The phrase “losing yourself in a good book” will have taken on extra meaning over the last few months. Who hasn’t wanted to turn away from the unpleasantness surrounding us, even for a couple of hours?
At the time of writing, the UK is beginning to roll out the Covid vaccine to turn the page on the pandemic.
However, as the government footnotes make clear, we still have to be on our guard while we’re immunised on the basis of age and vulnerability. Keep calm and carry on, basically.
With that in mind, spending some of our enforced anti-social time with our nose in a book must count as a positive before we can once again mix freely and without fear.
Why not give these works a whirl? I’ve enjoyed – and been informed – by them over the course of the year about to slip by.
I make no apology for the fact they are “self-improving” i.e. something that helps you in an area of your work or general outlook. We’re all about lifelong – and, in particular, mid-life - learning and these titles reflect that but, as ever, offer so much more.
1. A good time to become a girl: A guide to thriving at work and living well by Helena Morrissey
Over the last two years I have been actively involved with the Diversity Project a cross-company initiative championing a more inclusive culture within the savings and investment profession. This has led me, on several occasions, to work with Helena, who chairs the project.
Helena has nine children and I was curious to see if I could pick up something from her particular perspective to share with my three daughters and three stepdaughters. If any of her views also resonate with my son, even better!
Her optimism for the next generation won me over, as did the recognition of the issues which may undermine confidence as they continue to strive. But one line I will ask both sets of daughters to consider is this one:
Think big, start small, but start now. Focus on your vision not a spreadsheet. Getting going is the hard part, learning along the way is the best way to do it.
2. Dancing with fear and confidence: How to liberate yourself and your career in midlife by Laura Walker
Modesty forbids me to include one of my own two books (a third on the way…) in this list but it was on my mind with this second selection.
I published The Midlife Review in the spring, which introduces the emerging HR practice of midlife reviews as the mechanism to stimulate a conversation between employers and their older employees about next steps, second careers and flexible models as a tool to help people stay in the workplace longer as they age.
Laura looks at this from a personal, emotional perspective, to help the reader avoid the pitfalls, and develop methods to help reinvent themselves in midlife, should they wish to do so.
I felt this was a perfect follow up to my own book for those seeking a re-boot or fresh start.
The reality of doing so almost always depends on being able to afford to. The next two books on my list deal with this fundamental challenge.
Carl’s well-known doodles shouldn’t lead you to think that his reasoning is unsophisticated.
He’s compelling on the difficulties we cause when we become emotional about what should be focused financial decisions (see preceding review above), labelling it “the behavioural gap”.
His sketches act on his LinkedIn account led me to his posts, which led me to his book. While that’s impressive 21st century marketing, it works because he keeps it clear and uncomplicated, an approach which chimed with that of my company, Punter Southall Aspire: simplify your financial life – don’t spend time and money on things that, ultimately, don’t matter.
Another piece of advice for my young adult children?
4. Money Lessons: How to manage your finances to get the life you want by Lisa Conway-Hughes
Continuing on that theme, this is a bit more specific.
My day job as chief executive of a nationwide investment and savings business means I come into contact with many financial planners. Lisa sent me a copy of her book with a hand-written message on the dust cover offering me some help (although I’m not entirely sure in which area!)
Either way, it’s very readable and practical. My two eldest are now in the world of work and could well benefit from this as a Christmas present. It might mean that my bank account benefits, too.
5. Rebel Ideas: The power of diverse thinking by Matthew Syed
As a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management, I always look for the work its membership has voted as book of the year.
Former table tennis Olympian and now Times columnist Matthew Syed triumphed this year.
He makes the case for difference. By pooling our unique perspectives and collective intelligence, we have a better shot at tackling the greatest challenges of our era, from climate change to terrorism.
His use of case studies, ranging from the CIA’s pre-9/11 failings to climbers sacrificed to Everest by communication breakdown makes this a great read - and one that should give us pause for thought about how we view the world around us.
In the end, that’s what we want books to do. Yes, to pass on sage advice and information (there you are, kids) but also to help us to consider a different route as we continue our climb.