Book Review #15 – Sour Heart (Jenny Zhang)
This is a brilliant book. A collection of short stories with some interwoven threads, it is a raw and honest look at immigrant life. The broad theme of the book is the first and second generation immigrant experience in NYC. It goes so deep into the challenges and the hopes of moving to a new country during an era where there wasn’t technology to keep connections with the old world and the new. Almost disgusting at points in terms of how explicit it was, it is unflinching and is the best encapsulation of the immigrant experience I have ever read.
Book Review #14 – Constructive Living (David K. Reynolds)
This is a book about Japanese psychology. Written by a white person who lives in Japan, it integrates Morita therapy and Naikan into an approach to live called constructive living. The basic premise of constructive living is simple — in any given moment, identify the best action you can take, and then take that action regardless of your state of mind.
So if you feel depressed — acknowledge and recognize the depression and think about the best and most constructive action to take in that moment. It likely is going for a walk, drinking a cup of tea, or calling a friend and not laying in bed crying.
Or, if you are feeling lazy at work and spending all of your time on the internet, acknowledge your mind state (lazy, unmotivated) but don’t let it prevent you from taking the action.
It some ways, the philosophy is entirely straight forward. Focus less on your feelings, and more on your actions. In many ways, we want to get the feelings “right” before we start the actions, but actions themselves can influence feelings.
Definitely worth a read for anyone interested in psychology and wanting to get a non-Western perspective, or anyone prone to rumination.
Book Review #12 – A Different Drummer (William Melvin Kelley)
This book reads as a bit academic, but perhaps because it is older. It describes the voluntary exodus of all black people from a confederate state. Told from the perspective of various related white people observing, but not fully understanding, the exodus, it offers a haunting perspective on race relations, the South, and segregation.
Book Review #11 – Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favorite authors. Maybe actually my top favorite author. This book, about the Biafran independence movement (within Nigeria — a civil war), introduced me to a slice of history I had literally never heard of before. Using the lens of five intertwined characters, the book continued to draw you in — and as the situation got worse and worse for Biafrans, you felt like you were witnessing a progression you were helpless to stop. A fiction book, it expresses certain truths about human life and spirit, about mankind, and about what identity and war and hunger do to individuals and society, and about how the entire world is intertwined in a way Westerners aren’t always willing to admit. It’s haunting but needs to be heard.
Book Review #10: Deep Work (Cal Newport)
Though not the best written book, Deep Work shares research and proactive actions that can be taken related to a topic I have been thinking a lot about recently – focus. Specifically, about how in the internet-era, people have been losing the ability to focus. And, offices increasingly tend to prioritize “shallow work” (e.g. emails, unproductive meetings, networking) which can fracture your daily schedule in such a way that you never have time to dive into the meat of your work. And then you are at the office later and later, staying connected to colleagues via emails at night and on the weekend. The whole system makes no sense. I’ve seen at the consulting organization I work for that my team – which emphasizes disconnecting from work, not responding to emails immediately, and letting people create their own work schedules from their own preferred locations, is more productive and less burnt-out that other teams that emphasize the opposite.
Here are some takeaways I learned from the book:
- Make internet time/distracted time the exception, not the norm.
- Build time into your schedule for focus and create rules around what is and isn’t allowed during that time period. I don’t allow any internet for example – no checking of email, no looking up information. I also write down one thing on a post-it that is the only thing I am supposed to work on. When I finish, I write down something else.
- Keep track of the number of deep work hours you are working. This helps incentivize you and allows you to set and meet goals.
- Do less shallow work. Don’t meet people for coffee, don’t respond to useless emails – say no to whatever is not a priority for you.
Since reading, I’ve set an initial goal of two hours of deep work a day. This has already helped me get SO MUCH done. So much. And, I very much appreciate how it shifts me away from mindless internet usage. I have done tremendously well at not using the internet much in my personal life, but creating these structures for my work life has been very helpful.
Book Review #9:
This book focuses on ethnopediatrics — how culture influences how we parent and think about parenting. Mostly focuses on sleeping and breastfeeding, it draws on qualitative and quantitative data to create different parenting typologies and explore how these are linked to culture. I appreciated that it wasn’t just focused on industrial versus more traditional societies, but also contrasted different industrial societies. Here are some fun facts I learned: in certain tribal cultures, babies breastfeed every 13 minutes. In Japan, babies are trained to be dependent on the family unit. In the United States, there is an overwhelming emphasis on what parents can contribute to kids (e.g. healthy food, information and education) and not what on kids can contribute to families (e.g. labor).
Book Review # 8 – Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Roz Chast)
Hilarious, deeply sad, moving, and slightly disgusting all at once. A memoir by Roz Chast, this graphic novel shares her experience navigating the old age and eventual deaths of both of her parents. The book is incredibly honest in sharing mixed feelings — for example, a desire to be close to your parents, lingering dislike for your childhood, fear around if their money will run out before they die. And because the author is Roz Chast, the book is laugh out loud funny in many parts.
Book Review # 7 – Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York (Roz Chast)
A guide to New York, it has actually helpful information and so many great observations and realistic portrayals. I literally sat on the couch and laughed hysterically out loud as I read it. Buy a copy for your in-laws or anyone who doesn’t quite get how New York City works.
Book Review: 5 & 6
Queen of the Tearling Trilogy: Books 1 & 2 (Queen of the Tearling; The Invasion of the Tearling) – Erika Johansen
Queen of the Tearling
This was a dumb book. It was just good enough to keep my interest as I wondered about how the main character’s goals could be achieved. But ultimately the plot was full of holes. The romanticism didn’t make any sense, the era didn’t make any sense — and there was a weird body shaming where the main character was noticeably plain and then magically turned into a total babe. It just felt messy, like a book that was written as someone’s fantasy and then somehow was published.
The Invasion of the Tearling
This book was so bad that I am embarrassed to admit I read it. I hoped it would lead to some closure but it got worse and worse.