When Books are Like Diet Frozen Yogurt

I recently took Sarah for one-on-one time to a yogurt place that advertises its wares at 20 calories per ounce.  You know the type: you put a bit of yogurt in a giant cup and add your own toppings.  The toppings are real candy, but the yogurt itself tastes like ice water.

That’s kind of how I feel about books sometimes.  The graphics and concept are great, but when you get into it you realize it’s the book equivalent of a dessert that’s heavy on the ice and light on the cream.

Take, for example, The Leap Year Project: Learning to Risk & Risking to Learn.  The concept is interesting: a guy forgoes getting his MBA in favor of spending a year taking risks and learning experientially.  The design of the book is great, and whoever did the page layouts is incredibly talented.

But the text itself?  Meh.  The lack of detail left me feeling unconvinced that the author really took any risks or learned enough to count as a MBA.  He seemed to work for a varied set of companies, but he always did the same sort of stuff.  The lack of specificity may have been intentional–an attempt to make the author’s experiences more broadly applicable–but I feel like it had the opposite effect.  I didn’t get any take-aways from what he learned, which is unusual for me.

I will say that if you’re a young 20s type person, with no real attachments or obligations to risk but the vague sense that you ought to do something rad with your life, this book would probably be highly motivational.  But even in that case, I think you’d do better to spend the time thinking deeply about what it is you want to accomplish with your life, why you have so much ennui, and how you maximize your unattached time by learning and doing things that will enrich and equip you for the rest of your life.  Having spent my fair share of time in various oh-no-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life crises, I don’t say that in a snarky way.  I’m being honest: in my experience the antidote to ennui panic is not to flail off to do something huge, but to get a hold of yourself and ask hard, practical questions.

I have a sneaky sense that this book is not targeting people in their early-to-mid-30s who have kids and mortgages.  🙂  But that’s too bad, I think, because experiential learning and taking calculated risks to impact the world are things that people in their 30s care about too.  What I loved about the book Radical, which similarly encourages people to do unconventional things, is that it challenges readers to grapple with big issues and take risks that actually bring results, rather than the fluffy “hey, let’s have an unconventional year!” feeling I got from The Leap Year Project.

That said, I do wish I could give the book a stronger review because I love the ideas of being entrepreneurial about your education and reaching goals in unusual ways.  If you like those ideas too, I think Sal Khan’s book One World Schoolhouse is an excellent book on that sort of education, and Radical is a great one on choosing unconventional paths (thoughtfully and for well grounded reasons, not just for the heck of it).


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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