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02:55 pm: (long-overdue (again)) books
OK, I’m still working on that summary of Willpower that I promised. Let’s put it this way: my write-up is 2 pages long and I'm less than a third of the way through summarizing.

So here are some other things I’ve read recently...

Michaelle Au’s This Won’t Hurt a Bit (and other white lies) is a solid memoir from a woman who went through medical school/internship/residency and motherhood simultaneously. It’s often amusing, occasionally poignant, and well worth a read. Especially at a discount. It might be a bit lightweight to pay full price for the hardbound.

The only reason I got more than halfway* through Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants is that I participated in a Google circle with Kelly and felt obliged. I did not like this book. It’s far too dense – each chapter could have been a full book on its own – and far too speculative (I spent a lot of time saying “oh really?” with raised eyebrows). But I suppose Kelly sorta specializes in that, so Kelly fans will likely relish this book as well. For me, the premise of anthropomorphizing technology was just... too much of a stretch.

My boss, whom I respect enormously, recommended Landau and White’s What They Don’t Teach You at Film School as an excellent book on management. She said I’d understand when I read it.

I’m not sure I do understand entirely, but I did find the book informative. It’s a series of short lessons on making films, many of which are indeed applicable in other sorts of management – like the quick rejection being more humane than drawing it out, or knowing what you want before you ask for it. Certainly worth a read.

Beryl Markham’s West with the Night is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. It’s old school, of course – not one of the new blogger-goes-full-length types (some of which I quite like). Markham had a fascinating life as a pilot in Africa in the 1930s. Ernest Hemingway wrote “she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.” I happen to quite like Hemingway, but even those who don’t will likely agree that he does prefer a plot that moves along. Great stuff here.

Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide annoyed me, and I’m still not entirely sure why. I love stuff about neuroscience and I especially love it when it’s explained in clear but not condescending layman’s terms. I might’ve been irked because it references a lot of studies I’d already read about elsewhere, so it didn’t feel particularly new. I know I was peeved at the misrepresentation of at least one study. I don’t remember the details, but it was one described in great detail in Willpower. Lehrer drew the opposite conclusion as Baumeister and Tierney, which is certainly his right. However, he neglects to include a key piece of information (he implies that students knew something that they most emphatically did not know, so his conclusion that that information played a part in their decisions is illogical). I’m partway through Klein’s Sources of Power (also about decision making) and like it better so far. More on that one later.

I picked up two Debbie Macomber books (4 stories), both of which sucked. The only reason I finished them is because, er... why was that? Because I started them, I guess. Implausible, yet extraordinarily boring, plots. Stupid characters. No sex. Ugh.

Nora RobertsThe Next Always is the first in a new trilogy, which looks to be pretty good. It’s got a bit of a male slant (by which I mean a lot of cussing and frustration expressed by male characters about how inexplicable women are). The renovation of the Inn Boonsboro is quite silly and involves decoration that I believe I would find completely unappealing, but the characters are fun and the plot is amusing. I wouldn’t pay full price, but I’ll happily buy the next two at a discount.

I bought Manuel J. Smith’s When I Say No, I Feel Guilty (along with Ury, below) to prep for a session I was doing with my department on how to say no (we have trouble saying no at my company). I wish I’d noticed that it was written in 1975. It’s waaaay out of date, to say the least. I believe it’s based in part on Werner Erhard’s EST crap (or at least it certainly has that feel), which just goes to show that academia can be just as trendy as anything else.

It does have dialogues showing people asserting themselves in various ways and situations, some of which are actually helpful and most of which are highly amusing (“I think we should go to a nudist colony to spice up our sex life” takes on whole new dimensions when it’s part of a process of endlessly repeating yourself).

William Ury's The Power of a Positive No was a quick, easy read, and quite useful. He's an anthropologist by training and therefore perhaps not accountable for citing old psychological theories (suppressing feelings is bad bad bad! let them hang out!). This book is clear and sensible and very helpful. His basic framework is to ground a no in a yes (your/your organization's needs, which need protecting), make your no clear and defensible, and move to a yes (continuing the relationship). Good stuff, very helpful, well worth the read.

Jacqueline Winspear’s The Mapping of Love and Death is the latest Masie Dobbs in paperback and might be my favorite yet. Interesting new characters, information on a profession I don’t know (map making), and further insight into Masie’s character. Good stuff.


* Though not much more than halfway.

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