I had decided to make sure I was getting the best bang for my
buck sabbatical, and I had seen posts floating about regarding reading a book a week, for 52 consecutive weeks.
There are many different versions of the challenge, but
as always I’ll just make things up as I go along.
Granted, most start in January, but I have done my fair share of New Year’s Resolutions that had disappeared by week 2, so I was confident that it’s not the day when you start something but the action of actually doing it that matters.
I really didn’t know how many/little a book a week would be.
I’m usually in the middle of at least one and the moment it’s done I already have my eye on the next and dive right in.
Because I have periods when I can read all day long (I know, I love my life then…), I decided to take it a month at a time, accelerating when I could and not worrying if I could only sneak a few pages when RL stuff would pile up.
I’m not including books I’m reading for work or audiobooks, although I’ll mention any that are worth your attention.
52 books seems like a hefty amount, but by the time I chose those that I had been meaning to get to for a while, I was already up to 30.
I think variety is key, so I shall endeavour to make sure I’m not just reading book from within my comfort zone (food/nutrition, steampunk, book series), but also take the road less traveled.
As I still have over 20 books to add to my folder, I would greatly appreciate your recommendations.
I’m looking for books that have somehow moved or influenced you, that have widened your horizon and were a bloody good read.
I’m trying to alternated between fiction and non-fiction, biographies and lighter reading, so give me your suggestions 🙂
Here were my choices for April as well as a quick review (which I’m pants at, BTW, so don’t expect much).
First up, this one is a bit of a cheat as I had started reading it before I decided to challenge myself, but it’s too good not to mention.
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked us by Michael Moss
“Moss takes us inside the labs where food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages or enhance the “mouthfeel” of fat by manipulating its chemical structure. He unearths marketing campaigns designed—in a technique adapted from tobacco companies—to redirect concerns about the health risks of their products: Dial back on one ingredient, pump up the other two, and tout the new line as “fat-free” or “low-salt.” He talks to concerned executives who confess that they could never produce truly healthy alternatives to their products even if serious regulation became a reality. Simply put: The industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat. Just as millions of “heavy users”—as the companies refer to their most ardent customers—are addicted to this seductive trio, so too are the companies that peddle them. You will never look at a nutrition label the same way again.” X
I freaking loved this book.
Even if books on nutrition aren’t your cup of tea (or pound of lard, as the case may be) this is a must-read.
As a food/nutrition junky, I’ve read and watched my fair share of stuff regarding a healthy body and what to put in our gobs to keep it that way, but they have ranged from the boring, craycray to the right darn “how do we contact your mother-ship?”.
This book, written by a Pulitzer award winning journalist Michael Moore, had me fuming, both at the audacity of food giants, but also at my own stupidity and ignorance.
At first I regarded it as “something that was happening far far away”, until I recognized most, if not all, brands, which can actually be found at my local supermarket.
It’s not a coincidence that food giants describe their customers as “users” as the correlation between a sugar and drug addiction is disturbing.
The bottom line is, the companies care only about the bottom line, they will do everything and anything to get you hooked on processed food, at the same time defending themselves by stating that it’s what the customers want.
This book gets the full 5 Armitages
What I learned:
Almost every single processed item you buy is either packed with sugar, fat or salt, most probably all of the above.
Read the freaking label and make smart choices!
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
“Amazon.com started off delivering books through the mail. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn’t content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that’s never been cracked. Until now. Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, giving readers the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon. Compared to tech’s other elite innovators–Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg–Bezos is a private man. But he stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing.” X
I love a good biography and delving deeper into the lives of people of success and as an huge Kindle fan, this book immediately caught my eye.
It certainly is a lesson in ambition, perseverance and vision, but also in corporate bullying and the disintegration of the work-life balance, about who little thought and sentiment is attached to the person when one only focuses on the big picture.
Although there’s an underlining feel good aspect to Bezos’s tale, ultimately it’s one that I had difficulty relating to my own life in a significant way.
Sure, you can have a great idea and strive to turn it into reality, but the fairytale shatters when you realize that behind the dream was a team of Ivy League and Wall Street professionals and millions upon millions of dollars.
That’s 4 Armitages for this one.
What I learned:
This book contains one of my now favorite quotes:
” It’s easier to invent the future than to predict it”
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
“In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.” X
This book seemed to have been following me around for a while and as I have been contemplating my own repetitive habitual behavior, it seemed only a matter of time when my eyes and its pages would come together.
With great expectations comes… a bit of disappointment.
I found the first part of the book to be quite dry (lab rats anyone?) and although it may have offered some readers a light-bulb moment, I felt like I already knew a good deal of the information provided and what I didn’t know (the background to Fabreze and such) I was OK with being ignorant about.
The book also ended rather abruptly and if you were looking for ways to change your habits, it’s all summed up in the appendix.
Having said that, ever since I finished this book, I seem to be referring to it an awful lot in conversations I have throughout the day (yes, OK, I’m very chatty…), so perhaps this book has left a more lasting impression on me than I had initially thought.
Good, not great
What I learned:
There is no scientific reason why shampoo or toothpaste lathers/foams other than to give the impression that “it’s working”.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
“Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.” X
After the previous choices I was in dire need of a change and, although you should never judge a book by its’ cover, this one reeled me in.
It’s an odd book from the get go.
A strange combination of narration, emails, letter and such, it’s a seemingly ad hoc collection of bits and pieces of writing, but serve to create the main plot.
The plot is twisted and slowly unravels until we reach a (extremely far-fetched) climax, but all in all it’s a quirky tale that will have you laughing and squirming with embarrassment.
Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her. X
I left this book for last and I’m so happy I could tear through it on a Sunday as I just couldn’t put it down.
As I’ve been going through my very own changes, I’m particularly interested in learning in paths that others have taken when they’d found themselves at a crossroads.
Slightly reminiscent of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, this story certainly packs a punch and has you both sympathizing and at times harshly judging Strayed’s decisions as she embarks on a mission to heal from a path of tragedy and self-sabotage that puts my own stroppy attempts to shame.
This story is inspirational and painful, and touching, and painful… and worth working a mile in the protagonist’s (too small) shoes.
I highly recommend it, that’s why I’m giving it 5 Armitages and I’m throwing in a Lucas bum because I really enjoyed it!
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
“In Lean In, Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of “having it all.” She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home. “ X
This book has certainly been making quite a splash, although I very much doubted that I was the intended audience for Sandberg as I’m not a corporate worker, nor do I exhibit any signs of ambition and I’d loathe to be anyone’s manager (I have a pathological need to be liked…).
I ended up making my way through this book, a chapter at a time, with one of my students.
We’d look at vocabulary, flesh out key ideas and such, but somewhere in the meantime this book really connected with me, despite the fact that the author has clearly taken a different path.
I presume most people think I’m one of those women, those bloody feminists, but I calmly try to explain that the simplest form of feminism strives for equality, nothing more and nothing less and I really do believe that Sandberg is a kindred spirit in that regard.
The book isn’t perfect, but then the writer doesn’t claim to be either, so this book is worth checking out, if only to form your own opinion.
I’m already gathering up my books for May, so make sure to leave your reading recommendations 🙂