The Annual Birthday Book List

7 minute read


Books can play an indispensable role throughout everyone’s lives. One of the reasons why I like reading is because it’s like a portable world that you can experience from the comfort of your couch. It also gives you an opportunity to get the feeling of being in somebody else’s shoes– a medium to build empathy in today’s fast-paced and sometimes overwhelming world. In particular, I’ve found myself enjoying reading much more in the past few years. I think it’s because throughout the moves from city to city, twists and turns of a (hopefully) up-and-coming career, old friends moving, new friends meeting, reading allows you to reach through space and time and connect with someone in a book who is going through the same thing as you.

Today is my 24th birthday, so I wanted to list my 24 books for turning 24 that emulate what I wrote above. I read the majority of these in the previous year, and added a few books that I felt nicely rounded out the list (and because I didn’t get to the full 24 books last year…oops).

For the first five books, I also included a few words on why I connected so much with the book. I didn’t want to do this for all of them because everyone will connect with a story a different way, so that’s up for everyone to find for themselves. Also, these books are in no particular order, except for the Top 5 which I personally enjoyed most.

1. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

I firmly believe that education gives you the ability to take you places. The ability to transcend the societal, economic, and even geographical boundaries of your background– the linchpin to the so-called American dream. Educated covers this theme to a tee, but also take an in depth look into the emotional backbone that’s needed behind such a journey. The most absorbing part of this book is that it reads like a novel; the most captivating part is that it’s non-fiction.

2. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve probably seen Michelle Obama’s memoir lining the shelves…pretty much everywhere. As the title suggests, it tells the story of how Michelle Obama became the person she is today and one of the many reasons why I enjoyed this book so much is because it gives a first-hand view point of the glacier lying underneath the surface of an impeccable role-model and strong woman. Many reviews out there and even mine, will not do it justice so I suggest you just go buy it for yourself to be honest. (I actually prefer the audiobook for this one because she narrates it herself. I’d listen to it while cooking dinner, and it felt like she was there at my kitchen table telling me stories.)

3. My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams

As a proud member of the Ruth’s club (can you guess the one criteria for admission?), I had to of course read the book from the notorious RBG. This book does not read like a regular novel, but is instead a collection of speeches and writings from the Supreme Court Justice. It reads like a flow of conscious from the Justice and highlights not only the numerous highlights of her career but also many of the middle stepping stones that lay between. When growing up, my Mom always told me to not strive to become president, but aim to be a Supreme Court Justice instead. And although my political prowess is a bit lacking, I do hope to carry on many of the qualities RBG emulates in her book.

4. Machine Learning: A Probabilistic Perspective by Kevin P. Murphy

Book lists are not only for novels, but textbooks too! Whenever someone asks for advice about how to get into machine learning (as a producer, not a consumer), I always recommend this book. It is basically an encyclopedia to statistical machine learning, with no corner cut and very few details left as exercises to the reader. When I first started graduate school, I knew pretty much nothing about statistics—not a bad start for someone who wants to do ML research, no? However, my advisor was patient and pushed me to learn the fundamentals of the field. I remember studying the Murphy book each night and it became (and still is) my go-to book to read each night before bed. Then about year later from our first day out, we published our first paper!

5. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

I’ll be the first to say that I do not particularly enjoy ‘self-help’ books. This is mostly because without any context of the reader’s circumstance, advice listed in these books often falters when going from the bullet points on the page to execution in real life. *steps off soapbox*. However, Charles Duhigg describes the multi-faceted approach to habit forming and its solutions through the medium of detailed stories from case studies. I found his approach to not only be quite page-turning, but also easy to implement in day-to-day routines. The best part is that his described universal framework can be useful for many different types of goals (career, school, health, etc.) and his stories show the power of habit in all of these contexts.

6. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
7. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
8. The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes
9. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
10. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
11. Tessa & Scott: Our Journey from Childhood Dream to Gold by Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir, and Steve Milton
12. Linear Algebra, 4th Edition by Stephen H. Friedberg, Arnold J. Insel, and Lawrence E. Spence
13. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
14. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow
15. Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
16. Books by Roald Dahl (all)
17. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
18. Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden
19. Bayesian Data Analysis, Third Edition by Gelman, Carlin, Stern, Dunson, Vehtari, and Rubin
20. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel
21. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
22. Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
23. The Wizard of Oz series (there’s actually 14 books in the collection!) by L. Frank Baum
24. Originials by Adam Grant

My goal for this upcoming year is to read 25 new books– any recommendations are welcome!