Readers, if finding time to read is one of your biggest struggles, you’ll love today’s conversation.
My guest today Mattie James is a successful business owner and new author, releasing her first book Everyday Magic later this month. With all of these projects keeping her busy, Mattie often finds it hard to make the time to read. This is a problem for Mattie, both because she loves to read, and she knows how much a healthy reading habit positively impacts her business.
Mattie’s primarily a nonfiction reader, relying on books to inspire and guide her, and she’s always on the hunt for books that invite her reconsider her assumptions and look at things from a different perspective. When she finds a gem of a read, she’ll waste no time in enthusiastically recommending it to her online community.
Today, Mattie and I talk about how to make the most of the time you spend reading, even when you only have a few minutes, and of course I suggest nonfiction titles for Mattie that I hope will make a real difference in Mattie’s life and work.
Connect with Mattie and find out more about her new book at her website.
ANNE: Okay. So, Mattie, your homework is to put that on the calendar for next week. You know, we don't usually give homework but by golly, [MATTIE CHUCKLES] today we are gonna start.
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey, readers, I'm Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 342.
Welcome to the show that's dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What Should I Read Next?
We don't get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read.
Every week we'll talk all things books and reading and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.
ANNE: First, the heat index at our place reminds me daily that we are still in peak summer, but before we know it, it's going to be time to start talking fall books. If you're starting to feel that excitement for cooler nights, pumpkin spice, and all things fall, save the date for our fall book preview.
This is an exclusive live event for our book club and Patreon communities. Our seasonal preview is a fun relaxed conversation where I share a curated list of the falls exciting new releases so you can plan your to-be-read list. Plus, you'll get a handy printable to tuck into your tote for your next library or bookstore trip.
Patreon members mark your calendars for Thursday, September 8th at 7 p.m. Eastern. And if you're not a member yet, pencil this in on your calendar, then head over to patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext to sign up now.
Our fall is going to be so much fun. After the Fall book preview in September, we'll also be getting together in October for our first ever evening of What Should I Read Next? trivia. We have been planning this for a long time and it is going to be great. Join today at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.
Readers today's guest, Mattie James, shares a struggle that feels all too familiar to many readers: finding time to read, which to her is something she loves to do and something that's important to her work. She's looking for ways to bring more of the nonfiction she enjoys into her everyday life.
Reading has always played a big role in Mattie's life, from childhood when her father nurtured her as an emerging reader to her professional career where she relies on books to inspire and guide her own business that you will hear about today, to her own forthcoming book coming out later this month called Everyday Magic.
Mattie is always on the hunt for books that invite her to wrestle with her ideas and assumptions and that actually have a life-changing impact on her own work. And when she finds those books that make a difference, she enjoys enthusiastically recommending them to her online community.
In our conversation today, we explore how to make the most of the time you spend reading, even when you only have a few minutes.
And of course I suggest nonfiction titles for Mattie that I hope will make a real difference not just in her reading life, but in all her life and work. Let's get to it.
Mattie, welcome to the show.
MATTIE: Thanks, Anne. Thanks for having me.
ANNE: Oh, well, I can't wait to talk about your reading life today. I've been looking forward to this conversation.
MATTIE: Me too.
ANNE: Okay. Mattie, where are you in the world this morning?
MATTIE: I'm in Atlanta, Georgia. It's so hot. [CHUCKLES] Running in the morning, and I'm like, "Oh, is it 87 degrees? I love that. That's great."
ANNE: I'm in Louisville, Kentucky, where it's a zillion and four. It is so hot.
MATTIE: We've been having like a heatwave, right, just like as a country? At least on the East Coast, I feel like it's been out of control like the last week. Unbearably hot.
ANNE: It's not supposed to be this hot this time of year.
MATTIE: My kids go to school year-round so they're all in school right now. And that's why you actually have quiet and complete, utter silence in the background. [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: I'm sure that plays into your work life and your reading life. I'm curious to hear more. Mattie, what brought you to Atlanta?
MATTIE: I actually spent half of my childhood here. So long story short, I am first American generation of a Liberian family. My parents moved here in 1980 because my dad had gotten a full scholarship to the Ohio State University in chemical engineering. Funny enough, he became a civil engineer. But you know, I guess engineering is engineering—that's not true. [ANNE LAUGHS]
ANNE: Yeah, don't let your dad hear you say that.
MATTIE: That sounds good until he hears this episode. So they moved here and then they had me four years later. I was born in Huntsville, Alabama. Funny enough they were living in Toronto at the time, but I was born on an extended business trip.
After Huntsville, we just moved around a lot. Like I went to preschool in Saudi Arabia, spent time in London. So pretty much before I was five, they traveled to at least five different countries, which was pretty amazing.
And then we moved to Atlanta because most of my parents' relatives like they had emigrated to Atlanta when they came to the States. So Atlanta has pretty much been home base for our family for the last couple of decades, if not the last three decades. And all the kids were born here, so this is home.
ANNE: Does that peripatetic childhood factor into how you see yourself? Is that part of your identity?
MATTIE: Absolutely. I just had a phone call with my best friend. And we were laughing because I was like, "I didn't realize this phone call was gonna be deep." I just hadn't talked to her for like a few days. I was just kind of telling her like my journey throughout business right now. I'm like learning some really hard CEO lessons, right? Just like attention to detail, time management. I'm like, "Okay, I'm just gonna learn these lessons."
And I was telling her, I was like, "I just need to take myself more seriously." I've been doing this for a while, and taking myself seriously and kind of carrying myself with an air of confidence. Isn't a bad thing. Because I was saying, I was like, "Well, you know, I try not to be elitist." And she's like, "But if you've done the work..." She was like, "If you're not using your eliteness, you know, in a harmful way, she was like, "There's nothing wrong with being elite."
And you know, I kind of started tearing up because I was like, for so... My goal is always to be accepted because I moved so much around as a kid. So anytime I would go somewhere, I was always the token Black kid in all-white environments. So I was always trying to be accepted, one, not only as the new person but the only Black person.
I would always be new, so I would automatically just try to blend in or try to make sure people liked me. And so being accepted just became a part of my DNA. You know, I moved around pretty much every two years of my life until I was 14, and then moved again when I was 18. So it just was a lot.
ANNE: Oh, that sounds hard. I'm so glad that you're able to put words to that experience now.
ANNE: Is that how you would have described it when you were a child moving all the time?
MATTIE: No, not at all. I think just between honestly therapy, and then even just getting to talk to my parents about it, you know. Because I also then asked them because I was like, "You guys were parents. You guys were immigrants. How did that... How was that... you know?"
And my dad was just doing the best he could, right? In many of those instances, just like now, you know, those all-white environments were often were like those schools had higher marks and stuff. So he was just going off with like, "I gotta get my kids in the best school." You know, he's a West African father. That's all he thought about—scholastics. He's like, "Get in the best schools, get the best grades." That was his whole thing. But I don't think he realized...
And I did get to have a talk with him about it a couple of years ago, where it's like, that was a really hard experience for me and my sister. And we talked about it all the time. Because it was like, one, we always had to be accepted, but then we were always noticeably different. That was hard.
But I think we also had the most insanely wonderful childhood. And I talked about that, you know, in my book. But you know, at the same time, I look back and I'm like, "Okay, these are where some of these behaviors or mindsets come from." And I've had to do some unlearning and relearning. So shout out to my therapist.
ANNE: Yes, indeed. [MATTIE CHUCKLES] I heartily co-sign that. Mattie, you referenced being a business owner and how important some of these discoveries are to you, not just personally but also professionally. Tell our listeners a little bit more about what it is you do. You are the CEO of quite a lot. I think it's what the poll just says. [MATTIE CHUCKLES] But tell us what you do.
MATTIE: So I'm the CEO of the Mattie James Company and Bossfluence. So with the Mattie James Company, we create lifestyle content and products and experiences, really to just help women live their very best lives on their terms.
I think so many times, which I just kind of explained, we're doing things because we're trying to be accepted or we're thinking about what other people think. And I really want women to find what works best for them because they think so, not because their mom thinks so or their best friend from high school or this person, or that person on the internet told you.
So we really try to create content that really encourages. That's my biggest thing. That's literally within our company handbook throughout. We're just like, the goal here is to create content, say things, do things that encourage women. I think encouragement is probably not only a professional value of mine but also personal.
Then Bossfluence is the educational side of my business. So that's where I teach content creators and influencers how to not only create content but also to pitch brands. So if they want to take this content creation journey on a full-time level, they can do so.
ANNE: I love the way you put that. And I love how your mission of your organization relates so much to what we do at What Should I Read Next?, where we are helping readers of all ages create their very best reading lives on their own terms.
Like if you come to us on the show and you want to read more, we can help you do that. But it's not a given that that's what you want. And if you want to understand and appreciate all the Booker Prize winners, we can help you do that. But you shouldn't read those books just because everyone else feels like they're doing that or says you should. Like yes, create the thing that makes you happy on your terms. I love it.
ANNE: So you talked about growing up the daughter of a West African father who had very high standards. I'm wondering what this meant for your reading life. What were you like as a kid reader?
MATTIE: I read a lot because daddy always encouraged it. And funny enough, just when I became a parent, I started doing some research. And basically, kids who have dads who read to them actually end up excelling in language pretty quickly. I don't know what it is about your dad reading to you. But that was really my experience.
ANNE: My dad read to me. Thanks, dad.
MATTIE: And you know, they end up being really great communicators and different things like that. There was tons of studies based off of this. But my dad was one who not only read to us, but then just encouraged us to read.
And he always had both personal and professional development books in his office. And just growing up, whether we lived in a three-bedroom apartment or a six-bedroom house, my dad always had an office space. He just always had these really cool...
I saw Think and Grow Rich in there. The first book he liked I asked to borrow from his office was How to Read Twice As Fast, which was just like... I was about to leave Middle School and enter high school, and I was like, "Okay, we are doing a lot more homework and stuff. How do I read faster?"
But it was just fascinating to me that you had these books that you could read and learn from and get smarter from and get better from. I just thought it was absolute... It was just fascinating to me.
And because he always had them around, it was very permissive. Reading was just something that he would even like during the summer like for us to watch less TV. I think once I got to middle school, it was like, "If you get a book, for every 100 pages you read, I'll give you $1." So I wouldn't be in that library every single week during summer vacation, you know.
And for me, I'm competitive. So for my personality it worked. Like I was like, "Okay, but I need $15, so let's see how many books I can read to get this $15." So it was really great. We were always really encouraged.
My mom as well. She always had magazines around. So I think that's why I ended up growing up wanting to be a magazine editor. But we were always surrounded by literature and books. I was always really encouraged by that.
ANNE: Tell me more about wanting to be a magazine editor. What appealed to you about that?
MATTIE: I just thought it was so cool. Growing up, especially, you know, mom... is it Woman's Day and Family Circle-
ANNE: Wow, that's taking me back.
MATTIE: Right? InStyle. And then especially when I was in middle school in high school, I got all of the teen magazines. There used to be Teen People. There was Tiger Beat. So like all of my favorite... Like I was obsessed and still am obsessed with Usher. He was my favorite singer. And I had the hugest crush on him. Because why would you not? So I just read a lot of magazines.
And I just thought it would be cool to like be over this really cool thing that not only gave you something to read, but something to look at. I was fascinated when I saw cover stories. I just thought it would be cool to run something like that.
I was the kid who would look at the mastheads. Like I knew every editor-in-chief of all of the women's lifestyle magazines. It was just really interesting to me. And I just thought it would be cool to be that woman and especially a woman that looks like me because in the 90s it wasn't quite as popular.
Like of course Essence Magazine always had, you know, African American women or Black women who were you know, in charge. I even remember reading Vibe Magazine because I was such a huge fan of hip hop and R&B and a lot of my favorite artists would be in Vibe Magazine.
And I remember Danielle Smith becoming the first female editor-in-chief of that magazine. And now Danielle and I follow each other on Instagram-
ANNE: That's fun.
MATTIE: It's so cool. It's just cool to me that she even knows who I am. That kind of stuff really excites me. So yeah, magazines have always been fascinating to me, and I still love them to this day.
ANNE: Yeah, so you had pleasure reading but also you had books that you knew were informative and inspirational and would help your dad and then you in the workplace. And you had things to read that weren't just books like magazines.
ANNE: I'm a huge magazine reader. And I know that avid readers will read anything that's around. Like they'll read the cereal box. There's nothing else to read. So I'm picturing young Mattie with her Family Circle... No, I'd rather picture you with the Vibe, actually.
MATTIE: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It just felt cool. Growing up, my parents were, especially my dad, he was a disciplinarian. So we couldn't watch TV on weekdays during the school year, the limits on like the MTV and the BET content until we got to a certain age. He just like kept us in a really safe, sheltered bubble.
So I felt like if I was reading it, he had a little bit more leniency towards it. So I think that was also my way to kind of escape and learn about new things whether it was about pop culture news. I thought it was really cool. Because newspapers were cool to me too. At first as a kid, it was the comics but then like learning about the news and the newspaper.
ANNE: Mattie, tell me what reading means to you as an adult. What role does it have in your life these days?
MATTIE: It really is an opportunity for me to learn. I just love learning. You know, when I went to college, you know I mentioned that I dropped out, I'm not really someone to learn in a traditional way. Like if you force me to read certain books, I'm not really good if it feels forced, which, you know, my four-year-old has that kind of personality as well. So if it feels forced, there's going to be pushback. I'm definitely that way.
But I love just learning about a variety of things. You know, whether I want to learn about how to be a better parent or if I want to learn how to create a charcuterie board with Oreos. I just feel like I can read anything.
It's just fascinating to me that you can just get information if you just read it. I can't explain it. I know that might seem very elementary, but I do think the simplicity yet the power of reading is what fascinates me. And for me, it is an opportunity to learn because I'm not in school.
You know, I've been doing what I do for a while, but I am still fascinated whenever I put myself in a position to study my craft and get better at anything, whether it is professionally or personally. So it's really an opportunity for me to learn. And that's really exciting to me.
ANNE: Yeah, I hear you. And inspiration is everywhere. And how fortunate to be in a position where you can use it in your work!
MATTIE: Yeah, absolutely.
ANNE: I mean, I do enjoy reading about going down a fascinating rabbit hole for no other reason than I'm curious. And it's wonderful to discover new things I had no idea about.
And I will say, listeners and Mattie, that this is an impulse that has gotten me into trouble like I learned only in the course of writing my book Don't Overthink It. That that intellectual curiosity, which I always assumed was just an unalloyed good thing actually can bring in a lot of overwhelm and distraction and scope creep and all the things that aren't welcome in your day, your business, your life sometimes. And yet, when properly channeled, like yeah, you get to learn about all these amazing things and discover the inspiration that really is everywhere.
I'd love to hear what your reading life is like these days. Give me a feel for what you're drawn to and the rhythms of actually getting to. I almost said "sit down and read it." But that may not be the case at all.
MATTIE: I mean, ideally it is. But I feel like I'm usually on the move. This is a very busy season in my life. So I am listening to books a lot more. And this is a habit that I feel like my husband has mastered. It's pretty impressive.
Here's the thing, Anne. I'm not a great listener. I definitely I'm a better speaker than I am a listener. And so I think at first listening to audiobooks was hard because my mind will just start to drift. And then I'm like, "Wait, what happened?" And then, you know, luckily, I can just start the chapter over or go back a couple of seconds. But yeah.
So audiobooks, in the beginning, were really tough for me. And then what I realized is that I can listen to an audiobook if I'm doing another task that doesn't require my undivided attention. I think sometimes I would try to listen to an audiobook while doing something like fairly serious or require attention.
You know, if I'm loading the dishwasher, I can listen to an audiobook because you know, I'm not dealing with anything that's like heavy machinery or anything dangerous per se. Audiobooks as of late, especially within the last 18 months, has become my thing.
And then typically I like to read in the morning. Every time I read at night, it's just like me lulling myself to sleep. [BOTH LAUGHS] It's like, "Girl, you're gonna fall asleep. You know this. So don't even crack open a book."
Usually, I use the nighttime to like catch up on the TV show or somebody I usually watch on like YouTube or something like that. But I love reading first thing in the morning because I feel like if I read something and I learn it almost sets this unofficial theme of my day. And I kind of go in very inspired and encouraged and kind of using what I learned in my life.
ANNE: And that's so interesting that you said it sets the theme for your day because I know that you like to reread books to really drive a point home during a certain season.
I feel like when you're reading something you're paying attention to the thing you're reading about. And so if I want to be focused in a season on organization or family issues, or parenting, or overhauling my business, [MATTIE LAUGHS] or productivity, or deep work, you know, like returning to a book that talks about its importance reminds me of the things I kind of know but don't care about as much until I pick up that book again.
MATTIE: It does keep things in front of mine. Like you said, if it's a specific topic. So if I'm like, "Okay, we've gotten kind of lenient with the budget," I'm usually reading a money book. I'm like, "Okay, let me get my life together." So just in any capacity, I absolutely approach it the same way.
And I think if it's one of those first things in my mind as the day starts, I retain the information a lot more if I read in the morning than at night. At night, like I said, it's not looking great. You know, I'm not saying it's impossible, but you'll have better results if I read something in the morning. Or even in the day.
One thing I've gotten away from and I do want to get back to is just actually putting reading time on my schedule. I was really good at that when the pandemic first started and last year, but I kind of fell out of that practice. That's something I want to get back into. Because when I would see it on my calendar, I would honor that time.
I think what we do so often is that we underestimate a little bit of time. I might want to read for an hour, but if I only have 15 minutes, does that make the reading less valuable? And truthfully, it doesn't, right? Because I might not be in a season where I have two hours to read every single day. But if I have 15 minutes, over the course of a week, that adds up to about an hour, hour and a half.
So I think it's about just keeping things in perspective. That's definitely something I always have to do. But right now it is cracking a physical book open in the morning, or listening to an audiobook in the afternoon and evening.
ANNE: And a wonderful thing about books is they're there for you when you are ready for them.
ANNE: Mattie, I would love to hear more about the details of what you found yourself drawn to in your reading life and what you really enjoy. Are you ready to talk about your books?
MATTIE: Yeah. I'm ready.
ANNE: Okay. Well, you know how this works. You're going to tell me three books you love, one book you don't, and what you've been reading lately, and we'll talk about what you may enjoy reading next. Mattie, how did you choose these books for today?
MATTIE: I'm always recommending books to my audience, which it's probably one of my favorite things to do. And people are always like, "Oh my gosh, you've recommended so many great books that have helped me in my life or my business." And that's always exciting when I hear that.
So I think the two things I did is I thought about what I adamantly recommend to my followers. And then I thought about the things I reread, you know, and just kind of created like an epiphany for me. So that's how I kind of picked those three books.
And then of course, you know, what I'm reading lately. I literally finished it I think... Did I finish it on Monday or Tuesday of this week? So literally, I finished it just a couple of days ago. So I'm just so excited about it. [ANNE LAUGHS] I feel like it's one of those books.
ANNE: Super fresh in your brain. Can't wait to talk about it.
MATTIE: I'm so excited to talk about it.
ANNE: I love it. Okay, Mattie, tell me about the first book you really love.
MATTIE: The first book I really love, and I think I've already kind of foreshadowed that I love professional development or even business development books, so it's all about nonfiction for me, is Atomic Habits by James Clear. Or as I like to call him, Brother James. I don't know him at all.
He just got me together with that book so much where I was like, "You're now an unofficial relative." James just got me together. I love consistency. Like anybody who has taken any of my courses or anything like that, I love consistency. And I think I'm really attached to it. Because it's not something that naturally... it doesn't come natural to me. It is really so hard to be consistent. I think for any of us, right? No matter how long you've been doing something, it just requires an effort and a level of commitment to be consistent.
But I loved Atomic Habits because he gets into the psychology and the science of building a habit, which really fascinated me. And I think what I loved is just getting an understanding of how a habit forms, what happens to your brain when a habit forms, whether it's good or bad.
And I love that he told his story and made sense of it too. I mean, I think all of us love stories, but I was really fascinated by his. It just gets me together. And I read it once a year, usually in the first quarter just to kind of like say, "Okay." You know, because then I can attach certain habits to the certain goals I have. And it just kind of clears my mind. It's so good. I get something new from it. Like, every year that I read it, I use a different color highlighter, because I'm that girl. Like we're highlighting.
ANNE: It's such a fascinating document.
MATTIE: It's good. It's good. I love looking. I'm like, "Last year I used green, and this year I'm using blue." And then I'm like looking at what resonated to me in one season and now what resonates to me in this current season. And it's always something different, right?
Because I think we also underestimate how much we change and grow in a year. And so if you're reading something once a year or even once every other year, it's really fascinating to see how a book has changed you and changes you in the new way every time you approach it. But Atomic Habits is just delicious.
Like if you're looking to get more consistent and understand the actual process that happens to building a habit, not just writing it down, you end up giving yourself, one, a lot more grace because you understand what your mind actually goes through to actually get to the point of making a habit.
ANNE: You know, I feel like I just read that book when it was new. But it's been out since 2018. So you have a lot of colors in that book by now.
MATTIE: I do. I do. I think we're in like the fourth highlighter colored out. I just loved how much research he did, because I'm not a research kind of person in the sense where like... You know, I'm not really scientific. I'm definitely a creative. So I'm always fascinated when people can give me data and research behind something that seems so surface. And he actually went a lot deeper.
ANNE: So somebody who does the work and gives you the juiciest parts.
MATTIE: Exactly, exactly. So I loved it.
ANNE: Okay, I'm interested if this book has some characteristics that are typical of what you love to read. So it brought you understanding and clarity. It sounds like the content was familiar. Like, you know the things that he's talking about and yet the content surprised you the way he talked about it, the things he pointed out and told you you could try to do in your life. That this book made a real practical difference in your life and your business.
MATTIE: Yes. Here's what I liked about it. He essentially gives you this like... I don't know if it's like a framework, but basically like how you adopt new habits and a good way in four steps, right? I believe it's cue, craving, response, and reward.
It helped me process again the information he gave me. That's how I wrote my own book. I'm like, literally, you have... like, this is a framework. I usually give you an acronym or a little ration because we all tend to remember things if it's in a song, or if it spells out some kind of word or if it's alliterated in some way. I feel like those are ways we retain things.
And I liked that he gave us these four kind of steps and took us through essentially this habit-building process. So anytime somebody says, "Here's a framework," or "here's a process," or "here's an acronym or something like that," I'm going to remember it.
ANNE: Okay, awesome. That's helpful. Mattie, tell me about another book you really loved.
MATTIE: Okay. So the book that got my life together in 2020, which is when we all needed our life together-
ANNE: Okay, well. [CHUCKLES]
MATTIE: ...where it was like I need fixed 2020, is The Big Leap. I can't say enough good things about The Big Leap. I believe the author's Gay Hendricks. And it just blew my mind. It felt just like a really good thorough therapy session, if I'm being honest because he just talks about so much and asking yourself questions that require you to be really honest, and not just surface. I just show up to my life differently.
And I think I'm a fairly confident person. I don't think I'm somebody who's like count on my luck or anything like that. But I gotta say that definitely gave me a confidence boost because I just had a new level of self-awareness, which I think always serves us well.
It was really, really well done. He gets deep. He gets deep. He just really was great. And I feel like everybody who I've recommended it to and who has read it has been like, "Man, when you find your zone of genius..." It's a new level of freedom. I can't even explain it. And then your goal now is to, in any aspect in your life now, I try to operate in my zone of genius.
I think too many times we try to operate in these zones of competence. Like, I need to get better at something I'm not good at. I'm not great at certain things but it's just because I'm not supposed to be. You know, I'm not irresponsible or anything like that by not necessarily getting better in those. But I think what The Big Leap helped me understand is like whatever your zone of genius is, lean into that.
You know, if you're good at speaking, speak. If you have been trying to convince yourself that you're "only," and I use that with air quotes, you're only good at talking but you want to get better at writing or whatnot, it's like, let's start to ask ourselves some questions. Why do you want to get better at writing? Or if you're just good at talking, then talk your face off. Be good at that. That's what you were designed to do.
ANNE: Mattie it sounds also like you enjoy a book that really invites you, almost compels you to like wrestle with it and the material.
ANNE: Okay. Tell me about the final book that you loved.
MATTIE: This one is also the book that I just finished reading—the last book. I read What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz. Oh my gosh, just amazing. It's all about culture. Because culture is really important.
I think about culture as far as the culture of my home, culture within my friendships, culture within my company, culture within my marriage. There are so many great examples and stories.
I mean, we talked about everything from like... because this gentleman has had many companies, founded many companies, and sold them but he doesn't even just dig deep into his personal stories and experiences within business.
But he also breaks down these really fascinating stories even from Genghis Khan to... There's this other gentleman that he talks about who's just fascinating who like went to prison for a really violent crime but how he changed the prison system, just by creating a culture, for the better.
So like not only when he left did he do extremely well, he became a New York Times bestselling author—Oprah interviewed him—but all, all the men who were essentially in his gang, all went and did amazing things because of the culture that he created.
And I was so blown away by that, because I'm like, if you can create a culture that essentially makes people better, let's do that. But what you do is who you are, right? So I think a lot of times we have this idea of who we want to be or who we are but it's based off of not only the decisions that you make but the actions that you take.
And he talked about the difference between values and virtues. You know, values are kind of like these, I guess, ideals that we have while virtues are based on actions you actually take, not whether it's individually or collectively.
I was just so fascinated by how he broke down culture and how it works, whether it's in different industries or within your home, within a certain generation. It absolutely blew me away. It taught me so much that I want to apply immediately, that I have already started applying, funny enough.
I actually listened to it on Audible. I didn't read it physically. I read the other two books physically. But the person who read the book was not the author, but gosh she did such an incredible job getting the magic of the book across.
ANNE: And again, I'm noticing that you love a book that makes you think about all kinds of facets of your life. I especially appreciate... Thank you for mentioning that friendship, family, marriage, that those are all cultures.
ANNE: I mean, this book has the word "business" in the subtitle. And yet listeners, so often that is just for marketing and SEO. Like a great book has applications far beyond just one little corner of your life or the bookstore.
MATTIE: Absolutely. I agree with you 100%. You know, I believe two things. I think both if you are married, but your marriage and your family are one of the first businesses or organizations you'll ever be a part of, and arguably the most important, right? So to me, I always talk about... I talk about this in my book. I say, knowing how to handle home first before you handle business is perfect. If you can't handle home, you won't be able to handle business.
So even though I do like to read a lot of business books, professional development books, I also think about like building a culture in my home with my husband and our three children is the first priority. And then if I can carry on something that matters in my company, great.
But who cares if I can build a great culture in my company if I can't do it at home? At least that's how I think about it. Like, we just have to keep things in order because when things are out of order, they don't work, which is why when something doesn't work there's an "out of order" sign on it.
ANNE: And what you know and who you are, like you bring those things to your whole life, not just little buckets of it.
ANNE: Mattie, now tell me about a book that wasn't right for you.
MATTIE: You know, I really wanted to like this book. I really did because I think that the title is excellent, which is what drew me in, which is often what draws most of us in when it comes to a book if it's not solely the author, right? That book is How to Talk So People Will Listen by Steve Brown.
You know what it is? He just couldn't keep my attention. So I don't know, maybe this was a book, maybe I should have listened to because this was a book I physically read. And it took me so long. And to be honest, I didn't even finish it. I think I have one more chapter left. [CHUCKLES]
ANNE: Are you gonna read that last chapter?
MATTIE: I'm gonna read it to be completely fair, you know. But I mean, when I say I pushed through, I'm not even exaggerating. It was like a three-month ordeal. And I'm like, even in my busiest months, it doesn't take me three months to read a book. This was just almost shameful to some point.
I was just pushing through and it just felt like pulling teeth and I just, you know, hit... Maybe we just didn't have compatible tones or voices. And funny enough, for this book to be How to Talk So People Will Listen, he just did not keep my attention.
You know, there were a couple of good points here and there. I do remember highlighting them, I can't remember them off the top of my head. It just didn't work for me.
ANNE: I don't think you're losing sleep at night over this. [MATTIE CHUCKLES] But listeners there is no shame in that. No shame at all. But that does seem to highlight a mismatch between you and the book. And that's good to know.
MATTIE: I do have books that start out slow for me. This is the same book. It starts out pretty slow but then as it goes on, it gets better. You know, this book did not have that turnaround for me. There was no climax. It just did pretty... [LAUGHS] pretty much the same level the whole way for me.
ANNE: Mattie, what are you reading right now?
MATTIE: I just started I believe it's The High 5 Habit by Mel Robbins. I really like it. I'm just a couple of chapters in. I think right now, because I'm in a season of being a first time author, promoting my book and... When you do something for the first time, I think just because you're human, there's doubts, right? And this book is giving me permission to push through those doubts and really think of myself in a high way. It's really encouraging me.
I've known about Mel Robbins for a while, but I have never read any of her books. And I'm so glad that I started this one. It's like exactly the book I need for myself in this season.
ANNE: Take Control of Your Life with One Simple Habit. This is the subtitle. That already sounds like you, Mattie.
MATTIE: Yeah, no, it's totally my vibe. Mel is my girl. We're friends in my head [ANNE CHUCKLES] because I'm listening to it. So she has this way of being overwhelmingly affirming and positive without it feeling inauthentic. And I think that's really great. Because I think sometimes, especially nowadays, I think in just the climate of social media and entertainment as a whole, I think like, you know, if it's joyful and positive sometimes it can be kind of side-eyed in a way where it's like, Well, is this real? Is this authentic?
But I do think that you do need this unapologetic approach to affirming yourself and telling yourself that you're proud of yourself. I mentioned earlier that I spoke to my best friend, and I was telling her I was like, The rule I made for myself this week was I've got to be super deliberate with myself talk. I can hold myself accountable because it's important to take ownership whether you do something great or not so great. The ownership always needs to be there. But the self-talk has to be positive.
Like you don't get to berate yourself or criticize yourself to shreds to the point where you no longer have confidence to move forward on something. So I'm realizing with this book alone that the self-talk is so massive and that you know, something that we all have opportunities with.
ANNE: Mattie, what do you want to be different in your reading life right now?
MATTIE: I think I mentioned it earlier. I want to schedule more reading time, because whenever I schedule it, I read a lot more. I have made a list of what I want to read and I shared it on my blog. I probably have maybe touched five of those books. And I think there's like 30. So I want to get more consistent with it.
And I do want to welcome more audiobooks, which I definitely think I am being very deliberate with. I'm like, "I just want to read more. I love it. It makes me happy. And it's just something I haven't been deliberate about. So you know, starting this week, I've been much more deliberate, like, "Okay, I only have 15 minutes. But let me turn on that High 5 Habit."
And again, we underestimate 15 minutes and overestimate an hour all the time. So I just want to get better at even if it's just a slither of reading time, that slither matters. That slice of reading time is so great, and it brings me so much joy. And I think that's what I'm underestimating. I'm like, a little bit of joy is better than none just because you can't get an hour of it. I definitely want to be much more deliberate about that.
ANNE: How are you thinking about scheduling in that additional reading time? Do you have ideas you're tossing around?
MATTIE: Yeah. So kind of just making sure that once we establish like my weekly schedule... usually on Friday I look at that. And so just kind of looking at my schedule every Friday and then plugging in when I know I'm gonna have energy and attention to be able to plug those times in and doing that ahead of time. So once the week starts, instead of trying to do it day by day, or in real-time, which is actually super draining anytime I make those types of decisions in real-time, that I just look at my calendar, and it's like, "Okay, I have an interview at 12, but I don't have anything before that. So I can read, you know, from 9 to 10. Or I can read here or I can listen here."
And I think now that I'm saying it out loud, not only establishing physical reading, even scheduling, like, hey, when you have this free pocket after lunch, take 15 minutes, sit on the porch and just like listen to your audiobook for 15 minutes. So I am going to plug and play both physical reading time and audiobook reading time for sure.
ANNE: Mattie, I love... And I just want to highlight for our listeners. I think you're well aware that energy and attention are so important when it comes to thinking about... This isn't about matching you with the right book but matching you with the right moment to actually appreciate and enjoy the book share reading.
So, listeners, maybe that applies for you. Think about that as you schedule your reading time. And also making decisions in real-time is tough. And the way this comes up most often on the show is I talk about how it's so hard to be in a situation where you have time to read, but you don't have anything to read yet. So you have to make this big decision before you're able to get to the reading itself. And so I appreciate you highlighting how deciding when to read is what is often the obstacle for you.
MATTIE: You've kind of given me an idea now because I already have made my annual list. It's like maybe even starting to divvy that up by, you know, month or even quarter. Like we plan pretty far in advance with work. So I'll know likely what kind of mood I'm in or what I'll need to be focused on in a certain season.
ANNE: Okay, so Mattie, your homework is to put that on the calendar for next week. You know, we don't usually give homework but by golly, [MATTIE LAUGHS] today we are gonna start.
MATTIE: No, I'm taking that homework very seriously. I will definitely do that. I feel like I will text you or message you and say, "I've done my homework. I just wanted to make sure you know."
ANNE: You know, accountability is the closing magic chapter in James Clear's Atomic Habits. He would approve.
MATTIE: He would approve. Brother James, as I like to call him, he would approve.
ANNE: All right, I love it. Okay, Mattie, let's go back and look at your books. The books you loved were Atomic Habits by James Clear, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, and What You Do is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz. Not for you: How to Talk so People Will Listen by Steve Brown.
And you are on the hunt for personal and professional recommendations that bring you understanding and clarity, that deal with familiar topics, but in surprising ways, and that make a practical difference in your life.
ANNE: Okay. Also, I think we got to highlight that you really like books that make us think, that you engage with, that you wrestle with, that you ponder. That is good for you.
MATTIE: Yeah. No, it's exciting. So that's absolutely what I want to do.
ANNE: This book is squarely in your wheelhouse, so much so that I wonder if you have already read it. The book I'm thinking of is Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. It's by Oliver Burkeman.
MATTIE: Wait, hold on. I feel like I know this book. This might be in my Audible queue.
MATTIE: Hold on.
ANNE: I hope it is.
MATTIE: Oh my gosh, Oliver Burkeman. I'm like literally screenshotting it to you. I'm gonna text it to you because it's literally in there. And I was like, "I feel like this should be..." And I almost picked it. But I went with The High 5 Habit first. So I'm so glad to recommend it. I'm absolutely going to read it.
ANNE: Well, it's so nice to have a book on deck, because knowing you want to read more, what I've found in talking to so many readers about their reading lives, is that when you're excited about not just the book you're reading now, but also the book you're reading next, it gives you another reason to pick up a book and read because you know that not only is there a good thing happening in the minutes immediately before you but once you get through it, there's something great on the other side as well.
MATTIE: Yes, yes. Okay, I'm so glad we had this book on the list. So glad.
ANNE: This is the premise. Life is short, each of us on average is alive for only 4,000 weeks. And I have to say that is not math I ever did. I didn't understand the title at first. I had to do a little calculating. So he says that it's impossible to accomplish and experience everything we want to. But instead of this being a cause for despair, and "Oh, no, what do we do?" he says it's actually really freeing because it gives us this built-in framework to decide what is actually worth our time.
Something I liked about this is even though he has a lot of very clear and orderly ideas, he also shares openly in ways that really resonated with me as a reader, thoughts about how we're all just winging it all the time. And if we serialize our tasks and plan to spend less time on the things that don't merit it, because we put systems into our life, we free up time for the things that do matter most. It sounds like your jam.
MATTIE: Yeah. I mean, everything that you just said, it sounds like me. So I'm so excited. I'm just thinking about the possibilities. I'm like, will I start reading that now because that's so exciting. Because I do read more than one book at once.
ANNE: I got another one for you. It's by Amy Morin. It's called 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do. This has a heck of a long subtitle. I'm gonna read it to you. Own Your Power, Channel Your Confidence, and Find Your Authentic Voice for a Life of Meaning and Joy.
You mentioned that you were competitive. I know you're organized, you like things to be structured. And I think the very straightforward format of this book will be really appealing to you. I think it will also compel you to pick it up because it's divided into 13 neat little chapters. So you can just sit down and knock out the chapter on perfection.
But here's some of the things mentally strong women don't do. They don't compare themselves to others. They don't let self-doubt stop them from reaching their goals. They don't avoid tough challenges. They don't overthink everything. They don't fear breaking the rules. I had to read that chapter maybe five times.
MATTIE: Oh, yeah.
ANNE: Oh, this daughter, good girl right here.
MATTIE: Oh my gosh, that's why we connect, Anne. I'm like, "I'm an oldest sister." I'm just like, I can't get out of the people-pleasing thing.
ANNE: Our whole team is oldest daughters. It makes us darn good at what we do, and also we've got issues. [MATTIE LAUGHS] This book will help. Not that I'm saying you have issues, Mattie. [MATTIE LAUGHS]
MATTIE: Oh my gosh, it's so funny.
ANNE: Those are squarely in the beaten path. So now we're gonna go off it and I'm gonna give you a bonus because Four Thousand Weeks is already queued up on Audible. That doesn't count. Have you read anything by Atul Gawande?
MATTIE: Okay, no, I haven't.
ANNE: The book I have in mind for you is called The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, which is really compact. This is just a six hour listen at regular speed if you choose to do this in audio. I love this book.
I bought this when I was at my local bookstore on impulse because I've been meaning to reread it for a while because I loved it that much. I thought, "Oh, this is so good, so useful, so meaningful," and I couldn't absorb a third of what I needed to take away from it on the first read. And it's one that definitely bears re-reading.
Let me start by saying this title both makes sense and is also incredibly boring. [MATTIE LAUGHS] That matters. It matters. Like part of our job here is to help you overcome the misconceptions that can come with inhospitable title or a cover that just makes you go, "No."
MATTIE: Right. Right. Right.
ANNE: So I picked this up because a friend said, "No, this book is amazing. You need to just read it anyway. Forget what you said." But it's brief and engaging. And it's not like, "You know what you need? You need to write down your three most important priorities. So you do the..." No, it's not that at all.
This is about how to successfully live and work in a world that's becoming increasingly, sometimes devastatingly complex. He starts by saying, we both know too much and too little. We have so many resources at our fingertips and we are drowning in them. So this book is about what to do.
He's a surgeon by nature. So his examples are drawn often, though not always, from really high pressure, high stakes businesses or organizations. Because as a surgeon, he talks about people coming into the ER with devastating wounds and their medical care being really screwed up because a very simple question wasn't asked. So they couldn't figure out how to treat the patient.
He talks a lot about flight crews and what happens in the air. I almost feel like I should give a content warning for this because I'm a nervous flier. But like if something is going wrong on an airplane, like you have to think on your feet and figure it out on the fly.
And I said think on your feet because I just finished Ann Hood's memoir, Fly Girl. But no, no, no, what he's saying is, it's incredibly hard to think on your feet. You need detailed checklists that will see you through times when it is crucial you not screw up a single tiny little thing and yet you're in the worst possible circumstances to be at your best.
So he draws all these fascinating examples from medicine and aviation, but also more like mundane like construction, and explains why systems are amazing, why they are still vulnerable to us screwing things up, because we are human, and what we should do about it.
And I think this might be both fascinating and also come at things in a way that gets you thinking about your work and your life in a way that you didn't before.
MATTIE: Yeah, I'm into this. I love that he's a surgeon.
ANNE: So we're gonna slide in one more book. I have recommended this so, so often to friends of mine who run businesses and or run their organizations, but also who run book clubs at their library, or who are on a committee at church or something like that.
You said that you chose books that you brought today, it's the books you love that are adamant recommendations for you. And this is one of mine. I'm not saying we have similar tastes. I'm just saying. Although I think we do in some ways.
MATTIE: We do.
ANNE: I'm just saying I love this book. So I have in mind The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. I read this book with a specific purpose in mind, and it's going to sound so boring. And maybe it is but the book is not.
I asked a handful of friends to share tips for running better work meetings in my organization. Like that's what I had in mind. How do I bring people together in person and on Zoom, how our team usually meets, and have it be really productive and feel good and work well towards our culture and get done what we need to get done? Just an absolutely uncanny number recommended this book-
ANNE: ...which is not at all what I expected. I would have expected the book I was looking for on running better meetings to be called something like How to Run Better Meetings, and then subtitle. [MATTIE LAUGHS] And that's not what it is.
So something I really liked in this book is how Priya Parker has so much respect for the deep significance of bringing people together, both because the purpose matters and people are coming together. And she talks about these little design choices, just tiny things that organizer can make that can really make or break the experience of coming together.
And she does talk about things like work meetings, but she's also talking about huge, amazing dinners that people travel all over the world to come to. And she has this one story called “never start a funeral with logistics”, where she describes basically how a really potentially meaning, laden moments, you know, a time of like reverence and anticipation and expectation was totally blown when they started by saying, "Yeah, somebody left their lights on." She's like, "No, no, no, no, let's talk about how to do things differently."
So she looks at why some gatherings work and why others really don't. What I really love about an author like her and a book like this is you think that running your business meeting isn't anything like a funeral, but that there are four takeaways in that story that you could apply. It matters when you're gathering your family for dinner or a special event or when you're getting together with friends for girls night. Like she talks about the little design choices that make a big difference.
MATTIE: That's so good. I am into it. I'm getting all three.
ANNE: I am thrilled to hear it. I can't wait to hear what you think. Mattie, before we find out what you think you'll read next. I'd love to hear more about what you've been writing lately. You announced not too long ago that you have your own nonfiction book coming out soon. I'd love to hear more about that and for you to share that with our listeners.
MATTIE: So yeah, I wrote my very first book, which I'm so excited about which as an avid reader, I both overthought it. But then at the same time, I think throughout like that second draft, I kind of just released myself and wrote the book that I was supposed to write. It's called Everyday Magic. And the subtitle is The Joy of Not Being Everything and Still Being More Than Enough.
This book is about joy and the simplicity of everyday things. I just don't want people's joy to be exclusive to a birthday or when they travel. Because I think joy is, I guess, sort of unpopular nowadays. I just feel like everything we talk about becomes deep or if we talk about trauma or anything like that. And I understand that those things exist, that it's important to be deep sometimes and there are some, you know, horrible and traumatic things that are going on in the world. But I did want to shift our focus. And I hope that this book does that. You deserve a good life.
ANNE: I can imagine readers reading this book in the morning to set their theme for the day. And readers, Everyday Magic is set to release later this month on August 23. Preorder it now wherever you buy your new books.
Mattie, now it's time to hear what you think. Of the books we talked about today, Four thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do by Amy Morin, The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, and finally The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, what do you think you'll read next?
MATTIE: It's a tie between 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do and The Art of Gathering.
ANNE: That's not what I thought you were gonna say. I am here for being surprised. I like that.
MATTIE: Did you think I was gonna say The Checklist Manifesto?
ANNE: No, I thought you were gonna say Oliver Burkeman because it's in your app.
MATTIE: Oh, yes, it is in my app. But two things. I tend to gravitate towards male authors a lot is I want to read books by women a lot more. Also, those two things really matter to me. Like being mentally strong matters to me and bringing people together matters to me. These two books speak to that specifically and they are by authors who are women. And so I'm gonna gravitate towards those two first.
ANNE: I love it. And I love your reasons.
MATTIE: I can't tell you how excited I am. You know, when you hook your friend up with like... you're like, "Okay, you know, I know they're looking for this kind of person," and they go out on this blind date with the person you suggested and it's a hit. That's kind of how I feel like these books. It's like these are book dates you're putting me on and I'm really excited to date them. Like I'm very excited. So thanks so much for having me.
ANNE: It's my pleasure. Thanks for letting me be a matchmaker today. [MATTIE LAUGHS]
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Mattie. I'd love to hear what you think she should read next. Let us know what Instagram @Whatshouldireadnext or leave a comment on the show notes page at Whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/342.
Learn more about Mattie's work at mattiejames.com, including those details on her new book Everyday Magic: The Joy of Not Being Everything and Still Being More Than Enough. That comes out August 23rd.
Grab a link to her book and all the books we talked about today in our show notes. Those are at Whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/342.
You should know Mattie is one of my favorite Instagram follows. Connect with her there @Mattiejames. And if you're on Instagram, find the show @Whatshouldireadnext, and I'm there @annebogel.
Get weekly updates on the show right in your inbox with our newsletter. Sign up at Whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter.
Follow us on your favorite podcast app so you'll be sure to catch next week's episode where I'll be talking with a reader who has a secret love for a genre we don't talk about a whole lot around here on the show.
Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with production assistance by Holly Wielkoszewski, and sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that's it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, "Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading." Happy reading, everyone!
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Books Mentioned in This Episode:
• Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
• Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel
❤ Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
❤ The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks
❤ What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz
▵ How to Talk So People Will Listen by Steve Brown
• The High 5 Habit: Take Control of Your Life with One Simple Habit by Mel Robbins
• Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
• 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin
• The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
• The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker
• Everyday Magic: The Joy of Not Being Everything and Still Being More Than Enough by Mattie James