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Good Reads

A Few Good Reads
Good Reads

A Few Good Reads

Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed //  I am a huge fan of Cheryl Strayed.  Her book Wild was the only book I managed to read when I was in the hospital.  This book is a compilation of her Dear Sugar advice columns and I enjoyed the brutal honestly and empathy in her replies. Sometimes the book read like a memoir as Strayed incorporates her own experiences in her responses to various troubled souls.  So many good stories and life lessons in this book.  Plus, she uses the phrase “magic sparkle glue.”

The Universe Versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence //  I picked this one up at the airport on the way to Portugal, wanting to feel the pages of a book in my hand for a change.  And for a completely random choice, I really enjoyed this book.  Its unusual beginning had me hooked and its heartwarming story will remind you about the important things in life.

My Life in France – Julia Child //  Child says, “The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite.”  And, reading her story, you see how right she is. What struck me about her story was how in the face of sometimes difficult circumstances, she always found the positive in a situation and dug deep within herself to find the determination and resourcefulness to change things for the better.  If you’ve seen the movie “Julie & Julia” you’ll be familiar with the story, but it’s worth reading Child’s own account.  You’ll be inspired to get cooking!

Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott //  This is a great little book about the practice of writing, about techniques and strategies to get words on the page.  But it’s also so so funny.  Lamott is full of witty anecdotes that make this more than just a “how to” book on writing, it’s also a commentary on life.  On perfectionism she says “What people somehow (inadvertently I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”  Plus, it includes the best story ever about plant care.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead – Sheryl Sandberg //  This book has received a lot of press, both positive and negative.  For me though, this book hit me straight in the gut, maybe because I’ve been a working mom in a tech company culture similar to Sandberg.  I get that Sandberg has resources that most of us don’t, she even says she gets that.  And I get that what works for one family doesn’t work for another, everyone’s situation is different.  But what she does have to say about the evolution of gender stereotypes at home and in the workplace and the impact they have on working women is bang on.  And, it’s had me doing some soul-searching.

Zog – Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler //  I’m a huge fan of all Donaldson and Scheffler’s books. The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, Monkey Puzzle, and others have been staples in our house. And it’s a bit different to add a children’s book here, but this one really struck a chord with me.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s the kind of fairy tale I can really buy into.  One that I’d read my daughter (if I had one) over and over again.

What’s on your Summer reading list?

Good Reads

A Few Good Reads

I’m really trying to get back into reading these days.  Between parenting and a career that had me constantly studying for exams, I just couldn’t find the time or energy to fit it in over the past few years.  But I’ve missed it.  Reading good books has always been part of who I am.  So I’ve eliminated other stuff, like time wasted in front of the TV or on Facebook, to make room for more mentally stimulating pursuits like reading.  Here are a few of the books that I’ve enjoyed lately.

Elevate the Everyday – Tracey Clark  //  I read a lot of books about photography but this is one that really resonated with me.  It’s light on the technical aspects of photography, because frankly you can get that most anywhere.  What it’s full of instead is inspiration around bringing more emotion into the images you capture, suggestions and ideas for themes that will better tell the story of you and your kids lives.  We all remember to take lots of photos of the big events: holidays, parties, birthdays, etc.  But this book is about creative ways to capture all the details and routines that make up our every day lives.  Though it uses the tagline “A Photographic Guide to Picturing Motherhood,” I think this book really works for any parent with a camera, mum or dad.

Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain  //  I can’t even begin to explain how great this book is.  Whether you consider yourself an introvert, work with / live with / are friends with an introvert, or have kids who are introverts, this book is full of insights into personality and how introverts function in a Western society that’s evolved to value the “Extrovert Ideal” where “our reverence for alpha status blinds us to things that are good and smart and wise.”  Personally, I’m an off the chart introvert according to the quiz in Cain’s book (didn’t need to take a quiz to know that).  But so many aspects of how I’ve functioned in work and life situations are all now completely clear.  No freaking wonder I could never get any work done in those bloody open plan offices my boss compelled me to work in “to raise my profile.”  What I never expected to get from this book though were insights into parenting, because this isn’t a parenting book.  But Cain is full of wisdom into recognising introversion in your child, acknowledging that this isn’t problem to fix, but instead a personality to nurture.  “Delight in the originality of their minds.  Don’t expect them to follow the gang.  Encourage them to follow their passions instead.”

Field Guide to Now – Christina Rosalie  //  Filled with her mixed media art, this book is as gorgeous to look at as it is to read, an example of one of those books that should never be read as an e-book.  It would completely undermine the experience.  Rosalie fills the pages with her lyrical and down to earth stories of every day life and mixes them with invitations and activities that suggest how to engage in the present tense of your own life.  “Remarkable things emerge from the smallest, most ordinary circumstances – from taking note and then taking action.”  The chapters are short and easily digestible, intentionally so, as she fully realizes how most of us are short on time, especially with children underfoot.  Her narrative is compelling and heart warming and every time a read another chapter, I feel like I’ve spent time with a close friend.

French Kids Eat Everything – Karen Le Billon //  I know I’m not alone in wanting my child to eat a well-balanced healthy diet, and struggling on a daily basis to make this happen.  From the beginning, when my little man started eating solids, I’ve always been very conscientious about the types of food he gets (very little processed food).  But as he’s gotten older and more independent, we’ve had our struggles, our periods when every food on his plate was brown.  And 5 a day?  Not a chance.  So a friend who shares my struggles recommended this book and it is really enlightening.  “Chances are, my children are not going to grow up to go to Harvard, or to be major league sports stars, concert musicians, or NASA astronauts.  But no matter who they grow up to be, HOW and WHAT my children eat will be of great importance to their health, happiness, success, and longevity.”  In North American culture in particular, we put so much emphasis and energy into making sure that our kids excel in academics and athletics, but we pay little attention to teaching them to eat healthy well-balanced diets full of fresh food, fruits and vegetables.  Le Billon’s call to action?  “Parents:  YOU are in charge of your child’s food education” and she outlines a number of food rules to help jump-start your curriculum planning.

On Writing – Stephen King //  I’m not a fan of Stephen King, having never read a single one of his works of fiction (or watched any of the corresponding movies).  It’s just not my genre or something I find appealing.  But, this book consistently comes up on any “must read” list you find of books about the process of writing.  And it’s excellent.  The book is part memoir, part writing lesson written in the straight forward style one would expect from someone who believes “the adverb is not your friend.”  The book was at its most compelling when King recounts the accident in 1999 that almost killed him and his struggles to recover and even write again.  “The scariest moment is always just before you start.  After that, things can only get better.”

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn  //  Fiction for me has become a long-lost friend, that friend from high school who you used to talk to every day but who you lost touch with and now only talk to once every couple of years.  I used to read loads of fiction, but now I can’t seem to get through a work of fiction to save my life.  It’s like I just cannot let go and escape, as if deep down I’m telling myself to use what little time I have to read for really thoughtful things that will impact my life.  So Gone Girl is one of very few works of fiction that I’ve stuck with recently, I think because it was a compelling read, a book of two different halves, full of mystery and intrigue.  And with an ending that made me very, very, angry.

What books have inspired you lately?  I’m always looking for suggestions.

Good Reads

Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found

For my stay in the hospital this past week, I had great ambitions. Ambitions of catching up on all the reading I don’t have time to do anymore. So I loaded up my suitcase and my iPad with books.

Books that, in the end, I just couldn’t be bothered to read. Maybe it was the drugs or the pain but, honestly, I couldn’t find the concentration to focus on a page of printed words longer than a few seconds before I’d drift off.

But then yesterday as I was beginning to turn the corner and feel a little more like myself and as the drug induced haze began to wear off, I finally decided to try to read a book.  Looking for some motivation, I picked up Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed.  And then I couldn’t put it down.

Strayed’s account of her lone hike along the Pacific Crest Trail is a compelling story of perseverance and of conquering one’s fears.  I kept turning the pages into the night, eager to learn what adventure or character would meet her next on the trail.  All the while thinking to myself, could I do this?  Could I be this brave?

Strayed says:

The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer–and yet also, like most things, so very simple–was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do.

And that’s true no matter where we are in life.  We don’t have to dodge rattlesnakes and bears on a solo hike through the mountains to show courage and bravery.  We’re all faced with decisions every day that require us to demonstrate our own kind of courage.  We can all be brave.

Do I see myself doing something as extremely brave as Strayed?  No.  But reading her story reinforces for me that you can get through almost anything life if you have the courage of your own convictions.

This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart
Good Reads

Inspiration from “This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart” AND a Giveaway

I honestly don’t remember how I found Susannah Conway on the Internet.  One link led to another, which led to another, which led to her.  And I’m so thankful that I found her.  There are people you find in the blogosphere, people with parenting tips or technology advice or great recipes.  People that might have information that helps you get through daily life and put dinner on the table.  But Susannah does something on a completely different level, she talks to my soul.  Through her candid and heartfelt writing and expressive images, she’s opened my eyes to a way of not just getting through life, but of living it, embracing it.

I’ve taken a couple of Susannah’s online courses, Unravelling and most recently Blogging from the Heart.  But it wasn’t until I finished her new book This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart that something clicked.  That my head became clearer than it’s been in a long time.

It was in just those first few pages that the lightbulb went off in my head.  Grief.  I’ve grieved and haven’t acknowledged it, haven’t known it, been in denial.  Grieving the loss of a life in America with friends and family, grieving the loss of a career, the loss of what had been my identity.  And I’ve struggled to move forward because I hadn’t yet accepted that who I was didn’t exist anymore.  Maybe this is why I’ve created this space for writing and photographing, a way to make sense of everything and process my feelings.  To start finding me again.

But this book, well, it was the perfect complement to a bright sunny day, to rebuilding good karma and appreciating the abundance in my life.  While dealing with grief is one of the themes in the book, as she says,

“This is not a book about grief, although it informs everything I’ve learned about life.  This book is about unraveling the layers of our lives and exploring what we find in order to better understand ourselves, our relationships, and our path.”

And while the book is full of powerful messages and exercises to help guide you in becoming your most authentic self, it wasn’t until the epilogue that the tears came.  When describing her dear nephew she says,

“He devours new experiences fearlessly.  He inspires me to be brave and take my first wobbly steps toward love, toward more expanded life, even if I might fall down.”

Yes. I am a mother.  And, if I can’t be there for myself how can I be there for him?  How can I raise a man to be full of love, kindness, confidence, self-respect, and a passion for life if I don’t lead by example?

There are so many things that I could tell you here about why this book is inspiring and about the messages that I took away from it.  If you want more, you can even read Jill’s love letter to the book.  But what I think is even better is for you to read it for yourself, straight from the source, and soak in all the awesomeness of This I Know.  So that’s why for the first time ever, I’m doing a giveaway.  This is the kind of book you want to share with your girlfriends.  I want to pay it forward.

What’s the Giveaway?

  • A copy of Susannah Conway’s book, This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart.
  • Enrollment in her new 30-day course Exploring the Senses.  A companion to the book, this starts on June 5th and is all about the “renewal of our senses – becoming more aware of them, how we use them and how we can strengthen them.”
  • A copy of Susannah’s Photo Meditations e-book  ($150 value – 114 pages of lessons on infusing your images with soul).

For a chance to win ALL these, simply leave a comment below before Midnight, Monday, June 4th, GMT.  Please leave only one comment.  Also, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are.  I’ll choose a winner at random using, and update this post when that person is chosen.

Good luck!

Update:  And the winner of this lovely set of goodies from Susannah Conway is Maya Zaido.  Congratulations!  I’ll be in touch.  Thank you so much to everyone that left comments.  I truly appreciate all of your heartfelt comments.


Me and Steve
Good Reads

Recommended Reading: Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography

I‘ve recently just finished the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, probably the longest book I’ve actually finished in some time.  As a technology enthusiast and Apple devotee, I found this to be a truly magnificent book.  The insight into Jobs’ character and his motivations was fascinating and I enjoyed the history of how the devices I now can’t live without evolved.  Whether you’re an Apple user or not, this is an incredible story of a man who transformed the way we consume music, movies, books, and photos.

There were so many aspects of this book that resonated with me as a technology professional and consumer.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

In the early days, he demonstrated the confidence, some would call it arrogance, to get what he wanted, from anyone.  Would you call up the CEO of a company you wanted something from?  Would your call even get through these days?

He needed some parts that HP made, so he picked up the phone and called the CEO. “Back then, people didn’t have unlisted numbers. So I looked up Bill Hewlett in Palo Alto and called him at home. (p. 17).

I was interested to discover the amount of time Apple focused not just on the product but the packaging.  And it shows.  I’ve experienced first hand the delight at opening their meticulously crafted boxes.

“People DO judge a book by its cover,” he wrote. “We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.” (p. 78)

I don’t think I realized before reading this book what an eccentric Jobs was.  But can you be a genius without a little eccentricity?  And, this clearly falls into the “dude, you’re weird” category.

Sometimes to relieve stress, he would soak his feet in the toilet, a practice that was not as soothing for his colleagues. (p. 82)

The graphical user interface is what certainly made computers come to life for me and Jobs notoriously kickstarted this at Apple by using ideas created by Xerox.  He then criticized Microsoft for copying Apple’s ideas for Windows. Bill Gates had a different view.

Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.” (p. 178)

I think anyone who has worked in the corporate world is well familiar with “death by PowerPoint.”  I’ve sat through so many PowerPoint presentations where people just read off a slide that someone else created and have little to no understanding of what they’re actually talking about.  Jobs couldn’t have been more right to eliminate them.

One of the first things Jobs did during the product review process was ban PowerPoints. “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Jobs later recalled. “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” (p. 337)

The iPod was my first ever Apple device.  I wasn’t one of these creative types who’d been using Apple Macintosh for years.  I was a PC user, typical corporate PC user.  But the iPod changed all that.  With the iPod and then the companion iTunes, Jobs created a synergy between the end-user and technology that I had to be part of.  Here Jobs explains in my mind why the iPod was so successful.

The older I get, the more I see how much motivations matter. The Zune was crappy because the people at Microsoft don’t really love music or art the way we do. We won because we personally love music. We made the iPod for ourselves, and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out. If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much. (p. 407)

And then there was the iPad.  Jobs was steadfast in his belief that no tablet requiring a stylus would succeed.  He believed that the tablet wasn’t just a small PC but something else entirely.  And I think he was right.  No where is this more evident than how my two-year old can navigate around an iPad.  He doesn’t need a class or an instruction manual to figure it out.  It’s intuitive.  It just works.  My son will use technology in ways that I never imagined because of innovators like Jobs.  And that excites me.

It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. We believe that it’s technology married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our heart sing. Nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices. Folks are rushing into this tablet market, and they’re looking at it as the next PC, in which the hardware and the software are done by different companies. Our experience, and every bone in our body, says that is not the right approach. These are post-PC devices that need to be even more intuitive and easier to use than a PC, and where the software and the hardware and the applications need to be intertwined in an even more seamless way than they are on a PC. We think we have the right architecture not just in silicon, but in our organization, to build these kinds of products. (p. 527)

Jobs was also steadfast in his belief that Apple own the whole “widget” that they use a closed system where they owned and developed all the hardware and software for their products.  In my experience, I’ve used both the open (Microsoft) and closed approach.  And I find that I side with Jobs.  I’ve done my fair share of tinkering with technology over the years but I just don’t have time for this anymore.  I want my technology to work together seamlessly with little effort from me.  I don’t want it to get in the way.  I’ve got better things to do these days than troubleshoot PC problems or figure out how to integrate the technology I use.

Jobs, belief in an integrated approach was a matter of righteousness. “We do these things not because we are control freaks,” he explained. “We do them because we want to make great products, because we care about the user, and because we like to take responsibility for the entire experience rather than turn out the crap that other people make.” He also believed he was doing people a service: “They’re busy doing whatever they do best, and they want us to do what we do best. Their lives are crowded; they have other things to do than think about how to integrate their computers and devices.” (pp. 563-564)

I love that Jobs knew what I wanted even before I did.  That he could somehow see the future and make it happen.

Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page. (p. 567)

The give and take between Apple and Microsoft over the years is one of the strong themes in the book.  I find the relationship between these two technology pioneers and the companies they founded complex and intriguing.  Microsoft clearly won many of the early battles, owning the business market.  But given that Apple now has a market value bigger than that of Microsoft and Intel combined, has Apple ended up winning the war?  Toward the end of the book, Jobs tells us how he really feels about Microsoft.

It’s easy to throw stones at Microsoft. They’ve clearly fallen from their dominance. They’ve become mostly irrelevant. And yet I appreciate what they did and how hard it was. They were very good at the business side of things. They were never as ambitious product-wise as they should have been. Bill likes to portray himself as a man of the product, but he’s really not. He’s a businessperson. Winning business was more important than making great products. He ended up the wealthiest guy around, and if that was his goal, then he achieved it. But it’s never been my goal, and I wonder, in the end, if it was his goal. I admire him for the company he built—it’s impressive—and I enjoyed working with him. He’s bright and actually has a good sense of humor. But Microsoft never had the humanities and liberal arts in its DNA. Even when they saw the Mac, they couldn’t copy it well. They totally didn’t get it. (p. 568)

And finally, reflecting on his own mortality in his Stanford University commencement speech.  This one just makes my eyes well up.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. (p. 457)

All excerpts from:  Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography. Hachette Littlehampton. Kindle Edition.