Monday, July 2, 2012

Q2 Books

Earth and High Heaven, Gwethlyn Graham
Interesting look at the casual anti-semitism of Montreal in the 40s, as well as Quebecers' take on WW II and the Commonwealth. But the forbidden romance dragged, and the ending was predictable. Likable heroine though. Sam Goldwyn wanted Hepburn to play her. First Canadian novel to hit #1 on the NYT.

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
The first title in Worldwide’s new book club. The granddaddy of the hard boiled detective novel, I heard the movie cast’s unforgettable voices throughout. But I didn’t find the paper Spade as cool as Bogart’s, and all the events and characters struck me as archaic, and, even a trifle ridiculous.

Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer
Interesting study of the neuroscience of creativity. The secrets include other people and unfamiliar surroundings. If you want to solve difficult problems, think about something else.

Candide, Voltaire
Satire of belief that everything is for the best. Hard for slaves and women to agree. I found this a little juvenile, and some coincidences were implausible. Did enjoy the idea of the British and French pointlessly fighting over the “few acres of snow” that would later become my birth country.

The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz
Research suggests that more choices make it harder to decide and diminish our happiness in almost every way. 500 channels and there’s nothing worth watching.

Haircut and other stories, Ring Lardner
Had been meaning to explore Niles Michigan’s own Ring Lardner for some time. Found in him elements of Raymond Carver and Mark Twain, with lots of sports to boot. Unpretentious and deceptively insightful.

Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger
2012 me did not enjoy it nearly as much as 1987 me had. I found the world weariness of these twenty year old beautiful rich kids more naïve than profound, and the many literary allusions a little grandstanding and unnecessary. But the prose flowed nicely.

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, Terry Teachout
Not a complicated, or a perfect man, he learned music in New Orleans Juvi and aboard Mississippi steamboats. An intuitive musician and a tireless worker, he did more than perhaps anyone else to shape American pop in the 20th century. Made every song uniquely his, no matter how hackneyed.

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters, Richard Rumelt
3 elements of good strategy: diagnosis, defining the challenge; policy for addressing it; and actions for carrying out the policy. Simple, but there are no guarantees of success and some may suffer; which is why most strategies are vacuous bits of gossamer. By someone who knows the difference.

The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett
Stylish whodunit. More fun to read than the Maltese Falcon, thanks largely to the non-stop drinking, witty bons mots and the implausibly perfect Nora.

The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, RJ Smith
Not the nicest cat, he seems to have sacrificed relationships, money and health at the altar of success. Ran his band like a despot, but he made it groove like no other. Endorsed Nixon, smoked PCP every day in the 80s. Dan Hartman wrote Living in America, based on Stallone's vision for Rocky IV

An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, Tyler Cowen
Go where supplies are fresh, suppliers creative, and consumers informed to find good food. Did not enjoy this as much as I 'd hoped. Author seems more collector or detective than epicure: solving the puzzles and maximizing the number of experiences appear more important than gustatory pleasure.

The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies--How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them As Truths, Michael Shermer
Lengthy assessment of how we seek data to support what we believe to be true. Interesting hypothesis that religion arose out of an evolutionary need for order in larger societies, and that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence stems from the same neural activity.

The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life, Steven E. Landsburg
Enjoyable look at the economic principles underlying everyday life, this is the first book (I think) in what might now be called a subgenre. Written in 1993, it has the smug tone that is harder to maintain after recent events and the rise of behavioural economics.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain
Extroverts get all the attention because they never stop talking. But the quiet ones have something to contribute. Plodding at times, and diminished by excessive cheerleading, this is still interesting, never more so than when parents are trying to shoehorn their children into normative spaces.

The Management Myth: Debunking Modern Business Philosophy, Matthew Stewart
Insider with experience shows—with personal anecdotes and a history of the profession—why Management Consulting as science is largely bunk. Success is simultaneously simpler and harder than it seems. Be smart. Work hard. Adapt. You don’t need a high-priced consultant to tell you that. Usually.

The Textile industry in North Carolina: a history, Brent D. Glass
Capable recitation of the facts. Copied business model wholesale from New England; boomed as people left the farm and went to war. Roiled by struggles between workers and management before quietly disappearing. Competition from abroad was the reason, though it is not discussed here.

Caribbean, James A. Michener
Survey of Caribbean history, remarkable for its historical and geographical breadth. But the movie-of-the-week stories and cartoonish characters didn’t make it come alive for me—quite possibly the reverse—except for the horrible treatment of slaves and natives by the Europeans. That resonated.

The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, Marc Levinson
Began as humble NY tea merchant, grew rapidly by passing cost savings on to consumers, using brands to assure quality in an uncertain time. Government tried to stop it from driving small merchants out of business; customers didn’t seem to mind. Eerily reminiscent of Wal-Mart

The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman, Ian Beck
Another great female heroine in a fantasy world that is part Dickens, part Narnia. Devoured it, so I’m reluctant to criticize, but the importance of the “Dust” and its undermining (validation?) of religion was hard for this older reader to grasp. Perhaps the sequels will clear this up.

The Fix, Damian Thompson
Drugs, sugar, alcohol, gambling, pornography and technology all work on the same neural circuitry within our brains. And the sellers of these products understand this much better than we do. It’s hard to stay in control, whatever that means.

The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart, Carson Ellis
Utterly charming story of motley band of gifted orphans saving the world. Utterly charming and often quite clever, Evie enjoyed this immensely, and I did too. Diddy’s daughter dressed as Kate Wetherall for Halloween and was shocked that no-one recognized her. Me too.

The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
Second book in the trilogy gives us another hero to help Lyra and a number of parallel universes to complicate things. Richly nuanced and quickly read, I say that my taste for fantasy has abated over time, and yet I’m already halfway through the final book.

The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
Wraps everything up nicely, but I grew bored in the underworld, as well as the world of the noble creatures with wheels instead of legs. And never has a final battle between the forces of good and evil seemed less epic.

It's Not You, It's the Dishes: How to Minimize Conflict and Maximize Happiness in Your Relationship, Paula Szuchman, Jenny Anderson
Father’s Day gift from the Better Half (Signaling?). Is marriage the ultimate moral hazard? Often funny, with many familiar situations, the use of basic economics principles works a little too perfectly to be credible. Like business, relationships are more complicated, consequences less certain.

Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy, Joan Magretta, Michael E. Porter
Useful primer on a business guru I was chagrined to not be aware of until recently. A company need not be the best at what it does, but it does need to differentiate itself on the value chain in some way. This principle, along with the “5 forces analysis” will be useful in future planning.

Context, Cory Doctorow, Tim O'Reilly
Series of short, readable essays from someone with strong and interesting opinions on intellectual property in the Internet age. Less protection means more creativity. Anybody listening?


  1. ...Loyal Readers is commenting on your Q2 Reading List.  Interesting that our lists don't overlap -- of these books I'd read only Earth and High Heaven (of course) and Franny and Zooey, read for a book group a couple of years ago.  I also read Caribbean on our cruise through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal, which is the right place to be reading it.

    Your list runs to popular and serious books about todays world's, and the All Star I speaker kept mentioning books that I know you will like.  I've written down the titles, but he says he'll e-mail the book list, so I'll wait and see if he does.

  2. Thanks for reading. Worldwide mentioned a couple of titles I knew. One of the books, "the brain that changes itself" I actually sent to your husband last year.