So Good They Can’t Ignore You–Cal Newport

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This was an insanely good book. Potentially life-changing, actually.

The basic premise of this book is that the idea of “follow your passion” is a bad one. And it’s bolstered with examples of real people succeeding and failing depending on what they’re doing.

The book is divided into four sections, each devoted to a rule.

Rule 1: Don’t follow your passion.

Most people who truly love what they do (excluding, say, athletes who by necessity had to start extraordinarily young) are not doing what they would have said they wanted to do as a young person. Even Steve Jobs didn’t start life as a tech guy. What makes you happy is autonomy at work, feeling good at what you do, and enjoying the people you work with. None of which is achievable just starting out in any field.

Rule 2: Rule of Skill

Basically, the way to get what you want in a job–the autonomy, for example–you need to be able to pay for it with what he calls “career capital.” The idea is that you deliberately and meticulously develop a set of skills, usually over a period of years, that set you apart from other people in your field. These unique skills and abilities are what enable you to leverage your position into taking the shape that you want. The best way to achieve this is to adopt a “craftsmen mindset,” which involves thinking about what you can contribute to your organization, what you can create.

Rule 3: Importance of Control

Of course, there are drawbacks to the lure of control. If you make the jump too soon, before you have the skills that will allow you to get paid for doing what you want, you’re in trouble. Conversely, if you have the skill set you need to get the control that you want, your employer is likely to fight to keep you where you are. It’s the obvious side effect of being so good that they can’t ignore you. He advises using the test of whether or not people are/would pay for what you’re about to do as a the deciding factor when determining if your goal is fiscally feasible.

Rule 4: Importance of Mission

A mission is like…the bigger goal of your life. The feeling that you’re doing something that will make a difference, something new. People frequently (myself included) get frustrated at the difficulty of finding and settling into a “mission” in life. But he points out that most real missions are adopted by people who are not beginners in their field. The new stuff, the exciting ideas and projects, are all just outside the edge of what is currently being produced in the field. To find your mission in the adjacent possible, you have to be in the field long enough and be good enough to get to the edge and from there you can see the next steps. That’s where you’ll find your mission.

I loved this book. I’m getting his other books, and I’m systematically reading all the entries on his blog, starting at the beginning (2007! may we all have such blogging longevity) and it’s all good. He’s a smart man, who can express things clearly and logically.

A Whole Nother Story–Dr. Cuthbert Soup

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About halfway through this book, I had doubts. This is a children’s book (or YA? I can never tell where they draw that line) that I read with my kids. I love children’s books (and YA books) so I enjoy reading books with the kids. Some are better than others, and I had, as I said, doubts about this book halfway through.

The book follows a scientist and his three kids, on the run from a wide range of nefarious people. They’re being stalked because the dad is thisclose to completing a time machine. Everyone wants it. Our government, foreign governments, creepy corporations…everyone is after them.

They move whenever the bad guys get too close. Much of this book involves them on the run and the random people they encounter as they look for a new place to live. About halfway through I started to wonder if there was any plan or if the entire thing was a loosely connected series of adventures.

However, once they DID find a new town to settle down in, the pieces started to come together and it started to all work. There’s a sequel–maybe more than one, I haven’t looked–that the kids want to read. I am not opposed. This book reminded me a bit of the Series of Unfortunate Events in the snarky cleverness, and the little jokes that the kids may or may not have actual understood but I appreciated.

This is a fun and playful book. I enjoyed it, the kids enjoyed it. If you’re interested in a fast fun kid’s read, this is a good choice.

 

Rebecca–Daphne de Maurier

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This is one of those classics that I should have read sooner but didn’t. Such is life.

It’s a beautiful, elegant book. I’m going to watch the movie at some point as well.

Basically, it follows the path of a young girl as she meets a rich widower and marries him. All seems well until they go back to his home, Manderley. Manderley is an elegant, old estate, and the new bride (who never gets a name) feels ill-equipped to handle it. Added to her issues is the fact that her housekeeper, an imposing woman named Mrs. Danvers, is still devoted to the first wife, Rebecca.

She soon discovers that the shadow of Rebecca is hanging over everything she ever does. Her bedroom is newly renovated because the rooms used by Rebecca and her husband are shut off, kept exactly as they were when Rebecca died.

All the friends and neighbors she meet talk about how wonderful and vivacious Rebecca was, how beautiful she was and how memorable her parties. On a walk with her husband, the dog wanders to a hidden cove with a small cottage, but her husband won’t go there and bans her from going back there.

She tries her hardest to be as good as Rebecca, as lovely and as popular, but in that she is thwarted by Mrs. Danvers who does her best to make her feel inferior and sabotages her efforts at every turn.

As the situation progresses, it starts to seem like not only was Rebecca not the saint she appeared to be, but that there is some deep dark secret that is associated with her death. Her husband, who has been withdrawn and uncommunicative since they got back home after their honeymoon, eventually tells the truth to his new wife and from there everything goes to hell.

It’s a tragic, sad story, but it is beautifully written and conveys an almost gothic atmosphere that you hardly ever see done (or at least, hardly ever seen done well) lately. It’s not a long book, and it’s a classic, and I definitely recommend it.

Side note: if you read the Jasper Fforde “Eyre Affair” series you’ll find that Mrs. Danvers is a recurring character that causes havoc for the main character. That was my first introduction to Mrs. Danvers and the entire conceit is far more amusing having actually read Rebecca.

 

 

Deception on His Mind–Elizabeth George

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This is the first book I read in this series, all the way back in high school, lo, these many years ago.

I re-read now, as part of the series, because it’s been so long and I wanted to see it in its proper place in the series. It was compelling then, compelling enough to make me add the series to my reading list all these years later and it’s still my favorite thus far.

I think, you know, it’s because there’s no Inspector Lynley. He’s off on his honeymoon and we get only Sergeant Travers. I try to like Lynley, and he’s mostly a reasonable character, but it’s hard to feel sympathetic to a character that is both rich and part of an unreachable elite.

In this case, she’s on leave from the police force to recover from injuries she got at the end of the previous book. Her young neighbor comes to tell her that they’re taking an unexpected trip to the seaside, and her father adds that he was called to help his family with a crisis. She turns on the news and sees that there has been a murder with racial overtones committed in that town, and realizes that he’s going to involve himself in that mess. She decides to go down there herself and try to help him out.

Once there, she discovers the officer in charge of the case is someone she did police training with, and she gets herself put on the case as a liaison between the police and the family, as represented by her neighbor.

The victim is a recent arrival in the country from Pakistan, set to marry the daughter of a local businessman and town councilor. He’s found in a concrete structure on the beach, covered in bruises and with a broken neck.

The daughter could be a suspect if she wanted out of an arranged marriage, but actually, she was pregnant when he got there and when she told him, instead of repudiating her and breaking off the marriage, he agreed to move the wedding up. She’s in much more trouble now that he’s dead.

Her boyfriend could be a suspect, but he didn’t even know she was pregnant and shows no interest in marrying her himself, so that’s not likely.

As the case develops, it turns out that the dead man was homosexual, which adds additional options. Did he have a lover that resented his upcoming marriage? Did his lover have someone that resented their relationship? Did the family find out and flip out about it?

The ending was less than tidy, which is fairly common with these books. Havers is in trouble for the way she handled the end of the case, and the case against the killer has definite holes in it that makes conviction less than definite.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series and seeing what happens to Sergeant Havers.