Thursday, December 28, 2023

The 35 Books I Read in 2023 And My Quick Opinion Of Each One

Oh my. Another year and another pile of books. I honestly don't set out to read a ton of books. It's simply something I enjoy, and so it adds up. Below are my semi-brief reflections on them. Hopefully, one or two catch your interest.

Sales Books

A year ago, I announced that people can passively invest with me through real estate syndications. But that required a new skill: raising funds, which I needed to learn about. 

Flip the Script: Getting People to Think Your Idea Is Their Idea

By Oren Klaff

This is a follow-up to his first book, 
Pitch Anything. His first book is about presentations, whereas this one focuses more on interactions around the presentation. The title is a little provocative. Instead, I'd describe it as a book that explains how to quickly build credibility. Klaff is a wonderful storyteller, and I enjoyed both books immensely.

The 3-Minute Rule: Say Less to Get More from Any Pitch or Presentation

By Brant Pinvidic

If Pitch Anything and Flip the Script are about the approach and psychology of presentations, Pinvidic focuses on exactly how to plan a presentation. His questions and prompts are great. I recommend reading Pitch Anything and The 3-Minute Rule if you make sales presentations.

Networking with a Purpose: How I Built My Power Team, Raised $16 Million Dollars & Got On HGTV!

By Amy Mahjoory

Amy Mahjoory's approach reminds me of a late-night infomercial. Her strategy is solid, but her execution comes across as sales-y. And I can't help but wonder if her success is due to her massive energy and effort and not technique.

For example, she has a 4-second power pitch she uses when meeting someone new and they ask what she does: 

"I show people how to earn double-digit returns backed by real estate." And then she immediately puts it back on them, "It's so great to meet you. What was it that you said that you do again?"

She's purposely dangling a carrot so that they want to ask her for more information. That leads her to give a 20-second power pitch that ends with, "If you happen to know anyone who is interested in getting double-digit returns backed by real estate, let me know."

It's just… not my style.

But having said that, she has some great ideas for building credibility and connecting with people on social media (where a quick "power pitch" intro works better).

I'm naturally shy at larger events, so I added her 10 networking questions to a homemade cheat sheet I review before going to a group function. You can probably skip the book and just ask me for my cheat sheet. :)

The Copywriter's Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells

By Robert Bly

Bly titled this book well because it's more of a reference book than something you read cover-to-cover (though I did). I've created a few ads and used sections of his book to help me refine my message. One of his main points is that the goal isn't to entertain or write something people like, but to sell things - and sales numbers are the only metric you should care about (when writing sales copy). I'll probably keep returning to parts of it for refreshers.

Real Estate Books

What can I say? I like real estate books.

Structuring and Raising Debt & Equity For Real Estate

By Rob Beardsley

Nerd alert. This isn't a book about talking to people; it's about spreadsheets and underwriting that inform future conversations. You'll like this one if you like more technical details on structuring capital stacks. I also like that it gets straight to the point. It's not a biography or narrative - no stories exist. He simply explains his investment thesis and the different ways to structure deals.

The Hands-Off Investor: An Insider's Guide to Investing in Passive Real Estate Syndications

By Brian Burke

There's some irony about writing a 367-page technically dense book titled "The Hands-off Investor". I get it, to passively invest wisely, there are terms and concepts you need to know. But it took me, someone who knows the information, a while to read this book. If you're interested in passive investing, I'd start with these 42 questions and only read the book if you want to dive deep into the details (or talk to me).

Best In Class: How to Manage Your Multifamily Asset, Avoid Mistakes, and Build Wealth Through Real Estate

By Kyle Mitchell and Gary Lipsky

I learned about this book while talking with another investor. If you have a property manager (PM), I highly recommend reading this book (and giving it to your PM). Finding and funding a property is essential, but executing the business plan is potentially even more critical. They also suggest helpful metrics and best practices for working with your PM.

Real Estate Rookie: 90 Days to Your First Investment 

By Ashley Kehr

started coaching and wanted to see how someone else would teach a newbie. It's good, but I would structure it differently. For example, I'd have someone jump right into property analysis. You're not looking to buy; you're learning about a market. I'd make them look at 20 places as a buy-and-hold and 20 places to fix-and-flip. Then, once they're taking action and have some context, I'd talk about investment strategies, underwriting, funding, etc. Then, I'd probably finish the book talking about goals and scaling.

I've also noticed that books published by BiggerPockets have an "I transcribed a stream of thought" vibe. It's good to have that breathing room and let ideas sync in if investing is new to you, but I find them a little meandering.

The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World

By Peter Schwartz

Technically, this isn't a real estate-focused book, but I read it to create more robust/defendable underwriting scenarios. Though it was more qualitative than I expected… in hindsight, the title does have the word "art" in it.

Instead of talking about forecasting techniques (which was my hope), it's about crafting written narratives about the future. In Pitch Anything, he talks about starting a presentation by adding context, and this book helped me discover a more expressive way to share that context.

Business Books

Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork

By Dan Sullivan & Benjamin Hardy

Some books can be summed up in a single sentence, and this is one of them. When faced with a new challenge or project, don't ask how to do it; ask who can do it. And to be honest, the book doesn't go much deeper. There's no business strategy, psychological insights, or quantified research. There's a little bit on how to get started, but not much.

Yet. For some books, that's OK because there's value in steeping yourself in a repeated concept. They could have shared the entirety of the idea in a social media thread, and I would have read it, liked it, and then moved out without changing a single thing. But, because it took me a couple of weeks to read it, I thought about it often and changed parts of my business because of the repeated concept.

So, even though it's not a great book from a literary/quality perspective, the concept is excellent, and the repetition over 193 pages was needed for me.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

By Cal Newport

I love this book and now listen to Cal Newport's podcast. Here's the idea: high-quality work is a function of time spent with distraction-free focus on the work. But how you do that is nuanced and varied. Newport dives into multiple work situations and addresses common barriers ("My boss constantly pings me for stuff").

Plus, he recommends adopting certain behaviors when you're not working (like how to approach boredom) to make that focused time even more effective. This is another "steep yourself in the concept" book, and it's fantastic. Check out his podcast if you want a taste of his philosophy first.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered
Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad

By Justin Kleon

Justin Kleon is an artist, and this trio of short-ish books gives highly practical advice for anyone doing creative work. He shared many ideas that were new to me and helped me with my creative work. For example, copying the work of a single person is wrong. However, copying and combining the work of 10 people is not just good, but encouraged. He also suggests showing in-progress work and sharing my thoughts about why I created something. So, it's not only the final output, but also the story behind it that people connect to.

This is a set of books I plan to revisit in the future. If you do any creative work, I highly recommend these.

$100M Offers: How To Make Offers So Good People Feel Stupid Saying No
$100M Leads: How to Get Strangers To Want To Buy Your Stuff

By Alex Hormozi

I also love these books and now listen to Alex Hormozi's podcast. One of Alex's gifts is reducing complicated business topics to their essence and creating timeless frameworks around them. He also grounds his thoughts on his direct - and impressive, $100M+ - experience.

If you've read many business books, he doesn't say anything new but packages up all those ideas into easily digestible, yet non-diluted, actionable steps. If you want to start or improve a business, read these and do what he recommends. Check out his podcast or YouTube channel to get a feel for his straightforward, yet intense style.

Christian Books

A Spirituality of Fundraising

By Henri J.M. Nouwen 

We talk about fundraising on the Benton County Love INC board. And this brief 65-page book helps with any uncomfortable feelings you might have when asking people to donate money.

It aligns well with Pitch Anything, which talks about seeing yourself, not the person you're selling, as the prize. The idea is to have the mindset that your offer is valuable - I'm not asking for a favor or a handout. Instead, they'll be the ones to miss out if they don't take you up on the offer (instead of you being the one to miss out on them buying).  

So, when it comes to asking for ministry donations, you're not asking for them to do you a favor by donating; you're offering them the opportunity to participate in a worthy mission (and it's their loss if they don't). It's a chance for people to exercise their faith and experience transformation through giving - which is genuinely valuable. When you think about it that way, asking for a donation becomes less daunting (and you're less attached to the outcome).

If you ask for donations, it's good, but I recommend starting with the next book on my list.

The Giver and the Gift: Principles of Kingdom Fundraising

By Peter Greer and David Weekley

This book has a cool format, almost like it's two books combined. It's a quick read at 112 pages, but it's profound.

The first section looks at giving from the fundraiser's perspective. What are effective ways to ask for donations? How do you have a mindset that the charity is valuable and you're not asking for handouts (similar to Spirituality of Fundraising)?

The second section is from a donor's perspective. He talks about his experience being asked to donate. He also shares his philosophy behind giving and the joy he experiences by giving. It's inspiring and makes me want to improve not out the amount that we give, but to do a better job of experiencing the joy for what we're already giving.

Philippians For You: Shine with joy as you live by faith 

By Steven Lawson

James For You: Showing you how real faith looks in real life

By Sam Allberry

I love the "Bible For You" series because it goes deeper than a sermon, but isn't as forensic as a commentary. The best way to read these books is with a Bible open next to them. I love the context they provide and the practical applications of how to live a Christ-centered life. This is also a fantastic companion if your church is preaching a series on a specific book. These also work great for Bible study and discipleship groups.

If you have a book of the Bible you'd like to dive deeper into, I highly recommend this series.

Plugged In: Connecting Your Faith With What You Watch, Read, and Play

Written by Daniel Strange

Narrated by George Sarris

I typically avoid audiobooks for non-fiction because I like taking notes. But I was traveling, it was free, and Tim Keller recommended it. It's a how-to-guide on engaging with media and culture. So, instead of not allowing my kids to watch something because its message is different than what I want them to learn, I can use it to explain what we believe. I might, for example, ask questions afterward like, what do you think the main character was looking for? How do you think they handled a situation? How do you think Jesus would have dealt with that situation?

After listening to it, I regretted not reading it and taking notes. I highly recommend it if you're a Christian who enjoys watching shows.

The Bible

I read it with a reading plan once a year, and God continues to reveal Himself to me. This year, I used a chronological reading plan. I liked seeing the Old Testament weaved together as a single narrative.

Parenting / Leading Books

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid: Leading Your Kids to Succeed in Life

By Tim Elmore

I took my time with this book. I read a couple of chapters, then read a different book, then read another couple of chapters, etc. That's because I wanted a slow drip of parenting reminders throughout the year instead of blasting through it in two weeks and forgetting.

I like that the book is backed by 20 years of experience working with families, so it's not just one man's personal opinion. The book is valuable for any aged kid, but it's most helpful if your kids are at least elementary or middle school-aged.

Saving Our Sons: A New Path for Raising Healthy and Resilient Boys

By Dr. Michael Gurian

If you have, or work with boys, read this book. Gurian studied boys and their families for thirty years. In this book, he dives into the psychology and neuroscience of what makes boys tick.

Though, I'll admit that it's a stressful book to read because of its structure. The first half outlines the problems males face - and it's signficantly worse than I ever imagined. Gurian provides statistics and specific research studies to back up his claims.

It may seem like males are doing fine - look at CEOs and top leaders - but once you get past the top 10%, many males are struggling. He provides PAGES of statistics in all areas of life that show that the average male is doing worse than females. (if you don't believe me, get the book - you'll see)

In the second half, Gurian gives guidance for raising males to parents, educators, and lawmakers. As a society, we have an uphill battle for our sons, but improving their situation is possible.

I also got insights into myself, and it's helped explain, with cool neuroscience, why Jessi and I react differently in situations. It's also changing how we parent our son. For example, we don't force him to verbally express his feelings.

It's not an easy, fun read, but it's worth it.

Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things

By Adam Grant

I rarely read recently published books from a new-to-me-author because I like to wait until other people I trust recommend it first (which takes time).

But in this case, a recommendation on release day by Seth Godin piqued my interest. So, I picked it up before heading out on a trip.

This isn't a book on habits, ambition, or hard work. It's about unlocking... well… your potential.

Part one gives practical advice on building specific character skills: how to seek discomfort, become a mental sponge, and become an imperfectionist.

Part two sets expectations for overcoming obstacles: practice needs to feel like play, progress isn't linear (and that's advantageous), and teaching others is the best way to learn.

Part three is about building systems of opportunity in schools, teams, and the job/college application process.

I took a bunch of notes from this book. Perhaps my favorite gem is to ask for advice, not feedback. Advice is forward-looking and focuses on improvement. So, when you want feedback, ask: "What's one thing I can do better next time?"

The Mentoring Manual

By Julie Starr

I'm helping to teach a class on mentoring/discipleship at my church next year, and I wanted to share more than my personal opinions. The book overviews the mentoring mindset well without getting too caught up in specifics.

My favorite part was explaining the difference between mentoring, coaching, training/teaching, and consulting. I think some people avoid mentoring because they fear getting asked questions they don't know the answer to, but that's teaching. Mentoring is about sharing your personal experience and asking the mentee questions to help them figure out the solution independently.

Classic Audiobooks

I picked a theme for audiobooks this year: classics. One unintended perk is that almost all of these are free on Audible.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Written by Alexandre Dumas

Narrated by Bill Homewood

I watched the movie in 7th grade and loved it. Given all the deception in the story, it helped me keep all the characters straight. It's a long listen, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Written by Jules Verne

Narrated by David Linski

I bet this was a mind-blowing book in 1870. I felt a little like Doc Brown talking to Clara in "Back to the Future Part 3" (here's the clip) - she experienced the story in real-time, whereas Doc read it many years later. It's an easy read that I should do with my kids.


Written by George Orwell

Narrated by Simon Prebble

After years of hearing it referenced (by folks claiming that we're living in it), I finally understand what they're saying. It's an incredibly sad book, and I see similarities to today's culture and leaders, but thankfully, we're not this bad. However, I also see we're trending in this direction in some areas, and this story helped me better articulate my concerns.

I think I kept that general enough not to anger either side... :)

I, Robot

Written by Isaac Asimov

Narrated by Scott Brick

Umm... The movie almost has nothing to do with the book. The general idea is the same - humans create AI Robots - but that's the end of the overlap. I found this book fascinating since we're in the early stages of generative AI.

It's a collection of short stories where humans grapple with "machine logic." For example, a robot causes a problem by doing something illogical (according to humans), so scientists must figure out the robot's logic to solve the problem. So, in a way, it's also a mystery novel. It's surprisingly philosophical, and I loved it.

Moby Dick

Written by Herman Melville

Narrated by William Hootkins

The first couple of hours were fantastic! And the last hour was great! But those middle 22 hours? It was a slog. It's a good thing I listen at 1.5x speed because I don't think I would have finished it. If the goal was to show that life on the sea is slow... and boring... and leads to drifting thoughts, it accomplished its mission. William Hootkins is a fantastic narrator, but I didn't connect with the story.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Written by Douglas Adams

Narrated by Stephen Fry

Talk about a weird story that regularly gets referenced. I enjoyed the romp around the galaxy and the whimsical creativity. There's also a movie that stays pretty true to the book, but I think the film would be wildly confusing unless you read the book first.


Written by Bram Stoker

Narrated by 8 characters

This is Jessi's favorite book. It's written as a collection of letters between friends. The cool part about the audiobook is that each character has a different narrator, which helps keep the letters straight. The story starts at a fast pace and then slows down a lot before getting intense again. At least, it's intense for 1897 standards (when the book was written). It's good, and I recommend listening to it.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Written by Robert Louis Stevenson

Narrated by Richard Armitage

It was written in 1886 at 141 pages, so it seemed straightforward relative to today's stories. It probably also didn't help that I knew the basic premise before listening to it, which probably ruined the surprise. So, it was OK. If you've never heard of the story, I recommend it as a fun weekend read.

A Christmas Carol

Written by Charles Dickens

Narrated by Tim Curry

I finished the year with the classic of classics, and it's good. I'll also say that the Muppets nailed it in their movie of the story. You'd think the book would be boring because I know the story, but it wasn't. I think that's because Dickens, as the story's narrator, doesn't just tell the story straight - he shares opinions on the events, which adds to the charm.

Tim Curry does a fantastic job of narrating as well. The whole thing is excellent. Plus, it's not super long at 3.5 hours. I definitely recommend it as a book to read in December.