3 July 2013 1 Comment

What I Read in June 2013

Accidental Genius, by Mark Levy (Paperback)

Accidental GeniusI often feel like I should write something. Unfortunately, I usually have no idea what I should write about, so I’m forced to devise stall tactics. In this case, what could be a more clever way to avoid writing than by reading a book on writing?

Accidental Genius is not actually a book about writing. It teaches you how to utilize writing to download information from your brain. Much in the same way that mind mapping can be a powerful way to generate ideas, the methods of free writing taught in this book can help you be more creative, more focused, and more productive. The book is an easy ready and you’ll learn techniques you can put into practice immediately.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Audio)

QuietI’m clearly an introvert. Not the “awkward-social-skills” type of introvert; rather, the “needs-solitude-and-reflection-to-recharge” type. My first impression when seeing this book was that it would be a whining session, how introverts are great but end up getting the short end of the stick.

I wasn’t even close.

Quiet outlines, in a very engaging manner, what exactly makes a person an introvert. I’m not talking (just) about characteristics and attributes, but the actual physiology behind introversion. If you’ve ever wondered what makes an introvert tick, or why some people can seem completely extroverted on a stage in front of 300 people yet seem awkward in small-group settings, this book is for you. I’d also highly recommend this book if you regularly interact with introverts (even if you yourself are one), and especially if you’re an extrovert with children who are introverts.

The Son, Philipp Meyer (Audio)

The SonThe article Philipp Meyer: An Obsessed Novelist’s Extreme Research in the Wall Street Journal (behind pay wall) piqued my interest in The Son.

It didn’t disappoint.

The story was gripping and the amount of detail provided was staggering. Just when it felt like things were slowing down, elements of the story started to come together like a vortex picking up speed. It was a full 20 minutes after I finished the last chapter before one of the clever elements of the plot occurred to me. I suspect I missed some, and am tempted to read the book again.

I listened to this audio version of this book. The multiple voice actors were outstanding. In fact, I generally listen to audio books with a 1.5 to 3.0 times speed-up. But these voice actors were so particularly outstanding that I listened to the entire book at normal speed.

A note of caution: This book can be very raw at times. You can read some of the reviews at Amazon.com to see others’ take on this.

1 June 2013 0 Comments

What I Read in May 2013

Dad Is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan (Audio)

Dad is FatJim Gaffigan has been my favorite comedian for a number of years now. I was introduced to him via his “Bacon” routine, and have been hooked ever since. If you have Netflix, I recommend you watch his specials, Beyond the Pale, King Baby, and Mr. Universe (which has the “Whale” routine!). He’s “family friendly” – I put that in quotes because he’s on the record as saying he hates that label – and our entire family laughs at his routines no matter how many times we see them.

Dad Is Fat is Jim Gaffigan’s first book, which I listened to on audio. It adds significantly to the experience having Jim do the narration. I don’t think Dad is Fat is on par with his stand-up routines in terms of humor, but I’m not sure that is what he is going for. While the book does contains a lot of humor, it also convers some topics that are clear annoyances to Jim (e.g., “Are you guys done yet?”) and aren’t necessarily intended to be funny.

I do recommend the book, although I should mention he is unfortunately slightly less “family friendly” than when he is on stage. It’s certainly not excessive by any means; but, it is a bit unexpected (and unnecessary) when, for example, he calls his critics “dicks”.

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson (Audio)

The Psychopath TestI’m a Platinum subscriber at Audible.com. That means once a year I get a new infusion of audiobook credits to use. There’s only so many credits you can roll over to a new year, so at times I find myself using a number of credits to buy books which I don’t get to right away.

The Psychopath Test is one of those books that I downloaded some time ago but never listen to. If I remember correctly, I may have downloaded it thinking it might give me some insight to a particular individual I used to work with.

Once I finally got around to listening to it, I found it much more enjoyable than I had anticipated. The author – Jon Ronson – does a fantastic job introducing concepts and causing his readers to think through numerous narratives. (Jon Ronson also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, which I haven’t read. I wouldn’t have known this, except for the fact that Ronson mentions it a couple times in The Psychopath Test.)

Often with audiobooks, I’ll just listen when it’s convenient. With The Psychopath Test, I found myself going out of my way to find extra listening time. I highly recommend the book, and guarantee it will give you some things to think about.

Learning Python: Powerful Object-Oriented Programming, by Mark Lutz (Kindle)

Learning PythonI got this book because, well, I need to learn Python. There are a number of ways one can learn Python, e.g., free online tutorials, coding challenges, online courses, etc. Because of the large number of options, it’s sometimes difficult to know how to start. I don’t consider this book the best way to get started. It definitely won’t get you started quickly. But once you do get started, and want to better understand how and why this programming language works, Learning Python is an excellent resource. The key to making this book useful, is to know when to slow down and really understand what’s being presented, and went to take a step back and skim through the material.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, by David Foster Wallace (Audio)

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do AgainThe only reason I ever heard of David Foster Wallace was because a token online writing test that supposedly matched your writing style to another famous author’s. I was matched with David Foster Wallace. That is both flattering while at the same time somewhat troubling, since David Foster Wallace is obviously brilliant, but his writing style can sometimes be annoying, pretentious, and hard to follow.

Fortunately, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again didn’t exhibit those flaws. It’s a collection of essays that were published previously and includes topics such as visiting a state fair, tennis, and writing about a cruise ship vacation. Personally, most of the book was less than engaging. But the final essay, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, which is evidently one of his most famous essays, is worth the price of the entire book.

If I were a brilliant writer, I could articulate the reasons why this essay is so enjoyable. I’m not going to be able to do it justice. Part of it has to do with his ability to observe and describe what most of us miss. More importantly, David Foster Wallace has this incredible ability to explore thoughts, ideas, and concepts that you probably had at one point, but never quite pulled out of your sub-conscience. I’ve personally been on exactly one cruise, and his essay captured so many of the fleeting thoughts I tucked away without much consideration.

Fortunately, you can get this essay alone in Kindle format for a mere $1.99. I don’t think you can go wrong. I should say though, that I did listen to the audio version of this. And some of the reviewers on Amazon.com have mentioned a number of typos and the challenge of getting through all the footnotes in the Kindle edition. But, for two bucks, it’s worth the excursion.

Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton (Kindle)

Happy MoneyThis is not a book I’d typically purchase and read. Earlier this year I was taking a Coursera.org online class by Dan Ariely, the author of The Upside of Irrationality (and other books). In one of the email updates from the class this book was given a shout out and I pre-ordered it.

Anyone who’s somewhat familiar with behavioral economics won’t come away with any earth shattering revelations. But it’s a nice summary of all of the research around spending and happiness. It’s an easy read, and one that I can recommend if you feel there some opportunity these areas in your life.

When I get a spare moment, I’ll write up the key points.

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