2017: Boardgame Babylon’s My Year with Books, Part 3

And, here is 2017: My Year With Books, Part 3. This is continuing my list of books I read in 2017 and some light commentary. I read a lot of fiction, marketing, data, and design books – with the smattering of books on music and musicians, theme parks, and various obscure concepts. To get the full story on this series of articles, please see my previous posts 2017: My Year With Books, Part 1 and 2017: My Year With Books, Part 2.

2017: My Year with Books, Part 3

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F_ck by Mark Manson – Non-Fiction – New Read
Another one from that list of gifted books on Product Hunt, I immediately realized I didn’t need this book because I was living so many of its principles. Manson’s manifesto is pretty simple: Stop expecting the world owes you things, work hard, and make real contributions rather than fussing and moaning about things. This book immediately felt like the antidote for the stereotypical Millennial. It knocks self-obsessed, narcissistic people onto their duffs, tells them to shape up and start taking part in the world without worrying so much about nonsense. I immediately wanted to give it to a few people I know, but it would likely offend them just the same. A great gift from the self-absorbed people you meet.

2017: My Year with Books, Part 3

Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity by David Lynch – Non-Fiction – New Read
A slim volume of seemingly random observations, Lynch’s comments are pragmatic and sometimes odd, like his work. I enjoyed the quick read through but nothing really stuck with me as instructive in life.

2017: My Year with Books, Part 3

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg – Non-Fiction – New Read
How we develop habits and the ability to harness the power of them is the subject of Duhigg’s work. I found elements useful for design as well as our psychometric analysis of social speech that we do as part my company’s technology, so this one was highly useful. I enjoyed the book immensely and will highlight some material in particular for use. Seeking his other books now because this one was a definite winner.

2017: My Year with Books, Part 3

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp – Non-fiction – Re-read
Read this first when it came out but wanted to apply more principles of it to our work, so I read it again. The clear methods for attacking design and production of software – really, modern products in general – and it is like a textbook for us when building something completely new.

2017: My Year with Books, Part 3
RIP Harlan Ellison

Ellison Wonderland by Harlan Ellison – Fiction – Re-read
Harlan is one of my favorite writers, despite him personally trying to convince my father to throw me out of the house when I was nineteen (yes, I’ll tell that story fully one day). Ellison Wonderland is a great set of stories and I wanted to recommend it to Alaric. In downloading it on Overdrive, I found it contained new introductions and since Harlan’s non-fiction musings are often as enjoyable as his fiction, I decided to give it a listen. What a delight to hear these stories from Harlan’s own mouth and realize most hadn’t aged much. Still one of my favorite collections of sci-fi; funny, poignant and interesting works. Harlan never really did novels, but he has the short story down cold. Recommended!

2017: My Year with Books, Part 3

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – Fiction – New Read
Delightful romp for bibliophiles and startup kids alike, the book is a finely spiced stew with plenty of geeky moments and tech knowledge to keep them engaged. While I won’t reveal the central mystery, Sloan has done a nice job of building a mystery with some useful points and a healthy amount of just enjoyable text. A light, but compulsive read.

Rework by Jason Fried – Non-Fiction – New Read
Another good book on running a successful business and one that I immediately acquired after an electronic read. Many common-sense notions of how to get work done quickly and I appreciated the frank attitude about how much you can do on a regular basis without having to get this or that before you can start. Just start. A reasonable textbook for our business that was helpful for some of our process improvement.

Set the Boy Free by Johnny Marr – Non-Fiction – New Read
Morrissey’s autobiography has been on my shelf for a bit and aftersuddenly reading this on a whim, I will get to it in 2018. Marr’s book is a light read that tells his version of everything and in a rather pleasant light. Little is discussed about the conflicts that the two had, with Marr focusing instead on a travelogue of his career before, during and after the Smiths with the light air of an only casually-interested biographer. Still a pleasant read, but I would have liked to hear it warts-and-all. As it is, Set the Boy Free is fine for big Smiths, Electronic or Marr fans but probably not a lot of others.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nicholas Nassim Taleb – Non-Fiction – New Read
Another book from that list of ‘Most Gifted Books’, Taleb’s book has a great message – that we are tested by the tough things in life that make us stronger – and then goes on to use examples that I flatly didn’t think supported his claim. Not every aspect of life can work with this principle but Taleb seems to think, as the proverb suggests, that everything looks like a nail. Yet, quite a bit later I see how how Taleb’s overall thesis remains strong – those who learn to take change as a natural evolution that can be turned a positive way (rather than resisting it and fighting to keep things as per the status quo) are ready for modern challenges where the world’s changing at an incredibly rapid speed. Antifragile is highly recommended for those seeking success.

Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs by Yukari Iwatani Kane – Non-fiction – New Read

Some books by journalists really benefit from the immediacy of their storytelling and detailed accounts. Not this one, however. Haunted Empire is mostly focused on the horrors of the Apple-Foxconn relationship and how it tarnished the image of both Apple and Jobs’ replacement, the uninspiring operations man they call Tim Cook. Little time is spent on the subject of how the creative aspect of Apple was affected by Jobs’ death. Notable is the fact that Cook’s crimes related to Foxconn would have happened with or without Jobs at the helm. It’s not like Steve was keeping them out of that kind of trouble. As a result, the book reads like a series of articles about Apple without much internal access. A snooze.

The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox – Non-fiction – New Read

A useful book that I read after hearing this was one of the three books that Jeff Bezos makes his execs read. It’s a great argument for Kanban and thinking through the things that actually produce work rather than old-school ideas of resource and time management. The lessons in the book are highly useful, but the format of telling it in a novel feels contrived and uninteresting. A distillation of the ideas would be better in a PowerPoint.

I guess we’ll continue with Part 4 next time because I’ve still got a few more to review briefly. Thanks for reading along and I hope you found something to add to your own list this year. I’m already deeply into my 2018 Reading Year and it’s been enormously satisfying.

2017: My Year With Books, Part 2

As promised, here is 2017: My Year With Books, Part 2. This is continuing my list of books I read in 2017 and some light commentary to see if you might be interested in checking them out. I read a lot of fiction, marketing, data, and design books – with the smattering of books on music and musicians, theme parks, and various obscure concepts. To get the full story on this series of articles, please see my previous post 2017: My Year With Books, Part 1.

Light Boxes by Shane Jones – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2

Another find from scoping out books for my father at the library, Light Boxes was my airplane book flying over to Germany this summer. It’s an otherworldly fairy tale that is short but powerful. I’d highly recommend this fanciful, luminous book to anyone who likes the odd, the macabre and the fantastic. The bird masks on the cover definitely caught my eye and got me to buy it (the $0.33 price didn’t hurt either).

The World’s Shortest Stories, edited by Steve Moss – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
The other book I read on the plane to Germany, this collection of 55-word stories reminds me of my own time composing super-short stories like these. I had a good time with them and enjoyed the way this economy of words pushes stories ahead with twists and interesting diction. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit, and for someone given to overwriting (isn’t this article series proof of that?), the limit is welcome creative pressure. If they do another volume, I’m interested in contributing.

The Rise and Fall of the D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
Read this while touring through London last year, missing a signing with the authors by one day. Reading like a collaboration between Stephenson and Terry Pratchett, this wild tale is on the light end for the former and leans into the sillier work of the latter. It’s a good experience, but those expecting a deep, thoughtful book like Stephenson often writes should lower their expectations and enjoy this funny tale that pits technology and magic against one another.

Lent to me by my colleague and friend Kai, I polished this one off quickly because a lot of the instruction is pretty Marketing 101. Understand customers, give them what they want, explain it simply – that kind of thing. In fairness, there is real magic in effective marketing, and this book makes that clear. Yet, when you do more than this, that’s when you make the magic. Good for those who are just getting into the business and at least it’s not called something with “dummies” or “idiots”. Knocked off this slim one on the train from Frankfurt to Goslar.

I keep hunting for another Bossypants by Tina Fey and I still haven’t found one. The closest was the very enjoyable Yes, Please from Amy Poehler. But this one, from another Friend of Fey, falls completely flat. Far more focused on telling real stories in detail than finding ways to bring some poignancy to the proceedings while keeping things moving, this quick but unsatisfying read was fairly boring for most of the length of the pages. Some SNL stories were interesting but the rest was only finished because it was relatively short and I only had so many books with me on the plane back from Europe.

Another book that could have been a Power Point, Pozen’s techniques are nothing special and the stuff that you see in Medium articles that people write just to get more people to follow them. Didn’t learn anything I didn’t already learn from smarter folks.

Of course I love the idea of Johnson’s book – that we must play to learn how to innovate, solve problems, and enrich our lives. I believe this fully as both a game designer and a person who knows leisure gives you the ideas you work out when you are actually working. No one comes up with great ideas while sitting at a desk in a stuffy office.
Johnson has a lot of nice examples to illustrate his point, including many I’d heard before, but the book still reads pleasantly throughout with some examples that drive things well.

Having loved the film version that Alexander Payne did, I’ve read the novel and also the sequel, Vertical. While book 3 is a lot more of the same without an attempt to figure out another direction to reference in the title, it was a lot of fun to follow Miles down to Chile to explore the wine world in the budding region.
While a certain amount of the story is surely autobiographical, Pickett does add more thoughtful observations than I often saw in Vertical, which seemed to want to add some outrageousness to match key moments in the film. I’d say that Sideways 3 is an even more enjoyable read than Vertical, but I also think it’s time for Pickett to move on.

As it happens, this was my first book read in 2017. The woman who inspired and wrote a lot of Elaine on Seinfeld is definitely also no Tina Fey. But her observations are funny in a Boomer kind of way. She definitely was better off writing with a group (she was part of the staff on the recent Academy Awards, I noted) but her biographical book is still enjoyable and her revelations are genuine and interesting at times.

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3) by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
I quite like the Cormoran Strike novels, even as they want to push the limit on what I’d like to read about modern deviant behavior. For those who don’t know, this is a series of crime novels from Robert Galbraith, the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. I guess it is Rowling finally getting a chance to explore things that would have been a problem if you’re writing young adult fiction so she really pushes it with fairly dark parts of humanity. While it lacks the interesting literary world of The Silkworm, Career of Evil trades a bit on an obsession with the band Blue Oyster Cult, who I happen to casually admire. Strike and Robin are enjoyable characters and I’m glad we’ll have seven or so books of their exploits, told in Rowling’s quirky and punchy prose.
I do feel a sense of sadness, however, because with the passing of my father early in 2018, I no longer have an excuse for buying the new book for him and then reading it so we could chat about it. Our reading tastes were pretty different so these rare overlapping titles were welcome. As the series continues, I feel sure I’ll still have a pleasant conversation with my dad somewhere in my head.

7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
I found out about this graphic novel Harlan did earlier this century from one of his introductory essays in Ellison Wonderland. Despite being just a few years old, it has an old school sci-fi feel in both tone and artwork. A mild diversion and a fair story that has that Ellison feel but isn’t one for the ages. Worth a look if you’re a fan of his, as I am. Most amusing about this was my mother picking up the book and her saying, “You are reading comic books?”

Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
Easily the least of the great Douglas Coupland’s books, Hey Nostradamus reads like a homework assignment. Better write something about gun massacres! It lacks the wit and useful commentary of his books, replacing it with second-rate Raymond Carver. Still has flashes of wit, but hardly justifying the read. How the mighty man who wrote Generation X has fallen.

Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll by Anna and Nancy Wilson – Non-fiction – New Read
Yes, Heart from the 70’s are great. And Heart from the 80’s are a guilty pleasure. I was a teenager then and deeply in love with the gorgeous, powerhouse singer Ann Wilson. I’d say her infamous weight gain might even have informed my own passion for the

2017: My Year with Books Part 2

Rubenesque. She always looked lovely to me and besides, true love does not see these things as a problem! But I digress.
Heart’s charming book is a quick read told from many points of view. That includes the Wilson sisters and some friends, band members and even the occasional former boyfriend. They tell it pretty warts-and-all (that’s how these books should be told – see the not-warty Set the Boy Free later on this list), which makes for a page-turner that I loved reading in the pool last summer. It also made me return to their music and discover anew some tracks they loved most. What a delight for my head and my ears.

To be continued…