Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts

Dorking Out to Checklists


A few weeks ago one of my colleagues mentioned 'The Checklist Manifesto' by Atul Gawande. I've just gone from a very pared down life of travel to a complicated existence of living between two cities (Vancouver and San Francisco), trying to furnish an entire apartment and taking on a job that is both exciting and complex.

I've always liked making lists. There's something incredibly satisfying about writing out goals and then checking them off one by one. Gawande is a surgeon and one of the ways he manages the complexities of surgery is to create simple checklists that remind him of the simple and complex tasks he needs to perform.

Instead of being about micromanaging process, Gawande sees the checklist as a way to decentralize control. Checklists give people the tools they need to go out and do their jobs - it enables organizations to decentralize power and leaves people with the freedom to make progress doing good work.

Some of my bookmarks:
Checklists remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit. They not only offer the possibility of verification but also instill a kind of discipline of higher performance.  p. 36
You push the power of decision making out to the periphery and away from the center. You give people the room to adapt, based on their experience and expertise. All you ask is that they talk to one another and take responsibility. p. 73
The real lesson is that under conditions of true complexity -- where the knowledge required exceeds that of any individual and unpredictability reigns -- efforts to dictate every step from the center will fail. People need room to act and adapt. Yet they cannot succeed as isolated individuals, either -- that is anarchy. Instead, they require a seemingly contradictory mix of freedom and expectation -- expectation to coordinate, for example, and also to measure progress toward common goals.  p. 79
Under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success. There must always be room for judgment, but judgment aided -- and even enhanced -- by procedure.  p.79

Image: A Checklist for Checklists by Atul Gawande. Download the PDF

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Best Reads of 2010 List



Inspired by the brilliant AYear in Reading Series on The Millions, I thought I'd make my own list of the reading that captured me most this year.

Best Reads
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters | Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower | Cool Water by Dianne Warren | One Room in a Castle by Karen Connelly | Last Night in Montreal by Emily St John Mandel |

Books I Most Wanted to Read But They Weren't Available on my Kindle (or were ridiculously priced)
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan | The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sloot | Memento Mori by Muriel Sparks | February by Lisa Moore | The Gang the Wouldn't Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion, Capote and the New Journalism Revolution by Marc Weingarten | The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery | Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol.1 by Mark Twain |

Blogs I Discovered (and subsequently fell in love with)
Frances Farmer is My Sister | What Possessed Me | Italics Mine | Isak | Collection A Day | Maud Newton | Notes from Somewhere Bizarre | Style Rookie |  The Rumpus | Samimi Extremie Is Boss | A Lot of Wind |

Favorite Book Related Technology
Although it will never replace the experience of a real book (and I have some issues with quality and book pricing), the Kindle has made it infinitely easier for me to read while traveling | Runner up is without a doubt Instapaper. It has single handedly made me fall in love with reading long from journalism again.

What were your favorite reads and new discoveries from 2010?


Image from Wet Behind the Ears

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Margaret Atwood Dance Party



Via We Who Are About to Die

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Giller Long List




I found out this morning that the lovely Dianne Warren's wonderful book Cool Water is on the Giller Prize long list. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Giller, it's Canada's top literary prize, kind of like an Oscar. And Dianne's book deserves it.

I recommend you check it you if you haven't already.

Congratulations Dianne!

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Book Shop



In between dodging dog size spiders in Mexico, I've set up a little shop on this site to showcase some of the books I've reviewed here. I may expand this to include music I like and other odds and ends.

If you're going to buy one of these books anyway, please consider buying it through my shop - the link to the book shop is above, right next to about. I get a small commission and every bit helps! Thanks very much.

Image by Wanderlust

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Latest Reads


Now that we're doing this world travel adventure year, I've found some extra time for reading and writing. Here's a list of the books I've read over the past few months and whether or not I think they were worth the effort.

The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives by Brian Dillon
Rating: 3.5/5
This book got off to a slow start but ended up being a pretty interesting read. Dillon's definition of hypochondria is rather expansive and basically includes anyone who shapes their life around illness - whether the illness itself is real, perceived or a combination. The cases he covers range from Darwin to Warhol, with a wonderful chapter on diarist Alice James in the middle. If nothing else, Dillon covers the strange quirks we are all suffer from in varying levels in a way that is sensitive, accessible and that introduces the reader to a side of some of these famous characters that is new and fresh.


The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Rating: 4/5
This book has been almost universally critically acclaimed, but readers have been less generous. I've never read anything by Sarah Waters before so, unlike many of her devoted, I wasn't really expecting anything. I mention this because a lot of the negative reviews are by people who were expecting something different based on her previous books.

I was expecting a ghost story and although it was kind of that, it was more or a Gothic, overbearing, psychologically oppressing book about being stuck in something and trying desperately to get out. It isn't a fast paced read and but for a few bits, there aren't any great heart pounding moments. What you get instead is something that is beautifully written; it is subtle and it maintains a quiet, perfect trickle as it moves (slowly) to its conclusion. The characters and settings are vivid and strange and it will be a hard book to forget.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned: Stories by Wells Tower
Rating: 4.5/5 
I did not think I would like this book at all after reading the first story. It was ugly and it made me want to have a bath to wash off the testosterone that seeped out of every sentence. I didn't like any of the characters and didn't relate to anything they were doing or to anything they cared about. But I kept reading and I am so happy I did because there were some moments of genuinely brilliant writing in this slim volume - rare moments with a book where the little hairs stand up on your arm:
She was woozy and heart-swollen in the downtown, wandering wet streets that gleamed as you would have them gleam in the sweet summer film of your life.
Swoon!

Tower's writing is simple, beautiful and completely unsentimental. The last story in the collection, which the book is named after, has one of the most shocking scenes of violence in anything I've read and yet by the end, I was left rooting for the character who was responsible as he holds his own family tight against the acts of other wicked men like him that are just waiting for their chance to do something horrible. There is a humanity to the characters - they are desperately flawed but he makes it evident that we are all a part of the same messed-up struggle. Seriously, if you only read one book this year, this should be it.

Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies by Donald Spoto
Rating: 3/5
This book is well written and would be of interest to anyone interested in film history and Hitchcock in particular. The author, Spoto, has written a number of books on the legendary director and certainly knows his subject. The reason I take issue with the book is because of how it was marketed. Instead of being a fairly straightforward biography that focuses a little bit of extra attention on the relationship Hitchcock had with his leading ladies, the book has been presented as a salacious telling of how hard he was on them, how unfair and how this was a reflection of his life long problematic relationships with woman.

Although Hitchcock had his hang ups, there is nothing in the book that suggests he was anything but a director who liked some people (men and women) and disliked others (men and women); he was nice to the people he got on with, and could be a jerk to those he clashed with. If anything, Hitchcock didn't really appreciate actors or the attention and money they commanded. He thought of them as cattle and was occasionally vocal about it. He also had a slightly dirty sense of humour - something that occasionally made people feel uncomfortable.

The book is entertaining enough, but it's a fairly standard biography. If anyone is looking for an interesting revelation about sexual politics and Hitchcock, this is not the book for you.


What are you reading? 

Images from We Heart It and Now Boarding.

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Reading - Last Six/Seven Weeks

I've been reading a lot lately: on the tube, on trains, in bed, in the bath. I don't have a lot of free time, but I've taken to stealing moments wherever and whenever I can. Though I've always been a big reader, my enthusiasm for it comes and goes, and the craving for books tends to come hand in hand with times when I'm feeling more creative myself.

There are so many books I want to read before we go traveling in the spring, because books are heavy and I'm not going to be able to take many of them with me. I am debating purchasing a Kindle because it is infinitely more practical to carry around the world than a library of books, but I love the smell and feel of a real book (though granted, not the heft or weight). If anyone uses a Kindle, let me know your thoughts.

Here are some of my recent reads:

Alice Munro, Runaway
I've been never been a big reader of Munro, despite having majored in English Lit and Women Studies in university. For some inexplicable reason, I've always associated her with required Canadian Lit reading - the sooty cannon of my homeland's fiction that isn't exciting or good, just well written in that placid, polite way that Canadians are known for. Runaway is prefaced by Jonathan Franzen, who proclaims over and over again in the first 20 pages of the book that, in no uncertain terms, Runaway will save your soul.

I don't know that my soul was saved, but then I don't know that it was in danger to begin with; but I did really enjoy this book. It was quiet and sad and had really lovely moments that felt like looking in a mirror tenderly at an older version or a not yet existing version of myself. Not that I think Munro is writing about me - but her characters are filled with all the doubt, regret and joy that haunt most self-aware people.

The Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest)
Sometimes it's really nice to read a book because it is easy and fun. This trilogy is not terribly well written and I have all kinds of issues with some of the linguistic decisions the translator made. There are way too many unnecessary applications of the word 'had' in these books. For example,
"Ever since he had begun his relationship with Cecilia he had talked fairly openly about Harriet with her. Cecilia had already deduced that this was his real assignment, even though he never formally admitted it. He had certainly never told Henrik that he and Cecilia had discussed the subject."
I actually think this obsessive use of the word 'had' becomes more pronounced with book two and three. It drove me a little mad to the point where the only way I could continue was by removing them in my head as I read.

I originally found Larsson because his life and death was such a curiosity. He built his career as a journalist on exposing corruption and fighting fascism in Sweden, with a particular focus on skin heads and neo-nazis. He never published fiction before the Millennium books and even at that, he wrote all three of them before finding a publisher. Only weeks before the first book was set for release, he died suddenly, barely in his mid-fifties, of a heart attack. His partner of over 30 years is currently in a battle with his estranged father and brother who want control of Larsson's literary estate. Larsson and his partner never married because in Sweden, when you marry, your name and address is put on a public registry. Because he made some pretty major enemies throughout his career as a journalist, he was worried about the safety of his partner if their address was put into the public domain.

The Millenium Trilogy aren't a great work of art, but they are fast paced, the plots are intricate and most important to me, I got to really care about the two main characters. I rooted for them both and found myself reading quite quickly through to find out what would become of them. Lisbeth Salander in particular is a really great character - autistic, difficult, brave, vindictive and brilliant. Nancy Drew for the adult, modern, conflicted woman. Strangely, Larsson seemed to identify the most with his female characters and most of the men in his novels are hateful and abusive. Women are mostly victims, with Lisbeth Salander as the vindicator and martyr - the strong, angry woman who keeps rising up to fight, well, everyone. It's not Chekov, but if nothing else, an entertaining, good read.

***
I'm currently about mid-way through Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke and next up are Nine Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives by Brian Dillon, and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Anyone reading anything good? I am always interested in recommendations.

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