Connecting Through Books

The Reading List book cover

Recently I’ve been interested in books about books, bookstores, libraries, writing, stories, etc. One of these is a debut novel by Sara Nishi Adams called The Reading List originally published in August of last year. A list of books gets passed around in the Wembley section of London. One of the recipients of this list is Aleisha, a seventeen-year-old reluctantly working at the local library for the summer. An older gentleman named Mukesh come into the library looking for advice on what to read. Thus begins the primary relationship of the book.

The story is as much about the neighborhood and its Indian residents as it is about the people and the books. My one complaint about the story is that it refers to a lot of Indian words, foods, and experiences that are not well-defined or explained in the text. I would like to have better understood what these were. That said, anyone familiar with Indian cuisine and Hindu living will feel right at home.

The story follows the two main characters at they read and discuss the list of books. This may not sound very interesting, but both people learn lessons from each book that they can use in their lives. It is a book about relating to others through the shared experience of reading, and it is beautiful! I highly encourage everyone to read it.

In case you were wondering, here is the reading list itself. How many of these have you read? It won’t matter if you have read them or not when you read this book. The author does a marvelous job of sharing what one learns from reading these books without spoiling any of them. And if you have read them, you will get even more out of the story.

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Rebecca
  • The Kite Runner
  • Life of Pi
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Little Women
  • Beloved
  • A Suitable Boy

An Alarming “What If?”

Upgrade book cover

I have read two of Blake Crouch’s previous novels–Dark Matter and Recursion. I thoroughly enjoyed those, so when Upgrade was released on July 12, I snapped up a copy. While I have to admit that I enjoyed his previous novels more, the subject matter here is closer to reality and thus more alarming.

Upgrade is about bio-engineering, or more accurately, bio-hacking. The main character has his DNA altered in a way that pushes his capabilities beyond those of any other human while making him so different that he questions his future ability to engage with the rest of humanity. In this way, the novel has a passing resemblance to Shelley’s Frankenstein. But rather than embrace this change, he fights against those who changed him against his will.

Before I started reading this novel, I also started reading Walter Isaacson’s The Code Breaker about the development of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. In addition to the history, that book goes into the debate around the ethics of how far the human race should go in directing its own evolution. This novel is the “what if” version of someone taking it upon themselves to actually do this.

In the future of this book, gene editing is illegal and the main character works for the agency that polices such illegal activity. His mother caused a global famine through genetic engineering that resulted in it being outlawed. He deals with guilt from that as well as other family dynamics that surface later in the story. There is also the philosophical dilemma of whether it is right to sacrifice some innocent lives to save an entire species. But mostly, the novel is a thriller of the near future.

While the book succeeds quite well as a thriller that explores contemporary themes in a world that feels very close at hand, it somehow still left me wanting more. Maybe his other books spoiled me for this one by lifting my expectations. Regardless, it is still a top notch novel of speculative fiction by one of the world’s best.

Language and Process for the Modern Workplace

Leadership Is Language book cover

I read Leadership Is Language by L. David Marquet after reading Turn the Ship Around! by the same author. This book is an elaboration of the method he shares in that previous book.

In this newest book, he shows the need for combining both focused work and strategic planning across organizations. In our industrial past, these tasks were separated by role. Blue collar workers got the work done that the white collar workers planned. In our information age world this no longer makes sense.

The author calls focused work redwork and planning work bluework. Then he advocates a cycle of bluework-redwork-bluework where everyone on the team engages in both kinds of work. This matches well how agile software development works, so it really resonated with me.

Throughout the book he gives both good and bad examples of putting this into practice. In addition, it lays out a framework for moving from the old language of the industrial age to this method that works better in a world where we all need to be involved with both planning and executing. I look forward to using this process to help my team both plan and work better.

Sci Fi Satire

Made for Love book cover

Like my previous post about The Time Traveler’s Wife, I decided to read Made for Love by Alissa Nutting after learning that it was a new series on HBO Max. Made for Love is a science fiction satire about a woman who is running away from her tech billionaire husband because he wants to test his latest product on her. The story gets weird when she ends up at her father’s house only to discover that he is sharing his home with a lifelike sex doll. And then is becomes absurd. A secondary character is a con man who suddenly finds himself no longer sexually attracted to the beautiful women he scams. His new objects of carnal passion? Dolphins.

I have to admit, I almost didn’t finish this book. Numerous times. I decided to finish it because I was interested in learning how the core story came out. It is the kind of science fiction that I like. What happens when a tech genius pushes things a bit too far and a regular citizen decides not to go along? I was mostly satisfied with that story line and the way in plays out. Unfortunately, I had to wade through the nonsense of the rest of the book to get there.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is entirely well-written. I am sure that fans of absurdist fiction as well as those who appreciate the take-down of overly serious science fiction will greatly appreciate the parts of the book that I didn’t much care for. For me they felt overly forced without adding all that much to what the book says. In the end, it felt like a book that was trying to do two very different things at the same time but only succeeded mildly at both.

I have yet to watch the HBO Max series of Made for Love. I am hoping that I like it better than the book. Since my post about The Time Traveler’s Wife I have watched all the episodes available. I really loved it! I think that book is very difficult to make into a series. They found a way to tell the story and convey the feeling in this very different medium. I highly recommend it!

A Librarian’s Life

Librarian Tales book cover

I found my latest read via Book Bub. It is a service you can sign up for that will send you weekly emails for ebook deals under three dollars in whatever categories you choose. It is here that I found Librarian Tales by William Ottens.

As a boy, I loved the librarians in my elementary school. They helped stoke my early love for reading. At the time, I wanted to become a librarian when I grew up. By the time I remembered that dream in adulthood, I was deep in another career and didn’t feel the timing or money was right to switch. But this book about the experiences of the author as a librarian relit that fire, so I bought and read the book.

It starts by briefly telling the author’s story of his getting his degree in library science and the library jobs he had. Then follows his particular experience in the different roles he held in those libraries. Throughout the book, he shares the experiences of other librarians who follow his blog and social media accounts.

The book is a quick read. I read it in a single day. I have to admit that I expected more out of the book than I got from it. However, I did enjoy the book. I couldn’t put it down. I just wanted to keep reading. But I suspect unless you are a book nerd like me, you might not enjoy it as much.

Women Are Not Flawed Versions of Men

Come As You Are book cover

I heard Emily Nagoski, author of Come As Your Are, interviewed on a podcast recently. She was very articulate and down-to-earth. I liked that what she said was grounded in science, so I decided to read her book. This book is for women and focuses on women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure. That said, not only should every young woman read it but so should every young man. It dispels all kinds of wrongheaded ideas of how sex works for women.

There are a few ideas that the author literally goes over again and again in the hopes that they will stick. One of these is that all genitals have the same parts organized in different ways. Because of this, unless you are experiencing pain, your genitals, while unique, are normal and beautiful just the way they are.

Another concept she shares is that of nonconcordance. Just because your body is reacting sexually does not mean that you are turned on. Also, you may be turned on while your body is not reacting sexually. Again, this is normal.

The last idea I want to share is that women have a sexual accelerator and a sexual brake. These are separate and have separate sensitivities. All combinations are normal. The trick is to understand your own and how to work with them.

The book is filled with a lot of other useful information as well as worksheets to help you. While this book is about sex, its focus is that you are normal and helping you learn to be comfortable in your own skin and with your own pleasure.

Excellent Storytelling in Speculative Fiction

Uncanny Magazine Issue 47 cover

I’ve been a subscriber to Uncanny magazine for a little over a year now. I just finished reading issue 47, the July/August 2022 issue. It is the best issue since I started subscribing. Here are my favorite stories from the issue.

Every issue of this magazine uses speculative fiction to address the very human issues of today. Sometimes the stories are challenging and emotional. Sometimes they are just a romp. And more often than you might think, they are both. Each issue is reading. Consider supporting these writers by subscribing.

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.