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TBR: Dostoyevsky

To be read – Dostoyevsky – right after I finish The Wings of the Dove.

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Poem of the Week

I had to share this one by George, the Poet.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2018 in fiction, poetry

 

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Parisian Charm School

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In Parisian Charm School Jamie Cat Callan provides an orientation to the uninitiated to the to élan of Paris. Her lessons on fashion, color, use of voice, flirtation and such explain why the French have such elegance and poise. In addition, she gives the names of tour guides and teachers with businesses that give unique experiences to English speakers.

The book is a fun read, that gives a romantic look at all things French. It’s far from a complete or sociological look at the City of Lights. I thoroughly enjoyed Callan’s writing, but realize that like any country France has its pros and cons and that a lot of the tours or experiences would be pricey. So remove your rose-colored glasses before you sell your house and move to Paris in search of amour.

 
 

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Library of Luminaries: Coco Chanel

Similar to the illustrated biography of Jane Austen, Literary Luminaries: Coco Chanel is a delightful biography that provides the main details of Coco Chanel’s life.  Again, charm prevails as delightful illustrations show Chanel’s life from childhood as an orphan to later success with plenty of love affairs along the way.

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It’s a good introduction to the life of the sophisticated, brave woman who pared down fashion, gave us the “Little Black Dress” and quilted purses.

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I’m thankful to Farah Shamma who led me to this book via her A BookTube Book YouTube channel.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2018 in non-fiction, postaweek

 

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Pre-Suasion

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If you need to understand effective persuasion techniques, Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion is a must-read. Cialdini explains how the situation before people decide or act, highly influences what choice they’ll make. For example, when voters received a men email with a small American flag in the bottom corner, they were more likely to vote Republican. If the email asked them to take an action, e.g. click something, fill out a survey, they were much more likely to voter Republican.

Lessons learned include:

  • Your surroundings and associations matter. Research has shown that having photos of your customers in your office helps you create messages that better connect with them. When Cialdini was writing a book intended for a popular audience, the tone was suitable when he wrote at home, but when he wrote in his campus office, the tone was too academic.
  • Multi-tasking is impossible. When we try to multi-task, we’re just switching from one task to the other. When we’re switching there’s a moment when we aren’t concentrating on what we should adding up all these inattentive moments amounts to a meaningful time wasted not concentrating on what we should.
  • Humans, even babies, are quite wired to reciprocate. When you do some small, kind thing for someone they’re likely to reciprocate. My favorite examples on this are that when Osama bin Laden’s captors were getting no where interrogating him. They had given him cookies and tea everyday, but he never touched the cookies. They found out he was diabetic and so the interrogators started giving him sugar-free cookies. After this personalized, kind treatment the body guard answered all their questions.

    In a similar case, the CIA was questioning a tribal leader in Afghanistan who they noticed was quite fatigued. They learned he was overwhelmed with responsibilities including keeping his four wives happy. The CIA gave the man four Viagra pills and soon afterwards the man fully cooperated. Personalized touches work.

The book is full of clear examples and shows you how association, trust and directing attention impact successful persuasion before you even start to persuade.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2018 in fiction, non-fiction, postaweek

 

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Economix

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Michael Goodwin and Dan Burr’s Economix (2012) is a graphic nonfiction book that explains economic principles in an accessible way. The book uses the narrative of a guy trying to learn more about economics to engage the reader. Organized chronologically, Economix begins just at the 17th century, though the author notes that economics pre-dates that era, but people didn’t know how to analyze it.

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The book was most helpful to me when it explained new concepts or elucidated ideas like “supply and demand” which have more complexity under certain situations. I liked learning about economists I hadn’t heard of such as David Ricardo.

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N.B. Neither Economix authors agree with Malthus

I appreciated learning that world and national economies are often so multifaceted that it’s (practically) impossible to predict or understand them. That assertion seems honest and I hadn’t heard that before that I can recall.

Towards current era, the authors state that the book will be more aligned with the Democrats and appreciated that admission. It’s unmistakable, but their statement made me trust their final chapters more. I do think the book would be better if it wasn’t so connected to American history and used more examples from all over the world, however, I guess they authors didn’t think their audience was very cosmopolitan.

All in all, Economix is a good introduction to economics, dark science that I’m trying to learn more about.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2018 in book review, non-fiction, postaweek

 

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Germinal

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Part of Émile Zola’s Rougon-Marquart series, Germinal is set in a mining town in 19th century France. The title comes from the new Republic’s calendar, it’s the name of month in spring when things start sprouting. Whatever you might imagine the life of a miner to be like, it was far worse in France. At times I had to put the book down, because it was just too heart-breaking to read about the suffering people endured.

The hero is Étienne Lantier who arrives in town seeking work. Trained as a mechanic, Étienne accepts the only work available, working in the mines. Pay’s low so he moves in with a mining family and shares a room with Catherine, their teenage daughter to whom he’s attracted. But love is not in the offing. Catherine’s jus 14 and her poor diet has stunted her maturation, but she’s involved with Chaval, a boy, who also works in the mine. Brutish and abusive, Chaval is a product of the mines, not the sort of boyfriend who can respect a girl. Respect though is a luxury item, just like a good meal. Like all their peers, Chaval and Catherine work all day in a back-breaking environment and spend their nights having sex in a kind of quarry. The young and old’s spirits have been crushed and there’s no hope, romance or joy. Life offers few choices so if you’re pregnant and your boyfriend beats you, you put up with it. Life’s about survival.

The work and environment is described in acute detail. Work was arduous in the sweltering mines. Pay was so low that children had to work. Encouraged by Étienne and a couple others who’ve read up on socialism and labor rights, the miners go on strike. Then the oppression reaches new lows. They’re tough and dedicated, but are soon starving as their pooled savings run out. As you’d expect the workers’ pay gets reduced and their expected output increased. The owners are far off in Paris. The mine’s run by managers who’re well paid, but have no power. Miners and their families start to die. Some return to work and violence ensues. Just as things appear to improve more disaster, disaster based on a true event, strikes.

Each day I looked forward to reading more of this gripping story, but then would have to put it down as the hardship was unbearable, worse than other stories of coal mingling like King Coal by Upton Sinclair. I appreciated Zola’s descriptions and how he portrayed his era with such clarity. (Though when people were moving through the mines it was hard to grasp how extensive they were.)

To his credit, Zola doesn’t glorify the miner’s and vilify the managers and elite. There’s plenty of realism and fairness to go round. I appreciated Zola’s prose and his complex characters.  I read that Zola researched Germinal painstakingly and even went into the mines to see the conditions.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2018 in 19th Century, book review, fiction, French Lit

 

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