Review of How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny ODell.

How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention EconomyHow To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an important book that needs to read and savored. Now that I’ve finished my first “quick read” I’ll be going back through it with outlining and highlighting. I’ll be suggesting it for my book club as I think as Odell covers themes we’ve been talking about over the past couple of years. I love the themes of art, public space, and bioregionalism.

And birds! I’ve become bird crazy over the past few months. It started by learning more about herons from my friend Kathleen Atkins (who currently has a show at the Miller Library). Then looking at the beautiful watercolors by my friend Charlene Freeman which prompted me to take her Nature sketching class where I learned more about our native birds through classmates. Next thing I know I’ve sketched birds, bought some bird feeders, and learned the names and sounds of my backyard buddies. I was talking about this on Saturday with my friend Val who immediately named a list of my favorites which she also enjoys and felt an immediate further kinship with her.

Odell writes about spending time in the Oakland rose garden which took me back to my parent’s rose garden and also the joy I felt living near the McKinley rose garden in Sacramento.

This book is so much more and I’ll be spending more time with it. I want to thank @jemsandhu for recommending it!

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The Common Good Quick Review

I’m reading Robert Reich’s book, The Common Good, and I skipped to the end to see the call to action. I found it in the final paragraph, “We have never been a perfect union. Our finest moments have been when we sought to become more perfect than we had been. We can help restore the common good by striving for it and showing others it’s worth the effort.”

It is time we start asking all of our institutions–our work, our schools, our government, and measure them against this standard once again. I was particularly struck by his use of the Broken Window syndrome and how he lays out how our trust in our institutions has been eroded over the past five decades.

I’ll write more once I’ve finished.

Review: Where the Crawdads Sings

Sunday morning sketch of Where the Crawdads Sing book cover

“Marsh is not a swamp. Marsh is a space of flight, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace–as though not built to fly–against the roar of a thousand snow geese.”

Delia Owens, first lines of Where the Crawdads Sing

Abandoned by her family, Kya Clark, lives alone in the North Carolina Marsh. Kya learns to survive and thrive on her own. This is that classic fantasy tale of the wolf-boy who survives on his own in the wilderness, apart from man and society. Or really, it is the tale of the witch–the woman who lives apart and is shunned and ignored by the community. Kya has a love of nature and is a collector of shells and feathers. As with any fable of the siren, two young men from town are drawn to her with tragic results. The town will sit in judgment of her.

Where the Crawdads Sing will be the book of the summer. I had hoped to wait until my copy at the library came up (currently number 1290 on 382 copies), but then I passed an autographed copy on a table at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and had to pick it up. I decided to read a few pages, and then the book drew me in and I read it over the weekend.

Kya Clark is one of the most fascinating, strong characters created that I’ve read in a long time. Delia Owens makes her crafty, interesting, and yet always so wounded and shaped by the isolation and tragedy in her life. Despite that, Kya finds her own purpose. She dedicates herself to learning the world of the marsh around her. There are other characters (all interesting in their own right) who give her gifts–they teach her to fish, read, and eke out a living. In the words of Kya, “nudging her to care for herself, not just offering to care for her.”

I also like the way the book was plotted. There is a murder mystery at the front of the book, and the book jumps between the time before and the time after one of the town’s young men is found at the bottom of the Fire Tower. The stories move forward until they meet and merge.

There is also the naturalist piece to the book as well as poetry. Owens herself is a wildlife scientist and the author of several non-fiction books that sound equally fascinating to this, her first novel. As I mentioned, Kya is a collector and a naturalist. She’ll go far with this–but I don’t want to spoil that. The book also contains poetry, some Dickinson, and one other regional poet. The book reminded me a bit of one of my favorite collection of short stories, The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr. Others have compared her to Barbara Kingsolver. I hope to read more from Owens.

The International Bank of Bob: A Book Review

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Bob Harris was writing an article on the world’s most luxurious hotels. Appalled at the waste he saw and the gulf between the lives of the richest and the poorest–Bob decided to take the fees he earned and do something good with it.  He researched and began loaning funds out through Kiva and other micro-lending organizations. He then traveled the world and met some of the real individuals who are recipients of those funds to hear their stories and find out how those relatively small loans can make a huge difference downstream.

In his book International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a TimeHarris connects the story to his own background–from roots in Appalachian poverty his own parents moved up for a better opportunity. He describes the long hours his own father put in–and how he sees that and his mother time and again reflected in these hard working individuals around the world.

He also tells the bigger story of micro lending in the book–of Kiva and other organizations–their successes and failures. This is as much a travelogue of the world’s poorest regions. He does it with humor and respect for those he meets (except in a couple cases the individuals are not told that he was their benefactor).

I’ve been a big fan myself of Kiva, and also organizations like D-Rev and Room to Read that are on the ground solving real problems.

In this vein, here are other books I would recommend on globalization and giving back:

Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli
An economics professor chases the economics of a simple t-shirt around the world and it’s effect on the economy–from it’s creation in a factory to a used clothing economy in Africa.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood
John Wood left his career at Microsoft to start and fund Room to Read and libraries all over the world.

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedmann
Friedmann explains the economics of globalization.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
Diamond explains how history and resources has benefited some groups over others.

The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist
Lessons on how to give back.

Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Ehrenreich joins the working poor working for minimum wage to show the endless cycle of poverty.

The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Kahn: A book Review

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First of all a thank you to Lynda Weinman, Lynda of lynda.com for giving every single one of the company’s employees a copy of this book over the holidays. Books make the best gifts and when I start a job and first thing they hand me is a stack of free books I know I’ve landed in the right place. 

You have heard of Salman Khan the creator of the Khan Academy and this book published by TwelveBooks serve as an introduction to his story and his thoughts or manifesto on learning. I was inspired by this book. Sal started out tutoring one student–his cousin Nadia and before he knew it he was spending his spare time tutoring more family members. He was very good at it. And from there his teaching starts to spread, his ideas start to catch on and now he is on a mission to create a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. 

I could relate to Nada’s issue. She had missed one important concept and that put her on a lesser school track. When I was a freshman in high school in my first Algebra class–maybe I was talking…maybe I was sleeping… but I missed something important. That semester I received my first ever D! My teacher told my mother I was lazy and she needed to take my television and music away from me. (I knew the woman hated me! And yeah I was probably too busy talking.) From then on I was put in the more basic math–not the college prep and I had to repeat the semester in order to change my grade for college transcripts. The next semester when I took the class, I took the textbook and studied on my own. Then it clicked and I spent the rest of semester doing my homework during lectures. This time I received an A. 

And I do owe a big apology to my older brother the engineer who didn’t talk alot in class and studied harder. He actually tried to sit down and teach Khan-style concepts before I received my D. At the time I just wanted to learn how to do my homework, I didn’t want to learn the concepts he attempted teach me. C’mon I had Brady Brunch re-runs to watch! Luckily he seems to have had a better student in my niece. 

I like what Salman has to say about learning–covering the basics and practicing until you can prove you’ve got it to move on, and to also move at your own speed. Okay–you got me. The guy speaks my language. After all my career has been all about learning–first in creating how-to technology books to self-paced elearning, ILT courseware to certs and now in online video training. Not ironically, a career that has also called on my “talking” skills so there Algebra teacher! Technology loves self-learners and there is plenty to learn. This book did make me think about what concepts are basic and essential for the business technology subjects I cover.

I’ve also spent a lot of time on Khan Academy the past few days. I always regretted that I never really made it past basic Algebra and Geometry. I thought it was because I hated math, but the fact is I’ve loved puzzles. I’ve done quilting which requires a lot of math. And I use data analysis and statistics regularly to uncover business insights. So I’m going back to the basics–starting at the beginning just like Salman Khan suggests (and how can you not respect someone that Bill Gates says is his favorite teacher!). His site also has Science, Art History and more. Stuff I want to learn. 

Check out his book and the Khan Academy site. 

My Favorite Reads in 2012

Of the one hundred and ten books I read in 2012–here are my personal favorites and the ones I am most likely to recommend.

Fiction:

Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Winner of the most fun fictional read about Seattle and Microsoft.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters

Winner of most fascinating use of Hollywood and Italian scenery.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Winner of the I can’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what happens next.

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

Winner of WTF is this book? But damn it’s good.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Winner of I love this book but hate the ending.

Business and Productivity:

Extreme Productivity by Robert C. Pozen

Winner of most likely to use these productivity tips.

Memoir

A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves by Jane Gross

Winner of everyone with a parent over the age of 60 needs to buy and read this book now.

Siberia Bound: Chasing the American Dream on Russia’s Wild Frontier by Alexander Blakely

Winner of Economic Lessons wrapped up in a heartwarming memoir.

Art:

Moby-Dick in Pictures by Matt Kish

Winner of I Saw Your Website but Had to Own the Book No Matter What the Price.

Science:

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011 Edited by Mary Roach

Winner of Best Anthology Collection of Stories.

This is Service Design Thinking: Book Review

This is Service Design Thinking was designed to be a much needed textbook on the new interdisciplinary approach to designing services. If you work at all in in high tech you would be well served by reading this book–but service design touches almost any business.

The content is good–I especially enjoyed the middle sections that describe a number of methodologies for designing services. I’ve worked with a few myself including personas, idea generation (SWOT and mindmapping), agile development, storytelling, and my personal favorite–business model canvas.  (Damn, I need to make sure all that is on my LinkedIn profile!) I also enjoyed some of the included in-depth articles on deep service design thinking. The essay on “Integrating Service Design Thinking and Motivational Psychology” by Fergus Bisset and “Service Design and Biophila” by Renato Troncon are worth the price of admission.

A shout-out now if you want to see world-class design affecting real people in action. Watch this video by Krista Donaldson and the folks at D-Rev.

So now what I didn’t really like about this textbook… And mind you, I’m coming at this from an experienced book editor in high tech. The book was crowd-sourced but I think lacks a strong lead editor. It is a collection of material and I guess that is okay for a textbook like this, but I prefer having one expert guide me through the work of others than sifting through myself.

And the book was so over-designed as to be distracting. It has a number of bells and whistles–color-coded sections, ribbon bookmarks, a poster, pre-highlights and so many icons there is a map to the icons in the back. All of this is rather distracting. I hate having my books pre-highlighted for me. If I find it important, I will highlight it. I can do that. I kind of disagreed with whoever made some of the highlighting decisions.

I hope there will be a second edition because this is a good book, but it needs the hand of a firm editor to take it to the next level for me.

But I will keep the book on my shelf and will probably check out other titles that are referenced.

And if you work on services– do take a look at the Business Model Canvas. If I were to pick one method over the others that would be it for me. I can learn so much about how a business works by taking it through the canvas just on my own.