It's been a while since I've read a current novel. I picked up Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould (which came out last month) after reading about it in an article in The New Yorker.
It's unlike me to try a new book that I haven't heard much about yet but I was in the mood for a breezy novel and this looked like it fit the bill.
I enjoyed Gould's writing as well as the storyline. I quickly got wrapped up in the story and its characters and devoured this book in a few days. The writing was fast paced and to the point but had a nice flair to it and didn't shy away from the deep and profound. The characters and the story really stuck with me, like watching a good TV mini series. I wish I could read more of this and stay with the characters a bit longer.
After I read Leadership in Turbulent Times I was interested in reading about some of U.S. history after Franklin Roosevelt, so picked up Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World by William Lee Miller.
This was well written and an interesting look at both the positive and the faults of two presidents, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. I appreciated how Miller dissected many events and aspects of these two men, provided various viewpoints and didn't just glorify each of them but dove into the negative and gave some counterarguments.
The two were born six years apart and Eisenhower followed Truman in office. They were the first presidents faced with the power of nuclear weapons. Miller dove into topics such as bombs, wars, racism and assessed the success of each of these two-term presidencies.
Before reading this I didn't know much about these two presidents, so I learned a lot and liked how Miller not only made the text easy to read, but also broke down the topics so that you got a full 360 view. Some parts were hard for me to get through since I don't read a lot of history, but I'm glad I made it through this one.
I just finished Mike McHargue's latest book You're A Miracle (And A Pain In The Ass). I learned about Mike McHargue, or Science Mike, from Pete Holme's podcast. The only reason I grabbed this quick read was because I was interested in learning more about Science Mike. For some reason, his troubled past intrigues me. I also like his style and how he breaks down complex subjects into digestible chunks that actually make sense.
This book was part memoir, part science in layman's terms, part self-help book. The book had some good nuggets in it and McHargue used his own story to help get to the core of what he was trying to say. I'm probably not the core audience for this book, but because I know who McHargue is I was interested and read the whole thing and mostly enjoyed it. Throughout the book I sometimes felt a little disconnected with the main point McHargue was trying to make (or was it that he wasn't trying to make a specific point at all?)
There were some interesting scientific studies and data in here, that help to comprehend why we do the things we do and how we can move toward self acceptance and positive change.
Ryan Holiday suggested Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin as a timely read during this pandemic. It was interesting to read about the leadership of past presidents during unprecedented times. Goodwin was also able to put together a historical book that was actually interesting to read (dare I say gripping) and relatively easy to get through.
Goodwin examined the early years, rise to presidency and the exercise of leadership of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
I really enjoyed learning more about how these presidents handled some dire situations in America's past. For Lincoln it was the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation; Teddy Roosevelt and the Coal Strike of 1902; Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression; and Johnson and the Civil Rights Movement, specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights act of 1965.
Goodwin combines biographical details with historical context and adds in keen insights about leadership throughout the book. I thought it was interesting how she included President Johnson in the book. She explicitly pointed out how Johnson's time in office and as a leader was overshadowed by the catastrophe that was the Vietnam War and the mistakes that were made by the President and administration. However, she feels as though his work on pushing through the Civil and Voting Rights acts was worth detailing, as without Johnson's political, persuasion and leadership skills, Civil Rights legislation might have remained stuck in Congress for many more years.
It was also interesting reading about the years leading up to Johnson's death in the epilogue, part of which she spent by Johnson's side.
This really was an amazing book about history, what true leadership can look like, overcoming adversity, and how America has survived some of its hardest times.
I picked up Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, another book I thought was a timely read while spending more time at home (and being tempted to check my phone a million times a day, getting stuck in an endless Facebook loop, reading news and posts about Coronavirus that were only giving me anxiety).
In this book, Cal lays out a proposition, based on a philosophy that seeks to reexamine the role technology plays in our life: take a complete break from your digital world (outside of the necessities and work of course) for 30 days. Then, slowly reintroduce devices and apps back into your life in an effort to be intentional about how you spend your time in front of phones, screens and social media.
I didn't cut out digital for 30 days, but seeing as I already consider myself to lean toward the minimalist end of the digital spectrum anyways, while reading the book I took about a week to stop using social media and set a schedule to check my email and texts during the day. Cal laid out a good vision with some good research behind it that reminded me that we can and should be intentional about using our phones and other digital apps, especially now that we have the ability to carry supercomputers in our pockets everywhere we go.
Cal's philosophy might sound extreme and anti-technology to some, but it's not. The goal isn't to reject the age of the internet, but rather reject the way we currently engage with these tools. It takes effort to control our digital lives so that we can reach our potential and use technology to actually make our lives better. Instead of being owned by our technology, Cal urges us to decide for ourselves what tools we want to use, for what reasons and under what conditions.
This was a short and good read and I think an important one for anyone serious about personal and career growth and development.
I read The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger and really liked it. It was interesting to read this in the midst of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), it sure helped put things into perspective a little.
This is Eger's story of her survival of Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. It's more than just a memoir though. She not only tells her own story, she uses it to reveal how everyone can find inner strength and meaning in their life.
I'm so thankful that Eger wrote this story. This is going to sound selfish, but I was a little worried about reading a book about the Holocaust and it being too hard for me to read or making me feel too depressed about the human race. I'm all for learning from the past and reading the hard things, but I wasn't sure I wanted to be weeping alone in my room, stuck in my house in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. But Eger surprised me. I was so sucked into her story, her ability to overcome challenges unknown to most and her ability to continue to help people after her losing her childhood to the war. It was an inspiring read.
Wow I loved Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, it was super interesting. I've read Gladwell's books before and this is his best, in my opinion.
Gladwell opens the book with the Sandra Bland case, the black woman who got pulled over in Texas for not using her turn signal, the conversation got heated and Bland ended up arrested and in jail. She committed suicide in jail three days later.
Gladwell demands more answers and a closer look at what's really going on with this case and the many others where we've failed in conversations with strangers. Gladwell claims that we just don't know how to talk to and perceive strangers. And it's not just the average Joe - it's celebrated CIA officials, seasoned judges and officers.
Gladwell brings up many other high profile cases such as the Sandusky trial, Amanda Knox, the Brock Turner case and Neville Chamberlain's conversations with Hitler right before WWII, all in an attempt to figure out why we can't be successful in encounters with strangers.
It was all super interesting to me and well researched. What I didn't get from this book was an applicable takeaway - like how do we take this information and make positive change? How do we stop the Black Lives Matters movement from ever needing to happen? How do we help our judges and police force make better decisions? How do we stop rape and sexual misconduct from happening on college campuses? But I'm not sure that's why Gladwell wrote this book (although I think some people might think so).
Gladwell was to come to the conclusion that there have been many mistakes along the way - how good we think we are at figuring out if someone is "good" or "bad", the systems we have developed, and the data we've used for things like police training. Unfortunately because of this, everyone is losing. And don't expect there to be a solution for any of this at the end of the book, but Gladwell urges us to accept our limits (as people) to decipher strangers.
If nothing else, this book will make you think differently about how you perceive others, but also how you perceive yourself as you perceive others. Don't expect Gladwell to solve the world's problems, but I still think this is an important piece of work because it's showing some of our natural blind spots, and that's never a bad thing.
I read Ask The Dust by John Fante because it's Ryan Holiday's favorite novel. The book was published in 1939 and is about Arturo Bandini, a young writer in the 1930's trying to survive in Los Angeles.
I still haven't decided if I loved this book or not. Although I don't finish books that I don't want to read, so that's saying something. Fante's writing caught me immediately, it was different than what I'm used to reading and sort of had me captivated as I quickly read each paragraph to find out what happened next.
Bandini is completely self obsessed, almost ironically crazy. His insights into the other characters in the book are often humorous. I read the book wondering what Fante might have been saying about mental illness. He was able to write about a delusional, neurotic man rather beautifully. I read somewhere that the Bandini character is John Fante's alter-ego.
I've been trying to read older novels - novels that have stood the test of time or are liked by the good writers of today. This one is still relevant today and also an interesting peek into LA in the 30's.
All That You Leave Behind is a memoir by documentary filmmaker Erin Lee Carr, daughter of the late New York Times columnist David Carr. This is a raw, well written memoir that starts with David Carr's untimely death and somersaults into a story about grief, alcoholism, drugs and the often dysfunctional but intensely loving relationship between Erin and her dad.
I couldn't put this one down. It reminded me of how I felt when I read Educated.
My brain wanted this to end differently - I wanted Erin to dive further into some of the questions she had about her life and how her relationship with her father was dysfunctional. Many reviews tout all the great advice David Carr gave to Erin and how they want to give the same advice to their own kids, but I was more interested in the too-close relationship and how that affected both Erin and David. But this was her story to tell, not my interpretation of it, and it was still a book I really enjoyed reading. I'll probably now read David Carr's memoir The Night of the Gun.
I enjoyed reading Range by David Epstein. It was filled with interesting research and stories, all lending itself to the idea that early and intense specialization is not always a good thing.
This is a must read for parents, coaches, soon to be or recent college grads and anyone in the world of business or sports. Epstein gives a well supported case for breadth of activities and not being afraid of getting a late start. This means no need to force your kid into one sport at age 4 so he/she doesn't fall behind, it means college students don't have to know exactly what they want to do and will actually be of more value to the world if they get a variety of experiences and take detours, and it means generalists can be more innovative in a particular field than those who have specialized solely in said field.
Experiment, take detours, learn from a variety of sources, don't aim for efficiency perfect focus all the time. This is a breath of fresh air from Epstein in an ever more specialized and focused world.
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