Reading

I’m spending more time on reading, so I decided to spend more time on thinking about reading. I used to be a person that read a whole book, long after I decided I hated it. That meant suffering through as well as slowing down. I listened to Earning Your Stripes: My Conversation with Patrick Collison [The Knowledge Project #32] late last year and it turned my thinking on this upside down.

I think reading should be treated as an active process. You should skim, you should skip, you should backtrack. You should discard and return. You are not subject to the book, you should not be a passive consumer. The book is there for you, you bought it. It’s yours. […] Use it. - ~77m

If my life expectency holds out and I keep reading about 15 books a year, I only have 480 left. I should be reading the best book for me right now.

2019

GOAL: 15 BOOKS

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Why I grabbed it: The Incomparable | Genre: Science Fiction | Recommended: Yes

I heard of this book through the Incomparable and it came with glowing reviews. It pulled me in immediately with the premise, time period, and point of view character.

At first I enjoyed Elma and her perspective, the pacing of the books main conflict was spot on. I loved her relationship with her husband and how capable she was. About half way through the book though, Elma’s primary struggle with anxiety started to get old. By the end of the book I was glad to see the resolution, but I was happy to stop reading. I realize this feeling partially comes from Elma’s own struggles and the author’s skill got it across well. However, I do think it came at the cost of the narrative. This book was well written, but I won’t be reading the sequel.

Hansons First Marathon: Step Up to 26.2 the Hansons Way by Humphrey Luke

Why I grabbed it: Marathon Training | Genre: Sports | Recommended: Tentative yes

This year I decided to run my first marathon. I’ve been running regularly for a couple years now and have run two half marathons. Still, to prepare I went out and picked up this book. My wife teased me that only I would get a book to learn to run. I chose this one because it gave a range of plans, along with the rational behind how it works. Additionally, the way the plan is arranged the longest training run is 16 miles. As a parent and full time employee it helps to have some time boxes. This book armed me with knowledge and I plan on referring to it as I train. It also scared me into acknowledging how much time and work will go into this effort. I’ll try to come back to the review to update my experience.

The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky

Why I grabbed it: Looked lovely on the shelf and the introduction was great | Genre: Leadership | Recommended: No

The Messy Middle caught my eye in the bookstore. The introduction is compelling, the middle of running a company is an exercise is enduring and optimizing. I’m living that right now, so I was intrigued. Unfortunately, I didn’t read more of the book before I bought it. Each section has a common topic and the sections are composed of 2 to 3 page essays. It’s effectively like reading a series of blog posts and I hate the format. That said, there were gems throughout. I particularly liked his perspective on organizations and process. There was just too much down time and filler. The author does recommend not reading it through but instead skimming over it and dipping in as topics are relevant to you. Here are a few bits that stuck in my mind.

Process is the excretion of misalignment (pg 153):

Process is how we force alignment when it doesn’t happen naturally. […] Here are some principles to insider as you thoughtfully apply process:

  1. Install process for your team, not for you
  2. Spend more time achieving alignment than imposing process
  3. Audit your processes frequently and always try to cut them down

My definition had always been, it’s how you bring performance to a baseline. It how you make new or inexperienced employees stronger. They caveat is that It does pull everyone to the middle. I prefer his definition.

Tackle organizational debt” (pg 178):

When you’re unsure about something, whether it be an email or a comment made in a meeting, act on it or ask about it. Stud that sits idle, misunderstood by you and likely others as well, plagues progress. Handle something once, not many times.

This.

Don’t give those resistant to change false hope (pg 206):

Hesitation breeds incrementalism - the tendency to make changes too muted, too slowly, and too late.

This is a way to die by a thousand paper cuts. By hesitating, you sacrifice alignment. Without alignment everyone isn’t pulling in the same direction. You waste time, energy, and enthusiasm.

Empathy and humility before passion (pg 248):

The consequence of starting a project out of sheer passion is making decisions without considering those you’re serving. Empathy for the user with the problem must precede the solution. […] When pursuing a new idea or solution to a problem, run it through three filters:

  1. Empathy with a Need and Frustration
  2. Humility with the Market
  3. Passion for the Solution

This resonated with my, but as someone who’s only worked at startups, it felt to me like criteria for wanting to join one. If you don’t care about why you’re solving the problem your enthusiasm will melt away when things get hard.

Measure each feature by its own measure (pg 269):

As you measure your products success, determine what every feature is intended to achieve and measure it accordingly. […] But be sure to define the purpose of every feature in your product before determining its fate. Is it to strengthen engagement, appease a very small set of important customers, or get new customers in the door?

It’s easy to fall in love with features or justify them after they are written. You should know the yardstick you’re using for success though or you’ll never stand a chance at objectively understanding if you are succeeding.

At the end of the day I can’t recommend that folks pick up this book. I think that time may be better spent on other things.

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper

Why I grabbed it: Library | Genre: YA Fantasy | Recommended: Yes

I got all 5 books as a set from the scholastic book order form in elementary school. I remember because my mom never let me do that. Somehow though, despite getting through the Narnia books, Tolkien, and countless others, I never finished this series. I adored The Dark is Rising’ as a kid and when I came across these books at the library, decided it was time to find out. I started over from the beginning and found to my surprise that Over Sea, Under Stone’ was my favorite in the series. The Drew children were more interesting that Will by far. The long and the short is, the series was good, it’s young adult fantasy, and it’s not dystopian. The ending is strong and I look forward to reading these with my little ones.

Educated by Tara Westover

Why I grabbed it: Obama | Genre: Autobiography | Recommended: Yes

Educated came up on the best books of 2018. I think after I saw it on Obama’s list I added it to good reads and placed a hold at the library. Fast forward 6 months and it shows up in my kindle. Initially, I was a little soured on the rags to riches’ summary but I started in right away as it was a decent sized book and I only had 3 weeks to finish it. The first chapter hooked me. Although there are many stories of a kind, medical accidents, ranting religious father, crazy dangerous work, and abusive family members, I found myself drawn in. At times, it’s a bit like watching a slow motion car accident. I found about halfway through, the perspective of Tara changed. She went from being a somewhat objective viewer of her past to being the main character. The situations were closer to home and she had less objective perspective on what was happening. For the last third of the book I had a knot in my stomach. I’m not sure I enjoyed the story, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the point. The memoir itself was striking and is firmly lodged in my mind. The writing though. The writing is excellent. Tara is clear, descriptive, wistful, and engaging. It’s worth the time to read it.