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2013-52 Week 23

It’s been a particularly busy week for reasons that I’ll be better able to talk about in the next blog post. In a small preview I’m able to say this much, one of the balls in the air finally landed, and I’ve been accepted into the Doctoral program at CSUN! I had pretty much given up, as I thought they would have decided towards the end of the semester, but I got the phone call on Thursday letting me know I was selected for the program. Still some other things to sort out, but this is pretty exciting!

Since I just finished my book for April last night (I know, I know, I’ll catch up), I figured it was time to give you my long overdue book reviews for March and April. Then Jess reminded me that I should talk about our little excursion to Westwood to see Much Ado about Nothing with a cast and crew question and answer session last week, so I figure why not make it a media week? (Actually, this is me from the future, and Much Ado will have to wait a week.)

So, to review, in January I read The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, and in February I read The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer. In March I decided to go back to the real life analysis area and picked up a book I hadn’t read yet by an old favorite of mine Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell. I’ve read two of Gladwell’s other books (The Tipping Point and Blink), liking one (Tipping Point, not really my area of interest) and loving the other one (Blink was fascinating and Jess and I still talk about some of the concepts to this day). I’m pleased to report that Outliers landed much closer to Blink than Tipping Point on my scale. The basic idea of the book was to debunk our common narrative of successful people being self-made super-human mortals who do everything on their own. Rather Gladwell presents many examples that success is more often the product of fortuitous timing, cultural advantages, and/or many, many hours of practice at a given skill. You might have heard that it takes ten thousand hours to become an expert at a given field, and this book delves deeply into that idea.

A bit more commentary on writing style, as that’s going to be important when I talk about the April book. I find Gladwell’s style to be easy to read, informative, and usually pretty funny. I recognize the fact that he cherry picks his examples, but it’s hard after seeing the sheer number of them throughout the book not to agree with his premise. I would be curious to see if someone could put together a book of counter-examples. I also discovered the fact that Jess and my fathers were born at a prime time to be computer millionaires like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but they spent their time surfing instead (okay, to be fair they didn’t have access to the early technology that Bill and Steve did). Actually, regarding that last parenthetical aside, you should read the book just to see how ultra-fortunate Mr. Gates was in his opportunities and training.

For my April selection I didn’t really have a book in mind ahead of time. There is another Gladwell book which is a collection of his articles, but I didn’t want to read the same author in back-to-back months. Seemed lazy. Nothing else really jumped out at me, and it was already a bit into April at this point. I finally took seeing the same book recommended in two different places as a sign I should give it a shot, which is how I wound up reading the entirely uncharacteristic (for me) Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. A fiction novel which follows a woman named Ursula Todd who is born 1910 and who is reborn every time she dies (and let me tell you there are a lot of ways to die in the early to mid-1900’s) with only a hazy, deja-vu memory of her previous lives), which I thought was an interesting idea. It wound up, for me, being a better idea in theory than in practice, as keeping track of what happened in various lifetimes turned out more to be a chore than something interesting and was part of the reason why it took me so long to finish the book. Well, more accurately, so long for me to pick up the book between sittings. I recognize that this is mostly due to a flaw in myself, one I’ll cover in more detail in the next paragraph. Overall though, I’d recommend the book if you have an interest in life in England during the early to mid-1900’s with a twist, but not if you’re intrigued by alternate-history Hitler assassinations, as you are teased with in the beginning of the book, as it plays almost zero part in the novel.

So why do I say there was a personal issue which hampered my enjoyment? Well, about halfway through I came to recognize a simple fact: if this book had been set in the United States I would have been far more interested. The constant references to England’s geographical areas and landmarks had absolutely zero resonance with me, from the rural area where the main character grows up to London during World War II. Also the English affections in the language of the book often pulled me out of many scenes as I tried to determine what they meant. I just found the book a little too meandering, as I wasn’t enjoying it enough to appreciate the exploring of the world. Also it didn’t seem that the “rules” about how things worked remained consistent, and I’m a stickler for rules. All in all I suppose it was a good experience to stretch out my reading tastes a bit, but not one that I’m going to repeat soon. It also put me behind on my schedule, but not nearly enough that I can’t catch up.

I have definitely been enjoying this reading resolution, as it’s let me get back into a good habit that I had largely transitioned to online materials. I feel it’s good to maintain some paper-based reading, there are some studies that indicate it just works better. I don’t know that I necessarily put that much stock into the differences being that great, but old-fashioned sometimes just seems right.

Weight Low: 226 Loss: 4 lbs – Running Yearly Mileage: 213.5 miles (+0 miles) Last year-to-date: 177.5 miles – Words-to-date: 41761 (+1092)

Posted in Matt 2013-52, Matt Book Review, Matt General. Tagged with , , , , , , , .

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