My Top Ten Books of The Year

  • Posted on December 2, 2013
  • by Alan Blume

MY Top 10 Books of the YearIn December I typically reflect upon the books I read during the year, determine my favorites, and map out a plan for the types of books I hope to read in the ensuing year. One of my goals last year was to diversify my reading selection, by choosing a more comprehensive amalgamation of genres. I tried to include classics, historical fiction and non-fiction, poetry, science fiction, German language books and business books. What follows is a list and brief synopsis of my top ten books of the year.

I read two more Eric Larson books this year, “Thunderstruck” and “In the Garden of Beasts”. As with all the Larson books I’ve read, this work contains great detail, rich characterizations, and the integration of multiple story lines within an interesting historical context. Though I preferred “Devil in the White City”, both “Thunderstruck” and “In the Garden of Beasts” are worthwhile reads, containing important historical perspectives, and in the case of the latter, the ominous and portentous issues of 1930’s Germany. It’s somewhat challenging to determine a top 10 list, as the genres are so diverse, instead of thinking of my “ten best”, a more appropriate list description might be the 10 books I most enjoyed. That said, here is my list:

  1. Tale of Two Cities: My favorite book of the year, this Dickens classic, is a classic for many reasons, including the famous first paragraph, and the memorable last two sentences. This work truly conveys the evocative imagery of this tumultuous period.  The elite “charging” through the streets in their carriages, makes even my fellow Bostonian drivers seem tame and languid. “With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of its way.”
  2. The Beautiful and the Damned: I thought the reincarnation of the Great Gatsby movie fell flat, but departed with the motivation to read a Fitzgerald novel. I opted for “The Beautiful and the Damned”. In this work, F. Scott Fitzgerald demonstrates his great literary form, with flowing descriptions and vivid characterizations. He creates characters you love to hate, or perhaps hate to love.
  3. Thunderstruck: An excellent historical work by Larson, this one revolving around the advent of wireless telegraphy, while providing a parallel plot line revolving around the strange life of a London couple. I thought “Devil in the White City” was better, but still enjoyed “Thunderstruck”.
  4. In the Garden of Beasts: Another excellent book by Larson, this one revolving around the tumultuous times in the 1930’s during Hitler’s rise to power. It follows newly appointed US Ambassador William Dodd and his family, and their surreal life in Berlin.
  5. Destiny of the Republic Destiny of the Republic: Back in 1881, when anyone could visit the White House, before the advent of the presidential security details, Garfield demonstrates why this openness had dire consequences. This was a very good Candice Millard book, though I enjoyed “River of Doubt” even more.
  6. Lost in Shangri-La: Excellent WWII read, pertaining to a remote region of the globe, in a time and place with limited technology, and when many regions were still yet unexplored.
  7. The Complete Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Wadsworth and Frost are two of my favorite poets. This public domain work includes The Arrow and the Song, The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Song of Hiawatha and many other great poems. From my perspective, Longfellow poems range from whimsical to evocative to didactic. If you like traditional poets, you can find a great selection of poems in this extensive collection (note that the table of contents did not hyperlink on my Kindle).
  8. The Songs of Distant Earth: An Arthur Clarke classic which makes the reader ponder when and how the human race will explore and populate other planets.
  9. Pebble in The Sky: An early Asimov work (1950), which includes foundational elements the for the Foundation series. Though some of the references may be dated, like a Jules Verne novel, it’s still an entertaining and thought provoking work.
  10. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: From my perspective, not as engaging as “The Tipping Point”, but still provides Gladwell’s unique perspective.

This year I also read multiple books on German vocabulary, verb drills, short stories and logged numerous hours on Rosetta Stone. Many of these were helpful, though I think personal preference and learning styles vary dramatically, making it difficult to determine what other readers might prefer. I do enjoy Rosetta Stone, though I think they should include an on demand translation dictionary in their program.

Next year I expect the genres to remain similar, and hope to include Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Tolkien, historical non-fiction, perhaps Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, and several new business books. It seems like it’s time to start writing again, my most recent book was written over a year ago, Sell More & Work Less ( I’ve been pondering a book on digital marketing and integrated pipeline building and have rough outline in mind. And perhaps someday, a novel, though I’m truly humbled by the many great authors above. Regardless, like many, I find both reading and writing, a worthwhile, enlightening and often cathartic process.

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Posted in: B2B Sales & Marketing, business, Business Book Review, Getting published, Virtual Business
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A few years ago I decided to write a book on virtual business. It was my first book and took over two years to write, secure agent representation and then find a publisher. I signed with my publisher a year ago – and the book, Your Virtual Success, will finally hit bookshelves in June. There’s nothing unusual about that – it takes about a year to publish a traditional book. But the world is changing with the Vook, Nook and Kindle. With these devices, a book can surely be edited, published and distributed in 90 days. Will traditional publishers embrace this or will a new breed of publishers and distributors emerge (like Amazon for example – will they become both a major distributor and a major publisher)? Traditional publishers will evolve or die, unlike dinosaurs, they have a choice – but it remains to be seen if they can embrace the new publishing climate quickly enough to survive.

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Posted in: business, eco-friendly, emerging business, Entrepeneurship, Getting published, Virtual Business
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It’s difficult to get published – conventional wisdom states that less than 1% of would be authors receive an offer from a reputable publisher. A few weeks ago I signed my first book deal. This posting reviews the virtual sales and marketing efforts which were leveraged to accomplish this. I worked on a book about virtual businesses for about a year and upon the completion of a basic draft, decided to contact some literary agents (it’s easier to find a publisher if you have an agent representing you). I found several free internet sites listing agents including:, and  Some sources estimate that top literary agents receive about 400-1,000 unsolicited book queries every month, in other words, it’s very competitive. I started this sales and marketing campaign as I would at for any business. I selected 1,200 agents from the free online lists above. In most cases they had an email listed for the book query submission (that’s agent speak for a formal proposal a writer must create to whet the interest of a prospective agent). As with any sales and marketing campaign, it usually begins by building a prospect list. But hold on a minute, this isn’t a smart, targeted, virtual sales and marketing approach. You are much better off targeting a niche or specific profile than you would be sending out emails to 1,200 general literary agents. I refined the list and culled through the agents to identify 100 who were interested in business books, non-fiction and prescriptive books (how to books). I focused first on agents listing business books as a specific area of interest. This information was available for free on the sites mentioned above and the respective agency websites in the instances that the agency actually had one (there are some agencies that have very limited websites or don’t have them at all).
The list building, culling and niche targeting were done in just a few days. I decided to do a test run of 30 agents, and would then do another wave of 70 agents if necessary. I had read that it was extremely difficult to sign with an agent, and that you might not even get a response to a manuscript inquiry (query letter).  As fall approached in 2008 I sent out my first wave of emails. Here are the results for both waves:

Wave 1 Statistics

  • 30 Sent
  • 4 Interested
  • 12 Not interested
  • 14 No response

Wave 2 Statistics

  • 70 Sent
  • 5 Interested
  • 20 Not Interested
  • 45 No response

Overall, 9% of the agents expressed interest, 32% were not interested and I received no response from 59% of the agents. Normally you would follow up a campaign with a personal telephone call/voice mails. In this particular industry, however, the rules of engagement state that agents prefer no calls. After all, in a system that rejects 98% of all would be authors, the number of follow up calls would overwhelm the agents. As a side note, there were some highly personalized responses and suggestions from agents who did not have interest at the moment and some standard form rejection letters too. I sent out wave two a week after I sent the first wave of emails. I did not market to any agent requiring a query on paper.

Most of the results came in within the first two weeks of the respective waves. Of the 9% expressing interest, their approach varied dramatically. Four agents asked me to email my full proposal; another four asked me to print out a full proposal and snail mail it (or FedEx) it to them and one asked me via email if I would like him to immediately contact publishers on my behalf to see if they had interest.  I immediately sent my proposal to the four agents who requested it via email attachment. About a week later I sent out one paper copy to one of the four agents who expressed a particularly high level of interest in my query. In retrospect, I don’t know why I bothered – this is a really stupid approach I liken to the current issues with traditional print Newspapers – the distribution system makes no sense (though it was just fine in 1949). Of the four agents who received my full email proposal, two asked for an exclusive (a period of time whereby they could solely determine if they wished to represent me) and two asked if I would speak with them right away. One of the agents who wanted to have an immediate discussion was Wendy Keller from Keller Media. Wendy asked if we could set up a conference call to discuss my query. I sent her a GoToMeeting invitation, and within 24 hours, we were meeting virtually in cyberspace. Later that day, the agency representation agreement was sent and signed digitally, there was no paper that ever exchanged hands. It took me less than four weeks from the time I decided to approach the literary agency market to sign with a well known agent. About 6 months later, my agent secured an offer from a well known business book publisher, Career Press. My book which is to be called Your Virtual Success, Finding Profitability in an Online World is due out at the beginning of 2010. Leveraging virtual sales and marketing tools is effective, inexpensive and reusable. My virtual business model expands and contracts easily and is far more profitable. I look forward to exploring the nuances of this in my upcoming book from Career Press, Your Virtual Success, Finding Profitability in an Online World.

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Posted in: business, emerging business, Entrepeneurship, Getting published, Home Office Business, Uncategorized, Virtual Business
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