Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff, 5/5
Bob Goff knows how to tell a story. His stories were almost too good; I devoured them like a kid devours a bowl of fruit loops and had to keep reminding myself to slow down and digest the bigger messages. When someone who has accumulated a lifetime’s worth of remarkable experiences takes the time to write down what they’ve learned from a broad perspective, it’s a gift–a sneak peek of a meaningful work of art when all you could see before was the close-up chaos of individual brushstrokes.
Formerly a lawyer and law professor, Goff was not a “professional Christian” when he wrote this book, so I didn’t get the uncomfortable feeling that he was trying to sell some pre-packaged, preachy, lifeless form of religion. He is very practical and realistic, using stories to transcend the cliched verbiage of encouraging people to fearlessly follow their hopes and dreams while living in God’s love.
I used to think following God required complicated formulas. I thought I needed a big stack of books, so I could figure out exactly where I was all the time. I thought if I constantly measured the distance between me and God, I’d get closer to Him. Early on, the religious people I knew explained to me all kinds of nuances for doing this sort of spiritual math. They suggested that I say certain things in my prayers, have quiet times, go to Bible studies, and memorize Bible verses. They said I needed to know how to explain to someone that God could be a person and a spirit at the same time. They urged me to know how God was going to come back someday but that some people would be here and other people would go missing because it would be a time of great tribulation. They said that for me to know God, there was a whole pile of things I’d need to know first. […] What I realized, though, is that all I really needed to know when it came down to it was the direction I was pointing and that I was somewhere inside the large circle of God’s love and forgiveness (156).
There are a lot of crazy stories and insightful life lessons packed into this easy-to-read book, but perhaps the thing that stuck with me the most a couple weeks later, was how fearlessly Goff loves other people and gets involved in their lives. If he was giving bits of himself away, he would soon be reduced to nothing, but instead his life seems immeasurably richer. It truly seems that he has an endless supply of supernatural love from which to draw. I still don’t fully understand how to live this way without getting used up by the “takers” in the world, but this book was a helpful piece of the puzzle for me and an amazing reminder that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Why I read it: My friend, Joy, recommended it to me.
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek, 2/5
Sinek poses an interesting premise: companies wishing to develop an extremely loyal customer base and have the greatest influence on society and industry must let a clear sense of why they do what they do influence all decisions about what and how. By communicating a sense of purpose and how this purpose fits into the bigger picture of life, a business can ostensibly attract similarly-minded, passionate customers and ultimately have the freedom to be more innovative and influential than the faceless corporations trapped in “features” battles with each other, desperate to manipulate buyers with endless “deals” and minute spec improvements. Sinek basically argues that companies should function like good people, with strong character, ethics and a sense of higher purpose, instead of being focused solely on the bottom line. In fact, he goes so far as to say that “The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have. It should be to focus on the people who believe what you believe. When we are selective about doing business only with those who believe in our WHY, trust emerges” (80).
While Sinek’s approach is thought-provoking, I see a clear conflict between it and a society that is rife with lawsuits against businesses who refuse to provide services, based on religious beliefs. I wish the author had addressed this issue instead of beating one simple idea to death with a tedious, repetitive writing style and relentless references to Apple Inc. Perhaps he also could have supplemented his few cherry-picked examples, by explaining why numerous industry-leading companies have achieved great success while clearly not following his why-centered philosophy. He also does not adequately address the connection between authenticity and advertising–couldn’t it be argued that the only difference between companies appearing to have a strong “why” and all the others is merely superior advertising strategies (not necessarily fundamental differences in philosophy and operation)?
Why I read it: My brother recommended it under circumstances I have since forgotten (I procrastinated on writing this review for far too long!).
Losier is off to a bad start right from the subtitle of this unsubstantial book, which contains nothing scientific that can be used towards the patently ridiculous goal of creating “ideal” relationships. Starting with a hokey 15-question quiz to establish your communication style as visual, auditory, kinesthetic or digital, Losier quickly moves to generic descriptions of the styles and canned keywords and phrases for each that can be used to create “rapport.” Perhaps it’s a digital thing, but I’m pretty sure my brain intuitively understands that “how does this look to you?” “how does this sound to you?” “how do you feel about this?” and “what do you think about this?” all mean approximately the same thing. I highly doubt that I’d feel some magical connection with someone who has figured out my communication style and altered the wording of their question accordingly. The whole exercise is kind of self-defeating anyway–what happens if everyone tries to suit everyone else’s communication style? How could you figure out someone’s style if they were choosing their vocabulary based on what they think your style is?
As far as identifying nonverbal characteristics of the different communication styles, Losier often succumbs to that well-known “Facebook quiz” technique of creating generic descriptions that would apply equally to a variety of styles. I’m pretty sure it’s not just visual communicators who would be annoyed if you started and ended meetings late, or just auditory communicators who would prefer you not to speak to them in a harsh tone, or just kinesthetic communicators who would be hurt by feeling excluded, or just digital communicators who would like to be acknowledged for their contributions.
Since the book doesn’t contain much information about the concepts of neuro-linguistic programming in general, I checked out the relevant Wikipedia article and was not surprised to find it labeled a “largely discredited psuedoscience.”
[Why I read it: it was recommended to me by my friend, Joy.]
It’s no wonder this entertaining tale is a bestseller that helped fuel the natural running craze–it has all the right ingredients: a mysterious Mexican tribe renowned for long-distance running ability, a legendary and equally mysterious American runner who gained their trust, superhuman athletes running ultramarathons in unbelievably punishing conditions, scientific evidence that natural running is…well…natural, and all told from an intoxicating “everyman” perspective that makes you feel that you too could learn to run forever.
As an inspiring story, I give it full points. But. As an ethnography or scientific case for natural running, not so much.
Yes, I am an unattractively skeptical person, but I’ve been burned before (see The Long Walk and The Third Eye) and something definitely smells fishy about this book. It is an issue of trust and McDougall doesn’t exactly make it easy for the suspicious reader. Thanks to the paucity of corroborating material online and the book’s lack of citations, endnotes, and pictures, one must simply trust that McDougall is telling a true story and not succumbing unduly to the temptation to sensationalize, romanticize and otherwise manipulate the truth. The author’s background in journalism is not enough to assuage my suspicion that much was sacrificed in the interest of The Story.
McDougall’s case for natural running features interviews with various experts in the field and interesting statistics/studies, but his approach is one-sided, oversimplifying a complicated topic that is still much debated and far from resolved. Also, if “a little learning is a dangerous thing” then readers beware–there is very little technical, practical information to arm the newly-inspired disciple of natural running. However, the author undoubtedly achieves what seems to be his main goals–general entertainment and inspiration.
[Why I read it: My dad was sorting through some of his books and thought I might be interested.]
This in-your-face manliness manifesto was much, much funnier than the front cover lead me to expect, what with its bashed-up author and stupid title (to which Griffin vociferously objected, to his credit). What it is: an R-rated, surprisingly witty, expletive-filled, laugh-inducing series of ramblings that are mostly centered on martial arts and dubious advice about being a Man. What it is not: a martial arts how-to guide or factual account of Griffin’s MMA experience.
[Why I read it: I love MMA and pounced on this after my dad picked it up at the thriftstore.]
Late 1960s Los Angeles provides an atmospheric setting for the investigations of pot-smoking private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello. Kidnapping, murder, organized crime, a host of unsavory characters, a lot of sex and drugs, and a wise-ass protaganist (think the “The Dude” crossed with Sam Spade), are all part of a convoluted plot that might have been written by Dashiell Hammett if he hadn’t died right as the 60s were spooling up. Pynchon’s writing style is witty and dense, at times requiring (and rewarding) a pause and a bit of deciphering on the part of the reader. I enjoyed his portrayals of speech patterns and slang through creative spelling and sentence structure. Unsurprisingly, there was a heck of a lot more vice in this book than I am comfortable with, but I hope I can recognize good writing even if the content makes me uncomfortable.
[Why I read it: I saw the movie trailer and though it looked interesting, but my friend AJ recommended I read the book before watching the film.]
Exploring the manifestations of talent in diverse subjects that range from Brazilian footballers to the Brontë sisters, Coyle proposes three factors that give rise to all the athletic, musical and mental skills that seem so innate and unattainable to us otherly-gifted: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching. Of these three elements, I found the first to be most interesting because it provides a description of the physical effects of concentrated practice. Now, I have logged numerous hours of piano practice (though, admittedly, somewhat fewer hours of “deep practice”), but never understood that this kind of focused skill-development was actually wrapping nerve fibers in my brain in layers of an insulating substance called myelin. This magical myelin affects the timing with which neurons fire electrical impulses and the speed with which these impulses travel, resulting in an increase in whatever skill is being practiced, regardless of the nature of the skill or the “natural talent” of the person involved. The implications are immense: suddenly it seems that real genius is the drive to perform thousands of hours of deep practice, not to have a high IQ, innate ability, or access to top coaching from the beginning. Also, it definitively establishes the value and efficiency of that painfully-focused, mentally-exhausting style of practicing that might otherwise cause discouragement when it does not generate immediately-impressive improvement.
Coyle’s writing style is entertaining and easy to read, but is somewhat lacking from a scholarly point of view; he is, after all, no neurologist or scientific researcher. Some of the studies he references and examples he uses seem questionable, and his sources are rather casually collected in sparse end notes. All in all, this book’s value is more in its descriptive powers than its prescriptive ones: lacking any of the three elements of talent (deep practice, ignition or master coaching), you are unlikely to become a world-class anything, whether you read it or not. However, lots of Coyle’s observations and claims resonated with me because I am fascinated by the learning process and hunger for accomplishment in a variety of areas.
[Why I read it: a friend, Joy, mentioned that she was reading it and got me interested.]