Tag Archives: Books

What to get the book lover in your life? The Little Black Classics Box Set from Penguin

As a book lover myself, I have coveted the collection of books above from Penguin. As they say:

This spectacular box set of the 80 books in the Little Black Classics series showcases the many wonderful and varied writers in Penguin Black Classics. From India to Greece, Denmark to Iran, the United States to Britain, this assortment of books will transport readers back in time to the furthest corners of the globe. With a choice of fiction, poetry, essays and maxims, by the likes of Chekhov, Balzac, Ovid, Austen, Sappho and Dante, it won’t be difficult to find a book to suit your mood.

Sounds great! For more information, including how to order it, go here.

.

If you are feeling bad about reading fewer books, then read this

I’ve been reading less since the pandemic hit. For many reasons. It started to bother me, since the last few years I have been reading dozens of books each year. I felt I was failing. Then I read this: How to Read Fewer Books, from The School of Life.

I whole piece is good, but this part nailed it for me:

In order to ease and simplify our lives, we might dare to ask a very old-fashioned question: what am I reading for? And this time, rather than answering ‘in order to know everything,’ we might parcel off a much more limited, focused and useful goal. We might – for example – decide that while society as a whole may be on a search for total knowledge, all that we really need and want to do is gather knowledge that is going to be useful to us as we lead our own lives. We might decide on a new mantra to guide our reading henceforth: we want to read in order to learn to be content. Nothing less – and nothing more. With this new, far more targeted ambition in mind, much of the pressure to read constantly, copiously and randomly starts to fade. We suddenly have the same option that was once open to St Jerome; we might have only a dozen books on our shelves – and yet feel in no way intellectually undernourished or deprived.

What am I reading for: it’s a great question. I think there are many answers to that. To be content, as that suggests. Or to become an expert in an area. Or to pass the time. All are good answers, depending on your need for reading. If you are feeling bad about reading fewer books, step back and decide what you are reading for. It may help you read in a new and improved way.

(Photo by matthew Feeney on Unsplash)

Quote

The story of how John Lewis ended up making a graphic memoir

Is told here: How John Lewis’s masterful illustrated memoir is a shining torch for the next generation – The Washington Post

It’s a great story about the life of a great man captured in illustrated form.

Once you read about it, you can buy it here and other places that sell graphic novels and other illustrated books.

Quote

17 books to get you through the pandemic, or the summer, or even the weekend


I saved this at the start of the pandemic for a time when I could freely buy books again. Now is that time, in Canada. I think this is a fine list, full of old and new books: 17 books to get you through the pandemic – Free Candie

Summer is a great time to read. Try and do that. If you get stuck, I find sticking to short/funny/light books can help.

And ready the Free Candie blog. It’s great.

(Image from a link to the blog post)

Quote

How to get started reading the classics


Well this advice is fraught with assumptions, but if you are hankering to read the classics and have an open idea of what “the classics” are, I recommend this:  So you want to read classic books during the coronavirus pandemic – Vox

Basically, there are quite a number of books that are considered classic, but not all classics are approachable. You might pick up one in anticipation, get stuck, and abandon the idea of ever reading such books. To prevent that from happening, read the advice given in Vox. Start slow, and go from there.

Finally, there has always been a debate over what consists of the classics. Many of them will not appeal to you. And other books not considered “Classic” by many might just be old enough for you to fill your appetite for something you consider classic. (e.g. A fan of science fiction might consider Jules Verne classic. ) I consider it good to read from different times: it gives you a better appreciation of your own time, among other reasons. So put down those contemporary writings and go find your own classics to read and love.

Quote

Having problems reading? Then avoid these books

It’s always tricky posting a list like this, for the minute you do, many people will go over it and disagree with it. They will say, “but The Ambassadors is my favorite book”. Fine. Read this list and decide for yourself: 21 Books You Don’t Have to Read | GQ

Many of these books you will be familiar with. (Ahem, The Bible.) You may have them somewhere in your house. Perhaps on your nightside table. Hopefully this will save some of you from spend time struggling to read a book you shouldn’t even be reading.

Life is short. There is an endless list of books you can read. Read the ones you want to.

Quote

Pandemic Challenge: read an entire book in a single day

I realize not everyone can do this, but if you are bored out of your gourd right now and are looking for a challenge, why not try to read an entire book in a single day.

If you think: there’s no way I can do that, then read this:  How to Read an Entire Book in a Single Day.

As you can see, it’s quite possible to do it, and with that article, you have all kinds of advice on how to succeed.

The weekend is coming up. This could be just the thing you need to feel some sense of accomplishment.

Let me know what you read!

In Defense of Self-Help Books

A strong defense of self help books can be found here: On Self-Help Books | The Book of Life.

Essentially the argument is that the genre has been overtaken and is associated with people like this:

And not associated with this:

We need a list of good self help books, classic and current. Unfortunately, even lists with the so called best self-help books of all time  are lacking in literary qualities. That’s a shame.

I think we need a new list of self-help books then, a list stretching  from the classics such as the Dhammapada and the Bible and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, all the way to present day books like In Search of Meaning. A new list of books that help us live better lives but that are good as books themselves. It’s time for such a list, and time for the current list of self-help books to take a backseat to this new list.

 

Quote

“Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” – a review in the NewYorker


For fans (or critics) of productivity books, here’s a review of  “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” in The New Yorker.

It’s a good review of such a book. Better than the usual synopsis. Also good to think about on a Monday as you roll into work and figure out how you are going to tackle – or avoid – the week and what it entails.

Quote

You want short novels? The Paris Review got your back


As they say, here is: A Very Short List of Very Short Novels with Very Short Commentary.

Some of these you may have read, but chances are there are a few you haven’t. I recommend short novels to people who want to read more and are stuck with not having read anything recently. Better still, read good short novels. Every book on that short list is a good book.

Enjoy

Quote

How to Read More Books, According to an Editor Who Finishes 60+ a Year


It’s Saturday. You are thinking: I should start reading more books. But I suck at it. Well then, read this: How to Read More Books, According to an Editor Who Finishes 60+ a Year

I can’t promise it will get you to 60 books, but it will help.

Things I’d add:

  • Toss books you don’t like.
  • If you get stuck on a book, move on.
  • Put down your phone.
  • Don’t just sit there: pick up a book!
  • Have more than one book on the go, but mix up the genres.
  • If you get put off by big books, get smaller books. Finishing any sized book is satisfying.
Quote

Bookworm: a bookshelf that is a cut above the rest

Part bookshelf, part seat, this bookshelf is not like any other.

For more information on how you can get your own, see Bookworm – The only cocoon shaped bookshelf in the world | Atelier 010 Rotterdam

Quote

What are the top business books?


Arguably they are the ones in this article: I read the 8 best business books of all time—here’s what I learned. If you want to know what they are and get a synopsis, read that piece.

Quote

44 short books to help you overcome your reading difficulties

This is brilliant: 44 Short Books to Help You Reach Your Reading Challenge Goal – Goodreads News & Interviews.

It’s a great list of books, for starters. Second, they tell you how long they long they are and a number of them are under 100 or 200 pages.

If you are trying to reach a reading challenge goal, or if you are stuck trying to get started reading, or if you find you never finish books due to their length, then you should check out that list.

Quote

Do you want to read more women writers but need suggestions? The Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts has your back

How so? Here is a list of one hundred books by great women authors on a wide range of topics, including graphic novels like Persepolis. Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts – #VOTE100BOOKS. 

Regardless of the voting and which book gets the most, it is safe to say that everything listed is worth seeking out.

It’s unlikely even well read people haven’t read all these. If you find you want to read more women, you’re bound to find things on that list.

Quote

Stunning Photographs of European Libraries

The photographs of European libraries at this link really are stunning! I’d love to take a tour of Europe that went to each one of them.

Lovers of libraries and books will want to check out Fubiz for more images. The above image is just one of many great photos.

Quote

A reluctant promotion of a Kickstarter project: Color Problems – A Book by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel by The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones


Despite being burned too many times by Kickstarter projects, this one seems so worthwhile I feel I must promote it: Color Problems – A Book by Emily Noyes Vanderpoel by The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones — Kickstarter. It’s a great project to recreate a classic book, and it will be a boon to many people if it gets off the ground. Anyone interested in the visual arts should check it out and contribute some way if you can.

I hope it’s successful, that the project initiators have 1) their act together 2) actually release something tangible and 3) in a timely manner that is high quality.  (Many of my recent Kickstarter projects have failed at 1, 2 and 3.)

Good luck to them.

For book lovers, here are some of London’s most attractive bookshops

Book store

John Sandoe Books Ltd is just one of the shops shown here:
London’s prettiest and most Instagrammable bookshops | London Evening Standard.

If you love books, this piece in the Standard will have you planning / dreaming of going to London and spending quality time (and money) there.

Enjoy.

Before the Kindle, there was Napoleon’s travelling library

And what a library! Napoleon had asked for it to be as follows:

The Emperor wishes you to form a traveling library of one thousand volumes in small 12mo and printed in handsome type. It is his Majesty’s intention to have these works printed for his special use, and in order to economize space there is to be no margin to them. They should contain from five hundred to six hundred pages, and be bound in covers as flexible as possible and with spring backs. There should be forty works on religion, forty dramatic works, forty volumes of epic and sixty of other poetry, one hundred novels and sixty volumes of history, the remainder being historical memoirs of every period.

Even with slimmed down books, that is a lot of paper to be carrying around as your conquer Europe and other parts of the world. I’m sure he would have loved the Kindle.

For more details on this library, see: Napoleon’s Kindle: See the Miniaturized Traveling Library He Took on Military Campaigns | Open Culture

A math lover’s post

I knew that Paris had streets named after politicians and historical figures, but I didn’t know how many Paris streets are named after mathmaticians. Apparently quite a few! Amazing. One more reason to love Paris.

Dover publishers have the best books when it comes to math. If you want to see some of their better ones, see this list.

Good stuff.

Published on 9/29 at 9:29 🙂

 

Bill Gates and his most recent recommended books

Bill Gates

Bill Gates picks great books to read, and Business Insider has his latest batch here: Bill Gates’ favorite books on science – Business Insider. Unlike other such lists from famous people, I can imagine Gates actually does read all the books he recommends. From other reviewers I’ve read, his book selection is solid.

Not just non-fiction, there is some fiction in there as well.

Book writing advice, cookbooks and otherwise

Cookbook
If you have the itch to be an author, then here are some links you may find helpful:

Image from here: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Cookbook.

How to read more books

If you want to read more books but struggle, then I recommend this article: How I Tricked Myself Into Reading More Books. I have applied a number of the lessons in this article and I have gone to reading 2-3 books a year to reading over 20 a year.

Besides the lessons in this article, there are four other methods I use to read more books.

  1. Buy (or borrow) more books than you can read. I used to buy a book and then try and read it. What I found was that if I didn’t like it much, I would put it down and not read anything. Now I tend to buy 3 or more books at a time, and have them close by. If I get stuck on one, I move on to another until I find myself reading often. Most times I will come back to the book I got stuck on. If I find I continue to get stuck on it, I just toss it.
  2. Follow the 50/100 page rule. This rule has two parts. Part 1: if there is nothing of merit in the book by 50 pages, get rid of it. Part 2: if there is something of merit in the first 50 pages but nothing more by page 100, get rid of it. Life is too short and there are too many good books out there to waste your time trying to finish a poor one.
  3. Skim the middle of non-fiction books. I find for many non-fiction books, the beginning is strong and the ending is either strong or short. However, in the middle you often find repetition. For example, for how-to books or books that have examples or cases to illustrate the main ideas of the book, you will find many of the same ideas played out 5 or 6 times. I find after 2 or 3 times, I either agree with the author’s ideas or I don’t. Either way, I can start to skim by the 2nd or 3rd time.
  4. Mix up light reading with heavy reading. If you find you are reading heavy material all the time, you might find you read less. I do. Likewise, if you read light material all the time, you may give up on reading because it isn’t satisfying. So switch it up. Diversifying your reading keeps it interesting and keeps you from getting stuck in a reading rut.

If you need book recommendations this summer…

…then what you need is a good list to go through. Here's one List I highly recommend: Every book Barack Obama recommended during his presidency. There's a wide range of books here, and quite a few to chose from. Regardless of what you pick from it, I think you'll be rewarded with a good read.

Karl Lagerfeld and his Atelier in Paris (a must for book lovers)

Karl Lagerfeld in his atelier

The Selby has a gorgeous photo shoot of the atelier of Karl Lagerfeld. Anyone who dreams of having a library in their home will love it. The photo above is just a taste: for a feast, see: Karl Lagerfeld at his Atelier in Paris in the selby

For the curious: top chefs and their fridges.

You might be surprised (or you might not) to see that much of what top chefs have in their fridges is not all that different than you. If you are skeptical, you should check out this book: Inside Chefs’ Fridges, Europe. Top chefs open their home refrigerators. from TASCHEN Books. If anything, your North American fridge may have alot more in it than the typical smaller European icebox.

The book is worth a look: besides the peek inside, their is also recipes and other things of interest.

On declining ebook sales (two thoughts and some good material to consider)

If you are interested in books and ebooks in particular, you should read this: On the declining ebook reading experience. Two beliefs I have on this topic:

  1. Book sellers have become more competitive. In Canada, Indigo’s prices seem to be much lower and they sell books using low prices stamped prominently on the cover.
  2. He doesn’t say it, but the author hints that Apple should step in and make their own Kindle. I certainly would like to see Apple step up and make their own Kindle. The device and the user experience would be great, I am certain. It would blow the Kindle out of the water and likely make me switch over to becoming a bigger ebook reader.

 

Library porn: Prague’s Klementinum library

My Modern Met has some fantastic images of the Klementinum library for anyone (like myself) that gets excited about such things. Here’s a sample:

If you haven’t heard of it, here’s what that site has to say about this fantastic place:

Prague’s Klementinum library was opened in 1722 and has easily become one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Aside from housing over 20,000 novels for your reading pleasure, this location showcases absolutely stunning Baroque architecture. As you’re perusing various timeworn bookshelves, you can take a moment to look up and see Jan Hiebl’s heavenly, Renaissance-style ceiling paintings. Amongst his work, there are symbolic designs that represent the importance of education, along with fantastic portraits of Jesuit saints. Hiebl’s paintings actually pay homage to the fact that the library was originally a Jesuit university. Many of the school’s rare, 17th-century books are still amongst its collection today. That would explain why Emperor Joseph II’s portrait is displayed at the head of the hall, since he was the one who arranged for abolished monastic libraries to send their books to Klementinum.

How to find the best used bookstores in Toronto

Easy: check out BlogTO’s great list of The Best Used Bookstores in Toronto. Two of my favorites bookstores are BMV books and Ten Editions, both close to each other. I highly recommend them. Even if you know of some of them, chances are you haven’t been to them all.

Toronto has alot of great stores for new books, but if you are looking for vintage or obscure books, this list is what you need.

(Photo via a link to BlogTO)

Improve your reading with 33 short pieces of advice

If “read more” is one of your New Year Resolutions, then Austin Kleon has 33 short pieces of advice on how to read more and read better that you should review, here: 33 thoughts on reading.

I am trying to adopt most of these.  I have adopted many of them and the result has been much more reading by me for the last few years. I think the more of these you adopt, the more reading you will get done.

 

On living in Manhattan, by Zadie Smith (a most wonderful piece of writing)

There is so much good about this piece by Zadie Smith that if I started pulling in quotes from it, I would essentially replicate it.  It’s an effortless read, and yet even as I was reading it, I could feel how great it is. I had the feeling of racing down a high mountain on skis, exhilarated and impressed by the beauty and amazed how fast I am going and then it is done.

So, yes, I recommend you read: Find Your Beach by Zadie Smith | The New York Review of Books.

 

My marginalia from my copy of Piketty’s capital

My previous post was a guide to reading Piketty’s Capital. As I was going through it, I also jotted down some rough notes on the book and things I thought as I was going along. My marginalia, so to speak. Here it is, for what it’s worth to you:

  • Piketty’s book irked people for a number of reasons, including me initially. One reason, I think has to do with the grandness of his book. First, there’s the title. It implies this is a follow on to the great text by Marx. Second he does things like state fundamental laws of capitalism, as if economics were physics and Piketty is the 21st century Einstein. While Piketty can seem grand at time, he’s also humble in other parts. Throughout the book he often confesses to the limits of his approach based on the data (or lack of data) he has. He still has a lot of data and he has done a lot of analysis, but he is aware of the limits of it. This humility helped me get over the parts that irked me.
  • For non-economists like me, I think the book is most enjoyable when Piketty relates economic theory with example in literature and history. His references to Austen and Balzac make his ideas less abstract and make them richer. Fortunately, he does this often.
  • Some American critics would have you believe that Piketty is anti-capitalist / pro-socialist. I didn’t see that. I’d say Piketty is for open markets, strong on education, and democratic.  From an American point of view, he may seem left wing, but to most of the developed world I would place him closer to the center, slightly left.
  • One thing Piketty’s analysis can’t or doesn’t take into account is the exponential change in everything starting at the end of the 19th century. He touches on it a bit (pop growth rates on page 80), but this is factor. I believe that there is a correlation between growth rates and birth rates, with growth rates lagging birth rates. But this is a belief I have: I don’t have the ability to show this.
  • I was surprised by how limited economic growth is. (Chart on page 94). As Piketty mentions, people think it should be in the 3-4% range, but is much more likely to hover around the 1% range. Yet even such growth rates have a huge impact over decades and centuries.
  • Indirectly, Piketty makes the case for Naomi Klein’s thesis on disaster capitalism.  The biggest opportunities for growth in the 20th century occur as a result of the World Wars. Take a look at the charts on page 97 to see what I mean. Wars are terrible for people and cities but good for economic growth.
  • As I was reading the book in the summer, there were a slew of critics writing Think Pieces (or tweets!) against him and his book. The most ridiculous arguments against Piketty are the shallow ones, of course: the ones based on the book title, or that he is French, or that the book is all about new taxes. These arguments, mainly from American writers, reflect a lack of thought and the biases of Americans more than anything else. Critics of Piketty who write small articles on his book, criticizing this point or that, are missing the much bigger picture. Piketty, in presenting all of this data and analysis, is providing a broad stage to discuss capitalism. I think anyone wanting to take him on really has to do the same level of work. That’s the thing. Cherry picking is useless. Yes, it would be good to have more data. But this is the data available. If you want to criticize Piketty, you need more data, or you need to critique his data. If you want to show how technology is making inequality less not more, bring that data. Saying “Piketty is a red” or “this is not 19th century range” and thinking you are done just makes you look foolish and your arguments weak. (Of course you can believe what you like, but belief is not argument.)
  • Another thing he doesn’t touch on is the destructive nature of IT on capital. Being an IT professional, I was wondering if he would examine capital in the 21st century from that perspective, since IT is having a greater and greater effect on our economies, and as more things become digital, the depreciation of capital related to those things accelerates. If you’d like to read more on that topic, you won’t find it here.
  • It is interesting to note the stability of capitalism in the 19th century, at least in Europe. It was a conservative time politically, with limited warfare. Currency and other things economic were also stable then. No point here, just something that struck me as interesting.
  • I believe that an accumulation of capital leads to anti-democratic measures by capitalists that result in revolutions or wars, which lead to the destruction of private capital. Piketty doesn’t go into this, but it would be interesting to read an analysis that shows a relationship between the accumulation of capital and the advent of wars and revolutions.
  • I found this fact fascinating: after the Napoleonic wars and World War 2, Britain’s public debt was 200% of the GDP. 200%! I found this fascinating, first because there is a lot of worry now about the wealthiest nations having their public debt going over 100% of their GDP. Yet Britain’s was much much higher in those two cases. How did they reduced that debt and bring the percentage down from 200% to a much smaller number (as seen in the book)? Inflation. It was done over a very long period of time, but it is proof that high debt can be brought down and that it isn’t irreversible.
  • Reading the section on slaves and capital made me think many things, including the idea that capital based on anti-democratic or inhumane means is precarious — think of capital that pollutes or depends on the deprivation of otherwise rights….it is unstable capital — and that capitalists and not just socialists should argue for an economic society based on democracy and human rights.
  • One thing Piketty does well is whenever possible he links data from the US and Sweden because they are both relative outliers to the UK, France and Germany. It also highlighted to me how much the US lags (or leads, depending on your viewpoint) much of the developed world.
  • Piketty is big on education. If anything, I think he gives it too much weight. People from better schools stay wealthy not just because of what they learn but who they connect with in such schools. (Maybe it is different in France, but I doubt it.) Establishment schools are smart enough to let new blood in but they are far from meritocracies. To me, Piketty seems to have a blind spot when it comes to academia that he doesn’t show elsewhere when talking about inheritance or super-managers.
  • Piketty makes the case that taxes are better than debt. I made this note: “The concern for progressives is that capitalists will drive down both taxes and debt by abusing social programs.” But I don’t know why! 🙂 Ah well…it was likely a good thought at the time of reading it.
  • Piketty talks at the end about the contradiction of capitalism is r > g. My belief is that this formula should be more complicated and that when you add a time factor in there and some other dependencies, you see have a better model and formula (or formulae) on how capitalism corrects itself, either through war, or revolution, or other drastic social change. But this is just another belief I have.

As you are reading it, you will likely have your own notes and marginalia. Let me know what you think.

My modest guide to Piketty’s Capitalism and how to read it (all the way to the end)

 

You are looking at buying Piketty’s Capitalism, or maybe you already bought it, but you are daunted by it. Having read it, I can say it is daunting in parts, but it is also great. I highly recommend you get it and read it from front to back. Some of you will have no problem with that. For the rest, I put together this modest guide on how best to read it and finish it and not get bogged down and put it aside.

Here goes.

The introduction is an easy read. If anything, it is highly approachable. Piketty is a good writer, and he does a number of things to make it easy to read. (For example, he brings in a lot of literary references. He also does not assume you are an economist.) For the first 100 pages I thought: why is everyone having difficulty with this book….it’s fun! (Mind you, I am interested in economics, but still….) What I’d say is that this introduction is a good introduction not only to the book but the field of economics in general. Don’t be fooled though: the rest of the book is not as easy to read.

Of the book’s four sections, the first and last are the most approachable for non-economists. Emergency tip: if you are getting bogged down in the middle of the book, feel free to skip to the last section. Reading the first and last section is still rewarding, and you can read the last section without reading the middle. (Not ideal, of course, but better than skipping the last section all together).

That said, there are great passages in the middle, and there are some slow sections in the front and back. (Don’t entirely skip the middle, and likewise, don’t be thrown off by some harder parts in the front or back.) Here’s some examples of what I mean:

While non-economists might want to skip over it, I found his history of data collection — around page 55 — interesting. He is following in the footsteps of some of these other figures in the field of economics while also showing the limits of what analysis can be done, given the lack of data. I think this is an important thing to read if you read his critics. Piketty is aware of the limits of his analysis: something you would not think by reading his critics like I have. It’s good to know this. Also, this supports the case that Piketty makes later in section 4 on why a global capital tax would not just be good for states and a check on capitalism, but also as a way of improving the field of economics. Try to read this part.

Generally, the sections of the book on growth, income and capital are interesting infor the long term perspective they give. I found those worthwhile.

The second section is a good take on how capital has changed over the centuries. If you are going to think about capital and capitalism, it’s worth reading the second section on this history. There were radical changes in capital from the 18th century to the 20th, as capital went from being largely agricultural land or largely housing. In the United States another big capital shift occurred as human capital in the form of slaves rightly disappeared after the American civil war. So, I liked this section: it got me thinking about capital in ways I hadn’t before.

I highly recommend you don’t skim the part on the relationship between slavery and capitalism in around page 158. The value of slaves as part of the overall wealth of the US south is incredible, and the effect the Civil War would have on rightly destroying such capital was significant. You can rightly argue that slaves are human beings and not capital, but from the point of view of the slave owner, they were as much capital as machinery or barns or land. A thought provoking section, I found.

Of the middle section, make sure you read page 166 where Piketty introduces his law of capitalism. Piketty’s laws are a key part of the book. Also at the beginning of page 237 the book moves away from the data to talk about inequality and there is more approachable analysis. For example, around this point of the book, Piketty provides a good analysis of labor vs capital, class, and an insightful review of inequality. In particular his analysis around super managers and super salaries is really good and highly relevant in our times. (I think it also got up the nose of some Silicon Valley types, which I found fascinating.)

Make sure you read the section of the book on inequality: I found it to be one of the better parts of the book.

Overall, beware of section two. In this section, Piketty looks at capital in various parts of the world. If you are an economist, then  you really want to focus on this section, because he is making a case for his central idea. However, for a general reader, you might become fatigued in the middle of this part as it tends to feel repetitive. By the way, I think this repetitiveness is really supportive of Piketty’s point. He can argue: hey! look there is a consistency here we can make some conclusions about. If you already support his point, skim away.

If you are skimming madly in the middle, slow down as you get to page 400.
I took a lot more notes towards the end of the book (in the 400s) and I thought this section readable and interesting. For example, in the 400s, Piketty deals with merit. I believe a lot of critics don’t like the book because of how Piketty places limits on virtues of merit and hard work. Piketty argues you can work hard to get rich but someone with a lot of capital can get as rich or much richer with little if any effort. He goes on to show that capitalism is structured such that the rich will…well, get richer. Which means that proportionally the poor get poor. You may believe the rich get richer: here’s the argument as why in a capitalism society that happens.

The other thing I like about the 400s is that Piketty bring in literary examples again. He does that in the first section, and he does it again here, and I found whenever he does this, the book becomes livelier and more interesting.

Still reading? At the last section? Good! In the last section, Piketty focuses on the importance of regulating capital. Now, I am skeptical of what he recommends, even though it is hardly revolutionary (literally or figuratively). Maybe it will happen in the 22nd century. I am willing to believe it will happen, thought. After all, progressive income tax is a fairly new thing, and taxes themselves will continue to evolve, just like they have for centuries. Likewise, freer trade has increased dramatically in the 20th century, and other taxes like VAT taxes have made a big impact. Perhaps a global tax would not be impossible. That said, you should read the last section, because to not do so would be to miss out on a key point of the book.

Ok, that’s my modest guide to reading Piketty’s Capital. Did I convince you to give it a try? Great! Give it a go! If you can avoid the pitfalls in the middle, you’ll find yourself cruising towards the end and find you are done sooner than you think. Book completion aside, when you finish Piketty’s Capital you’ll have a much better understanding of capital in the 21st and capitalism in general. I think this important, because even if you don’t want to think about capitalism, capitalism affects us all. Knowing more about it, knowing how to think about it, and having ideas on how to change it are valuable.

Good luck!

Some thoughts on mining twitter for art

There was a lot of talk when Cory Archangel published the book above.  Essentially it is a collection of tweets from others tweeting about…well, working on their novel! It’s clever, but it made me think that it is just the beginning of works of arts that could be mined from the colossal amount of tweets each day.  There’s gold in there amongst all the twitter rage and minutiae about people’s day. It deserves better.

Meanwhile, more about that book, here: A Novel Compiled From Crowd Sourced Tweets About Writing A Novel | MAKE.

Thinking and thinking better about scarcity (time, money, love, etc.)

We all suffer from scarcity. If you are poor, this is a given. But there are other types of scarcity too, including scarcity of time and even scarcity of affection. Regardless of the form it comes in, it affects you in ways you might not expect and prevents you from making the better choices. This book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, explorers scarcity from all these angles, and it made me realize the effect scarcity has on me. People think they can rationalize in the face of scarcity, but as the authors argue, it is much harder to do than we think. I highly recommend it. (It comes across as a book in the business book genre, but it is much better than that.)

Part of the problem resulting from dealing with scarcity is that we adopt a scarcity mindset. I do that sometimes, either by choice or out of ignorance. (e.g. “You mean I have many choices? I thought I had only one choice?” If you ask yourself questions like that, you may have a scarcity mindset.) It would help if there were ways to dealing with this.

One way of dealing with it is in this article: From the Scarcity Mindset to the Abundance Mindset at The Simple Dollar. It gives you some ways to avoid the scarcity mindset and move towards a mindset of abundance. Try the article: you’ll be surprised, I believe, just how often you assume a mindset of scarcity. You will also have to work at having a mindset of abundance, but it is worth the effort.

Finally, I don’t mean to trivialize people’s real needs and lack of resources they have to fill them. I do think we often make matters worse because of the way we think about what we have and what we could have. This book and this article can help with this.

You can get the book from book sellers like indigo.ca.

A Mathematician’s Apology by G. H. Hardy is free and online

The great mathematician G.H. Hardy wrote a slim book that is great for mathematicians and non-mathematicians alike. Best of all

As fifty or more years have passed since the death of the author, this book is now in the public domain in the Dominion of
Canada..

So yes, you can get it for free, here.

I highly recommend it. (Did I mention it is a great read for non-mathematicians, too. It really is.)

Thanks to @anitleirfall on twitter for pointing this out.

17 great, short novels for people like me who struggle to finish larger volumes

If like me you want to read better but find yourself struggling to get through massive books that you tend not to finish, this post is for you. Rachel Grate has put together a list of 17 great books that cover a range of old and new, very well known and some less well know. What’s on the list?

  1. ‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin
  2. ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. ‘Night’ by Elie Wiesel
  4. ‘Passing’ by Nella Larson
  5. ‘Candide’ by Voltaire
  6. ‘The Member of the Wedding’ by Carson McCullers
  7. ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell
  8. ‘Autobiography of Red’ by Anne Carson
  9. ‘Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino
  10. ‘The Buddha in the Attic’ by Julie Otsuka
  11. ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway
  12. ‘The House on Mango Street’ by Sandra Cisneros
  13. ‘The King’ by Donald Barthelme
  14. ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka
  15. ‘Notes from Underground’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  16. ‘Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?’ by Lorrie Moore
  17. ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes

 As you can see, a great range. I highly recommend you go to the post and read why they are recommended. Then head to your local bookstore and grab a handful. 

One of my favourite books is ‘Invisible Cities’: I highly recommend it.

First bookstores, now restaurants being driven out of Manhattan

This Village Voice article has a run down of a number of great restaurants being forced to close due to the price of rent in Manhattan. Restaurants are following bookstores,  which are also suffering from the cost of doing business in this part of NYC.

I suspect low margin businesses like this will move to the other parts of NYC and away from the big rent/big money sections. It will be interesting to see the migration both of the businesses and the people. Compared to the way Manhattan used to be in the later part of the 20th century, this is a better problem for them to have.

For more on the bookstores closing, see this piece in the New York Times.

Some thoughts on books as social objects

20131102-175329.jpg

This week I was carrying this book around with me and managed to have two people initiate conversations regarding it in the same day. First a younger waiter in a restaurant told me the author’s name was similar to a favourite children’s book she had many years ago. Then on the subway, a man who appeared to be a gamer engaged me in a long discussion about war games, the US Civil War, and the Napoleonic wars.

Neither conversation would have happened if the book were an ebook or even an abstract cover, I suspect. The cover itself caught their eye, and that led to further conversation.

Books are great social objects. They tell something about you, and they give a topic for others to start talking to you about.

Both conversations were not really about the book directly, but ways for people to share something about themselves. This is a benefit of social objects: you can learn much more by taking the object out in public. With private objects, you have to do all the work: with social objects, people help you learn more.

It likely helped that the book was not controversial. Plus it was odd enough to catch people’s eye. The potential barriers to starting conversations were low.

It is difficult to say what makes an object more social than others. Much of that is random. I had been reading the book all week: that day was the first one that people talked to me about it. Certainly something people are passionate about helps. Even that is random, though.

Other objects can be social, too, but books can be both personal and impersonal at the same time. That dual quality makes them a good social object. Strangers asking about highly personal objects may seem prying and put people on the defensive. Objects like food are too impersonal and not easy to make an interesting topic to start talking about. Books are nicely in the middle.

In short, get down your quirky looking books from your bookshelf and take them out for a walk. Your social life may improve. Even in a big city like Toronto.

An additional note: I was walking down Yonge Street yesterday, and I stopped to admire a mosaic on a wall. While I was doing that, another man walked next to me and told me about the construction of it and his thoughts on it. It too was a social object, thought I created the context for socialization by stopping to admire it.