECOMES the Way.

It’s All in Your Head – Russ

  • I’ll share my journey. I read a ‘chapter’ each day as I sat outside with my pups running around. I read and then I sat. I didn’t know Russ before this point, but the man has so many great points to share. By sitting with each chapter, I felt I was able to get the most out of the lessons, rather than just breezing through. The words are carefully and creatively chosen, and there were so many one liners that made me pause.

    I could relate to how I get in my own way, and how my perceptions of what others think or are doing different than me get in my own way. So many times, I have to toil before a project comes into fruition, and Russ could relate that it’s normal- keep working. I appreciated the conclusion- that we should always strive to become the best version of ourselves.

    I’m so glad my sister gifted me this book. It’s definitely one I’ll revisit.

The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery – Sarah Lewis

  • There was a sentence in this book saved until the last paragraph, that really should have been in the first: “When we take the long view, we value the arc of a rise not because of what we have achieved at that height, but because of what it tells us about our capacity, due to how improbable, indefinable, and imperceptible the rise remains.” p. 198 This is the purpose of the book.

    After hearing Sarah Lewis on the Brene Brown ‘Dare to Lead’ podcast, I immediately bought the book. It was a fantastic episode. Sarah and Brene were both on fire with enthusiasm about creativity. As its secondary title suggests, I thought this book would be more about creativity.

    I struggled through this book, much like many of the other readers. I have a Ph.D.; I understood the language, I understood the connections trying to be made. In general, I felt many parts of the book lacked excitement, especially where some exciting connections were being made. (I want to emphasize that many of these exciting connections and points of research are historically significant and they should change the way we think about the topics being discussed.) So badly, each chapter needed a ‘lessons learned’ and a ‘call to action’: what are readers supposed to take away from the connections made in each chapter? What can we do with this knowledge?

    Obviously, this book is as well-researched, as it is well-reviewed. It just needed some extra sparkle.

2022 Reads

Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career – Scott Young

  • I’ve been in Higher Ed for over 15 yrs, and served in assessment, faculty and staff development, and curriculum design roles. Now, I am involved in accreditation in HE and K12. I am attuned to and interested in learning more about learning. I didn’t think I would get much out of the book, but ended up listening to it twice, and reading it for notes, and buying a copy. I also have brought it to the high school I’m consulting with now.First, I listened to the book- which I believe was more impactful than reading/skimming it. The words land differently. It makes a huge difference to hear the stories and the rationales – and to process them that way. So if it’s your first time, try Libby and give it a read for free.Second, this book presents a precise framework that is lacking in formal education, just as much as people’s lives. For me, this book challenged my way of thinking about how we need to approach the student learning experience, which could involve more self education and well designed personal projects. The life changing stories in this book are evidence that self-made and executed learning experiences are intensely impactful.Oh and yes, I now have a framework for my own learning!!I highly recommend the listen if you are someone who equally enjoys thinking more about learning.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It – Chris Voss

  • I took Chris Voss’ masterclass and just loved it. These negotiation techniques are for people in any business and in any important discussion in their life. I was on the edge of my seat with the hostage stories, too- such a unique vantage point of what going on behind these scenes. You’ll learn about labeling, mirroring, and saying no without saying no.
    An excellent book!!

Why We Can’t Wait – Martin Luther King Jr.

  • I once read A Letter from Birmingham Jail in school, but it was an experience that could have been greatly enhanced by the context of Why We Can’t Wait. I am, of course, forever changed, but deeply grateful for a greater understanding of MLK. Never have I heard of him described as a stoic strategist, yet those qualities are now what I believe made him, his leadership, and his cause so successful. Besides discernment and strategic thinking, he possessed a unique ability to articulate sadness, unfairness, and hate, while knowing where to focus energy. This will certainly be the first of many MLK books I read in my lifetime.

Taste: My Life through Food – Stanley Tucci

  • This book was like Sunday sauce night and all the courses that come along with it. It is a must read and I devoured it in a week. In particular, it was incredibly enjoyable in its audio version- with Stanley Tucci narrating his own stories.I loved the way Stanley wove family and friend stories through encounters with food. I’m a vegan, but even my mouth was watering with his detailed descriptions of meat, and equally horrified by the unknown. I felt I was there tasting every bite.I loved starting the book with the conversation with his mother, and ending with the same conversation with his son. I admired his expression of love for his wives and their own cooking adventures. And the actuality of eating on set in America would make me choose foreign films too :)I didn’t know about Stanley’s oral cancer- such a cruel version to have for someone who loves food so much! I learned more about what those with cancer go through in his equally detailed descriptions.What did I do to celebrate the completion of this book? Make pasta of course!

Ten Steps to Nanette – Hannah Gadsby

  • Gender, sexual preference, abuse, autism, ADHD, art history, and the comedy world… Hannah Gadsby took me on a journey this year that I will forever be changed by. I am left in awe of the way in which Gadsby detailed her childhood, family relationships, and early friendships… and how they shaped her. Although there are many points I couldn’t relate to (outside of a love for art history), Gadsby’s articulation of living with autism and ADHD in such vivid detail left me with a much clearer understanding than I’ve ever had before of the inner workings of some minds. And while the stories of realizing she was gay in an intensely conservative system while having suffered multiple accounts of abuse had me heartbroken, knowing her self discovery gives me relief. Layered into a memoir about personal life is a unique account of finding and breaking a profession. It cannot be easy getting onstage to make people cry when they have arrived thinking you will make them laugh.Gadsby not only details her life with great detail and humor, she provides a history lesson along the way. There was very little I knew about Tasmania (if I even knew it really existed at all outside of cartoons) and about the Australian mainland. I am enlightened by the lessons on living with autism, being gay in a conservative culture, bodily shame post-sexual abuse, and the standup scene.This was the book I was most hooked on this year. I borrowed it after seeing Gadsby on Colbert. I listened to the audio version and wouldn’t recommend doing it any other way. Gadsby’s intentional pauses, inflections, and impressions are everything!! I think I borrowed the book from the library 15 times in order to finish it as I listened to a little bit everyday. It was well worth the wait every time. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell

  • Still struck. Gladwell manages to piece together seemingly unrelated horrific, tragic, questionable, and confusing events to find a common thread among them. While I don’t disagree with a common thread, I am still pondering the last chapter and what it all really means. What do we take away? What do I take away? It’s a similar feeling at the end of all Gladwell books. I’m glad to have known and pondered these different events in our recent history, and to have gained some skills for the critical thinking needed to get through future events.

Long Life Learning –  Michelle Weise

  • THE great summary of the intersection and future of education and work, and the ecosystem needed to tie them together.
  • Weise has applied her years of apprenticeship with the late Clayton Christensen and as a formidable asset for higher education and industries to this massive summary and guidebook for what exists now and what our future needs from the education and industry collaboration. At the heart of this book are the voices of the workforce that have become louder throughout The Great Resignation. Many Americans are lost on the broken journey full of dead ends and barriers that should lead them to jobs that fit their interests, experience, and abilities. Layered on top of the first hand job seeker stories of frustration, is a thesaurus of projects, data, ambitious entrepreneurs, and technologies hoping to solve this complex puzzle. I highly recommend this book for anyone researching or interested in the intersection of higher education, industry, and job seekers.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals – Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, Jim Huling

  • As someone who has managed strategic planning for a large organization, I know first hand that systematizing execution is something many organizations struggle with. The principles in this book are easy and straightforward to follow. They aren’t rocket science, and yet so many organizations struggle to follow-through on goals before they move on to the next one. Though it’s interesting to hear the organizational examples in the book, I only wish there were more or different scenarios from different industries. I’m in Higher Ed, and feel like this industry really needs the book!
  • A year later, this book has become my most cited framework while discussing planning in the workplace and while consulting.

The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Organization: An Inspiring Tool for Organizations and the People Who Lead Them – Peter Drucker

  • This quick read is one of Peter Drucker’s most referenced frameworks. Like some of my accreditation discussions last week, this book is all about company self-assessment. It’s a method for assessing what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you must do to improve an organization’s performance. The five essential questions include:
    1. What is our mission?
    2. Who is our customer?
    3. What does our customer value?
    4. What are our results?
    5. What is our plan?
    This framework forces organizations to focus on their mission and narrow their activities to meet their mission and what the customer ACTUALLY needs. This might include identifying what NOT to do, as well.Things to remember: “Planning is not an event. It is a continuous process of strengthening what works and abandoning what does not, of making risk-taking decisions with the greatest knowledge of their potential effect, of setting objectives, appraising performance and results through systematic feedback, and making ongoing adjustments as conditions change.” (p. 4)

The Power – Naomi Alderman

  • In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.
  • I will forever be changed by the detailed cautionary storytelling in this book. The book posits, ‘what if women had more power in the world’? We like to think that the world would be a more peaceful and considerate place. The storylines in this book make me think otherwise.
  • The only way to read this book is the audiobook version – an extremely talented voice actress embodied all characters and accents to perfection.

Leah's books

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
it was amazing

The Obstacle is the Way shows us how to turn obstacles into opportunities, but it also creates a framework for acting like a strategist:

1. Start from the middle ground. Sometimes winning the war isn't glamourous. It might be a long ro...

Why We Can't Wait
it was amazing
I once read A Letter from Birmingham Jail in school, but it was an experience that could have been greatly enhanced by the context of Why We Can’t Wait. I am, of course, forever changed, but deeply grateful for a greater understanding of...
The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Organization: An Inspiring Tool for Organizations and the People Who Lead Them
it was amazing
This quick read is one of Peter Drucker's most referenced frameworks. Like some of my accreditation discussions last week, this book is all about company self-assessment. It's a method for assessing what you are doing, why you are doing ...
Ten Steps to Nanette
it was amazing
Gender, sexual preference, abuse, autism, ADHD, art history, and the comedy world… Hannah Gadsby took me on a journey this year that I will forever be changed by. I am left in awe of the way in which Gadsby detailed her childhood, family...



Leah Sciabarrasi, Ph.D. | Higher Education Administrator & Consultant | www.leahsciabarrasi.com