Feel free to peruse my bookshelf. You may find something that you want to read or avoid. If you have book suggestions or comments, please leave them at the bottom of the page. Thanks in advance!
15. All the Light We Cannot See - 2014 (Anthony Doerr)
Although this book took me several months to get through, it wasn't because of the writing. My life just got away with me and I was focused on reading more work related material after joining a new job here in New Zealand. This was a great book about two lives running in parallel during the second world war - that of a young German soldier good at fixing radios and of a young blind French girl who finds solace in broadcasting messages. It's a well written book with obvious knowledge of what it must be like to be blind as you get a real sense of what she feels, hears and senses all the while also being somewhat blind to the setting around her. I appreciated the perspective provided to what it must have been like to have been a German soldier at the time - dutifully fulfilling a role not fully understanding how it impacted others. All that said, I think the story line about the gem probably wasn't actually needed in the end. It could have just been about her Dad's carvings. This was a nice read if you like historical fiction.
Rated 4 / 5.
14. How to Win Friends and Influence People - 1936 (Dale Carnegie)
So...I took a bit of a detour over the Christmas holiday. I'm not sure why I couldn't sink my teeth into #13 on my list - First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill - but for some reason, it wasn't inspiring me. Instead, I picked up a classic self-improvement book. It hit the spot. It's a short and easy read but one that you want to read slowly and fully digest. I had read bits of this book years and years ago (Brian, I think I still have your copy! Sorry!!) but I picked it up again and I am happy I did. This is a book that I have decided not to leave behind in a hostel. With only 15 kilos of space in my backpack, space is a premium. But I will just have to sacrifice a shirt or pair of shorts in order to keep this one a little longer. It holds so many points, tools and ideas that remain powerfully relevant today even though the book was originally published in the 30s. Whether you're in business, politics, or just trying to be a better friend or relative - pick up this book. If you do, you will find yourself nodding in agreement or sharing the good bits aloud to the person sitting next to you. It will give you "Ah ha!" moments, page after page. Carnegie isn't a rocket scientist but he is able to turn very common sense ideas into tangible tactics. Here are a few of my favourite tips:
1. Get people talking about themselves.
- Who doesn't love talking about themselves? I sure do. Have you ever met someone who has been genuinely interested in what you do or what you think? For sure. Have you ever not liked them as a result? Nope! Everyone loves to talk about themselves, their experiences, their opinions. The only thing that people love more than talking about themselves, are the people who listen to them talk about themselves. If you want to make friends and win-over people, get people to talk about themselves. Ask questions, find out what they do, find out what makes them tick. Even though you barely say a word, it is remarkable how much they will like you afterwards. In addition to making them like you, you might even learn something!
2. Try to see it from the other person's point of view
- If there is one thing I've learned this past year it's that people have different perspectives. It may seem difficult to imagine someone approaching an issue from a different way than yourself but this doesn't mean that their approach is the wrong one. Perhaps there are two perfectly good approaches? Crazy, eh? But true. Take a breath and try to see it from their perspective.
3. Make them think it was their idea - or better yet, let them come up with the idea!
- I found this tip particularly salient for those in leadership positions. If you want your team to do something, try to get them to develop the action plan. When have you ever suggested a solution that you were not willing to execute? If you come up with the idea, even partly, you are far more likely to support its implementation. In addition to getting your team to believe in and fully execute the action plan, you may very well come up with a more creative, plausible and ultimately, more successful solution!
This book gets 5/5, for sure!
13. First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill - 2015 (Sonia Purnell)
After watching the first season of The Crown, I have a hankering to read more about Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II. This book should fill the void for a week or two...
I got about half way through this book and had to put it down. I'm not sure if it was the writing or a reflection of their lives but it seemed very monotonous. Wouldn't recommend it.
12. Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit - 2016 (Craig Oliver)
Given I knew how this story ended, it was fascinating, depressing and eye-opening to see how it unfolded. David Cameron's political and communications director takes the reader through the many months leading up to the vote, what they did, why they made the decisions they did, what internal battles they waged, what the polling said at every stage, and how they felt when more than half of Britain voted to leave the EU. What's made most clear is that the shock felt by the world after Britain voted to leave the EU was not limited to those not in the know. Even those in the eye of the storm were surprised by the result.
The battle against the Establishment
We saw this in Canada and again in the US election. Through this book, we see that it also happened with Brexit. The fight against those in government or those who appear to represent "the establishment" is growing around the world. A sense of distrust, suspicion and conspiracy, regardless of the facts, is growing world-wide. In Britain, even independent experts such as global financial organizations and the Bank of England were called into disrepute. At the same time, support is growing for those who appear to represent the anti-establishment - even if they do so falsely as the son of a former Prime Minister and a billionaire tycoon. It's a phenomenon that should and rightly will be studied and reflected upon for years to come.
One of the more entertaining parts of the book comes in June 2016 when Oliver and Cameron are discussing the polls and campaign strategy with Jim Messina, a special advisor on the Remain campaign and also a top aide to Hillary Clinton. The polls indicate that the campaigns are neck and neck with the Remain campaign slightly ahead. They are in a good position but they will have to work hard to get enough voters out. At the end of the conversation, Cameron asks Messina which he thinks is easier, getting Hillary Clinton elected President, or this? Messina doesn't even think for a moment - he says, 'Hillary'. Reading this with the hindsight of Trumps election win is laughable. If he thought Hillary was easier to elect than winning against Brexit than there was really zero chance of Cameron ever winning. Ultimately, the age-old truth of politics is to get out of the bubble. Particularly when it comes to communications, it's imperative that politicians are speaking to and listening to those who matter. Oliver sums it up with this:
- 'One of the things I have learned in this job is that there are about 3,500 people who live in the political/media village. Their values, what they think and believe, are often dramatically different to the 35 million voters we have to win over. What I have learned is that people who focus on the 3,500 and not the 35 million are almost always the ones who fail.'
The problem of "the media"
As detailed in this book, Craig Oliver and his colleagues contacted the media countless times over the course of the campaign to correct errors, misrepresentations, and dodgy reporting. The similarities between the Remain campaign and those we face on a day to day basis in Ottawa are staggering. Just as I have argued for years, Craig Oliver believes that one of the most significant problems in media today are the erroneous morning bulletins or wire copies. In Canada as in Britain, the Canadian Press and the CBC issue short wire or online stories in the morning that are at minimum incomplete and more often than not misleading. These short stories are posted almost in real time and therefore have little editor oversight. Due to the increasing need for speed in journalism, these stories never wait in order to have all views represented. In fact, the writer doesn't even bother contacting you for comment before they file. Without understanding all views, it's difficult to comprehend how the journalist knows what the story is and whether it is accurate. Making matters worse, these stories are also written without byline - making it difficult to hunt down the writer and, I firmly believe, also makes the writer less accountable for any errors. If you are actually able to find out who is writing the story, it is near impossible to have the story reframed and if your comment is added it is merely tacked onto the bottom of the story where the chance of being read is slim. Furthermore, how many readers read the first version of the story with their coffee at 8am and then look for the updated story at 1pm? As Oliver points out, outlets who publish these stories are actually feeding other outlets. With the time change across Canada, it was often the case that local western publications would use an early online story from the Canadian Press rather than the fully updated one which would be filed long after their paper was put to bed. This is only the tip of my frustration with this kind of media. It's why I appreciated Oliver's identification and challenging of this same problem in Britain. Here are quote from Oliver that resonated with me:
- It's the same old thing, they have a serious problem with quality control on morning bulletins. Who is responsible for taking an overview of the morning output that spreads across so many radio stations, TV and online and reaches tens of millions of people? [...] there's endless focus on the so-called flagship programs [...], whereas the shorter bulletins and internet copy are churned out with so little oversight.
Furthermore, a significant factor in both Brexit and in the Trump campaign was getting equal coverage. Only those who were willing to cause controversy, say outlandish things, or hold stunt-like events were those who garnered the column inches. Furthermore, where does the responsibility lie in fact checking what public figures say. Is it the role of the media to simply report what has happened for the public to judge or is it the media's role to fact check statements made, put it in context and to explain it's worthiness to the reader? Oliver questions this in the below:
- Serious journalism is struggling to hold to account those who are prepared to go beyond standard campaign hyperbole and stray into straightforward lies.
- When will journalists take responsibility for their role in this? They want clean, simple, preferably confrontational stories - and reject stories they consider too subtle or nuanced. It makes political organizations of all stripes be more hyperbolic, just to get on the news in the hope we will be heard.
Furthermore, is it journalisms responsibility? Who will pay for every news agency to have dozens of fact checkers in the newsroom? And when a point is more subjective, who decides whether it is factual or not? When is it the public's responsibility to be critical of what they read and hear?
The problem is, once something is reported it becomes a kind of truth. One of the major problems in Brexit is that the Leave campaign told the public that if they left the EU they could spend the 350 million pounds they were sending to the EU on health. While this is completely false, the BBC told Oliver "The problem is - that is their [Leave's] number and they want to use it." As Oliver points out, the BBC challenges this Leave statement in their more discursive programs but it is treated as fact in the short bulletins and wire stories that are seen and read by millions.
So as you can see, this book stirred something fierce inside of me. After reading this book, I am even more interested in the recent voting trends. What role is social media playing in all of this? What role is the media playing? For those who "appear" to be part of "the establishment", how do we combat this appearance and correct the trajectory? Oliver does his best to answer how Brexit happened but there is so much more that needs exploring.
I give this book a 5+!
11. The Light Between Oceans - 2012 (M. L. Stedman)
After seeing this novel on the bestseller bookshelf for months, I picked it up. Unbeknownst to me, it was set in Australia. While it is a fictional story it bares the shadow of a time following World War 1. A lighthouse keeper and his wife find a boat washed ashore. Inside it is a crying baby and a dead man. In just a few chapters, you fall in love with the infant just as much as they do. They decide to keep the child and care for her as their own. However, her mother is alive and continues to search for her daughter. Very quickly you realize that there is no possible happy ending. This book reminded me of the 1990's novel The Face on the Milk Carton, where a family through no fault of their own raises a daughter who rightfully belongs to somebody else. As The Light Between Oceans draws to a close, you're left torn. Surprisingly, Stedman finds a way to end the book by weaving together an acceptable ending. Acceptable is as far as it goes. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I closed this book wanting something better. If you're looking for a story to tug at your heartstrings and remind you why you read, this is it.
This book gets 4.5/5...for not making this tragic story end in a better way.
10. The Girl with the Back Tattoo - 2016 (Amy Schumer)
Amy Schumer is funny. She's also brutally honest. She's relatable - at least in some ways. It's why I like her. With characteristics like that, you'd expect the same thing from her new book. Unfortunately, after reading this pricy hardcover, I was left feeling like some of the guys she's slept wit. Used. I was excited to read this book - perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps we'd get some fresh comedic material or maybe even something new about her. It failed on both counts. Had this been a cheap paperback, I might have been able to look past the fact that it is an exact replica of her stand up, her movie Trainwreck, and her various speeches at charity functions or galas. If you live under a rock and have never heard or watched any of Amy Schumer's stuff, you'll love this book. Unfortunately, I'd heard it all before. Multiple times. Instead of loving this book, I was left feeling cheated out of $30 bucks. If you're looking for fresh material from a funny female comic, check out Amy Poehler, not Amy Schumer.
I give this book a 3/5.
10. Great Australian Flying Doctor Stories (Bill 'Swampy' Marsh)
Established in 1928 by Reverend John Flynn, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has been providing essential medical services to people living in remote areas of Australia ever since. This collection of short stories are funny, educational and heartwarming. It's an easy read but sometimes the Aussie slang tripped me up. I enjoyed reading the heroic efforts undertaken by both the pilots and doctors as well as the trials and tribulations of their patients. Unfortunately, after reading a few dozen stories, they become pretty repetitive. Overall, it was a cute read but not exactly "a banger".
I give this 3 out of 5 Coopers.
9. The Danish Girl - 2000 (David Ebershoft)
This was a really good book. It was a different kind of story than I usually like but I couldn't put it down. It's based on a true story but read like historical fiction. It was well written and easy to read but also had a style of its own. Set in the 1930's in Denmark, a woman realizes that her husband enjoys wearing her dresses and shoes. Remarkably, she accepts it and helps him transition fully. The most intriguing part of the novel is what doctors said during this time about his "condition". Frightening and sobering for transgendered people at that time in history. It reminds us of how far we've come.
I rate this 5 out of 5 Squires.
8. 1984 - 1949 (George Orwell)
Now I know why often students have to read this in school. It was exactly like a book I would have had been forced to read in school. At first it was compelling to think that it had been written some forty years before the time it was describing. The futuristic interpretation was interesting but it soon became just plain depressing. This is not a read for you if you're looking for an uplifting story with a plot that develops. This is written for the cynics, lefties, and conspiracy theorists. None of which I am. If you're in the mood for overly descriptive writing and willing to imagine what precisely Orwell is getting at, then this book is for you.
I give it 2 out of 5 Bintangs
7. A long way gone: Memoirs of a boy soldier - 2007 (Ishmael Beah)
For anyone who thinks they've had a bad day or even a challenging childhood, they ought to read Ishmael Beah's memoir of being a child soldier in Sierra Leone. It's lack of perfect prose and proper plot development jerks you out of the story reminding you that it is not actually a "story", but his life. What were you doing at the age of 12? Beah was running from his home in search of food, his family and a future. To think that he not only had the strength to live through the atrocities of war, but had the ability to escape its madness and then was brave enough to write a book about it. This book was difficult to pick up and equally difficult to put down. It opened my eyes to the very recent war (1990-2002) in Sierra Leone. A must read for anyone who needs a reminder of how easy they have it.
I rate this book 5 out of 5.
6. The Latte Years - 2016 (Philippa Moore)
A feel good, uplifting, yet, true story of Moore’s struggle to loose weight and get out of a dead marriage. You might have heard it as it's a book about the very famous Australian blog "Skinny Latte". A good book for anyone struggling to find their purpose or feeling in a rut. One challenge at a time, Moore chronicles her path to eventual happiness – like the real kind of happiness with yourself. While a little long and redundant in places (this is real life after all without the perfect plot of a bestselling novel) the book spoke to me. It reminded me that I can accomplish anything if I put my mind to it. It will remind you too. I give this book 5 out of 5 San Miguel Pilsner.
This is a book where you highlight sections. Here are my favourite passages:
The only thing to do with your dreams is to do them. Fortune favours the bold. If this is what you want to do with your life, you have to go for it.
I had proof in front of me that if I tried, I would find out what I was capable of.
You’d think with all the goodbyes I’d said recently I would have been used to them, but parting was always a bit difficult. Fortunately, the pain was always fleeting; it always dissipated once I moved on to the next adventure. I missed people, of course, but there was something greater pushing me along on that journey, something that kept making me put one foot in front of the other.
Someone has to come last. If we’re lucky, it’s not always us. But even if it is, it’s the price you have to pay for putting yourself out there. For daring to try. For not being in the stand as a mere observer of your life but out in the ring, getting knocked down, fighting to live the best life you can. It takes a lot of guts. And you know I’m not just taking about running anymore.
Let go. Don’t think that because you’ve screwed up in the past, that means you can’t be happy now. You can. Don’t think that because you’re not in your twenties, like I was when I decided my life had to change, that it’s too late for you. It isn’t. Open your life, and your heart, to possibilities. Learn to love yourself. All of them. Commit to the journey. Make your choices out of love rather than fear. Trust yourself. Risk being seen for who you really are. Be strong. Go gently and be kind, to yourself and others.
5. The Picture of Dorian Gray - 1890 (Oscar Wilde)
I picked up this novel at the surf and yoga retreat in Canngu, Bali. In big bold letters at the top read the word “Classic”. Since I’m supposedly on a year of enlightenment, I thought that I read the classic novel for a change. Written in 1890, Oscar Wilde wrote this philosophical novel (originally to much controversy about being an affront to morality) about a beautiful, youthful and charming man named Dorian Gray. Gray would sit for a painting that would eventually lead to his demise and cause his death. The painting exposed his astounding beauty and corrupted him with the birth of his ego. As he grew older in age, his body stayed as beautiful as the day he was painted. As people around him died, he continued to live. Instead, the portrait would grow old and reveal every sin. A story of fortune, ego and desire that will leave you feeling haunted. A bit of a wordy read with limited plot but if you’re going to pick up a “classic”, this was an easy one to digest.
I give this book 3 out of 5 San Miguel Lights.
4. A House in the Sky – 2013 (Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett)
This is a novel I borrowed from my friend Amanda who is also a lover of travel. The story sets out like a typical backpacker’s journey but from the first page you can sense the foreshadowing of something horrible. Amanda Lindhout, the author of her story, is a Canadian just like me. She's from a small town just like me. Her backpacking adventure started out much like mine. She wanted to explore the unexplored and go beyond her own sense of comfort. Her eventual fate, as some may recall from news reports, was to be kidnapped. It’s a frightening tale of what can happen when you constantly push the boundaries and step off the beaten path in search of greater adventure. The scariest part of it is how slippery the slope can be and how deep you can fall from fun-loving travel to dangerous territory. It’s a true story that makes a terrific book. I was unable to put it down. This true story of a fellow Canadian backpacker will stay with me for a very long time. I rate this book 5 our of 5 BeerLaos.
3. First they killed my father - 2006 (Loung Ung)
I've decided to take a sobering history lesson about the recent history of Cambodia while I travel throughout the country. In this widely praised book, Loung writes the story of her childhood and what her family experienced under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. I expected this to be a difficult read and I was right. After being driven from their home in Phnom Penh, the family would move from rural village to rural village in an effort to keep the father's identity as an official from the previous government under wraps. About half way through the book, I shamefully began to get bored. One bad thing would happen followed by another bad thing - there was no climax and no resolution. I had to remind myself that this was not a fictional book but the story of Loung's life. In fact, this was the story of so many lives in Cambodia during that time. Not a pleasant read but it's a story that everyone should know in hopes of preventing such an atrocity from happening again. I rate this book 5 out of 5.
2. The Lost Girls - 2011 (Baggett, Corbett, Pressner)
Given to me by my great friend Amanda, this book was exactly what I needed at the beginning of my trip. A true tale of three girls who leave their jobs and their lives and set out for a year of travel. Sound familiar? There were so many parts of it that I could relate to - the fear of the unknown, the quest for some great answer, the need to go solo and so much more. They also invigorated my sense of exploration. Thanks to Amanda, Jenn and Holly, I'm rethinking my tentative map...an expansion may be in the works. Although the narrator was a little hard to follow because each chapter is written in a very similar tone (each chapter is written by a different girl), it was a terrific read. I didn't want to put it down and I didn't want it to end (even though it was a paperback and I was dying to offload it). I plan to leave it with a note for the next backpacker...I hope it will fuel someone else's travel as much as it did for me. I give this book 4.5/5 Angkors.
1. Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President – 2015 (Boyd Caroli).
Drawing on a wealth of resources including people, detailed diaries and historical fact, Caroli tells a very interesting story of a unique and very strange American politician. I appreciated that it recounted the life of Lyndon Johnson through the life of Lady Bird. While the story of Lady Bird is riveting - any book about her is worth reading, Caroli fails miserably at writing it. She hits you over the head with a point incase you missed it the first, second or even third time. The only thing that kept me reading was Lady Bird - a true testament to her life. She literally held her husband together throughout his life and political career. The weird man, who became President following JFK's assassination and later won a term of his own, owed all of his success to his wife Lady Bird. I give this book 3/5 Changs.