A Remedy for “Safetyism”

The Coddling of the American Mind book cover

Like many, I have become more and more frustrated with the lack of civility in political discourse. I remember when we could disagree with someone’s politics without considering them a monster. We all largely saw the same problems. We just disagreed with how we should go about solving them collectively. That no longer seems to be the case. When I went looking for an explanation and (hopefully) a remedy for this, I came across the book The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. I was thoroughly impressed with the authors’ thinking, research, and conclusions.

They came to write this book after wondering what had changed in American universities around 2013 that resulted in so many calls for “safe spaces” and violent protests against speakers that students disagreed with. The core of the book is what the authors call the three great untruths:

  1. The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker
  2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings
  3. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People

After describing these untruths and their causes, the authors then go on to show some of the results of this erroneous thinking. These include intimidation and violence as well as witch hunts.

In the meat of the book, the authors outline their analysis for how we got here and then follow it up with how we address and correct for the state our youth and universities are in. I found myself nodding along with their descriptions of the problem and hopeful that their solutions can lead to an improved community in the nation, not just at colleges and universities. This is an important book for our time that all citizens should take the time to read.

Only Meh

The Bookshop of Yesterdays book cover

On my recent vacation, we started listening to a second audio book on our drive home. We only got about a third of the way through by the time we got home. When I asked my partner if she wanted to continue to listen to it, she declined. I should have trusted her judgment.

The book was The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson. The story is about a woman whose uncle dies. She returns from Philadelphia to her where she grew up in LA. Once there she discovers that her uncle has left her a sort of treasure hunt. He had done this many times when she was a girl. She struggles with each step of the hunt to uncover the mystery of who her uncle was and how that relates to her.

The book wasn’t bad. It was just “meh”. And with so many good books out there to read, quitting this one would have been justified. But there was just enough there to keep me going to the end. My partner and I figured out the main twist while we were on our way home in the first third of the book. The literary references and anchoring the story on a bookstore were really what drew me in and kept me going. I found the characters a bit simplistic and not very relatable. So, again, not a bad book. There are just a lot of better ones out there. Read those.

Stick With the Original

Turn the Ship Around! Workbook book cover

After I read Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet, I told my boss about it and suggested that we read it as a team. He loved the idea and asked me to lead it. In my preparations to do that, I came across a workbook that was published to go along with the book. It’s called The Turn the Ship Around! Workbook. I bought it to help me prepare for our meetings. I recently finished. I don’t recommend it.

It covers the same material as the book it is based on, even following the same chapter format. It includes some additional content which is valuable, but the book is largely repetitive. The questions at the end of each chapter in the workbook are the same as in the book.

While I did bookmark a few of the exercises as valuable, they weren’t enough to justify the cost of the workbook. I would recommend simply sticking with the source book itself. It has plenty of powerhouse ideas to discuss and implement.

Masterful Storytelling

The Time Traveler's Wife book review

Not long ago I was surfing through HBO Max looking for something to watch. One of the series it suggested for me was The Time Traveler’s Wife. It looked very interesting to me, so I added it to my list. But I knew this was a book before it became a TV series. As I generally prefer to read the book first, I held off from starting the series.

The Time Traveler’s Wife was a book that I had heard of before. I’d even thought about reading it a few times. The idea of a man who travels involuntarily through time married to a woman who meets him first as a child was mildly interesting to me, but I never got around to reading it. When I asked my partner if she had read it, she had and liked it. She is tough on books; they have to be very good for her to like them more than “meh”. So I decided to read this one. All I can say is WOW!

This is one of my favorite books that I have ever read. I am at a complete loss to how it could even have been written. The author switches between the perspectives of the husband and the wife. The husband jumps around in time so he meets his future wife when he is around forty and she is seven. In chronological time, they don’t meet until he is twenty-eight and she is twenty. So the first time he meets her (chronologically), she knows him but he has never seen her before. And the author does this so easily, keeping the reader connected with the characters and the story the whole time. So beautifully written with such a challenging format to storytelling.

And the book covers the themes of human life — sex, love, illness, children, relationships, jealousy. Each of these themes is addressed in the course of the events of the story. No heavy-handedness. It all feels so natural and real despite the science fiction aspect of the time travel. The reality of the story and its emotions touched me deeply. I laughed out loud, and I cried. I was almost sorry to get to the end of it. And now, I can’t wait to watch the TV series!

Sanity in the Workplace

It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work book cover

A lot has changed about our work spaces since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020. Before this, very few companies considered allowing any portion of their employees to work from home. Then we were all forced to figure out how to do so if it was at all possible. Now, as the pandemic starts to wane, businesses are trying to figure out how to manage with the new expectation of working from home.

Just as the pandemic has challenged employers to revisit their attitudes toward their employees working from home, so have the authors of It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work challenged traditional views of how companies should be run. Their company (Basecamp) is 100% remote and has been since it started. And in this book the authors outline many other aspects of how they run their successful company (it has been profitable from day one).

In short essays, they talk about how they run their business. Here is a sample of some of the subjects covered.

  • Paying for their employees’ vacations
  • Limiting work to only 40 hours a week (32 hours in the summer months)
  • Paying everyone in the same job the same salary
  • Doing less but doing it better

The writing in the book is straightforward, funny, and approachable. But perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is that they state right up front that they developed these ideas as they went. That some things that worked when they were a small company of only three people didn’t work when they were a company of fifty people. I find it refreshing—that kind of perspective and willingness to change policy and procedure.

So while not all of the ideas in this book may appeal to you or your company, the thinking behind these ideas is worth you time to contemplate and consider.

A Guide for Going Agile

Doing Agile Right book cover

My company is in the midst of an agile transformation. We’ve pretty much got it working at the tactical level, but we are struggling a bit at the strategic level. We are getting there, but progress is slow. So I went looking for a book to educate myself with the goal of being more of an asset during this transition. What I found was Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos by Darrell Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez—and it was a good find.

I love that it starts out by showing how agile really works and how agile is scaled across a large enterprise before moving on to the details of agile transformations. Along the way the authors ask questions, never making any assumptions. For instance, they ask, “How agile do you want to be?”, pointing out that agile is definitely not the solution to every business problem.

My favorite chapters were chapters four and five about leadership and planning respectively. Leadership must buy in and, more importantly, model agile principles. Furthermore, they must be practiced in the finance process – planning and budgeting. Every chapter ends with a summary of five key takeaways.

Perhaps most importantly, the foundation for the book is the case studies throughout it that are the basis for the thoughts and conclusions expressed. I took a lot of notes reading this book, and I am looking forward to putting the principles I learned into practice.

Modern Short Stories

Tenth of December book cover

I’ve had Tenth of December by George Saunders on my “to be read” pile for a while now. I am also a free subscriber to Story Club with George Saunders. But when I learned that one of the stories from Tenth of December would be the basis for a new Netflix movie (Spiderhead), I finally picked up the book and read it.

The book is a collection of ten short stories of various lengths. The writing is crisp. The stories are engaging. This is not unexpected since Saunders teaches in the MFA program at Syracuse University. Not all of the stories were to my liking, though I had three favorites. These were “Escape from Spiderhead”, “Exhortation”, and “Tenth of December”.

The first of these is the basis for the Netflix movie. The story is about a prison where psychological experiments are performed on “volunteers” using drugs. The main theme is self-determination. The second is in the form of a corporate memo. It is both disturbing and humorous while also feeling uncofortably on the nose. And my final favorite was the story of how two lives cross — a young, socially awkward boy with a vivid imagination and a terminal old man determined not to be a burden on his family. Whether you are a fan of short stories or are new to the art form, this is an excellent book to pick up and read.

Just Read It!

The Anomaly book cover

I subscribe to the blog posts of the author Ozan Varol. He is the author of Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life. But this post is not about that book. Each month, Ozan shares with his readers what he has read, watched, and explored that month. One catch. He doesn’t share much about the plots of the movies and books he recommends. He doesn’t like to know much of anything before watching or reading.

In May, he recommended a book that I finished reading recently. It’s called The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier. Here is how he described it on his blog post. “Unputdownable thriller that I finished in 3 days. The less you know about it, the better. If you’re in the mood for a good summer page-turner, do yourself a favor and grab a copy.” That’s it. It was enough to make me borrow it from my library and read it.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I think I enjoyed it better for not knowing much about it before reading it. So I am not going to say much more than that. The characters are three-dimensional and feel like real people. I think that is what keeps the reader turning pages. So if you feel drawn to this book even a little, don’t seek out any more information on it. Just get a copy and start reading!

A Road Trip Audiobook

The Cousins book cover

My partner and I recently took a vacation. We drove from our home in western North Carolina to the Florida panhandle for a week on the beach relaxing. We are both big readers, so on long car trips we borrow audiobooks from the library to listen to while we drive. On this last trip, we listened to The Cousins by Karen M. McManus.

This book is in the young adult (YA) genre. My partner and I both enjoy these books. Many popular and best-selling books are also YA, such as the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games trilogy. This is a stand alone book about three cousins who are invited to work at their grandmother’s resort. Doesn’t sound like much of a story. The twist is that the grandmother disowned the cousins’ parents twenty years ago via a mysterious letter from her lawyer. None of the kids is much interested in going, but their parents make them hoping to get back in the good graces (and the will) of the grandmother.

As you would expect, there are many interesting turns in the story. The characters are well-developed and likeable. There is growth and change for the adults as well as the kids. Each of the cousins was read by a different actor in the audiobook, and the reading/acting was very well done. We really enjoyed listening to this book, and whether you read or listen I encourage you to give it a try.

Overrated Bestseller

Gone Girl book cover

Gone Girl was a publishing success when it came out in 2012. A decade later, I finally got around to reading it. I’m not sure what all the fuss was about. The writing is excellent and the plot twists are many. But I simply cannot get around how completely and utterly unlikable the main characters are.

The plot centers around a missing wife and the question of whether or not her husband is responsible. He is less than an ideal spouse. He is a little pathetic but, for the first half of the book, fairly relatable. As the novel continues more and more of his character is revealed until I no longer liked him.

The wife is almost irredeemable from the beginning. She also seems a little relatable at the start, but even then I found her needy and unlikable. In the second half of the book, I found her completely off the deep end, but I expect that is part of the point.

In the end, I didn’t like either character very much. If this book had not been so well-liked, I may not have even finished it. However, I did want to see what all the fuss was about. Despite the excellent writing and plot twists, I can only rate it a three out of five due to the completely unlikable characters.