What are you reading?

Getting lost in a good book is one of the many joys of summer. I’m lucky to be reading a few great ones right now!

No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This fascinating read weaves together multiple story lines–the lives of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt’s complex roles and responsibilities, as well as political, social and labor events that occurred during World War II.

It’s a monumental work in its careful, detailed portrayal of two humans and the incredible circumstances they lived in. After reading just a few pages, you’ll never think of this great American partnership in the same way. I look forward to delving into more of her biographies!

10 Steps to Successful Business Writing, by Jack Appleman

Business writing–like any skill–must be continuously honed and improved. Appleman’s nuts-and-bolts approach is useful to anyone who writes to get things done.

The 10 step program best benefits those who are just starting to think about or improve their business writing, but is also a great tool for quick–and practical–reference. I was especially impressed with his clear “business case” for good writing in the office. A great, quick read that will immediately benefit anyone’s writing!

How about you? Reading any great books right now? Pass them along!

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What are You Reading?

Are you reading anything interesting right now? I’m fortunate to be reading two very interesting and intriguing books.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talkingby Susan Cain

This impressive best-seller was on my “to read” list ever since it was released in January. Once I finally got my hands on Quiet, it certainly lived up to expectations. Cain carefully portrays the many advantages of introversion — the ability to focus deeply, think creatively, forge strong relationships, analyze risk, listen well and much more. Weaving research from neurology, psychology, sociology and personal interviews, Cain describes how introverts–who comprise one third to one half of the population–contribute to our world but, unfortunately, are often undervalued.

There are many fascinating aspects of Quiet, whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert or somewhere in the middle. I especially enjoyed learning about introversion’s connection to innovation and creativity in the business world. Often, brainstorming sessions with many people is considered the best way to develop new ideas, but research shows that this simply isn’t true. The ideas generated from these sessions generally come from the loudest voices. Introverts and extroverts work best in smaller groups, instead, where they have time to flesh out their ideas until they feel ready to present fully-formed concepts to the larger group. When businesses allow employees the solitude they need–days working from home, an enclosed office or quiet spaces for thinking–collaboration and productivity benefit greatly. Also, Cain explains why introverts tend to make better leaders for extroverted teams, and vice versa, even though American businesses tend to favor extroverts for all leadership roles.

Quiet is highly useful for all business writers who communicate to both introverts and extroverts, for those who work with introverts, and introverts who want to learn more about themselves. Cain passionately argues that we all need to be true to ourselves and pursue projects we’re passionate about with self-awareness. Writing, for example, is uniquely solitary work. For many introverts, this may come easily, while presenting the work to others will take extra preparation. Extroverts, on the other hand, may need to balance their writing work with energizing networking events and lunches with colleagues. With self-awareness, respect for others’ differences and confidence in your personal talents, your business will benefit from each others’ unique strengths and individuals will accomplish more.

As God Commands, by Niccolo Ammaniti

Gritty may be the first word that comes to mind when describing this novel to a friend. Ammaniti’s crime fiction is very popular in Europe, but As God Commands doesn’t follow the standard “who did it?” story arc. Instead, we know from the beginning that Rino, the unemployed Neo-Nazi father of adolescent Cristiano, will commit a crime in an attempt to provide for his friends and son.

The graphic violence and steely circumstances may be hard to handle at times, but the characters’ love for one another is depicted artistically. The cinematic plot torques each character to the absolute limit, until there’s seemingly no other option but impulsive aggression. There’s no doubt that a crime will happen, but the question of who will suffer makes this a true page-turner.

While reading this novel, I’m amazed by Ammaniti’s skill in crafting a perfectly paced and suspenseful story–and wonder how these elements could be better infused into business writing. Fiction writers practice pace and suspense diligently, while business writers tend to focus more on clarity. Speeches, presentations and articles, however, all need to be intriguing if we expect others to read them. Pace and suspense are vital to engaging writing, no matter the genre.

How about you? Have you read a thought-provoking book recently?

What did you read over the Holidays?

The Holidays are a great time to catch up on the books you’ve been meaning to get around to for some time. I love the opportunity to read for hours during this time — and enjoyed reading a few amazing books!

1. Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka

The author of When the Emperor was Divine created another beautifully spare portrait of Japanese American women, and truly one of the best novels of the year. Otsuka describes young women who come over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’ in the early twentieth century. Traveling across the Pacific, they exchange photos of their husbands waiting for them. Once they arrive, they are faced with arduous work as maids or farmers, and struggle to learn a new language and culture. They have children and raise them as World War II descends — and are quietly forced into internment camps.

Otsuka’s uniquely poetic and minimalistic writing makes Buddha in the Attic difficult to put down. The women’s voices are collected as one, yet somehow each individual shines through. For example, “Some of us on the boat were from Kyoto, and were delicate and fair, and had lived our entire lives in darkened rooms at the back of the house. Some of us were from Nara, and prayed to our ancestors three times a day, and swore we could still hear the temple bells ringing.” It’s a quiet and understated novel, but it’s force is stunning.

2. How Full is Your Bucket?,  by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, Ph.D.

I’m very glad that I finally read this important book. The central concept is highly intuitive (or even obvious): positive interactions make you feel better, while negative ones are draining. The detailed research go beyond this to illustrate how and why negativity is so damaging to our productivity, health, relationships and energy. At work, we are often faced with hours and hours of criticism and a lack of recognition — and this unthoughtful environment destroys our desire to work our hardest, innovate new ideas and commit to success. Rath and Clifton estimate that employee disengagement costs the U.S. economy $250 – 300 billion every year.

True to their philosophy, Rath and Clifton don’t let this bring them down. Instead, they focus on the positive and detail many practical ways to build healthier relationships and more satisfying work. I was struck by how this slim and quick-to-read book’s simple message has such tremendous implications for building a more enjoyable work life, more energetic employees and stronger relationships.

3. Off Balance, by Matthew Kelly

Kelly takes on the “work-life balance” myth head on in Off Balance, arguing instead that what we really want is personal and professional satisfaction, not necessarily “balance.” Just like tackling a major project, we need to approach our lives carefully and apply some sort of strategy to achieve all that we want to.We need to put a few guidelines in place to be the “best version of ourselves.”

Off Balance includes many simple, practical ways to learn what you value most. We can’t “have it all,” but we can have the things we want most — and approach these aspects of our lives with energy, enthusiasm and our best efforts. Kelly also challenges us to take the “time management” philosophy to the next level: energy management. By managing our “battery,” we’ll have the energy to devote to the things we really love, and feel fully satisfied in our personal and professional lives. I highly recommend this book for it’s practical strategies to achieve a more satisfying life, but it’s not really intended for someone who’s struggling to decide which career path is best or wanting to make a large change in their personal life. It’s best for someone who’s on the right path, but wants to make small changes to make the most of it.

After reading Off Balance and How Full is Your Bucket?, I’m struck by how these “business” books apply so poignantly to personal relationships. They intentionally blur the boundaries of personal and professional, arguing that the you need the same skills and passion to succeed in either. It’s fascinating.

How about you? What did you read over the Holidays? Anything you’d recommend?

What are you reading right now?

Cover of "Drive: The Surprising Truth Abo...

Cover via Amazon

Are you reading any great business books right now? How about a novel you can’t put down?

Luckily, I’m now reading a business book and a novel that are both fascinating:

1. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
With lots of scientific research, case studies and a powerful, upbeat voice, Pink argues that the traditional “carrot and stick” method of motivating employees no longer works. In fact, it never did. Instead, humans are intrinsically motivated to seek out autonomy, intellectual challenge and satisfaction, and the opportunity to contribute to some purpose. I especially enjoyed reading the examples of this motivational philosophy put into practice within successful corporations.

Many disagree with this philosophy and even more dispute how it can be effectively implemented. If you don’t have the time to read Drive, check out the 10-minute animated video.

2. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
This ambitious project portrays Renoir’s his masterpiece, telling the stories of the thirteen friends who pose for him. As the Impressionist group struggles to stay together, Renoir resolves to make something of himself and challenge his artistic skills.

In bringing this era to life, Vreeland’s characters sometimes lose their fullness. Despite this, any fan of Renoir or art history buff (like me) will enjoy getting lost in this detailed portrait.

What are you reading right now?

Cover of "The Wealthy Freelancer: 12 Secr...

Cover via Amazon

Is reading three books at the same time a bad habit? It might be, but it’s not a habit I’m going to break anytime soon.

Right now I’m reading:

1. The Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs.
Lyrical, eloquent essays about Childs’ encounters with wild animals throughout the world. The writing is stunning. I get an adrenaline rush – even panicky – when reading about swimming with sharks or unexpectedly running into a grizzly. Then, I realize I’m still sitting on my couch!

2. The Wealthy Freelancer by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage and Ed Gandia.
After reading this the first time (I’ll read it many times again, for sure), I’d recommend this book to anyone who freelances full-time or on the side. It’s worth the price just for the many practical, nuts-and-bolts tips. But the real value lies in its discussion of why people decide to break out on their own, and how to reach your larger goal of designing a stable, satisfying and flexible career.

3. I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson.
I must warn you – this is not a beach read; it’s not a happy book. It’s a beautifully-written exploration of sadness, regret and being dropped in situations you didn’t choose. Set in the late 80s, Arvid cares for his dying mother while recovering from his divorce. His commitment to communism is shattered when the Wall is torn down, causing him to question his place in the world. It’s a lovely book and Petterson’s voice shines, but don’t read it while listening to sad music – that would be too much to handle.

How about you? Reading anything great? What’s your favorite sad book?