Quick Thoughts on 15 Books I’ve Read this Year

The more I read, the more excited I am to read. It’s like learning more about what I don’t know. And it’s exciting and also a little bit embarrassing because I start to get paranoid and think, wait, did everyone else already know about this? Given the rates of reading in the world, maybe not.

I’m sure someone will ask how I read so much. Well, it’s easy to read a book a week if you are a type-A neurotic who takes public transportation and also doesn’t have a very exciting social life. I read whenever I’m in a queue to calm the internal rage that comes over me from waiting in line and whenever else I have a spare moment. I only watch one or two TV shows a quarter and they’re all shows that can’t be binge watched – i.e. I don’t have Netflix.  Even so, I’m a little short on a book a week, particularly as one of these “books” is a movie, but I’ve been working like mad recently. I hope to get better!

*These aren’t affiliate links.

1. Dollars and Sense: How we Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter by Dan Ariely

This book focuses on the irrational ways we handle and think about money. The biggest one that I noticed for myself is faulty comparisons. In the book it’s how car salesmen get you to add on extras to your car, because you mistakenly compare the cost of the extras to the car, which make the extras seem insignificant. For me, I’ll nitpick about the cheapest Uber but forget that I used to spend so much money owning a car. Or I remember this one time when my boyfriend and I had just come back from a pricey European vacation and we balked at paying 10 cents to print out a Groupon for a “free” meal on our way back. We were adding the 10 cents to the vacation and were trying to take a stance of “not a penny more!” but that’s a really illogical way to look at money. And vacations. I should have been comparing the 10 cents to the cost of a comparable meal out, not adding it to the tab of the vacations. (Also no one was keeping track of my budget for vacations for me so it didn’t matter to anyone anyway).

In the same way, I’ve always thought budgets were a little odd. Like if your budget is $100 on clothes and you’re already at $100 in April, what does it matter if you buy the dress you like on April 30 v. May 1?

2. Win Bigly by Scott Adams

If you still can’t wrap your mind around how Candidate Trump became President Trump, this one cuts through all the BS.

3. Great at Work by Morten Hansen

Most employees focus on a million different tasks and projects and do middling jobs at them. The best employees focus on fewer things but obsess to be the best at them.

4. In Pursuit of Silence [documentary]

Ok it’s not a book so I’m cheating here. It showcases the negative effects of noise in our lives.

5. Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone

Understand whether you want coaching, compliments or information regarding your position as feedback and interpret any of the feedback you receive as such. This helps you understand others’ feedback for you and communicate your needs for feedback from others.

6. The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

What I took from this book is that Ms. Haddish is a powerhouse of positivity. I also remember that she wrote that if you’re not having fun on stage, no one’s having fun.

This is the book that finally helped me understand that affirmations were not crap.

The way humans are socialized, we hold a somewhat irrational attachment to our tribes. It’s not that we should break our allegiances but we have to understand others’ allegiances if we are to understand their motivations.

9. The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

Like a coming of age story when it comes to money and someone in their 20s.

10. Barking to the Choir by Greg Boyle

I’m so impressed with Father Boyle’s compassion for former gang members. It really makes it hard to judge anyone after reading this book.

A lot of good emotional work here.

12. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

I love this idea of cleaning out your house early so your family won’t have as much to do. And it’s such a hilarious gem of a book too.

Forget the 1%, the upper middle class are keeping income inequality alive.

14. Nonviolent communication by Marshall Rosenberg

This is a way of communicating to de-escalate potentially explosive situations (not necessarily violent in a gang way, but could just be violent in your personal relationships).

15. Getting the Love you Want by Harville Hendrix

I buy into the idea that I’m attracted to people who represent the negative characteristics of my primary caregiver in an effort to subconsciously repair that rift. That’s why I always date men who oddly remind me of my mother.

What are you reading?

The Ultimate Free Resource that Will Help You Achieve Your Life Goals

 

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In 2017, I decluttered my apartment, improved my language skills, wrote a quarter of my novel, and read 70 books. I did all these things with help from programs and services from my community’s best free resource – the library.

Obviously, you can also use the library to read more books. Many people don’t realize, however, that the library offers so many other resources for learning, entertainment, socialization or even getting involved in local politics.  Libraries are an amazing resource – and it’s amazing that people don’t take full advantage of them because libraries are completely free! Use the following tricks to advance all your goals, including reading more books.

  1. Hack the hold system to save time.

First things first – use the library to learn about a wider variety of topics cheaply and efficiently. I used to determine what books I was going to read by browsing aimlessly in bookstores or the library. This took at least half an hour and I would go home with 7-8 books, read whatever was interesting and then repeat the process in a few weeks. It was a fine method but hopelessly inefficient. Also I would gravitate to the same sections over and over again. I found myself reading too many books about parties, personality tests and dating and not doing enough to repair my lack of knowledge in history, geography and biography .

Instead, I recommend starting with a list. Go to your favorite bloggers and websites or ask your friends to recommend books. Alternatively you could google a list of “best books to read” or “best books of 2017.”  Your own library may have a list of favorite reader books or a list of new books that you can browse. Also, in an effort to diversify your reading list, think about what kinds of topics you want to learn more about and search for the best books in these categories.

Once you have this list of books, go online to your library catalog and put these books on hold. If you are looking for current popular books, there may be a long wait so it’s imperative that you also keep a long list of books on your hold list. At any given time I have about 20 books on hold and I’m on various places on the wait list for several others.  This way I don’t get new books all at once but also don’t have to wait around for something to read.

Having books on hold means that you don’t waste time browsing through the library to figure out what book you want or reading the same kind of book over and over. Additionally, if your library is part of a network of libraries, you then have access to a greater number of books without having to travel to access them.

When you go to the library, you can just head over to the hold section and check out your books. By taking out multiple books at once, if you’re not in the mood for one book, then you can read another. Saving time in the library means you have more time for reading, which will lead to more books being read. You’ll be zooming through books in no time in 2018!

  1. Check out the digital resources. 

Want to read the latest issues of Cosmo, The Economist or GQ? Want to download audio books from the comfort of your home? Want to have access to university-level courses? I can do all these things from the comfort of my apartment, with my library app. Check to see if your library participates in the RB digital app or a similar app. By downloading the app, you save even the time of going to the library in order to stock up on knowledge.

 The app is just the start of the library’s potential resources, however. If you get familiar with your library’s website, you may also discover a number of free educational programs like Lynda or Mango Languages. I personally used Lynda to learn about SEO and marketing for my website.  I used Mango to brush up on some languages before a big European trip. Both provided top notch and unique methods of instruction. Best of all, I could access both services from the comfort of my computer or phone and they were both totally free.

  1. Explore in-person programs.

 My library has lots of programming to keep its clientele entertained and social. If you want to meet new people, you can discuss all the new books you’re reading through a variety of book clubs, learn to make gifts or food through craft nights or even chat people up during happy hours hosted by the library.

If you want to entertain your mind, you can attend one of the many talks a library may sponsor with famous authors or workshops geared to teach a variety of different interests.  Upcoming events at my library include information about becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen and a workshop on personal finance. Many libraries also host language lessons and meet-ups for various special interests.

 If you are interested in fitness, libraries often also have fitness classes. My library offers yoga and tai chi.

For other interests, libraries also host events where you can meet your local congressmen, obtain toys for kids or even get help with technology. Libraries are amazing incubators for meeting new people and learning new skills.

  1. Shop the book sale.

Many libraries have blowout book sales to get rid of old books and other donated materials. Personally, I find it useful to buy children’s books at these sales because kids’ books can be crazy expensive and you need a lot if you have a voracious reader.

Library books sales don’t just sell books though. I’ve gotten a pretty impressive and unique collection of sheet music and records from library sales at a small fraction of their original costs. Having a record collection that goes from Liszt to Springsteen to mariachi covers of the Beatles – it’s all thanks to the library.

  1. Donate your old magazines and books.

 If your goal in 2018 is to declutter, then you may want to start by giving your bookshelves a break. Consider giving used books, magazines and DVDs to your local library, which they can incorporate into their circulation or into the aforementioned book sale. You get a tax deduction and are helping other people in  your community while giving new life to your possessions and helping the environment. Plus, think about all the storage space you’ll save!

  1. Don’t be afraid of fines.

 On the one hand, the due date and the warning of a fine (and the threat of disappointing another user) keeps you focused on finishing your books so that you can return them. On the other hand, people use fines to stay away from libraries and nothing worse could happen than using a piddling fine to deter your access to the library!

I think of fines as part of my charitable giving – because it’s going to a good cause. Of course you shouldn’t keep your books out longer than you have them reserved but things happen and you’ll inevitably accrue some fines if you’re taking out dozens of books at a time. I spend about $20/year on book fines but I get so much use out of my library, I’m happy to pay the fines. It doesn’t deter me – rather, it encourages me to give. This is why I’m a lifetime member of my library – and I encourage you to give to your library too. It’s only fair to give back some of the largesse you receive from being a frequent patron of your library and you’re helping the library get even better than it already is.

 All in all, the library is an amazing resource. Even though some may think it odd to go to one’s local library, those who understand the amazing benefits offered by local libraries are really gaining incredible advantages – all for free.

What about you? Do you use all the resources provided by your local library?

My Favorite Books and Podcasts of 2017

It’s sometimes surprising that I have a full time job because I consume an inordinate amount of media (it probably comes from being single and not having kids or friends). So far this year, 68 books cover-to-cover, 22 books skimmed and probably 100 podcasts.  I also have a killer library and podcast game, which I will detail in a post sometime.
These are my favorites of the year – many, if not most, of these items did not come out this year. I’m a little slow to the game. And I wanted you to know that I worked hard to cull the list down to something manageable. This list could easily have been (and was at one time) twice as long.

My favorite books of 2017

Books I need to reread, but not in any order:

Rob Bell is apparently a very controversial figure in the Christian world, and I don’t know if his ideas are correct (because any time I mention his name, people seem to get excited about tearing him down), but his book made me thirst to reread the Bible. And that’s uncontroversially positive.
I swear I have the same dream about the white room. Just a beautiful and fun to read book. Sometimes it’s nice to dream.
So this is how you become a James Beard award winning cookbook author. The introduction made me feel so warm inside, I hardly needed the crockpot!
I can’t vouch for the advice for dealing with grief, having never had to do so before, but I thought it was such a beautiful and vulnerable look at how Sheryl Sandberg is dealing with grief.
It reminds me of How to Win Friends and Influence People, but with more practical tips.
Sometimes I marvel that I’ve been on so many long-term relationships without ever really questioning if I understood what a healthy loving relationship looks like. I need to study this book for life.
I am reminded of this book often because of the anecdote in the beginning where the author notes that he graduated in the same class as the CEO of Enron. What happened between the time he was a bright graduate to when he was running a fraudulent company? Bad people don’t set out to become that way but through their choices, and imperceptible and microscopic changes in perception  – we become the person we are today. 
I discussed my thoughts here.
Books that were eye-opening
Pastor Hamilton’s perspective on 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (regarding all scripture being God-breathed) really colors how I read the Bible now.
I wish I had read this before my broken engagement, but hey, I’m learning. I love how proactive it is.
I would say this encouraged me to get outside my political bubble, but I actually know very few people with my political views. In any case, it provides me with hope for civil discourse in our country.
I accidentally taught my nephew a bad word, but it was worth it because this book was interesting. The thing about self-help books is that they typically say the same things, but sometimes you need to read several of them to get accustomed to the ideas and then find the one that finally speaks to you to really get it. I think I’m getting closer, particularly with this book.
Books that I haven’t finished but will go on this list
The idea that my vision can improve is something that I’d never considered before.  But as the author notes, no one expects someone to stay on crutches for the rest of your life.
It’s like that form listicle that is repeated on a million sites “7 habits of successful people” except it’s a million really weird and obscure habits from the world’s most successful people. Some of the ideas are clearly contradictory but it’s a must for people who like to experiment.
Favorite Podcasts
I think about this podcast every time I get on my bike in 30-something degree weather or take a cold shower. I’m getting more resilient.
Also, I love listening to the Art of Manliness and it’s the source for so many of the books I choose to read.
Where Should We Begin? – I’ve Had Better
People tell me I should be happy to be single because of podcasts like this. It still makes me yearn a bit that these people have the project of a relationship, even if they’ve let it get so far away from them. They still have something to fight for, and if they didn’t still want to fight for it, they wouldn’t be in therapy. But yeah, it’s pretty tough.
I saw  Esther Perel at Sixth and I, and wow, she’s just so brilliant, I could listen to her talk for days.
The Robcast – Pete Rollins- An Introduction to Love – Parts 1-3
I know so little about love. These podcasts were a deep dive into, what must be for others, basic concepts of love. Like for most people, people are just objects, but when we love, we make these people into “subjects.” They become fully formed in our minds and stand out from other humans because of our love. I also loved what Rollins says about how loving gives our lives meaning – how if we love, we can’t really not find meaning in life.
The James Altucher Show – Tyler Cowen – What the Future Holds
I took Cowen’s Complacency Quiz and got Trailblazer, even though I’ve moved all of 20 miles away from home. So I clearly liked this podcast because he says that I’m basically going to make America great again. =D But really, anything that involves getting out of our comfort zones is totally up my alley.
What were your favorite books and podcasts of 2017?
*Disclaimer* this post contains affiliate links. These views are mine and I was not paid for them.

 

The Power of Community

There was a famous antidrug PSA during the 1980s that showed a rat alone in a cage with two water bottles. One bottle was filled with pure water and the other was laced with cocaine. Unsurprisingly, the rat became addicted to the cocaine water. The ad ominously warned: “Nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it . . . and use it . . . and use it . . . until they are dead.”

But here’s the catch: These tests were done in isolation. Each rat was by itself, alone in a cage for a prolonged period of time. The experiment was repeated a second time, but the rats were now living together. This time, the rats mostly ignored the cocaine water. They didn’t like it, and no rats died.

Community and togetherness, it turns out, can often overpower the most self-destructive threats. Like many people, these rats were less interested in getting high than in escaping a profound sense of loneliness. 

–Andrea Miller, Radical Acceptance

How many of our financial woes are due to an interest in escaping loneliness? Do you think a sense of community might help you spend less?

Don’t Force Your Kids to Eat Their Vegetables: What I Learned from “First Bite”

All the books I’ve read this year have changed my life – via new information and/or new perspectives. This book, First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, is the only one that changed my family’s life.

I accidentally left this book in my sister’s car, and she started reading it. She tried an experiment described in the book, the tiny tastes program, on her picky son, to great success. His palate has been considerably expanded to include new favorites like cherries, asparagus and cucumbers. The program consists of offering the subject an incredibly small amount of the target food over a period of a few days. The subject can also be bribed with a spoonful of their favorite food for successful completion of each “tiny taste.” But because the taste is so small, the subject generally complies anyway. And with repeated exposure to the taste, the subject learns to like the taste.

This is exactly the opposite tactic that adults who are picky about eating were subjected to – generally their parents made them eat a whole plate of food they hated without any choice.  This program works because it’s not as frightening to eat a small amount of the food and because many children and adults really can enjoy a wide variety of foods if they’re comfortable with them.

The most interesting bit of knowledge that I learned from this book is that there is almost no genetic component to our taste. If we were born in a different culture, we would be eating that culture’s food rather the one we currently do. The food we tend to like is food that is familiar to us and that may also be associated with good memories. The food we tend to avoid is food we are unfamiliar with and/or is associated with bad experiences in our past, like being forced to eat a whole plateful of food we hate/weren’t familiar with.

I know I still can’t stand the smell of creamed corn because I threw up once after eating it when I was a kid, so I totally believe in this hypothesis that bad memories dictate the foods we avoid. Also, I’m not a picky eater at all and perhaps part of that is due to growing up in an Asian family where we ate all our meals family style. I could put as many or as few things on my plate as I liked. I was fully in control, though my parents would of course encourage us to expand our palates. (We all eventually grew to enjoy bitter melon but it was definitely a no-go when we were young. Hey, it took 20 some years of “tiny tastes” but we made it!)

The more I read about our personal preferences, it seems like we are really products of our culture. Like how our taste in music tends to run towards whatever was popular (or at least whatever music we listened to) when we were 13. That’s why I’m a 90s music girl, but that’s why most women of my age also listen to the same music. We are all uniquely the same in this way. Our food preferences just show that we are products of our upbringing and how scary the food culture was when we were children.

Overall though, people can still change. One way to do this may be to incorporate something like a “tiny tastes” program into one’s own life. Small exposures breed familiarity, which may breed to affinity (though there’s no guarantee that you’ll like something even after a tiny taste). You are not confined to your childhood experiences and instituting  small changes can help you change your habits and your tastes (maybe, I’m shooting off the cuff here – it’s a hypothesis).

Let’s talk about our traumatic eating experiences!

How to Let Go of Your Anger: Reviewing the Mistitled “How to Fight”

I’m a Christian but I understand that there is a lot of moral wisdom to be gained from nonChristian and non-religious books. I also often think that the Bible may be lacking sometimes in practical guidance. For instance, Jesus instructs us in Matthew 5:22, that even being angry at your brother is a sin. But he doesn’t tell us how to stop being angry. And the church doesn’t usually offer any advice beyond “call on the Holy Spirit to give you [patience, endurance, kindness].”

In Bible study, we are wrestling with the idea of God being our friend, while also being someone who was revered. The group agreed that “Sup, Bro” would be too casual to say to God. But they also agreed that getting angry at God was ok. But I think it’s got to be more reverential to ask “how are you” in vernacular than it is to express anger. Plus, though I realize that God isn’t a human, so we don’t really have to worry about God’s feelings, I think the act of getting angry, even when another person is not the victim, has damaging effects on us.

How to Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh has a really misleading name. It’s really about controlling your anger. Hanh shares my belief in the corrupting force of anger:

When you try to get anger out by hitting something like a pillow, it may seem harmless. But it’s not certain that you can release your anger by hitting the pillow, imagining it to be your enemy, the one who has made you suffer. You may be rehearsing your anger and making it stronger instead of releasing it. . . By rehearsing our anger we are creating a habit of being angry, which can be dangerous and destructive.

So Hanh is saying, the act of getting angry, even when there are no victims, is destructive to oneself. I think we know this instinctively to be true. My favorite passage is called “Killing Anger”:

…he cursed the Buddha to his face. The Buddha only smiled. The cousin became even more incensed and asked, “Why don’t you respond?” The Buddha replied, “If someone refuses a gift, it must be taken back by the one who offered it.” Angry words and actions hurt oneself first and hurt oneself most of all.

This passage reminded me that, many times, you have complete choice in how to respond to people. (It’s also helpful to think of in terms of gifts this holiday season. If someone gives you a malicious gift, you can just give it back. You don’t have to accept everything that is given to you). They may bait you, they may come at you with anger, but you don’t have to return the gift. They can take the anger home with them. You don’t have to take the anger home with you.

It’s funny that when you start reading books, they all start to relate to one another. The Longevity Plan , which I had discussed in another blog post, had also talked about the dangers of anger for the heart and breathing as a means to remove anger.

This book was really helpful to me for understanding my own anger. When I think of getting angry, I think of fighting. I don’t stop to think, did I misunderstand what the other person said or did? Do I need to fight back? If I started fighting, what would “winning” look like?

But when you’re angry and the other person is angry, you feel like you’re the only one suffering but the fact is, you’re both suffering. Hanh compares fighting in this scenario to running after the arsonist when your house is still on fire. By settling the anger within ourselves, we stop both sides from suffering, and we train ourselves not to become angry. This is the only way to truly put out the fire and prevent more fires from spreading.

What are your techniques for defusing anger?

Image via Giphy.

 

Hack Your Days to Have a Better Life: Advice from “How to Have a Good Day”

Ok I didn’t finish reading this book. But I skimmed it and there’s an appendix that lists all the best practices as an easy shortcut. Here are the most helpful tips I found.

Before Work

  • Think about something you’re looking forward to.
  • Set your intentions. What matters most today? What does that mean for my attitude, intention, attention and actions? What specific goals should I set for the day? Try to keep these answers in mind.
  • Visualize the most important thing you’re doing today and picture yourself doing your best. Notice what you’re doing and saying.

As you get started.

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Why the Poor Can’t Get Ahead in the U.S.: Reading “The Broken Ladder”

Look – a Republican reading a book about inequality? You all should be so proud of me.

Have you ever played that game where you’re trying to survive as a working poor person? The game keeps giving you terrible options but I’m so much of a stoic that I came out ok. It seemed like a bad exercise. I’m sure others would think I wouldn’t really be able to pass the game in real life.

According to The Broken Ladder by Keith Payne, the latter group may be wrong. The book covers how inequality completely changes the poor’s perspectives, focusing on the now, increasing risky behavior. Because I’m not one of the poor, I may be able to lift myself by my bootstraps but, if I had been born in poverty, I likely couldn’t.

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How to Live to be A Vibrant Centenarian: Lessons from “The Longevity Plan”

The Longevity Plan by Dr. John Day chronicles an American doctor’s journey to a bucolic Chinese village that has one of the highest rates of centenarians in the world (yes, Chinese. Everyone keeps correcting me to say, don’t you mean Okinawa? Nope. China! people). Not only are there plenty of centenarians, but the centenarians are in great health.

The tips described in the book aren’t really earth shattering, but it’s good to be reminded of them and sometimes, a certain way of describing the problem can finally spur action.

1. Eat good food

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