Reading Revolution

To me there is no better way to relax than to curl up with a good book. As a child I’d read anything – even a milk carton – I was that thrilled with my new found reading skills. I still think strong reading skills are important for a person to develop good analytical skills and personal empathy. But not everyone has the time and I suspect more people spend time reading their phones than reading a book.

I resisted having a kindle for a long time because I love the experience of reading a physical book, but the kindle has some advantages: I can carry a few hundred books in the space of one physical novel, there is a fair bit of free content out there (thank you Gutenberg), and I can read Dutch books with the help of a convenient online dictionary. The big downside for me is I can’t share or pass on books, yes Amazon makes it technically possible but most publishers don’t allow it. For a while it seemed that e-readers would spell the end of physical books but there seems to have been a turnaround, with the sales of ebooks dropping, as the sales of physical books rises.

I don’t think people are necessarily reading less, but they might be reading differently, here are some developments in reading formats.

Serial Box

An old idea repackaged for today’s technology. Episodes of a series are released each week and you can switch between reading text or listening to audio without losing your place in the story. Some content is existing books repackaged, but the Serial Box is heading into creating original content, the first episode is free to whet your appetite, and a few classic books are issued as a free series – I’ve started with The Woman in White as a trial. You can hear more on a recent Recode Decode podcast.

Sleep Stories

If you’ve ever thought “just one more chapter” and then woken up at 2am with arm cramp and the light on this might be for you. Each Sleep Story is constructed with enough drama to keep you focused on the story but not so much that you’ll stay awake. The readers are chosen for their soothing voices, it’s a joy, even the three minute explanation on the site had me drifting off.

As a free alternative, try listening to a podcast in a language you don’t speak. I find Welsh very pleasing and restful.

Audio books

One advantage of reading is you can’t do anything else except read. If that sounds like a disadvantage for you then audiobooks are the answer. There are a range of services out there, mostly subscription based. I admit I don’t go in for audio books as I tend to loose focus and have to replay whole chapters. I have the same problem with podcasts longer than 30 minutes. But a friend who does really long travel, like 8 hours of driving, for her job finds them brilliant. In a way this is also an old idea upgraded with technology, books were serialised on the radio, this is just radio on demand.

Whatever technology we’re using, we still are looking for good stories.

Image via pixabay 

New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I’ve made three. It’s been a couple of tough years filled with change and I finally feel more settled with a company I respect and a comfortable home, so it’s time to challenge myself again! Here are my three challenges for this year.

1 Say Yes To Scary Stuff

Seek out and say yes to opportunities to speak at conferences or write for professional sites. I always get a lot out of doing this, and saying yes to one often leads to more opportunities. I’ve connected with a group of friends and we’re going to encourage and mentor each other to step up and take these opportunities.

2 Be More Creative

My job and my hobbies lead me to spend a lot of time staring at screens, and I want to have more fun and be more creative.

I want to get back to crafting, when I’m not looking at a screen I like knitting, sewing and fabric art. I want to complete at least four craft projects this year. One is something for a friend’s baby, that shouldn’t take long!

I’ve started a new Instagram account called 101 Good Things, where I make very bad drawings of things that make me happy. It’s a nice combination of making me notice the happy moments and have some fun trying to draw it. I am really bad at drawing hands, there may be improvement over the year.  Not sure whether I’ll stop when I get to 101.

Back in 2010 I reviewed Caffeine for the Creative Mind but rediscovered while unpacking, it’s 250 exercises to help you be more creative. I’m going to test the exercises and see what works. I may even post some of them here.

3 Read More Books from More Diverse Writers

I didn’t read enough last year, and I missed it. This year I want to read more, and from more diverse writers. A friend of mine posted this list, from R. O. Kwon, and I’ve added about 10 books from it to my wish list. I received an amazon voucher for Christmas but it’s not going to cover it!

  • by a writer who identifies as LGBTQI
  • a classic (not a re-read)
  • a poetry anthology
  • a Booker or Pulitzer prize-winning writer
  • by a writer from Africa
  • by a writer from China
  • by a writer from another Asian country
  • by a writer from a country I haven’t visited

I’ve started Middlemarch, so that’s the classic covered, I’ll take recommendations for the other options.

 

Let’s see how well I do – I’ll review at the beginning of December.

Reviewing the Book Reviews


Over the last 10 years I’ve reviewed thirty books for this blog, all the reviews have been positive, because if I don’t find a book interesting or valuable I don’t finish it, let alone review it.

Here’s my review of the reviews. Very meta.

The first book I reviewed was The Cult of the Amateur, by Andrew Keen. I characterised it then as “an anti Web 2.0 rant.” Oh boy. At the time I was more optimistic about what we now call social media, but now I think I should have paid more attention to Mr. Keen. He was more right than I realised and the issues he identified still aren’t resolved.

The two books I recommend most often are Don’t Me Think, by Steve Krug which I didn’t review, and The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander which I did.  The first is a speed guide to the principles of building good digital properties – it started out as an internet guide but the principles can be used for more than that. I think I’ve given away at least a dozen copies over the years, I’m not even sure whether I currently own a copy!

The second, the Art of Possibility,  is my favourite leadership book of all time, it’s a book leading to reflection on your own personal leadership style and how you can lead in a way that is honest and encouraging. It’s a delight to read, and almost 10 years after I first read the book I dip into it for inspiration.

Two books that made me think about how we work are A Year Without Pants, by Scott Berkun, and Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution, by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. Both examine how we work today and it’s evolution from industrial era principles. In my current job I am the only person from my team, or even my department in the office I usually work in, so the ideas in this book about work, results, and communication are once again useful.

A final favourite, and not just for the great title Weird Ideas that Work, by Robert I. Sutton, the weird ideas are for building innovative and creative teams, which is relevant for part of my work. I had accidentally figured out some of his ideas before I read the book but use them even more now. It also helped me look at conflict – when it’s about the work – in a more constructive way instead of wanting to calm it (natural peace-maker reaction). An added reason to like this book, when I reviewed it Mr. Sutton was kind enough to thank me via twitter.

 

Reading books is one of my favourite things to do, here’s to another 10 years of reading, learning and thinking!

 

Great Summer Reading List 2017

Hurrah for summer! You’ll pack up your swimsuit, sunblock and sunglasses but what will you take to read? Here are my picks.

Leadership

(1) Weird Ideas that Work, I love the title, and I’m enjoying the combination of counter-intuitive ideas that turn out to be practical.  One chapter is devoted to “find some happy people and get them to fight”, which sounds like a recipe for disaster but it’s about building creative conflict – which is positive and useful. (This is not a new book, and the edition I have has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. )

Sustainability

(2) The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, is a frightening look at the real changes happening in our environment, from a fungus that is killing off frogs, to a decline in bat numbers, and our warming oceans. You can whet your appetite with an article in the New Yorker from the writer.

Business

(3) Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, explores just how well Google knows us, and is written by an ex-GooglerSeth Stephens-Davidowitz. While we might post a lot to social media we post the good news, the real story of our lives is revealed in our searches.

(4) Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, looks at why one artist (Monet) becomes famous, and another (Caillebotte) didn’t. Apparently luck has something to do with it.

(5) The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change, Bharat Anand examines the different strategic approaches taken by publishers in the digital world. 

Biography

(6) Not exactly a biography, but certainly a hero’s tale The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts , by Joshua Hammer, tells the story of smuggling ancient books and texts out of Timbuktu after the Al Qaeda took control.  I haven’t read it yet but the National Geographic article about it makes me hope someone’s bought the movie rights and plans to star Mahershala Ali.

(7) Part memoir, part self-help guide; I am looking forward to Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. She is someone to admire, who has managed to not only be her own person but to put roles on screen that reflect ourselves.

(8) One of my favourite reads in the last year was Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble which tells the harrowing story of Dan Lyons’ year in a startup in an amusing way while explaining what might be wrong with the startup and VC ecosystem.  

Personal Effectiveness

(9) Insight by Tasha Eurich, a psychologist, who looks at whether we’re self-aware or deluding ourselves, and what we can do about it. Sounds interesting in a slightly scary way.

Fiction

Summer should be all about the serious things so here’s a fiction option to consider;

(10) I am so happy that Arundhati Roy has returned to writing with the The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and I can’t wait to read it.

Don’t like my recommendations? Try Bill Gates’s.

Image: Summer Read  |  LWYang  |  CC BY 2.0