Bucket List Books: How and why to add reading to your bucket list

Bucket List Books: How and why to add reading to your bucket list

Note: This is part of a weekend bucket list series I’m doing throughout 2015 that is focused on fun things to do during retirement (i.e. bucket list items). I hope you enjoy them and use them as inspiration for your own adventures.  I’m also doing a giveaway in conjunction with the series that you can read more about below.

One of the goals on my bucket list is to read 500 books between ages 40 and 50. Is reading on your bucket list? If not, it should be. Why is regular reading so important? How will you benefit from reading more? How can you make it through dozens of books in the typical year? What have I read so far on my way to 500 books in 10 years? Read on to find out. 🙂

Why You Should Read More

It keeps your mind sharp. Recent studies show that engaging your brain keeps it sharp, improves your vocabulary, improves your memory, helps improve your reasoning ability and might even help delay the symptoms or onset of dementia.

It inspires you to do interesting things. We all want to live full and interesting lives. Reading gives you ideas of things to do and then inspires you to do them. It’s difficult to read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, without being inspired to get up off the couch and plan your own hike. If you read My Life in France by Julia Child, you’ll probably want to sign up for cooking classes or maybe even plan a trip to Paris. Reading is a great way to get ideas and inspiration for your bucket list.

It gives you ideas for self-improvement. Getting Things Done helped me to bring some sanity to my To-Do list. The Power of Habit helped me to understand how I can get rid of bad habits and create good ones. On Writing helped me to improve my writing. Books can help make a better you. As Socrates once said: “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.”

It’s fun and a low cost form of entertainment. I spend most Saturday mornings on the couch with a cup of coffee and whatever book I happen to be reading. Not only is it enjoyable and relaxing, but it’s cheap entertainment (I get most of what I read from either the library or Amazon).

So in summary, reading gives you a better vocabulary. It makes you smarter and more interesting. It helps keep your mind sharp and improves your memory. It makes you a better conversationalist. It inspires you to do fun and interesting things. It’s great entertainment.  That’s not a bad list of benefits.

How to Read More

Life is busy, so if you want to read more, you need to make it a priority. That said, here are a few tricks that helped me read more than 50 books last year.

Listen to audio books. I drive about 25 minutes to work every day (and 25 minutes home) and spend additional time driving to and from appointments. On average, I probably spend about 90 minutes in the car each day. Rather than listening to the radio, I listen to books. My local library has an App that allows me to download audio books for free, so I always have something to listen to. A little less than half of my reading list last year was audio books.

Speed-reading. I used to be a painfully slow reader, so a while back I did a learning challenge on speed-reading. Read through the article for ways to test and improve your reading speed.

Always take your book with you. I got this tip from Stephen King in his book On Writing. Everywhere I go I either have a book or my iPod with me. You’d be amazed at how much time you spend in waiting rooms, in line or otherwise standing around doing nothing. Take your book along and make use of the time.

Read stuff that you enjoy. If you want to read War and Peace, more power to you, but don’t feel pressure to read things just because they’re classics. Read what you enjoy. If you look through my list below you’ll see Steinbeck and Dickens, but you’ll also see about a half-dozen Jack Reacher novels, which are the literary equivalent of junk food. Who cares? I like them. I took a detective fiction class in college and since then I’ve always appreciated the genre. Read what you enjoy and you’ll read more.

Bucket List Books: What I’ve Read the Last Two Years

Below is a list of what I read during the first 2 years of my 10-year goal. I put Amazon links to each book in case you’d like to learn more about a particular book and possibly add it to your own reading list.

2013 (Age 40)

  1. Wool, Hugh Howey
  2. Do The Work, Steven Pressfield
  3. The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau
  4. Boomerang, Michael Lewis
  5. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand
  6. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, David Allen
  7. Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, Tony Horwitz
  8. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
  9. The Big Short, Michael Lewis
  10. The Glass Castle: A Memoir, Jeannette Walls
  11. My Life in France, Julia Child
  12. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  13. The Four Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss
  14. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  15. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King
  16. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, David Sedaris
  17. The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern, Victor David Hansen
  18. World War Z, Max Brooks
  19. Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, Piers Paul Read
  20. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, Michael Pollan
  21. Grand Ambition, G. Bruce Knecht
  22. Child of God, Cormack McCarthy
  23. Everyman, Phillip Roth
  24. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bordain
  25. Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man and Life’s Greatest Lesson, Mitch Albom
  26. No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Missions That Killed Osama Bin Laden, Mark Owen

2014 (Age 41)

  1. Jack London: An American Life, Earle Labor
  2. The Graveyard Book, Niel Gaiman
  3. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, Rolf Potts
  4. The Call of the Wild, Jack London
  5. Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  6. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War, Nathaniel Philbrick
  7. The Sea Wolf, Jack London
  8. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
  9. Open: An Autobiography, Andre Agassi
  10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  11. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
  12. My First Summer in the Sierra, John Muir
  13. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  14. East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  15. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
  16. Start Something that Matters, Blake Mycoskie
  17. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
  18. Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson
  19. Roughing It, Mark Twain
  20. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, James Thurber
  21. The Martian, Andy Weir
  22. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
  23. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
  24. Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War, John Lukacs
  25. White Fang, Jack London
  26. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  27. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson
  28. John Barleycorn, Jack London
  29. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
  30. Travels With Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck
  31. The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World, Stephen Mansfield
  32. The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer
  33. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering American on the Appalachian Trail, Bill Bryson
  34. Moneyball, Michael Lewis
  35. A Clash of Kings, George R. R. Martin
  36. Wooden On Leadership, John Wooden
  37. The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, Chris Guillebeau
  38. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, Joel Dicker
  39. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lax, Rebecca Skloot
  40. The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin
  41. 61 Hours, Lee Child
  42. 12 Years A Slave, Solomon Northup
  43. Worth Dying For, Lee Child
  44. A Wanted Man, Lee Child
  45. Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
  46. Never Go Back, Lee Child
  47. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  48. River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, Candice Millard
  49. We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance, David Howarth
  50. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  51. The Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King
  52. Lawerence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle Ease, Scott Anderson
  53. Sailing Alone Around the World, Joshua Slocum
  54. One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaska Odyssey, Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke

Giveaway: One of my favorite books last year was Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum. In the 1890s, he became the first person to sail alone around the world and then he wrote a book about it. He’s actually a really good writer, so in addition to being a great adventure tale, it’s a story well told. This week’s giveaway winner is a subscriber from our email updates list (congrats Karl!) so I’m sending him a copy of the book. Tune into future posts for more giveaways.

Note:  Since I have my own books for sale on Amazon, I am a part of their Amazon Affiliate program.  The links above are affiliate links, which simply means that if you buy a book after clicking one of the links, Amazon (at no additional cost to you) will pay me a small commission that I use to help cover the costs of this site.  That’s not why I recommend the books, of course, but I wanted to be sure to make you aware of it.

Channeling my inner Bear Grylls

Channeling my inner Bear Grylls

Before today’s post, 2 quick reminders:

1)     Later on this morning we’re having a free Teleseminar on the ins and outs of long-term care insurance.  My guest will be one of the foremost experts on LTC in the country.  You’re all invited.  Find call in details here.

2)     If you missed Friday’s post, I just released a new eBook called A Brief Guide to Retirement Bliss.  You can download a free PDF here.  You can download the Kindle version here.

And now on to today’s post.

As many of you know, one of the tenets of our philosophy here at IR is that life is much more interesting if you’re always learning to do new things.  Toward that end, I do periodic learning challenges and then write about them here at the site.

We’re in the process of taking our daughter to all 50 states (33 to go!) and we plan on doing some camping when we make it to places like Wyoming, Montana and Utah.  To make sure we’re ready, I signed up for a six week class on camping and backpacking at the local university.

The course covered things like how to pack and dress, how to cook in the backcountry, using a map and compass, backcountry first aid, trip planning and leave no trace camping.

After finishing the class, I wanted to test out my newly acquired skills, so I bought/borrowed/rented some gear and we planned a three day camping and backpacking trip to Kansas (aka state # 18).  I’ll let you know how the test run goes.

Interested in doing a similar challenge?

If camping sounds like something that might interest you, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Sign up for classes at your local university or outdoor store
  • Subscribe to Backpacker magazine.  I’m not super outdoorsy, but this magazine is awesome.  Lots of “how to” and inspiration.
  • Get some gear.  REI is a great place start.  I bought their Half Dome 4 tent a few weeks ago when it was on sale.  If you want to take a few trips before investing in gear, you can probably find a place to rent most of what you need.  Again, the local university where I live has an Outdoor Venture Center that rents gear to students, but they also make it available to the general public.  Ask around for something similar in your area.
  • Plan a trip!  The point of these learning challenges is to take what we learn and put it into practice by doing fun and interesting things.  Once you learn some camping and backpacking basics, plan a trip and get out there and enjoy the outdoors.  A good place to start would be one of the 59 National Parks in the U.S.  Visit http://www.nps.gov/ to learn more.
  • While we’re on the topic of National Parks, watch The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns.  We just finished watching the entire series with our daughter.  It’s available for “instant streaming” on Netflix.

What’s next?

I enjoy photography and I’m always looking to sharpen my skills in that area.  A friend of mine recently introduced me to someone who is an expert in time-lapse photography.  I asked him if he’d teach me how to do it and he graciously agreed.  I’ll update you next month to let you know how it goes.  By the way, if you’re not familiar with time-lapse, here’s a great example of it on vimeo.

Have a great week.

~ Joe

Learning Challenge Update: How I did and what’s next.

Learning Challenge Update: How I did and what’s next.

Speed Reading Update

The most recent skill I’ve been working to add to my “Lifestyle Résumé” is speed reading.  Last month I tested my reading and comprehension and then studied ways to improve both.  Over the last several weeks, I took what I learned and put it into practice as I worked through my reading list.

In addition to things like newspapers and magazines, I read five books this past month.  They are:

  • The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau
  • Boomerang by Michael Lewis
  • Wool by Hugh Howey
  • Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I timed myself using Toggl so I could see if my speed per page was gradually improving and then re-tested my speed and comprehension at Reading Soft.  When I started the challenge, my speed was 213 words per minute with 82 percent comprehension.  When I re-tested, my speed had improved to 378 words per minute and my comprehension held steady at 80 percent.  I didn’t quite hit my goal of doubling my speed, but all in all I was pleased with the outcome.  It was a fairly easy skill to acquire and it will make a big impact in my daily life going forward.

What’s next?

As most of you know, my wife and I are trying to get our daughter to all 50 states before she graduates from high school (only 33 to go!).  States like Montana and Wyoming are known for their National Parks and beautiful outdoors and it seems that the best way to see them is by hiking, exploring and camping under the big night sky.

There’s only one problem.  I have no camping skills.  Rather than see our vacation turn into a scene straight out of Lord of the Flies, I signed up for a six week backpacking and camping basics class at the Outdoor Venture Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  The course covers things like how to pack and dress, how to cook in the backcountry, using a map and compass, backcountry first aid, trip planning and leave no trace camping.

I’ll update you once I finish the class.  In the meantime, is there anything that you’ve been wanting to learn how to do?  Why wait?  There are tons of benefits to being a lifelong learner and teaching yourself a new skill is easier than ever in our modern world of videos, apps, books and online courses.  Feel free to follow along with one of my challenges or do something totally on your own.  Either way, by being intentional about learning you’ll end up with more things to do and more people to do them with.

Have a great week!


How to be happy Part 2: The hedonic treadmill

How to be happy Part 2: The hedonic treadmill

When I was in college, I rented my body to science so I could have enough money to buy groceries.  There was a medical testing facility not far from my apartment and they would pay you around $500 to check in on Friday, check out on Sunday and allow them to test some new wonder drug on you in the interim.  I didn’t have much in those years (as you’ve probably already deduced), but I was happy.

After graduating, I was able to leverage my finance degree into a career that no longer required me to spend my weekends subjecting myself to Hunter S. Thompson style pharmacological testing.  I got married and moved into a nicer apartment.  We eventually moved into a house and continued down the path of pursuing the “American Dream.”

Given that little bit of information, you’d think I would be happier now than I was 20 years ago, but that’s not really the case.  I’m happy for sure, but my level of happiness doesn’t seem to have grown in tandem with my standard of living.  I was happy then and I’m happy now.

Behavioral psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the hedonic (or happiness) treadmill.  It is our tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite changes to our standard of living.  Basically, our expectations rise in tandem with our income.  The more we have, the more we think we need.

Because we want to be happy, we (somewhat predictably) deal with the hedonic treadmill by constantly upgrading our “stuff.”  We buy the new iPhone, television or car and it makes us happier for awhile, but we eventually get used to those things so we upgrade to the next gadget or gizmo.  The more we have, the tougher it is to move the needle on our happiness meter.  We run faster and faster without really getting anywhere.

Is there a way to get off the treadmill and actually derive some lasting happiness from the resources that we’ve been blessed with?  Yes, according to behavioral finance expert Dan Ariely.  “The best way to maximize happiness is to spend money on things you won’t get used to,” he says.  Here are three examples:

Travel: I’ve written before that it’s better to spend your retirement dollars on experiences instead of assets.  After learning about the hedonic treadmill, I understand why.  We quickly get used to stuff, but the happiness that comes from experiences sticks with us long after the stuff has gone to the Goodwill.  Travel is a great example of a purchase that has a longer happiness shelf life.  As Ariely says: “If you’re deciding between a sofa and a vacation, go for the vacation.  You’ll quickly get used to the sofa, but the vacation will bring long-lasting memories.”

Learning:  Another way to spend your money on things that result in longer-term happiness is to invest in learning.  For example, signing up for tennis lessons or learning to play an instrument will likely yield more lasting happiness than if you spent those same dollars on a new flat-screen T.V.  Learning something new will keep you challenged and will give you a sense of accomplishment.  It will also give you a skill that will stick with you.  If you’ve been around here for awhile, you know that we’re big on learning here at Intentional Retirement.  Follow along with our learning challenges or start one of your own to boost your happiness quotient.

Relationships: One of the side effects of a stuff heavy life is less time for your spouse, kids, grandkids and friends.  How so?  Everything we own requires some of our time and money.  Columnist Ellen Goodman described it this way: “Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to the job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.”

Rather than being a slave to your stuff, focus your time and resources on building relationships instead.  Go on regular dates with your spouse.  Take the grandkids fishing.  Go on a guy’s (or girl’s) trip with your friends.  Those things cost money, but they will pay dividends for years to come.

How about you?  Are you stuck on the hedonic treadmill?  If so, think about how you can start spending your money in ways that will actually bring more lasting happiness.


Note: See Part 1 of the Happiness Series here.

Curate your life

Curate your life

One of the most important jobs at any museum is the Chief Curator.  It’s his or her job to use a discerning eye and a deep understanding of the museum’s mission to select works that are appropriate for the collection.  That is why you will see paintings by Pollock and Picasso at the Museum of Modern Art, but you won’t find any by Rembrandt.  It is why you will see the Wright brothers’ plane at the Air and Space Museum instead of at the Museum of Natural History.

In a similar way, you’re the Chief Curator of your life.  There are so many things that you could be doing; so many people you could be spending time with; so many things you could buy.  It is all too easy to flood your life with stuff, people and activities.

The challenge is to be purposeful with what you allow in.  To select things that fit well and to cull those that don’t.  To choose the right friends and the ideal activities that fit perfectly with who you are and what you want out of life.

It’s easy to get lazy and start letting things in by default.  We hang out with people because they’re somewhere in our orbit of friends, not because we feel drawn to them.  We say ‘yes’ and become obligated just because someone asks, not because we feel compelled to do whatever it happens to be.  Before we know it, our “collection” is a cluttered hodge podge of the weird, unrelated and uninteresting.

You can do better.  Select your activities purposefully.  Choose your friends wisely.  Most importantly, don’t overstuff your life by saying “yes” to everything.  Show me someone with a remarkable life and I’ll show you someone who is a tough curator.

Writer Nora Ephron understood this idea.  She died recently, but I remember an interview she gave in her later years where she talked about awakening to the realization that her time was limited.  She wanted to be discerning with what she did, even to the point of what restaurants she would go to.  She said:

“Is this meal I’m having something I really want to have?  If someone says to me, let’s go somewhere and it’s not good, I say ‘Let’s not.’  Because I have a finite number of meals ahead of me and they are all going to be good.”

The lesson?  Choose everything—friends, hobbies, work, philanthropy, clothes, vacations, meals, gadgets, books, etc.—with a discerning eye.  Your life will be defined by what you allow in and what you keep out.

How (and why) to be a lifelong learner

How (and why) to be a lifelong learner

Show me someone who loves to learn new things and I’ll show you someone who will most likely have an interesting, rewarding retirement.  Why is that?  Learning comes with a host of benefits like:

  • It keeps your mind sharp
  • It keeps you engaged with advances in society (Congrats to my mom on buying her first iPad!)
  • It helps you figure out what you like
  • It helps you discover new things
  • It gives you new people to interact with
  • It gives you something fun to do with your spouse or significant other
  • It provides personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment

And when I talk about learning, I’m not talking about learning in the traditional, sometimes boring sense of the word (e.g. What year did the Spanish-American War start?), but in the fun, practical, interesting sense of the word (e.g. How do you scuba dive?).  In other words, pursuing knowledge and experiences that enrich your life.

How about you?  Do you like to learn new things?  I love to learn.  In fact, every year I pick one or two things that I’d like to know more about and spend time learning all I can about them.  In years past this has included things like:

  • Learning to play chess (to play me search for joe hearn on Chess With Friends)
  • Learning to play the guitar
  • Learning how to run a marathon (and then running one)
  • Learning how to make a great omelet (hint: get the right pan)
  • Joining a Master’s (a.k.a.: Old Man’s) swim club
  • Taking cooking classes with my wife
  • Get my motorcycle license
  • Taking a travel photo workshop

One of the great things about our world today (besides the Snuggie) is that self learning (also known as Autodidactism) is easier than ever.  Gone are the days when you need an expensive education or lengthy apprenticeship just to learn more about something that you find interesting.  Now you can just sit down on your own time and access a plethora of resources, tools, apps, books, and videos on just about any topic that interests you.

Take photography for example.  For less than $1,000 you can have a camera that is head and shoulders above anything that Ansel Adams ever had.  The store you buy it from will likely offer free “Get to know your new camera” classes so you can learn how to use it.  To learn how to take better pictures you can download (for free) The Art of Photography podcast on iTunes.  Then you can edit and improve all those great new vacation photos you take using something like iPhoto or Snapseed (available in software and app form).

30 Day Learning Challenges

As you can tell by the name of my blog, I think being intentional is one of the most important things in life.  Everyone has ideas, plans and dreams, but those never really become reality unless you intentionally make them happen.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to do periodic “challenges” where I intentionally learn about something that interests me and then write about it here at the blog.  And of course, if the topic interests you, you are more than welcome to follow along at home and pick up a new skill as well.

Some of those things I can probably learn to do in 30 days (like how to make a good omelet).  In those cases, I’ll write about the topic, why I want to know more about it, the tools I used to learn about it, what I was able to learn after the 30 days and a plan you can follow to do the same thing.

In other cases, it will take much longer than 30 days to learn something (learning to speak a second language, for example).  In those cases, I will spend the 30 days learning everything I can about how best to teach yourself that skill.  Then I’ll write about what I learned and try to give you a road map to follow if you’re interested.

In either case, the idea is to become intentional learners through a combination of reading, researching, asking experts, experimenting, practicing and improving.  Sound fun?

The first challenge

The first thing I’ll be doing is a smaller challenge, but something I’ve always wanted to know.  I would like to be able to locate every country in the world on a map.  You may remember the painful video a few years ago of the Miss Teen USA contestant explaining why most “U.S. Americans” can’t find the United States on the map (If not, you can watch it here).

I chuckled at that video, but in reality, my knowledge of world geography is nothing to write home about.  If you asked me to find places like Suriname or Macedonia, I’m not even sure I could get you on the right continent.  For someone who loves to travel and eventually wants to visit most of the countries in the world, that geographical ignorance will not abide.

So in the next 30 days, I will learn how to locate every country in the world (about 195 depending on how you count) on a map.  To do this, I will be using an app from Brainscape called Learn Geography.  The app uses a scientifically optimized algorithm to repeat flashcards in just the right pattern so that your brain will absorb the information.  I’ll be learning the countries one continent at a time and in 30 days I’ll report back to you on how I did.  If that sounds like something that interests you, I’d love to have some of you follow along as well.  Just download the app from the App Store and get started.

Don’t worry if this challenge doesn’t interest you.  I’ll make a list of some of the other ones I’m considering below and I’ll be adding new ones all the time.  Hopefully, something on the list will pique your interest (or absolutely feel free to suggest something to me) and we can channel our inner Polymath and learn something fun together.

  • How to plan an around the world trip
  • Learn video and photo editing software
  • How to tell a great story
  • How to play tennis
  • Gardening
  • How to simplify/declutter my house
  • Scuba diving
  • Learn about particular foods (coffee, beer, wine, olive oil, etc.)
  • How to snowboard
  • How to make great croissants
  • Photography
  • How to pack light for a trip
  • How to hike and camp (e.g. navigating with a compass, starting a campfire, backwoods first aid, planning a hike, etc.)

Thanks for reading!