Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Some advice, taken, on reading for the new year

I enjoy keeping up with Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday) and his thoughts, and subjects like stoicism and reading. In a recent Medium post, A reading list for becoming a better citizen and person, he had one bit of advice near the end that really caught my attention.

But if I had one final recommendation for reading this year, it would be this: Pick three or four books you’ve already read, that had a big impact on you, and read them again.
In my case, it was an easy choice, as I had already just purchased this classic: Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore (@geoffreyamoore). I will have comments in the coming days or weeks, but so far so good. This classic, originally published in the 80s, was revised five years ago, and the reading has been great, as I have really just begun, with lots of fun to follow!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When asked "what it's about", Anna Quindlen writes in the forward to the 75th anniversary edition, "The best anyone can say is that it is a story about what it means to be human." I've given many a five-star rating to books over the recent years - often figuring they had to be a five-star book for me to hang in there and finish them - but this one rises far, far above most of those other five-stars. I had heard of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" for many years, and fortunate enough to have received it as a gift this past holiday season, I dove in and had a hard time stopping, through its nearly 500 pages. Through laughs, tears, and more than a few pauses to look up words or cultural references from 100 years ago, I have never enjoyed a book more than this one. It is hardly a surprise that it found a place on the recent "PBS Great American Read Top 100" list.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review: Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World by Noah Strycker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great book - combining my interests in birding and travel, and bringing to life the author's year-long effort to see half the world's bird species (or more). The fact that Noah Strycker hails from Western Oregon doesn't hurt either, and his connections with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are great for me, too. Here's a brief passage that mentions both, as well as leading to the trade-off between his objectives and those of the typical birder: "After leaving home in Oregon, not to return until this year was over, I’d landed in Ithaca to meet Tim Lenz, a full-time programmer for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, eBird, which I was using to track my sightings for the year. Tim spends his free time birding his brains out and knew where to find the species I sought in New York, partly because he’d catalogued them all in eBird. He was wiry, precise, and about the same age as me. The two of us were near Cayuga Lake, looking for common birds such as Upland Sandpipers and American Black Ducks, when Tim received a WhatsApp message on his phone. 'Wow,' he said, suddenly at full attention. 'It looks like someone just reported a Brown Pelican flying over the lake. That’s, like, the first inland record for New York! We’ve got to go see that bird!'"

I was taking my time with this book for awhile, a "slow read" that is so interesting and well-written that it was not a book I wanted to zoom through. But after returning the borrowed hardcover, and buying my own ebook version, it was time to make some time. Here's another example to end with, this time of his advice from near the end of the book that I just love: "Know that the world is much friendlier than it often seems, and don’t be paranoid. Eat the street food—it’s tasty, cheap, and healthy—and talk with the vendors. If a problem can be resolved for $20, spend it and move on."

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Review: This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See

This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See by Seth Godin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book had so much potential! It showed up on Amazon Charts out of the blue, as a nonfiction "most sold", and I bought it immediately. I began reading intensively soon after purchase, but about halfway through, I bogged down. And being honest with myself, although I have tried reading other books by Seth Godin, and remember being entranced by some of their ideas and examples, I eventually stop reading. Until "This is Marketing", I don't think I have ever finished one, even though his books are typically really small.

So what did I like this time? First and foremost, I was intrigued by Godin's idea of engendering "tension" in potential customers, the emotion they feel when the product or service you are offering, and the way it is communicated, leads to people who are no longer at ease with what they currently have. Godin recognizes, as he should, that there is a real, legitimate unmet need being filled, but it is his customer-eye view and the idea of growing tension, expressing it very well and in a unique way, at least for me.

Least? I realized about two-thirds of the way through that Godin insists, much of the time, on using a "second-person" voice that gets very annoying. I realize this point-of-view analysis (first, second, and third person) belongs more to the realm of fiction, but he pounds hard on the "you must do this" and "you have to do that" style, and it got very old to me. Yes, I am seeking a certain level of advice here, but treating me and other readers as helpless until now and his imparting of tremendous wisdom in commend form is naive. (I just noticed - he uses "You" twice in the book's subtitle.)

Another strong dislike? His choice of the NRA as a wonderful example of marketing excellence is ill-advised and not valid. This is one readers will have to stick around until near the end to find, so my guess is not that many will!

BTW the book has never appeared again on the most-sold Amazon Charts list, and I don't expect it to appear on the most-read list.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Review: All for Nothing

All for Nothing All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to The New Yorker's James Wood and his article, "Four Books That Deserved More Attention in 2018", I picked up this historical novel via Kindle, and never looked back. It paints a picture of 1945 Prussia and an aristocratic German family making it through World War II with relative little struggle, other than having their patriarch off serving the nation in a kushy administrative job in Italy. As we are introduced to the family members and their immediate circle, we also meet travelers and others who stop by their estate. Each portrait is fascinating, and as the war's final chapters close in, we are drawn into increasing turmoil and decision-making. The stories are compelling and I learned a great deal from reading this novel.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable "slow read" for me, as it touched on so many areas I find myself interested in these days. Of course, there is the bird angle - as a lover of all things avian, it is disturbing but necessary to understand the history of the slaughter of so many beautiful birds resulting from the demand based on frivolous human wishes, whether it be collecting or millinery. The fact that in this day the demand for exotic bird feathers exists, from of all places fishing-fly enthusiasts, provides the backdrop for this enthralling true-life crime tale. The author takes us back to help us understand the competitive battle between Wallace and Darwin, back in the mid-1800s. These are just a few of the interesting subjects covered by Kirk Johnson in The Feather Thief. One of the book's blurbs suggested parallels with The Orchid Thief, a book I also loved, but I wouldn't look for too many similarities, as this book stands on its own unique elements.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Review: The Library Book

The Library Book The Library Book by Susan Orlean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Skillfully and even artfully written, very informative and at times poignant, I loved The Library Book. The future of the library is on display, and living in a community where we are debating a new library, this is a very timely book. Over the past few years I have been a much more active user of our libraries, both in person and online, and as a result Orlean's stories are all that much more meaningful. I loved The Orchid Thief, and The Library Book did not disappoint.

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