2017 Reading Roundup #16-20

Originals | Adam Grant

Originals  I generally steer clear of anything like self-help books, but after being exposed to some of the ideas in Originals via podcasts and articles, I decided to give it a go. The reason I dislike self-help books is two fold, 1) it’s typically decent advice that doesn’t merit a whole book and thus becomes self-parody partway through 2) they never acknowledge how much of success is related to factors outside of the reader’s control, because if the reader doesn’t believe this one easy trick will fix their life, they won’t feel good and people won’t buy the book. So what I respect about Originals is that it acknowledges the limitations of making assertions without data, so even when points are supported anecdotally, they’re fairly presented. Secondly, Grant acknowledges the messiness and uncertainty around the issues about which he is writing. He clearly states that women and people of color are at a disadvantage when trying to make changes in a system when they see flaws, etc. Moreover, not one aspect of the bookfeels like obvious advice. Sometimes, human nature works in counterintuitive ways, which means working with people/organizations involves counterintuitive strategies. This was at the core of what I got out of the book about non-conformity: it was reassuring that my unusual ways of dealing with decision making, creativity, human relationships, etc, are often advantageous without my knowing it. I of course learned a lot of ways to improve as well, but as someone who always felt reaching her goals would involve changing a lot about herself, I found myself relieved by almost every chapter. A

By Nightfall | Michael Cunningham

By Nightfall This book is a paint-by-numbers piece of literary fiction by a male author with one twist. It’s about an older man in an artistic field coming to grips with his mortality, whose relationship with his wife is stale, whose daughter in oh-so-incomprehensible and angry with him, etc, etc. Themes include: is he unambitious to be satisfied with only moderate success? Art and death, how about that? Beauty, man, it sure is compelling. So naturally the next thing to happen is that he becomes infatuated with someone young and flighty and brilliant and beautiful, but tragically destined to burn bright and die young. The twist: the gorgeous thing is a young man! His junkie brother-in-law, who he smooches a couple of times. At the end we learn that he has literally no clue about his wife’s inner life because she says she wants to leave him and he cannot fathom that she was also unhappy in their marriage. It’s like someone cobbled together a book out of male novelist tropes from The Toast. C+

The Art of War | Sun Tzu

art of war I read this book so I could say I had, and that’s more or less all I got out of it. And some laughs, I suppose. If I’m being respectful, I acknowledge that it is a treasured part of Chinese history, and understand how almost spiritually important it is to them as a culture. But it is baffling to me that people read this in business school and the like. Right now there are hundreds of MBAs out there with a bunch of random trivia knocking around their brains about how to conduct a land war on ancient Chinese terrain. Which I suppose is kind of surreally funny, but hardly seems worth it. Every lesson contradicts some other and the majority of the book is a) be competent, b) don’t be incompetent, c) simply never get in a situation where you’re at a disadvantage or likely to lose, and if you are, see a) and b). It was interesting to note which points the author tried to fuse the idea of The Path with his tactics, and where he just went with ruthlessness and “all’s fair in love and war”. It’s telling how spiritual purity sneaks into justification for war since forever. F

The Likeness | Tana French

The Likeness Again, I’m totally beguiled by Tana French’s writing. I cannot even fully explain what wraps me up in these mysteries so deeply now that I’m on the other side. The plot of this one is that a detective bears an uncanny resemblance to a corpse and goes under cover as the murder victim to figure out who killed her. The emotional dynamic between the main character and the murder victims close friend circle is tense and interesting, even though I had a hard time believing the premise could realistically be pulled off. The book is haunting and creepy while being very grounded in the world of the Dublin murder squad. Despite its one plot flaw, I am definitely committed to reading the rest of Tana French’s series, and looking forward to getting lost in the delicious writing. B+

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem | Jillian Lauren

Some Girl I figured given how much sex workers tend to serve as props in film and tv, that it would be a good idea to read some work by someone who had actually lived that experience. It helped that the story also involved politics, intrigue, and the Sultan of Brunei. I really appreciated the humor and candid language, especially given the author’s journey after she left Brunei for the last time. I can’t say the perspective or insights were especially enlightening, but they were entertaining and I did feel I got to know the heart and mind of someone who I wouldn’t ordinarily get to hear from. B

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