I think I’m loosing my ability to read for long periods of time. By long I mean more than 20-30 minutes. I was really good at sitting down to read for a whole hour, without interruptions.
I started to feel something was off last year, during the pandemic. That initial overload of anxiousness made me search for news. I’ve never been a news person. I can’t stand regular TV or cable TV. I abhor advertising, I think they are annoying and with the Internet they became even more normalized. Heck, most of Internet today is ad-based.
So for the past months I got back into the habit of checking news sites. Doing that once a week for half an hour is okay, I guess. But all the sites have this “addictive” social media component that triggers this need to check them ALL THE TIME.
I’ve been checking the news everyday now. I think I was okay during the holidays, but 2021 started with some dystopian things happening!! What the hell is going on??
I feel like I’ve been unwillingly addicted to something, some weird urge to check endless feeds. An urge that never really goes away because everywhere we go, everywhere we look, the trigger is there. It’s hard to run away or to look away.
I was happy to have finished “The Innovators”. I started listening to this book back in April and I stopped several times to take notes. It's an encyclopedia of our digital technology development. Then I wanted light reads, the types you have fun and are not expecting grandiose conflicts. I'm more and more interested in reading about the art of writing. I started with “Writing down the bones”. Lighthearted and inspiring!
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson, 542p: Excellent compilation of the history of digital technology. It starts in the 1800's, which Ada Lovelace and Babbage, going through Vacuum Tubes, Capacitors, Alan Turing, Grace Hopper, John von Neumann, the breakthrough invention of transistors, Bell Labs, Intel, Texas Instruments, Hacker culture, Video Games, Xerox, ARPANet, BBS, the Altair 8800 computer, Internet, Blogs, Wikipedia, Microsoft, Apple, Google. It is a detailed exploration of how innovation is driven by collaboration and all advances are built on top of the past experiences. There is no one genius creator, innovation is most vibrant where there is room for idea sharing between communities. And the Internet allowed for a new level of collaborative process, the author calls it “the collective wisdom of crowds”. I loved that he closes with a reflection on Ada Lovelace's ideas of integrating Arts and Humanities with Math and Physics, resulting in what she called “Poetical Science”. A must read to understand where we are and how we got here.
Kenobi (Star Wars) by John Jackson Miller, 401p: A look into how Obi-Wan Kenobi was known as Ben in Tatooine. He only wants to be left alone (so that nobody realises he's a Jedi) but he keeps getting tangled into local affairs. It was interesting to get know a little bit about the sand people and the constant tension with the farmers. It covers a short period of his time there when he basically helps dissolve local grievances. Kinda like “A day in the life” of Ben Kenobi.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg, 225p: I heard about this book when I was researching about a technique called free writing. This author developed this “writing practice” method in which you set a timer and free write whatever is in your mind, nonstop, flow-of-consciousness style. The book is a compilation of fun small essays about writing and how to develop a writing practice. It's light and amusing!
Finder (Finder Chronicles, #1) by Suzanne Palmer, 400p: Space adventures of Fergus Ferguson, a finder. He just wants to find a ship and bring it back to the owner, but he ends up entangled in local affairs. Fun, light space adventure. Excellent to sit back and relax.
This was a non-fiction month. Although I started reading a fiction book (Kenobi by John Jackson Miller), all the books I finished were non-fiction. I was into productivity and delighted with Scott Adams writings during the first weeks then got to this awesome commentary from the 80's about our current cultural moment with “Amusing Ourselves to Death”. We just have to replace “TV” with “anything we consume on the Internet right now” to make this book 100% relevant!
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams, 248p: Such an enjoyable read! I love the Dilbert comics and it was interesting to get into the head of Scott Adams. He talks about his failures and also his recipe to live well. So it's part memoir part recommendations on how to live a good life. And we get to know that he had to overcome significant obstacles to success in his life. But he persisted and that makes for an inspiring story. He makes good points, summarizing the main areas of focus to succeed, even if you are failing miserably. Like the importance of having a system, not goals. And taking care of our personal energy: exercise, diet, and sleep are essential. Not all his recommendations are applicable to everybody (and he makes it very clear in the book) but reading about his struggles and his plans to live better got me thinking about my own habits. Savvy and fun read.
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman, 208p: Yeah, Huxley was right. I thought this book would feel totally outdated because it was written in the 80's. Quite the contrary! We just have to replace “TV” with “anything we consume on the Internet right now” to make this book current. It is a thought provoking analysis of our Information Age and how media formats can shape our culture. It gives a clear distinction between the typographic era, when information was written, and the “show business” model we have today with lots of images, short messages and barely no reflection. Highly recommended!
The end a long fantasy saga, some Scottish historical fiction and an average productivity book.
The Pride of Lions (Scotland Trilogy Book 1) by Marsha Canham, 212p: It's a rich historical fiction set in Scotland in the 18th century. Kinda like Outlander but without time travel. It's well done in terms of world building with lots of historical references regarding the Jacobite rising of 1745. It's an exciting book and the rhythm is good. There was one thing that caused me uneasiness in this book: the prevalence of a raping theme. I know it's historical and you can argue that that's how things were back then, but it's a fictional romance novel and I expected less of it. For example, even though it's not explicit, the “male hero” (Alexander) clearly uses the implicit idea of rape to frighten the heroine (Catherine). Every men on the road that encounters Catherine (or any women for that matter) thinks about “taking advantage” of her. So maybe the setting was too historical/realistic for me?
The Lady of the Lake (The Witcher, #5) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 560p: The last book of The Witcher saga! I loved the first half of the book with its parallel universes and the fact that the story of The Witcher is viewed as a type of “distant land fairy tale”. One thing that this author can do is create complex characters, meaning, no one is ever lawful good, everybody is chaotic (neutral, good or evil). Themes like misogyny, slavery and racial discrimination are all present in the story. Everybody is looking for Ciri because of her extraordinary powers. Elves can be as evil as humans and sorceresses. Ciri is on her own quest to escape what everybody think is her destiny. I think the story is brilliantly written, with varying points of view, snippets of Dandelion's memoir “Half a Century of Poetry”, a huge battle being described through its actual combatants suffering and the healers in a war field hospital. But people die. Lots of characters die. And that's what makes this series “dark fantasy” in my opinion. It has the feel of a fairy tale without the happy ending. Or maybe the ending is happy depending on how you interpret it. Excellent series overall with rich world building and interesting characters. It was a nice ride!
Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less by Michael Hyatt , 256p: I was curious to read this book to know a little a bit more about focus. I already use GTD as my productivity system and it's clear that some sections are a GTD derivative with a different name. I was a little bit annoyed that I had to go to the author's website to take the initial assessment, leave my e-mail and then I started receiving all these promotional e-mails to buy his planner. That threw me off a little bit. But the message in the book is not unlike any other good productivity system: eliminate non essentials, group similar tasks for efficiency, eliminate distractions and use time blocking to focus.
I re-read two excellent productivity books that made me go back to basics and rethink my whole system. I can say it was a productive month! And I finished the fourth book in The Witcher series, which is excellent!
Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life by David Allen, 286p: It's the second time I read this book. The last time was 6 years ago. It's a great if you're already familiar with the GTD method since it connects the 5 steps workflow (capture, clarify, organize, reflect, engage) to the higher horizons (projects, areas of focus, goals, vision, purpose & principles). So it's the glue between Control and Perspective. I loved re-reading it. It gave me some powerful insights and a deeper understanding of the GTD processes and how it can evolve over time.
New Hope for Sciatica: End Your Pain Now with Solutions Even Your Doctor Won't Tell You About by Duncan McCollum D.C., 125p: It's more about the how healing works in 3 parts: physical, chemical and mental. One cannot work without the other. So it gives a high level overview of all the things that might be the cause of the pain. And it's complicated! It creates awareness about underlying factors causing/worsening the pain, but it's all about contacting a professional. So, there are no practical answers in this book, it talks about a few strategies but without diving in them too deep. For example: a diet with less inflammatory food suggesting ketogenic meals and intermittent fasting but it doesn't explain how that can be done.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, 287p: This was my second read and more than ever I was convinced that we need to decide to do deep work and that means breaking many habits of today's life. From finding space and time to concentrate to eliminating all that distracts us, the author shows reasons and evidence for all the strategies presented. And the message is simple, albeit not as easy as it seems: disconnect! Simple as that. This one is MUST READ for today's work life.
The Tower of the Swallow (The Witcher, #4) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 448p: So this book picks up right where the previous left, which ended in a little bit of a cliffhanger. I loved the writing style using different timelines, jumping back and forth, and varying points of view. It gets confusing sometimes but in the end everything clicks together. And the plot focus is Ciri, the last third of the book we don't even hear about The Witcher anymore. There is lots of violence in this book, people getting killed, tortured, injured in a myriad of ways. I think it's one of the darkest books in the series so far, and Ciri's story is definitely harsh and cruel. I caught myself cringing a few times. Now, it's the first time I ever saw a sword fighting scene on a frozen lake on ice skates! There are some great new characters, like the hermit Vysogota on the good guy side and the spine-chilling bounty hunter Bonhart, on the villain side. As always, I can't wait to check out the next book in the series.
June was a tough month! I don't know, the ongoing pandemic, the immense amount of accumulated work that suddenly appeared on my plate, Black Lives Matter protests... I just needed some comfort reading, so that's when I turn to steampunk and sci-fi romances.
Heart of Steel (Iron Seas, #2) by Meljean Brook : Steampunk alternate Victorian era in a world with dirigibles, nanoagents, mechanical flesh, zombies. I think I still like the first book better. However, this one has a strong lead female character who is an experienced badass captain of an Airship. Yasmeen, captain of Lady Corsair, and Archimedes Fox, adventurer, go out on a journey to search for a treasured sketch from Leonardo da Vinci. There is also revenge but that wasn't too clear to me. Good fighting sequences with zombies, but in the end, I didn't get who/what they were fighting against really.
Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal : The premise here is: we are also responsible for being addicted to technology so the author discusses some tactics to make us less prone to use it mindlessly. But, I don't think it is for everyone. There are some drastic measures that I think might work for some. I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.
Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion, #1) by Jessie Mihalik: I enjoyed this space-opera! Lots of adventures: boarding ships, cracking security codes and locks, dealing with smugglers, discussing ship layouts, sending encrypted messages and blending in a crowded port to avoid being recognized. The two main characters, Lady Ada and Loch, were equally strong and I liked that they were both highly skilled at their areas of expertise. And rescues! It happens a lot and for the most part the rescuing is done by Lady Ada (as opposed to the male hero always rescuing the damsel in distress). It had that old Star Wars feel but without aliens. Fun!
This was a hard month for reading. Distraction was with me all the time! It was one of the few months that I didn't enjoy my readings that much. The highlight was “Broken Angels” by Richard Morgan, always a good sci-fi!
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, 240p: Maybe too philosophical to my taste. Although the title book starts with “How to…” it's not really a manual. It's more like an exposition of the author's memories and her musings about art. Art like a critic of the status quo. There is a lot of talk about art. It was not my cup of tea.
Broken Angels (Takeshi Kovacs, #2) by Richard K. Morgan , 480p: I thought this book had a totally different tone than the first one. It totally feels like military sci-fi. The pace is kinda slow until half of the book and then it's action-packed till the end. There is a lot of worldbuilding when Takeshi remembers his childhood and the wars he has fought in. There is an interesting group of characters that are put together to fulfill a mission. Alien ruins, old artifacts, soldiers, war, archeology, mental illness.
The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months by Brian P. Moran, Michael Lennington, 208p: I get the concept: treat 12 weeks (3 months) like it's your year. That way it forces you to set up achievable goals and don't lose track of them. It makes sense. It brings a systematic way to define vision, goals, projects, plan each week and evaluate progress using a scoring system. I think it works for some people, but for me, at the moment, it felt like too much pressure on myself. The basic concepts of having a productivity system are all there: goals, time blocking, weekly reviews. So, it's not unlike other systems, like GTD, for example. But there is this added urgency because of the 12 weeks time frame. Not sure it would work for me.