Reading List for March 2014

Here’s what I read in March of 2014. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower book 8) by Stephen King: This one felt more like a marketing gimmick than an actual part of the Dark Tower series. Like a “fill out the form on the back of the cereal box and include 3 UPCs plus shipping and handling to get this 8th book in the series!” type of gimmick. It takes place in an earlier part of the timeline, but you only get a brief glimpse of your old friends from the series, before you get a flashback, which itself contains a fairy tale telling. It’s this fairy tale that makes up the bulk of this volume. On its own, the fairy tale is top notch, and I’m pretty sure it would fit Campbell’s monomyth to a tee; however, as a book in the Dark Tower series this was a huge disappointment to me. My view on the rest of the series is still that it’s a must read.

2 – Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (audiobook): This wasn’t close to the movie, FYI. At first, he sings a heroic ballad about the industriousness and vision the titans of the fast food industry had in their early days, but then it gets all The Jungle on you (which was more like the movie). It was such a night and day shift that I assume it was written by different people. I’m not sure people are still shocked about the workings of a slaughterhouse, but it seems to be necessary for every book of this type to recount it. I’m all for shining light on problems that need to be solved, and what surprised me was the actual action plan at the end of this where the author gives steps to take to cleanup the industry.

3 – The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco (audiobook): I read this last year, and thought it was great. I was hoping that the audio would provide a quick refresher, but it’s over 12 hours long. Not exactly quick. If you are interested in prosperity, this is a must read, although you should probably get the print version (it is a much better format for this type of book).

4 – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (audiobook): I was first introduced to Michael Chabon’s writing almost a decade ago in Details magazine. I really liked his style, but this was the first time I actually read one of his novels. The result? Still dig his style, but this book didn’t thrill me. It doesn’t help that I’ve never been a fan of comic books, but it was the characters that disappointed me. They’re good, but a little flat. A touch more salt and I think I would have liked this.

5 – Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott (audiobook): I *think* this one got put on my reading list because of the prostitution chapter in SuperFreakonomics. It was pretty good. It was kind of dry, but the sort of dry that you get in History class when you enter a period of history full of interesting characters and questionable ethics. A story of vice, scandal, and graft, but what I took away from this were the business lessons. Here’s one: outwork your competition and raise your own standards, and price becomes a non-issue to your competitors. Interesting factoid: The brothel this focuses on was called “The Everleigh Club” from early 1900s Chicago. The clientele would brag about their upcoming visits by saying they were going to “get Everleigh’d tonight” (it’s pronounced Ever-lay, if you didn’t get that already) which was shortened, and now you know where the phrase “getting laid” comes from.

6 – Linchpin by Seth Godin (audiobook): Easily the best Seth Godin book of the ones I’ve read. In the audio (which he does himself), you get a sense of his passion for the topic, and so maybe he believes this to be his best work, too. The riff here is that regardless of your occupation, you are an artist and you need to do “emotional work”. Without context, that seems like complete bullshit, which is what I said about The Icarus Deception, but here it is not. Here, he explains his emotional work concept as caring about what you do, and improvising, and doing the right thing in your job even though it may not be the standard response, or what’s written in the manual. It seems obvious, but how often do you get great service? Almost never. And if you were the one working and dealing with a customer, how likely would it be that you were giving exceptional service? Probably very unlikely. Anyway, this was a great read – check it out.

7 – Make Money with Fiverr: Pay Off Debt One Gig at a Time by Bryant Dodd: I was on Amazon, falling down the rabbit hole of clicking related items, when I came upon this and the following digital books, both on free promotions. I use Fiverr, but I’ve always been on the buy side so far; I decided this might be worth a look. There are some major grammar and typography issues, which would’ve made a grammar Nazi’s head explode, but there is also some practical advice.

8 – Albert Einstein’s Life Changing Lessons by William Wyatt: This had “Kindle info marketer” written all over it, and I mainly grabbed it to see what they were doing. Turned out to be a pretty decent little guide. It is more a self-helpy feel-good guide than biography, but I have to say I like the writer’s style. Typos aplenty though, so beware.

Reading List for February 2014

Here’s what I read in February of 2014. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917 by Ernest Shackleton (audiobook): Fantastic read. This is Shackleton’s first-hand account of his expedition to traverse the Antarctic continent, written in an interesting style that reminded me of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Even in audio form, this wasn’t exactly a page turner, however, it’s impossible to resist the seductive romance of an adventure such as this; it speaks directly to the reader’s soul. (audio is available on Librivox)

2 – Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk (audiobook): Summary: “Work your face off to build your personal brand, because it will be more important than everything else going forward.”

3 – The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk (audiobook): Business will revert back to individuals who care, as opposed to giant, faceless corporations that don’t give a shit about their customers. However, Gary warns that big business will pick up on this, and “ruin it” by trying to out-care each other. Interesting problem, isn’t it?

4 – Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy book 2) by Robin Hobb (audiobook): Pretty good read, but the main character pisses me off. He’s supposed to be a trained assassin, but he’s a passive aggressive wuss and most of his killing is hand-to-hand combat.

5 – The Dark Tower (Dark Tower series book 7) by Stephen King: This wasn’t my favorite book in the series, but it had its moments. Despite King’s addressing of complaints about the ending in the afterthought, I thought the ending was perfect. What I didn’t like was the bit just prior to the ending. As soon as the artist came into the picture, I knew exactly what was coming, and I hated it immediately. One more book in the series, but the timeline for it fits back in the middle somewhere.

6 – Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich (audiobook): This is the book that the movie “21” was based on. The book is very different from the movie. The plot of the book is also much more complicated, and much better. My major issue is that there are some introductions to people who don’t seem to matter at all, and I kept wondering if I missed something, or if the author was just trying to fill pages. I read another book of his (see below), and it turns out it’s just the author’s style (which sucks, IMHO – but that doesn’t ruin this book). Very entertaining, but don’t mistake this as a how-to.

7 – Good to Great by James C. Collins (audiobook): This is a back-fitting of what led to some companies outperforming the market average returns over a 15 year period. The problem is that this sort of reductionist thinking isn’t enough on its own – there are surely companies that fit the mold that did not produce superior returns, and also some of the “great” companies listed here ran into trouble in the years since this research was done. Yet, I was reminded constantly of Warren Buffett’s investing philosophies throughout this book. Compare Buffett’s “competitive moat” to Collins’ “figure out what you can be the best in the world at”, or compare what they think of as great management. Very similar, although radically different paths to get there. This is a book you need to read, just don’t mistake it for a success blueprint.

8 – Assassin’s Quest (Farseer Trilogy book 3) by Robin Hobb (audiobook): I didn’t really like the ending, and I found it interesting that the character-intensive narrative of the first two books was abandoned for a more event-driven third offering. Still, I would recommend this series to any fantasy fan. Also, without a doubt, the character known as “the Fool” in the series becomes, in this book in particular, one of the best-written characters in any story, ever.

9 – Ugly Americans by Ben Mezrich (audiobook): Another story of Wall Street excess, except the setting is in Japan (although the main players are still Americans), and it is based on a true story, except all the people are fictionalized to protect their identities. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of anything worth reading here. The only “excess” really detailed is some underground Japanese sex stuff, and even that is pretty tame. There are only 3 trades that you are given any facts about, and 2 of them are almost identical, featuring some arbitraging an index rebalancing. The third trade is a failed $10MM distressed loan bundle. As mentioned above, the author’s style comes into play again, as there are all sorts of intriguing narratives that are introduced, but never followed. Japanese mob connections? A boss with a sketchy past and a thirst for power who has an unknown financial backer and powerful connections? Those threads end almost as soon as they come up. I was thoroughly disappointed with this book and recommend you skip it.

10 – Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing (audiobook): This one is pretty much the same as South! (above), but instead it’s written as a story-fied narrative. This was a much easier read, and most people would probably prefer it to South!. I recommend you read both, though – and if you do, read South! first.

11 – The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli (audiobook): This isn’t so much a book as it is a huge list post you’d find on some blog. It could very well be titled, “99 Ways You Think Fallaciously”. That title would be less misleading than the title of the book. You’d think “The Art of Thinking Clearly” would give you how-to information, but you’d be wrong. Instead, this is a decent overview of other people’s research. It doesn’t go into enough depth to get a good hold on the psychology, but that isn’t what bothers me because you can look up things you find interesting. What bothers me is that he gives you his interpretation of what happened in the research. This is the sort of narrative fallacy he outlines in the book. Also, related to this point, some of this book is clearly plagiarized (Google “dobelli plagiarize” to see for yourself). Hat tip to Amazon reviews for pointing this out. With that in mind, if you choose to read this one, you should probably pirate it. He did.

12 – Trading Bases by Joe Peta (audiobook): This was *exactly* the book I was looking for after reading Moneyball. How-to details on evaluating players, teams, win totals, and thinking about the overall system of betting on them, and a list of books and websites to find information. There is no blackbox here though. Keep this in mind – you’ll need to do some work on your own; probably a lot of work. In addition to the baseball, you get his Wall Street war stories, which are great. If there’s a negative here, it’s that he gets pretty technical in a few places (although mostly his writing is very friendly). Don’t let the technical stuff keep you from reading (or finishing) this one!

13 – The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (audiobook): This was good, but not what I wanted. The audio is heavily dramatized, and interspersed with clips of lectures from Campbell. I didn’t want a radio drama. I wanted the actual text. In audio format. According to the web, this is in the works, but THIS WAS NOT IT. I’ll have to get my hands on the print book for this one.

14 – Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell: This book, in places, clearly speaks to the author’s intense love for, and deep emotional investment in, the video games he’s played over the years. Those parts made me smile, because I can relate. Unfortunately, Bissell’s writing is horrible (check Amazon reviews for examples of his logorrhea). This bothered me doubly when I finally got to the end and saw the interview transcript, and you can see how different his writing is from the way he speaks. Additionally, the claim made in the title fails, as there is no cohesive argument as to why video games might matter, and instead most of this is just his reminiscences of certain games, an admission of a coke habit, and a few interviews with industry players. If there is any redemption here, it comes in the form of the interviews with Jonathan Blow and Clint Hocking, which were exceptional.

Reading List for January 2014

Here’s what I read in January of 2014. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First by Jonah Keri (audiobook): Based on the subtitle here, you’d assume this was statistics meets baseball – something akin to Moneyball – right? Not so much. This is instead an in-depth narrative of the Tampa Bay Rays short history. I was disappointed by the gap between title and content, but this actually turned out to be quite interesting. The author sort of loses his way and flits around a bit, but otherwise a pretty good read for sports fans (not so much if you’re looking for those Wall Street strategies, though).

2 – Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin (audiobook): Some of this was useful, but if you read other recent popular business books you’ll get all those bits there. Some of this is dated. The rest is suspect (he heralds the Palm as a sticking idea – remember those?). After stringing you along awhile, he admits there’s no blueprint to follow to create an idea that sticks. Gee, thanks, bro.

3 – Tribes by Seth Godin (audiobook): This is supposedly a book about leadership. It’s not a how-to, but more of a pep-talk with very thin examples of actual leadership. He says if you want the bullet-point, For-Dummies list of how-to information you should read a different book. THAT’S MY RECOMMENDATION, TOO!

4 – We Are All Weird by Seth Godin (audiobook): This whole book speaks to nicheing down within a market, but at the end Godin says if all you’re hearing is about nicheing down, then both him and you have failed. He then talks about Tom’s Shoes, and says it is something different, and not a niche (which I’d agree with – to a point). But my real problem is that he has decided the word niche is profane. It doesn’t matter if the owners of a business, or creators of a product, really care about something because it speaks to who they are deep down. If they are selling something to a niche market they either nail it or they don’t. Giving people something that rings true will always work, while giving people something that doesn’t ring true won’t. There are good reasons to do something that is authentic to who you are, but they revolve around you hating your business because of your product, not because it’s inauthentic. Also, just being authentic doesn’t make your business any good either – look at Apple’s beautifully designed failures, or the stereotypical starving artist.

5 – All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin (audiobook): This book is really titled “All Marketers Are Storytellers”, but Godin says that isn’t a remarkable title – it wouldn’t be talked about or shared. Most likely it wouldn’t matter one fuck, because the Cult of Seth will buy whatever he sells them. The content of this book is part chastisement and part admission that good marketing works really well. This book isn’t horrible, but it doesn’t teach you any marketing voodoo; it only tells you not to rely on it.

6 – Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy book 1) by Robin Hobb (audiobook): Excellent book recommendation by a friend. There are a couple places in the story where you are completely lost, and unfortunately the beginning is one of those. Stick with it; it all comes together.

7 – The Big Moo by Seth Godin (audiobook): Actually this book has a huge cast of contributing authors, but Godin obviously named it, and he also does the audio narration. None of the contributions are signed. Supposedly this is to make it more of a cohesive book, rather than a collection of snippets, but that fails spectacularly due to style variations and sometimes conflicting advice. Can you find something useful here? Sure, but if you open enough fortune cookies you’re bound to find something profound as well. Twice in this book, it is stated that the book’s premise is to get you to get up and start something, or to Godin-ize it, to stop trying to be perfect and start being remarkable, yet the component parts of the book don’t really speak to that at all. My advice with this one is skip it and keep doing whatever you were doing.

8 – Choke: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk (audiobook): If you took the teen angst and violence out of Fight Club, and replaced it with mental abuse and sexual perversion, this is the book you’d end up with. Same use of repetition throughout; same literary ticks (his term, in the post-audio interview). I laughed so hard so many times my side hurt. It’s pretty graphic, so you can’t really recommend this to people unless you know they’d be okay with the content. If you’ve read Tucker Max, and didn’t crawl into a ball, you’ll be fine with this.

9, 10 – Purple Cow & Free Prize Inside by Seth Godin (audiobook): This audio was 2-in-1. Purple Cow: You can’t make a product for everybody, you have to target a niche (contrast with We Are All Weird, above). If you want your idea to spread, it has to be something people will talk about (see also: tabloids, incredible headlines), and this doesn’t take into account whether or not your product is any good. Free Prize: Find a way to add value to or decommoditize your product. The best part of this one was the outline for using Powerpoint more effectively. Both of these were pretty good.

11 – The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together by John Carlton: If you’re unfamiliar, Carlton is a legend in the direct marketing world. This is a “best of” compilation of sorts from his blog, and is mostly musings and stories. Even so, there’s a good amount of actionable content within. There’s also a fair amount of pitch, but it’s done is a classy way – sectioned off from the rest at the end of each chapter. Props for doing that over writing a “book” that’s really just a marketing pitch.

12 – David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook): Typical of Gladwell, you’re in for a great story. Unlike his other books, though, this one doesn’t have banner phrases you’ll be able to use to try to impress people. He gives examples of why the favorite versus underdog concept is flawed: better strategies, flexibility, willingness to outwork your opponent, trickery and chicanery, etc. He describes how policy can exacerbate the problem, rather than ameliorate it (affirmative action, three strike rule). About the three strike rule, he describes it as being a failure of policy in almost the exact way that Freakonomics describes the broken window theory as being less important than it really was (you’ll remember that Gladwell championed the broken window theory in The Tipping Point). I find this interesting, and I doubt it was coincidental.

13 – The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (audiobook): Short. Great. 1)Be Impeccable With Your Word, 2)Don’t Take Anything Personally, 3)Don’t Make Assumptions, 4) Always Do Your Best.

14 – Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel by John Carlton: Great book with detailed explanations of how to write good copy. It also covers researching and creating your first product, headline writing, and mailing specifics. There’s no hand-holding here, though, so if you’re unwilling to figure it out for yourself, this book might not be for you.

15 – SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (audiobook): The sequel to Freakonomics. Most of this book is really good, but I have one issue. One of the first topics is about walking home drunk, rather than driving drunk, and the result is that on a per-mile-traveled basis, walking drunk leads to 5 times as many deaths as driving. This is despite the statistic that 37% of drunk driving accidents kill other people. However, they seem to overlook the fact (even though they essentially state it) that perhaps not all walking deaths are quite what they seem. If someone decides to play human Frogger on a busy highway, or “lie down on a country road”, can you count them in your “walking home” statistics? Are they suicidal because they’re depressed alcoholics, and if so – that’s surely not a safety problem that you would include in your study. I’ve known more than my share of hopeless alcoholics, and this behavior hasn’t been common among them. If you fail to exclude them from your study, your numbers will be horribly out of whack. (PS: They are not telling you to drive drunk. They specifically mention that the best option is to call a cab or have a sober person drive.)

Reading List for December 2013

Here’s what I read in December of 2013. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – The Buy Side by Turney Duff (audiobook): The first part of this book was amazing. A “how I did it” success tale. Then it kind of turns into a “woe is me” sob story when the author tries to make you feel bad that he ruined his $1M+ per year job (and lifestyle) because of his cocaine addiction. Props for being honest, but I have no sympathy for you, bro. I’d strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in Wall Street life or tales of excess.

2 – Lord of the Flies by William Golding (audiobook): As with last month’s The Catcher in the Rye, I decided to revisit another high school required reading story with Lord of the Flies. I didn’t remember much of the book except them dropping a rock on Piggy (and I honestly think I remember that from the movie). I remember the teacher talking about in class how Simon’s name had biblical implications, and some shit about Beelzebub. Anyway, on second visit, I still wasn’t a huge fan of this book (none of the characters are likable – who cares if they die?), but I have to say that the behavior was spot on (IMHO), and very believable – unlike 1984 (which I read last month, and was critical of).

3 – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (audiobook): My only encounter with Bradbury before this was The Veldt (which is excellent, by the way). I like his writing style. About half way through Fahrenheit 451 I realized I’ve been on kind of a dystopian novel streak lately, and it was starting to affect my mood. Again, compared to 1984 the behavior here is very believable. Even after they nuke the world, you’re left with a sense of hope that humanity will rebuild it. That’s a pretty impressive feat.

4 – The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook): This was mentioned in Freakonomics, so I checked it out. The gist of the book is that ideas spread by getting into the right hands, and then “tip” where they spread like wildfire. Some of this book was familiar to me, but I’m not sure if it was from reading it before (very possible, as this book is largely forgettable), or just from the ubiquity of people citing Gladwell’s examples. The point to note here is that Gladwell gives credit to the decrease in crime rate of the 1990s to the broken window theory, which the Freakonomics guys discredited because a) the new policing strategy was only in NYC, but crime was decreasing everywhere, and b) crime was on the decline prior to the start of the strategy. All in all, The Tipping Point was mildly interesting, but very skippable.

5 – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (audiobook): I loved the old movie as a kid, but the book was kind of disappointing. The pace is too slow, and the book is full of scientific plant and animal names with little or no description of what he’s talking about. So unless you’re a marine biologist you’re largely in the dark. Less tell, more show! Alas, the differences between the book and the movie make the book a clear winner, so check it out despite its flaws.

6 – The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin: Hyperbole++. Make art! Be Amazing! Be weird! He admits there will be ups and downs on your path, but if you persevere he promises you’ll get to the land of unicorns and rainbows someday. Personally, I think this premise sucks, unless you’re exceptionally timid about your dreams (and somehow I figure that most people reading a Seth Godin book aren’t). Still, he manages to make a few valid points in this book, but the best part is that there’s a link to the next book on this list, which I actually enjoyed.

7 – The Bootstrapper’s Bible by Seth Godin: I read the updated (and shortened?) version of this one, found here on his website. This book might be the polar opposite of The Icarus Deception (above). It gives practical advice (ie. actionable) to anyone looking to start a real (ie. profitable) business. Instead of telling you to recklessly pursue your dreams, it gives you a plan to pay the bills. [Note: Once you have the bills paid, you can do whatever the fuck you want – that was the premise of The 4-Hour Workweek, which is still the best business book I’ve read (and it’s not about only working 4 hours, btw). Or to paraphrase what Nassim Taleb said in one of his books, if you want to be a philosopher king, the correct order is king first, then philosopher.]

8 – Cooked by Michael Pollan (audiobook): This is the third book by Pollan I have read, and all have the same structure of four or so shorter books stitched together under a loose theme. Like the others, this one also started off interestingly enough, but inevitably ran on too long, to the point that I begged it to end.

9 – The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr: I am about to be highly critical of this book, so let me first state that the author does indeed make some very good points, especially in regards to how the brain is physically affected by the constant distraction atmosphere of the internet. He’s 100% correct when he sums us up as crack addicted rats mashing the “get crack pellet” button in the laboratory. Unfortunately, some of his ideas are clearly biased, and that leads me to believe that some or many of the ideas that are not clearly biased are also biased.

Every change in technology, from the alphabet to the internet affects how we think. Carr says that Socrates feared what the written word would do to human’s memory, and because of that Socrates was anti-book. The Shallows seems to approach the same topic (human memory) from the standpoint of the physical book being the one best medium. Personally I find it easier to agree with Socrates here, but perhaps the physical book’s gift isn’t one of memory, but one of the ability to spread ideas far and wide, and that’s a much better deal to humanity overall.

Another of Carr’s points revolves around a study that was done with two groups of students that gave them the same article to read and be tested on, but one group had just an article and the other had wikipedia style links within. The second group scored poorly compared to the first, and it’s given that they clicked around aimlessly. What isn’t explicit is how they were told they would be quizzed. If you told them they would be tested, but didn’t make it clear that they were only to be tested on the primary article, that’s a huge difference. At that point, they weren’t distracted, but overwhelmed; the medium had nothing to do with the grading. Compare giving a whole chapter of a book to one group, versus giving a single page of that chapter to the other, and all the test answers came from the page. Less information is a huge advantage.

Here are my thoughts about the rest of this book:
a) Comparing readers of classic literature to readers of The Huffington Post or other ad-view machine, click happy blogs is clearly fallacious. Compare readers of local newspapers or tabloids to shitty web copy for a more realistic evaluation.
b) Most people out of school don’t read anything all day besides street signs (debatable) and ads for what shows are going to be next on their TV station. I think any reading at all is an improvement for this group.
c) I know that I don’t know what the height of human brain evolution is, and thinking anything else is ridiculous.
d) Perhaps the Ancient Greeks would win a competition where you had to memorize and recite something, but optimizing for that didn’t save their empire.
e) If you are optimizing for memory, the best medium is not the written book. Clearly the best medium is the popular song.
f) Human evolution has selected against self-sufficiency again and again. From hunters to bakers to sailors to graphic designers, specialization and inter-connectivity has won out. How the internet connects us is only the latest chapter.

10 – Make Something People Love by Alexis Ohanian – Super short ebook that details his ideas about entrepreneurship, and recounts some of his successful guerrilla marketing endeavors (make cute logos, give away lots of stickers). PS: The book is hosted on HIS Dropbox.

11 – The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros (audiobook): Soros is a legendary titan of the hedge fund world, but this book is mostly philosophical (and in that regard, it is dubious). The real takeaway here is his admittance of an aspect of his character that will serve you well in any endeavor: be willing to make a complete 180 degree reversal of position at any time when your analysis doesn’t seem to be working. The only thing he was sure of was his own infallibility. I think that’s brilliant.

12 – Stardust by Neil Gaiman (audiobook): I didn’t know what I was getting into with this one, but maybe that’s a good thing because I loved it. It’s an adult fairy tale – there’s some sex, some graphic violence, a couple vulgarities – but if you’re someone who is bothered by that, I urge you to look past it. This was wonderfully lyrical, and a really nice story of self-reliance and resiliency. For the first time in a long time I wish a book was actually longer than it was!

13 – The Dip by Seth Godin (audiobook): This version was abridged, and I still think it ran on too long. Quit doing things that aren’t important, but fight through the tough times where it is important. There I saved you the trouble of reading this.

14 – Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (audiobook): A couple people I know have said this is their favorite book. One of them I’ve never seen pick up a book, so I really think he’s talking about the movie, but wants to seem literate (fuck people like that, tbh). From a writing perspective I liked some of the repetition usages in this book, but the overall story just isn’t very good. Same goes for the movie, by the way – even though it’s somewhat different. If you are an angsty teen with violent tendencies, maybe this speaks to you, but otherwise? I just don’t know… If you do decide to read this one, take note that what most people miss here is the gigantic pile of irony.

Reading List for November 2013

Here’s what I read in November of 2013. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (audiobook): This is better than The Black Swan, which was itself a great book. The idea in this one is that something is antifragile not when it durable, but when it gets stronger when tested. His example is the Hydra of Greek Mythology, the multi-headed beast that regrows two heads when one is cut off. I thought of Saiyans from Dragonball Z.

2 – Permission Marketing by Seth Godin (audiobook): This was written in 1999, and it might have been revelatory then, but now everyone on the web follows its protocols. Namely, offer a freebie for an opt-in, and then spam the shit out of your list with offers because these people now gave you PERMISSION! If that’s not quite the way it’s supposed to work, maybe Godin can write another book called, “Don’t spam your lists, fuckwads!” (PS: I better get credit for that title, Mr. Godin.)

3 – Dracula by Bram Stoker (radio adaptation): Read this as a youngin’, but didn’t remember anything beyond the obvious. It seemed like a good idea when I grabbed it the week of Halloween, but I didn’t get around to it until mid-November.

4 – Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (radio adaptation): 2 hours of my life I won’t get back.

5 – David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (radio adaptation): Thoroughly enjoyed the BBC’s version of this classic.

6 – Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (audiobook): This was Taleb’s first book, and it lacks the characteristic bravado found in The Black Swan and Antifragile (see #1 above) – which, in my opinion, really make his books shine. Besides that, this is a good foundation and should probably be read before his other books, unless you’re a studious poker player with a solid understanding of gambling theory, in which case you can skip this one.

7 – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger (audiobook): This was required reading for my senior year of high school. Despite required reading’s ability to fuck up a wet dream, I’ve always listed this among my favorite books. Because of that, I wanted to give it another go-round. Turns out, I liked it even more 12 years later.

8 – Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (audiobook): So crime’s at an all-time high and all of a sudden it starts decreasing at a rate non-commensurate with the advances in policing or policies. What’s the cause? According to this book, it’s the Roe v Wade decision made two decades earlier, which legalized abortion. It turns out that when problematic, low-income households don’t have unwanted babies, those unloved babies don’t grow into criminals (who would be in their prime 20 years later). Shocking? Not really, IMHO, but obviously very un-PC.

There are more examples, but that is their main talking point. Also, this one was also turned into a documentary, and I watched that too. It does a better job of delivering the important information, so skip the book and check out the movie.

9 – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (audiobook): I wasn’t impressed by this classic. I understand the themes of it, but not the way it came together. So much of the human behavior in it felt off, artificial. As an example, the concept of a newspeak dictionary that could eliminate dissent by removing certain words from the vocabulary, and therefore eliminate any thought of rebellion, is complete bunk. There are countless examples of this, but here’s one: We lack emotional vocabulary for all types of feelings; it doesn’t keep us from experiencing those feelings. Anyways, I wouldn’t say this was a bad book. I’m glad I read it. It just wasn’t an accurate representation of behavior.

Or, to Jay-Z this review: 1984 the commercial did more than 1984 the book to me.

10 – You Can Be a Stock Market Genius by Joel Greenblatt: Great book about investing in special situations (mergers, spin-offs, bankruptcies, etc). Get it. Learn it. Profit.

Reading List for October 2013

Running a little bit late on this month’s reading list, but better late than never. Computer issues in October =(. Maybe I will write a post about it. Anyway…

Here’s what I read in October of 2013. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Song of Susannah (Dark Tower book 6) by Stephen King: This wasn’t as good as book 5, and I thought the formatting hindered the story a little bit. But, really it keeps the story moving along, and its flaws don’t get in the way of the overall flow of the story. One step closer to the tower.

2 – Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (audiobook): This is the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Before reading it, I had great respect for the mythos that Mandela is associated with. After reading this, I have even more respect for the man. I highly recommend you check this one out, and grab the audiobook for the African pronunciations, and the clips of songs and speeches that end the chapters.

3 – Masters of Doom by David Kushner: Remember the video game Doom? It was super popular with people a few years older than me, but I caught the derivative games that were built on the Doom engines. If you read this blog prior to the database crash you may remember my Half-Life post.

Well, this is the story of the company that made Doom, the wacky founders, and the shit show that was their company, id Software. I thought it made for fantastic reading. This book starts off a little bit slow, but stick with it; totally worth it in the end.

Hat tip to Alexis Ohanian (Reddit co-founder) who recommended it as the best book he’s ever read on starting a company.

4 – How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months by John Locke: It isn’t bragging if you back it up, right? Well, Locke’s sales figures back up the title of this book. Read the Amazon reviews and you’ll see the haters are out in full force on this one – most likely their own ebooks didn’t sell quite so well. They say his writing is bad (I don’t think it’s terrible, but it also isn’t great), and that he bought fake Amazon reviews (against Amazon’s terms of service).

I really don’t care if he did or didn’t buy reviews. The biggest takeaway from this book, and the thing that very few of the people who read it will do, is to go find people who like books similar to the one you wrote, AND THEN TELL THEM ABOUT YOUR BOOK! Everyone wants an easy button – run some ads, write a blog post, buy some SEO software, but nobody wants to go talk to people to hustle up some business.

If you want apostles, you gotta convert em. And there’s an entire blueprint laid out in this book to do just that.

Another takeaway here: your writing doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough. Goes back to the Robert Kiyosaki quote, “I’m a bestselling author, not a best writing author.”

5 – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (audiobook): I guess most people read this in high school, but I didn’t. I’m glad of that, because I would have interpreted it much differently back then. Still, I wish I had read this sooner than now. It seems like the true classics never age, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine this was recently penned. The ending is brilliant.

6 – Warren Buffett’s Management Secrets by Mary Buffett (audiobook): After reading previous books by Mary Buffett I knew not to expect too much. Some of this is rehashed from the other stuff I’ve read, and I loved the ludicrous example she gave about Coca Cola being such an awesome product that you never have to change a thing (this said some 2 decades after the “new Coke” disaster). I recommend that you skip this one.

7 – World War Z by Max Brooks (audiobook): Much better than The Zombie Survival Guide, this one is written as a series of interviews with survivors and figureheads from the great zombie war. Very well done.

8 – World War Z: The Lost Files by Max Brooks (audiobook): I’m not sure if this one wasn’t as good as the first, or if the novelty of the theme was just wearing thin on me by this point, but I struggled through this. The above and this one MIGHT be available as a combined package, but I’m not 100% sure of this, and I apologize if I’m wrong. (I got this tip on Wikipedia.)

9 – The Stranger by Albert Camus (audiobook): So much of this book felt right, even though it is quite odd. Definitely a must-read just to experience.

Reading List for September 2013

Here’s what I read in September of 2013. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Rich Dad’s How to Find Great Investments by Robert Kiyosaki (audiobook): This is a 1 hour audio that gives a brief overview of investing in different asset types. According to the Amazon page, this was created as a freebie to get people to go to a seminar. It isn’t horrible, but it definitely doesn’t live up to the promise of the title.

2 – The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks: This is allegedly a comedic work, but if you decide to take a peek you’ll see that its tone is so serious that it puts Ben Stein to shame. To call it deadpan would be an insult to deadpan. Despite that criticism, it’s actually chock-full of useful survival/prepper information.

3 – Rich Dad’s Guide to Investing by Robert Kiyosaki (audiobook): This was good and very in-depth. I’d recommend getting the print book for this one, so you can dig deeper and take notes.

4 – Cash Flow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki (audiobook): Another book I read ages ago, but decided to refresh on audio as I plow through Kiyosaki’s offerings. I remember it being much more useful and profound when I was less experienced. It’s actually a very good explanation of the types of income, and how to adjust yourself to each. As with most of Kiyosaki’s works, use this to formulate your strategy, but you’ll have to find your tactical stuff elsewhere.

5 – The ABCs of Real Estate Investing (Rich Dad’s Advisors) by Ken McElroy (audiobook): Being a complete noob in real estate, I found this highly informative. Unlike most of the Rich Dad stuff, this one is surprisingly systematic, giving you not just an idea to work towards, but a complete step by step plan to achieving it.

6 – Wolves of the Calla (Dark Tower book 5) by Stephen King: THIS WAS THE BOOK I WANTED AFTER BOOK 3! A-fucking-mazing! I have nothing more to say. If you haven’t read this series, you’re missing out.

7 – Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (audiobook): This book is meant to recount the trek our food takes from farm to plate over a few different paths. Pollan’s storytelling ability is strong throughout. The rise of corn as the dominant species on the planet, how broken our food system really is, how it has gotten there, and how we’ve forgotten everything we’ve ever been taught by nature. Also, I can’t read the title without saying “om-nom-nomnivore’s”.

8 – Rich Dad’s Fundamental and Technical Trading by Robert Kiyosaki (audiobook): Skip this one – it’s too oversimplified to be useful, and tries to do too much. If you’re completely new to investing in stocks, I recommend you read Peter Lynch’s duo One Up On Wall Street and Beating the Street, and also William O’Neil’s How to Make Money in Stocks (dull title, great book).

9 – Becoming a Millionaire Within a Year With No Effort by John Colt: There is precisely zero useful information within this short 140 page book. Of these 140 pages, about 40% are blank or contain only chapter/section headings in giant print, and the rest are in a huge font my blind brother can read. Besides that, the author is completely unlikable through his writing, and the typos are so fucking horrendous, that even as a non-grammar Nazi I wanted to scoop my eyeballs out of their sockets with a hot spoon as penance for just having read them. If you choose to read this piece of shit, you will stop yourself repeatedly wondering what the fuck the author means by this incomprehensible passage, and then you’ll ask yourself, “Do I really hate myself so much that I can’t just stop reading and burn this book before it gets any worse?” The sole positive here is that the title of the book itself is so good that it has probably sold a lot of books to lazy people who want to get rich quick. ALSO WHILE THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON, I REFUSE TO LINK TO IT OUT OF PRINCIPLE. I will not be an enabler for you to get cheated.

10 – Confessions of a Street Addict by Jim Cramer: This is Cramer’s telling of how he became interested in the stock market at a young age, how it became his obsession over the years, how it eventually led to his becoming a hedge fund manager, and the ups and downs (and drama) associated with a very public Wall Street life. Great story, in the same vein as Reminiscences of a Stock Operator (also a great read).

11 – The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (audiobook): Pollan is a great storyteller, and he tells you all about the evolution of 4 plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. The stories are fascinating, and you’ll never think of Johnny Appleseed the same.

Reading List for August 2013

Here’s what I read in August of 2013. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Getting Back to Even by Jim Cramer (audiobook): I was hoping for something as crazy as his TV show, Mad Money, but this was actually a serious work. Not bad, and I always appreciate different views from different types of market players.

2 – Real Money by Jim Cramer (audiobook): Right out of the gate he recommends Beyer’s Picking Winner’s as his favorite stock picking book, which I love. Those in the know will recognize the pun there as well. To those of you who missed it, Beyer writes books about picking winning racehorses. This book continues with fantastic explanations of market information. Highly recommended for anyone new to stock picking.

3 – Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki (audiobook): I read this ages ago when it came out (I think it was one of my first Amazon purchases, actually). It’s better than it gets credit for. Solid ideas, put in an easy to understand for everyone format. The one thing it lacks is a game plan – you’ll have to figure that out on your own.

4 – Rich Kid, Smart Kid by Robert Kiyosaki (audiobook): From the title you’d think this was written for children. It’s actually written for parents, who can then explain it to their kids. I think that’s a superfluous step – just write a goddamned kids book. Of course if your object is to sell as many books as possible, this is just another take on the same info you already have.

5 – Rich Dad’s Prophecy by Robert Kiyosaki (audiobook): DO NOT BUY this book! The “prophecy” is that government policy, mixed with baby boomers reaching a certain age will result in mass exodus of dollars from the stock market. This should be obvious to anyone who is investing (although obviously this is not the case). The real problem I have is how narrow his focus is with this same concept. Baby boomers should also be selling their empty nest houses in favor of condos and apartments in warmer climates, causing house prices to go down while rents and condo prices increase. You could also bring up hundreds of other things like medical costs, insurance costs, used car prices and the like. So why cut the scope of the book so narrowly? Probably because Kiyosaki is primarily a real estate guy with a dislike of the stock market. This book is an incomplete thought at best, and you should avoid it.

6 – East of Eden by John Steinbeck: A stripper recommended this book to me, so of course I had to read it. That’s kind of an odd statement, but when you get a book recommendation from someone who gets naked for cash, you don’t expect much – probably a popular book like Harry Potter, or Twilight, or some trashy romance novel. You certainly don’t expect a ~650 page behemoth like this. While this wasn’t exactly a page turner, Steinbeck writes some of the best characters you’ll ever read and you will see pieces of yourself and those you know very clearly within this book.

7 – As a Man Thinketh by James Allen: I passed over this one on my reading list a lot. I figured it was just another Think and Grow Rich – which, although great, has a pretty large, and unfortunately mostly wrong, implication built into the title: [Just] Think and Grow Rich. As a Man Thinketh, however, was quite a different book. While short, it gives you all the keys to the kingdom, and doesn’t limit its scope to material wealth. This should be required reading in all schools.

8 – The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles: Another short success classic, SoGR was the basis for the recently uber-popular movie/book The Secret. SoGR is better, and much shorter – which is great if you’re lazy like me. If you do check out The Secret, get the book (or audiobook), and avoid the movie which is a hype marketing piece.

9 – The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism by John C. Bogle (audiobook): The investment world suffers from the same affliction as our political system: the inmates are running the asylum. Those who are chosen to serve the needs of the masses are instead guided by greed and self-interest, and therefore rules are needed to curb bad behaviors. In this book, Bogle attempts to define the problem, and provide solutions to all parts. Although I think he’s mostly on track, I also think he goes a bit too far. Pendulums being what they are, however, that’s usually what happens.

10 – Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (audiobook): Because I was so impressed by Steinbeck’s characters in East of Eden, I had to check out another of his works. This was short, clocking in at about an hour’s worth of audio; it was time well spent. His characters are so well done it’s frightening.

Reading List for July 2013

Here’s what I read in July of 2013. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – Tales of Dunk and Egg 1 – The Hedge Knight by George RR Martin (audiobook): The Dunk and Egg series is comprised of [currently] 3 short stories (maybe they’re novellas, I don’t really know) that happen in the same world as Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones), but they happen years prior to the start of the GoT timeline. If you’re familiar with GoT, think of this as its little brother, minus most of the awkward sexual depravity and the long, should-have-been-cut-out, non-essential-to-the-story passages (the latter being my personal problem with his writing).

2 – Tales of Dunk and Egg 2 – The Sworn Sword by George RR Martin (audiobook): Better than the first one, and I quite liked the first. Martin should really stick to shorter books – it keeps his prose in check. (PS: I slightly lied about this and the next entry. They weren’t chronological compared to later books, but I thought it would be best to lump them together.

3 – Tales of Dunk and Egg 3 – The Mystery Knight by George RR Martin (audiobook): This third (and currently last until he publishes more) story was my least favorite of the three, however it was easily the best at shaping the future of the yet unpublished (and probably unwritten) stories in the series.

4 – Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson (audiobook): In every video I’ve seen featuring Branson, I’ve come away with the impression that he’s sort of an affable, eccentric dude who likes to take risks and make a name for himself. After listening to this autobiography, I realized there’s also a good bit of his personality that is very Machiavellian.

And, while I don’t read all that many biographies (mostly an oversight on my part, but I like ideas more than people), this is only the second best autobiography of a still-living Brit I’ve read. My personal preferences have to give the nod to Felix Dennis’, How to Get Rich, as I see more of myself in his personality and viewpoint.

5 – Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick (audiobook): Awesome account of Mitnick’s computer and phone hacking escapades. This book tells of his hacks, his multiple arrests, his evading the FBI using false identities, and finally his getting caught. Face paced, and well written, it’s sort of an action movie script for computer nerds.

6 – My Life as a Quant by Emanuel Derman: Not a bad account of what it’s like to work on Wall Street as a physicist / mathematician / computer programmer. The writing is a bit fluffed up and repetitive in spots, probably to meet size quotas for a printed book. It’s also written at a pretty high level. Not in a bad, “I’m trying to appear smart” way that is characteristic of writing by lawyers and doctors, but it could be toned down a bit; I had to consult the dictionary a few times for words that really didn’t quite work once I saw their synonyms. Unless you’re interested in this as a career path, I’d skip this book – which makes me wonder how this found its way to my to-read list. (One of the perils of having a very long backlog of books to read, with most entries not noted why they’re on there.)

7 – The Millionaire Mind by Thomas J Stanley (audiobook): Stanley maps out the qualities of actual millionaires, based on research and statistics. Hint: It isn’t the smartest or those who went to the best schools. Useful to know, and perhaps to game plan a bit, but as always you need to be wary of averages.

8 – Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins (audiobook): Most of Robbins’ stuff (at least what I’ve seen) is motivational hype or self hypnosis hacks, but this one is a short and sweet blueprint for accomplishing whatever you want. Check it out.

9 – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (audiobook): There’s plenty of wisdom here, mostly rehashed from Eastern mysticism. The general idea is that all you have is this moment in time, and you can’t live in the past or future as those are just tricks your own mind is playing on you. Sure, fine, but the unrelenting of ‘now-ness’ as I’ll call it, is overboard – in my opinion. I’ve been more impressed by the writings of other Eastern spiritual teachers.

10 – The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco: This was excellent. You should read it ASAP. In one book, MJ covers what some “gurus” sell whole libraries worth of shit to cover, and this book does it better. I wish this book had existed when I was 20.

To counter my hype, let me point out what I didn’t like. DeMarco hates the stock market. He’s correct when he says that most of the uber rich got there by selling their own stock, not by buying stock. He’s correct in saying that the market is extremely volatile and can crush you at any time. He’s correct when he bashes the mantra of the “slowlaners” ($X compounded at Y% for 40 years is $ZOMG!) But, you have to look at it long term, and you have to not pick shitty stocks. It has never failed to recover lost gains. Might take awhile, YOUR particular stock might not come back, but it’s a fantastic tool.

Reading List for June 2013

Here’s what I read in June of 2013. Numbers are for chronology, not rank.

1 – I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (audiobook version): A collection of short stories linked together by an overarching narrative of Asimov’s fictitious history of robotics. Each story revolves around the “3 laws of robotics” – which are central to the plot. Dr. Susan Calvin, robopsychologist, then solves the puzzle involving the interaction of the laws. Very CSI-like. This was, to me, a much better story than his Foundations Trilogy which I read back in March.

2 – The Essays of Warren Buffett by Lawrence Cunningham: I read the first edition, which I don’t recommend if you want to read the book, because the updates here are important. I read it because it was available, and because I only wanted a place to start reading Buffett’s writing without trying to dig through all the Berkshire shareholder’s letters to get a sense of it. Now that I have read this, I will definitely be reading all the letters to shareholders. So I guess if you’re interested in WB’s wisdom, and you trust my recommendation, you could just start there as well. Look for it to be mentioned in next month’s list.

Also, I think I should include something I read that took me a long time to figure out on my own: “Of course, some investment strategies – for instance, our efforts in arbitrage over the years – require wide diversification. If significant risk exists in a single transaction, overall risk should be reduced by making that purchase one of many mutually-independent commitments. Thus, you may consciously purchase a risky investment – one that indeed has a significant possibility of causing loss or injury – if you believe that your gain, weighted for probabilities, considerably exceeds your loss, comparably weighted, and if you can commit to a number of similar, but unrelated opportunities. Most venture capitalists employ this strategy. Should you choose to pursue this course, you should adopt the outlook of the casino that owns a roulette wheel, which will want to see lots of action because it is favored by probabilities, but will refuse to accept a single huge bet.” – from the 1993 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders.

This is something any serious gambler deals with, and can be explained best by a game: We flip a coin. If it comes up heads you pay me a dollar, if it comes up tails I pay you a dollar. Neither of us has an advantage here.

Now we modify the rules: Heads you still pay me a dollar, but tails I pay you two dollars. Now you have an advantage, and you would probably like to play this game as much as you possibly can. But, this doesn’t always work out in your favor. Say we multiply the wager to a size you’re uncomfortable with (the nominal amount will depend on personal situations), but let’s say: heads you pay me $10,000 and tails I pay you $20,000. It’s still a great game if you can afford it, but if heads goes on a run most of the population is in deep shit. And, obviously there’s always a number that will make you flinch, no matter who you are.

3 – Six Days of War by Michael B. Oren (audiobook version): I’m not sure where I got this recommendation, but it was labelled as “the best book about entrepreneurship I’ve ever read.” I’m not so sure that is a very accurate description, but organizing a war and strategically planning a business venture are probably similar in a lot of respects. Personally, war histories are not my thing, but that isn’t a knock on this book – it was pretty good. My favorite aspect was the propaganda reporting. Israel claiming they were attacked first, when they really were the aggressors, Egypt’s PR guy telling the nation they were crushing the opposition when in reality their entire air force had been destroyed while they were sitting around with their dicks in their hands (Baghdad Bob, anyone?)

4 – Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower book 4) by Stephen King: This was not the book I wanted after finishing book 3. First off, it is a monster of a book, coming in at 752 pages, and I was surprised by it’s length because it’s on my Kindle and in a digital format you don’t really have a sense of the weight you’d associate with a huge book. Plus this series has been short books thus far. At some point, I thought to myself, “Fuck me, I’ve been reading this book forever!”

Next, this book is mostly back story of a younger version of the hero in the deadly choke-hold that is first love. Yes, he’s oblivious to the world around him, and desperately gasping for breath while treading water. Been there, done that. I get it. I don’t need 400 pages of it. Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t think that sort of thing is very interesting to anyone besides the people involved. Or maybe I’m just a grumpy douche – I’ll let you decide.

Anyway, when the story finally picks up the pace, it REALLY comes together. I felt pretty satisfied with the resolution. At the end it picks up back to the current timeline, and goes right off the fucking rails into some Wizard of Oz shit (I’m not even joking).

5 – The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (audiobook version): I’ve read this before, but wanted to put it on my iPod so I could refresh when I’m feeling down about something I’m working on not coming together like it should. Solid read. Recommended for anyone who deals with creative work.

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