Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, #3)The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass is the third and final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, following The Subtle Knife and The Golden Compass. Unfortunately, as part of a series, I don’t know how to effectively describe the book without giving away too much about the first ones.

Out of the three books, I think I can definitely say that I liked this one the best. I found it to explore the characters quite a bit more than the other books, and it had a more fascinating (and often faster moving) plot. I also liked the over-arching ideas in the book. I found the (fictional) look at authority, revolution, freedom, and eternity to be quite interesting.

The only thing about this book that stands out as not being particularly in my favour would be the ending. I found the ending to be abrupt and cheesy.

All-in-all, however, I did enjoy reading His Dark Materials and especially The Amber Spyglass. I found it to be a well rounded book with interesting characters, plot, and ideas. For fans of easy-to-read fiction, this would be a good series to check out!

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Shane Mac’s Stop With The BS

Stop With The BSStop With The BS by Shane Mac
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Shane Mac’s Stop With The BS was shared with me by Humaira. It is a book whose writing was started, completed, and taking place entirely on a series of train rides down the West coast.

I found the book to be a lot of ranting and preaching in the form of short, distinct essays. I found little in the book to be enlightening.

However, I gave it two stars because there were a couple of ideas that did get me thinking about different things. Again, these ideas weren’t particularly life changing, but they did get me to stop for a second to ponder (and I did write a couple of them down to revisit later when I have more time).

Anyhow, if you enjoy reading the musings of random people, or if you’re up for taking the risk of finding enlightenment in this book, check it out!

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Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife is the second book in a trilogy, following The Golden Compass. Unfortunately, as part of a series, I don’t know how to effectively describe the book without giving away too much about the first one.

In any case, I felt that upon first starting this book, I didn’t feel like it was part of a sequel. It took me a while to understand how this book tied in to the previous book, and thus also it took a while for me to get into it.

But once I did get into it, I did find that I liked the story. I thought it was an interesting attempt at mixing science and fantasy/religion together. I found the plot to be usually fast moving, which I think is what I found most attractive about the book. The characters weren’t flat, but I can’t say I found them to be particularly interesting either.

Anyhow, I’m currently reading the third book, which brings me to the end of the trilogy! I’ll post about it soon!

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2012 Summary: Reading

This is a summary of my reading from this past year. I set a goal on Good Reads to read 25 books this year, and I just managed to meet my goal. So here’s a summary of my reading from the past year, in descending order of my assigned rating.

    1/5 Stars

  1. Caitlin Kiernan’s Threshold
    Read: June 16, 2012
    A friend lent me this book, but I didn’t enjoy it very much. As I recall, it is a fiction book which blurs the line between reality and delusion, but I found the blur to be too great to be sensible.
  2. Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin
    Read: September 7, 2012
    As a fan of Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Lolita, I had hoped that this book would be just as enjoyable. On the contrary, the book followed the unfortunate mishaps of Professor Pnin. As unfortunate as the mishaps were, however, I didn’t find any of them particularly interesting.
  3. 2/5 Stars

  4. Harry Lorayne & Jerry Lucas’ The Memory Book
    Read: August 22, 2012
    This book seemed to be okay… …as a textbook. The book was too practice-based for me when I read it (I was taking no courses, and thus had nothing extensive to try memorizing). It was also to repetitive. I found the book to be mostly examples, all of which were extensions of only a couple of key ideas presented by the book.
  5. Simon Sinek’s Start with Why
    Read: October 16, 2012

    After seeing his interesting TED talk, I decided to check out Sinek’s book. Unfortunately, it was less than impressive. I found the presented argument to be less than impressive, although in the end I think I personally agree with the underlying idea that people should start projects with understanding the purpose, or the WHY.

  6. Shane Mac’s Stop With The BS
    Read: December 4, 2012
    I admit that I did find some of the ideas in this book interesting. However, on the whole, I found most of the experiences of Mac (this book was a compilation of short thoughts he had on random topics, all written while on a long train ride) to be all-in-all un-enlightening.
  7. David Allen’s Ready for Anything
    Read: December 30, 2012
    After finding his Getting Things Done to be quite useful, I thought I’d also check out Allen’s Ready for Anything. In this book are 52 short essays, each covering some aspect of productivity. Unfortunately, more than new ideas, I found this book to be mostly essays on “How to fix your GTD… …when you’re doing it wrong.” But I did get quite a few good quotes from the book…
  8. 3/5 Stars

  9. David Allen’s Getting Things Done
    Read: January 3, 2012
    This is Allen’s Getting Things Done–one of the best known self-help books. It wasn’t my first time reading it, but it was my first time implementing the system. I’ve been using the system since (tweaking it here and there), but I’ve found it to be working pretty well. I’ll be revisiting this book again this week to touch up my GTD system before I go back to work next week.
  10. John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began
    Read: January 8, 2012

    I decided to check out the Tomorrow series after watching the movie (trailer above) with some friends. Unfortunately, the movie never made it to North America; my friend only had it because she brought it back from Australia. Anyhow, I quite enjoyed the movie, and likewise, I found that I also enjoyed the series. It follows a group of teenagers who, upon returning from a camping trip in the surrounding Australian outback, find their country invaded by another, and everyone in their home town taken into some work-camp like environment. It follows their attempts to both survive and fight back.

  11. John Marsden’s The Dead of Night
    Read: January 22, 2012
    The second book in the Tomorrow series.
  12. John Marsden’s A Killing Frost
    Read: February 4, 2012
    The third book in the Tomorrow series.
  13. John Marsden’s Darkness, Be My Friend
    Read: February 23, 2012
    The fourth book in the Tomorrow series.
  14. John Marsden’s Burning For Revenge
    Read: March 24, 2012
    The fifth book in the Tomorrow series.
  15. John Marsden’s The Night is for Hunting
    Read: April 6, 2012
    The sixth book in the Tomorrow series.
  16. John Marsden’s The Other Side of Dawn
    Read: April 8, 2012
    The seventh (final) book in the Tomorrow series.
  17. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games
    Read: April 15, 2012
    I don’t have to say much about this book because it was so big this past year anyways… My brother had the box set, so I decided to borrow it and check out the series. As it turned out, the books turned out to be a very light read. I did like the series, as I found the plot and characters to both be interesting.
  18. Suzanne Collins’ Mocking Jay
    Read: May 13, 2012
    The third (final) book in the Hunger Games trilogy.
  19. Kenneth Blanchard & Spencer Johnson’s The One Minute Manager
    Read: September 19, 2012
    A super short read, this book talks about managing people effectively by developing goals with them, praising them for what they do right, and letting them know where they went wrong. I liked the idea of the book, but I didn’t like how it was presented.
  20. Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex
    Read: September 27, 2012
    Middlesex is an autobiography by intersex individual Cal. I liked how the style in which the book was written, and I liked reading about all the challenges experienced by the narrator. What I didn’t like was the autobiography being more about Cal’s ancestry as opposed to Cal himself.
  21. Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You
    Read: October 27, 2012
    As a regular reader of Newport’s blog, I decided to check out his new book when he announced it on his blog. I thought it would be interesting to get a perspective countering the Passion Hypothesis. However, what I found instead was a common-sense argument against a weaker version of the Passion Hypothesis (ie. if you want to get a good job, do what you love). His points I feel are an important reminder to some, but all-in-all I didn’t feel they brought many new ideas to the table for most.
  22. 4/5 Stars

  23. Philip Dick’s Ubik
    Read: January 2, 2012
    A science fiction read, Ubik was the best book I’d read in a long time. I especially liked the style it was written in. However, it may be too bizarre for some to enjoy.
  24. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
    Read: April 29, 2012
    I think many people are familiar with the dystopia that is Brave New World. I liked the ideas that were presented in this novel, but I do recall preferring the style of 1984 over that of this one. Still, a good read for an interesting thought experiment about various aspects of society.
  25. Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire
    Read: May 8, 2012
    The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.
  26. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
    Read: October 6, 2012
    I feel that the ideas on personal development in this book are both practical and important. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People looks at how you operate alone (eg. with your emotions and decision making), and then with other people. In looking at these aspects of life, it helps the reader explore whether or not they’re living life as they want to, and if not, it pushes them to change.
  27. Daniel Pink’s Drive
    Read: November 14, 2012
    I feel that Drive offers an important perspective on motivation that explains much behaviour in the world today. For instance, why are students not motivated to do their homework when we tell them they will get an A for getting it done? This book explains why carrot-and-stick methods of motivation do not always work, and why it is often important to consider autonomy, mastery, and purpose when considering motivation. I feel that this book provides a good overview of why this may be a better explanation for motivation than simply the carrot-and-stick motivation that was commonly referred to previously.
  28. Matthew Inman’s How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you
    Read: December 31, 2012
    This is the first laugh-out-loud book I recall reading since Azumanga Daioh (see below; all the sub versions were cut horribly, so I decided to go with a dub). I thought it was a funny look at cats for cat-lovers.

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Dan Pink’s Drive

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsDrive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m writing a super short version of this now because Good Reads ate the longer version I wrote earlier…

Dan Pink’s Drive is a non-fiction book exploring the idea of motivation.

The book opens by looking at research that suggests carrot-and-stick motivational techniques are effective. Digging a bit deeper, Pink argues that carrot-and-stick methods are motivating only for tasks that are simple and mechanical, and examines research that shows rewards and punishments are actually de-motivating for tasks that require thought and creativity.

Next, Pink looks at what he suggests are better motivators for those tasks that require thought and creativity. Those things are Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. In examining each of these, he explains how and why each is motivational, and also introduces ideas to implement such motivators into one’s personal or professional life.

The last part of the book is a reference guide with a bunch of resources further explaining how to implement Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose in life, and also resources for deeper reading on these topics.

Overall, I quite liked Dan Pink’s Drive. I thought it was both informative and practical. I also personally resonated with it as I see Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose as big motivators in doing work I enjoy.

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Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You LoveSo Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You is a non-fiction book in which he explains “Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.” I found out about Newport’s book as I am a regular reader of his Study Hacks blog. I was driven to read it by the provocative claim that “Follow your passion” is bad advice.

Newport decided to take a provocative marketing approach by being an antagonist to the passion hypothesis. His book opens with “‘Follow your passion’ is dangerous advice.” Many of his articles, such as in the Harvard Business Review, share the same message. This provocative statement drives his marketing campaign, and is antagonist to much of what many (young) people believe today. I think this is what really drove me to read the book: to see what he had behind his claim.

Early in the book, Newport clarifies the Passion Hypothesis as “The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.” Note that this is much more specific than simply “Follow your passion.” I think this is where the marketing campaign is a bit misleading. To say “‘Follow your passion’ is dangerous advice” is, in my opinion, a very different statement than “‘Passion alone can land you a job’ is dangerous advice.” But I feel that this latter message is what this book intends to say.

This book, in a way, states the obvious by pointing out (and elaborating on the fact) that employers hire you for what you can do, not simply what you’re passionate for. I think it is a well known fact that if you cannot sing well, you aren’t going to land a place in an opera no matter how passionate you are about singing. If you cannot act, you’re not going to get the lead in a play no matter how passionate you are about acting. If you don’t know how to program anything beyond HTML, you’re not going to be selected as a software engineer for a major project no matter how passionate you are about software design. But I think (read: assume) this is pretty common sense for most people, non?

In any case, this is the main point pushed by Newport in his book. He expands using other points that I also believed to be pretty common sense. For example, to stand out, you need a valuable skill, sure, but that valuable skill must also be rare. But this is simple supply and demand. It doesn’t matter if you get an A+ in ANAT 391 if most other people also got an A+ in the class. Sure you’re damn good at naming body parts, but so are the thousands of other people who took the class. (Why should you be hired over them?)

All in all, I did like this book by Newport. I liked the way the information was presented, and I like the key points he highlighted. I do not think that this book really brings many new ideas to the table, but I think it is a useful read to some people who have not yet perspective on how employers select employees.

What I didn’t like was the marketing campaign behind the book. I thought it was misleading, and I don’t think I was the only one misled (for instance, I feel that Eunice at 54:29 in the attached audio below may have been misled as well; though, I did not talk to her directly about it). When it comes to things non-career related, “Follow your passion” can still be great advice. Additionally, if you have two equally qualified people apply for a position, but one is passionate about the position whereas the other is not, I think there would be preference to hire the passionate one. Pretty much, I don’t think it’s right to say not to “Follow your passion”… …I think it would be more accurate to say “Follow your passion, but in the case of careers, if you choose to follow your passion, make sure you’re damn good at it.”

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Simon Sinek’s Start With Why

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take ActionStart with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Start With Why is a book by Simon Sinek. After watching his TED talk, I decided to check out his book on the sample topic. That is, in this book, Sinek argues “How great leaders inspire everyone to take action”. Although I agree with the fundamental premise of this book though, I was not impressed with the presented argument.

In his book, Sinek provides a plethora of examples of people and companies who succeed, or not, and then provides an explanation that he ties to as their WHY (their purpose). My issue with the book is that every example is tied to Sinek’s perspective of the example, with what I found to be lacking concrete evidence supporting his claims.

For instance, possibly his most famous example is Apple computers. He claims that Apple markets their products from their why. That is, that in everything Apple does, they challenge the status quo. But I remain unconvinced that this is actually Apple’s WHY as opposed to something that Sinek sees in Apple (regardless of whether or not Apple recognizes the same thing or not). I may just be biased in this case especially since at the University of British Columbia, owning an Apple computer is not challenging the status quo: it is the status quo. Regardless, I had the same concern with most of the other examples.

All in all, I was unconvinced and unmoved by Sinek’s arguments in this book. Although I do agree with his claim on the importance of starting with WHY, I do not see this book as an effective argument supporting the claim. Perhaps a worthwhile read for people simply looking for an introduction to the idea, but not so worthwhile for those seeking a more critical or convincing argument in defence of WHY.

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Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal ChangeThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a personal development book written by Stephen Covey. A fairly long read, this book covers in some depth 7 habits that Covey articulates to be important for the development of an individual from dependence on other to interdependence. In addition to the writing, the book also includes several exercises for people who are looking for ways to implement the habits in their own lives.

The 7 habits are:
1. Be Proactive
2. Begin with the End in Mind
3. Put First Things First
4. Think Win/Win
5. Seek First to Understand … Then to be Understood
6. Synergize
7. Sharpen the Saw

I liked the ideas presented in the book, and the order in which they were presented. The first habit, Be Proactive, is essentially you do not control what happens to you, but everything that you are you control; you may not control the universe, but you can control how you respond to the state the universe is in. The second habit, Begin with the End in Mind, is making sure that you are doing the right things (it doesn’t matter that you’re getting stuff done unless you’re getting the right stuff done. Your employer isn’t going to pay you for doing somebody else’s work if it involves neglecting your own). That being said, once you know what should be done, the third habit, Put First Things First, looks at how to accomplish everything that should be accomplished. These three habits are described as moving from a state of dependence to independence. That is, they are presented as how to better live life as an individual.

The next three habits deal with moving from independence to interdependence. In other words, they examine how to better deal with other people. The first of these three habits, Think Win/Win, states that when making decisions, both parties involved should win, or no deal can be made. It is a difficult thing to do, I agree, but there are obvious benefits to be had by eliminating a losing party from social transactions. The next habit, Seek First to Understand … Then to be Understood, deals with communicating with other people. Evidently, it deals the ancient wisdom that you should listen to others before saying your own piece (and it’s important to differentiate between listening and hearing here–simply waiting for someone to finish their piece before starting your own completely overlooks what this chapter has to offer). The last habit, Synergize, looks at how working together can have emergent benefits. In other words, it is an examination of how multiple parties working together can produce something that is greater than simply the sum of its parts.

The last habit, Sharpen the Saw, simply looks at how to maintain one’s health, habits, etc. It is an attempt to keep everything together by bringing back the big picture in times when focus may be elsewhere.

I personally thought that this book has quite a bit to offer, and I thought the presented tools can be quite useful. I have yet to seriously explore many of them, but I intend to do so soon. Hopefully I will update when I start to explore this book in more detail.

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Free eBooks!

Do you like reading? Do you have an eReader? Do you like reading things on the computer? Would you save money to print out a book you like yourself instead of purchasing one?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be interested in checking out Project Gutenberg, which is a collection of free eBooks (free because the copyright has expired) available for the general public.

(Thanks to Hack College for sharing!)