Hodge Podge: Life, Work, and Getting Your Point Across

In the mix this week: some thoughts on how we work (not just in jobs), form habits, and communicate.

Deep Work – In this fantastic book, Cal Newport describes how our culture is shifting toward shallow thinking, and the opportunities this opens for people who cultivate the ability to do deep work–that is, who know how to work with innovation, depth, and concentration. Newport discusses how to work deeply and develop focus and also exposes fallacies about what does and does not foster this ability. For example, he describes the idea that kids using iPads in school to prepare them for the high-tech economy is like giving them matchbox cars so they can learn to service a Porsche. Of particular strength are insightful sections on how to reframe the way we think about tasks and how we could approach tools and platforms with a craftsman approach (“Does this help me meet my core priorities?”) versus an any-benefit approach (“Shiny! New! I’ll take it!”). I took six dense pages of notes and was challenged in my thinking on many points, putting several of my take-aways into practice, such as the Roosevelt Dash. “A deep life is a good life.” Read this book. You will not regret it.

When Breath Becomes Air – This startling book is an end-of-life memoir written by a neurosurgeon struck in his mid-30s with terminal cancer. It sounds grim, but instead is hopeful and incredibly thought-provoking. One thing that stuck with me in particular was how Kalanithi’s pre-med background in literature and the humanities made him a better surgeon and more able to deal with the complexities and tragedies of own his life and those of his patients. Highly, highly recommended (both the book and the study of humanities!).

Reclaiming Conversation – This high impact book discusses how modern life is eroding our ability to communicate and relate to others, and offers suggestions for how to repair the walls. I’ve made a note to require my kids to read this book in high school, and would highly recommend it to anyone. Many things in our current culture are stacked against community and relationships, and it behooves us to pay attention and make stronger decisions about connection, empathy, attention, and imagination. This is not an anti-technology book, but rather a framework for how to prevent it from narrowing your world. An excellent read.

The Sweet Spot – In the habits and happiness genre, this book stands out for concrete, workable, high impact suggestions written in a personable, inspiring tone. I put a lot of things from this book into practice, including this year’s motto (Love is the horse) and defining the MDR (minimum daily requirement) for things like exercise to help me break the “well I don’t have two hours so I guess it’s nothing” mindset. Another strength of the book is the emphasis on how to build or repair relationships in small, manageable ways. I really liked this book, and would recommend it.

Smartcuts – The fact is, most of us have to work and get stuff done in life in one or more arenas. So, the author of Smartcuts posits, we should do these things in a smart way. Whether you have a traditional 9-5 or not, many of the tips in this highly readable and entertaining book will help you. Smartcuts demonstrates how the maxims many of us take for granted, like “put in your time” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “10,000 hours of practice makes you good at something” just aren’t true, and replaces those ideas with research-based alternatives.

Average is Over – There are a couple of fascinating points made in Average is Over, although I think they would have been made stronger in an article rather than a book. To sum up, the author argues that in recent decades a lot of people have been “overemployed relative to their skills” (that is, the cost of providing insurance and benefits is more than the value they provide) and that in the near future loads of people are going to fall out of the middle class. Some of the conclusions are fairly obvious but others are interestingly unique, such as the assertion that a key determinant in future success will be self-control. It’s not a bad book, but now you know the gist and you could probably skip it unless you’re just really interested in this sort of forecasting.

What have you been reading this week?

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Hodge Podge: Science Fiction in Translation

I never got into science fiction much until I read Wired For War and realized that good science fiction is where a lot of the thinking about philosophy and response to technology and science happens. And it’s even more interesting when it comes from another cultural perspective. So this week’s hodge podge is, for a bit of a twist, flavored Science Fiction in Translation.

Roadside Picnic – Translated from Russian, this novel had a very different feel from most American works of similar kinds. It was not like the older Russian novels I’m more familiar with, but it did have a distinctive difference…I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but maybe the difference was that Roadside Picnic looks at alien technology in in a more pedestrian and less hero-driven way than an American author might have approached the same premise? The story itself struck me as inconclusive and low on hope, but it was interesting.

The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death’s End  – This fascinating and compelling trilogy was translated from Chinese by two different translators. I loved the way the author wove insights about the history and development of math and physics into the narrative, especially related to what went on in China during the Cultural Revolution. I think what really struck me about the trilogy was the reminder of how often we think of defense and technology in a Western-centric way, whereas there is an equally valid Sino-centric view that results in some completely different conclusions. The books deal with ethical conundrums like what actually underpins our standards and ethics on in the face of unforeseen circumstances, and how and why humanity often defaults to totalitarianism and what can be done about it. In many ways, these books reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy, albeit with a different guiding hermeneutic.

On China – Unrelated to science fiction, but concurrent to the Cixin Liu books, I was also reading Kissinger’s On China, and found that it dovetailed well, especially in providing context to historical Chinese perspectives and cultural and academic changes of the more recent past.

What are your favorite sci-fi titles?


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Rest Assured

Rest-Assured-CoverIf you’re coming from a place of extreme busyness and you feel that your online life is out of control, you might find good food for thought in Rest Assured: A Recovery Plan for Weary Souls. But if you’ve already thought a lot about this topic and have made good progress in living your priorities, this may not be as rich of a resource.

The author clearly calls out social media use and online time wastage in general, which may be startling for 20-30 somethings. While I thought some of her points came across as biased toward life before ubiquitous internet-enabled devices, she did make a strong case for the fact that thoughtful technology use is now counter-cultural.

Of course, just because something is counter-cultural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. While I personally have cut back substantially on social media and non-work internet use this year, I see that as something I’ve done for my own season of life and out of a need to honestly live my priorities, not a moral imperative others need to follow.

It is interesting to think about how we could develop a coherent theology of technology use, but I think this might be one of those areas where lack of deep thought leads people to take their own methods and try to apply them as universal standards. I think with technology especially there is a lot of grey space where we have to know ourselves and our attitudes and callings and honestly evaluate it for ourselves.  That takes a lot of work, and a checklist would be easier!  I do think this book offers some good points to think about, as long as you can approach them with an eye toward filtering the author’s conclusions through the lens of your own tendencies and personality and situation.

There were a few drawbacks to the book. I had a problem with the tone in several places.  In what seemed like an attempt to be funny the author often put others down in a way that was not actually humorous–it was needlessly mean and catty.  In other places, the author wrote in a way that made suggestions seem like imperatives and it took away from her points.

There is a lot of good material in Rest Assured, so depending on your interest level you might find it worth a read, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite book in this topic area.


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A few books on the science, philosophy, and mysteries of the mind

I’m on a spree of categorizing my books read this month – and I’m linking this one up at QuickLit. It’s interesting in hindsight how I tend to read in sets without planning it that way in advance. As I looked over my list of recent reads, I noticed that a few were on the mind, but from different perspectives.

mind changeIn Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains, Susan Greenfield leverages her background in philosophy and neuroscience to explore the ever increasing field of research into how technology impacts and changes our brains.  Greenfield is not a Luddite–she discusses positive aspects of screen use and presents a balanced view of research findings–but she doesn’t pull any punches about the implications of the facts.  If you’ve read much on this topic it won’t really surprise you–computers, smart phones, video games, social media, and the like have a significant effect on how we think, read, and solve problems.  As Greenfield points out, these technologies aren’t going away, but if we understand them and their impact on ourselves and our kids, we can be smart and intentional about technology use in light of what sort of society we want to live in and what sort of people we want to be.

world-beyond-your-headThe World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction comes at the problem of what modern life is doing to our brains from a different, more philosophical angle.  Instead of asking, “Should we use technology?” this book asks “How is our culture impacting our ability to pay attention, and what does that mean for our way of life?”  I appreciated that the author, an academic, wrote a book of philosophy while maintaining a highly readable style.  If you have a background in philosophy, you’ll like how Crawford traces our current problem of attention back through the logical consequences of previous philosophical breakthroughs, but even if you’re coming to the topic cold Crawford’s style won’t overwhelm you and will certainly give you a lot to think about.

fermat's enigmaFermat’s Enigma combines an interesting history of mathematicians with the intriguing story of how mathematics’ most interesting problem was finally solved.  I love learning how math works if I don’t have to actually sit there and do the tedious work of adding and multiplying, so I really enjoyed reading about the different mathematicians who contributed to the problem’s solution, and the proofs and breakthroughs that advanced the study of math along the way.  Plus the problem was finally solved by a Princeton professor, so, school pride!  Not that I can really claim any personal connection to the math department, seeing as how I fell off the wagon at Calculus 104 and never made it to the cool stuff.  Still, this is a great book if you’re interested in the subject, and I’d recommend it.

rising-strong-book-coverBrene Brown’s latest book, Rising Strong, explores the way we think about our circumstances through the stories we tell, and how we can take control of those stories to live more “wholehearted” lives.

While I didn’t find it as helpful as her previous works, I did think the story framework was interesting. I’ve always called this “narrating” my life, and didn’t realize everyone did so, but that makes sense.  I’ve noticed before that my stories are not always accurate, and it does take a huge effort to unpack why I’m crafting my explanatory story one way or another.  Brown’s insight will help people who haven’t considered this aspect of thinking, and her suggestions could be really powerful impetus to corral your thoughts and change the trajectory of your thinking so you can have healthier relationships and a better outlook on life.

Have you read anything interesting along these lines recently?


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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

shallowsIf you’re interested in how brains work–and particularly if you’re fascinated by how they change and what we can do about that–I’d recommend Nicholas Carr’s thought-provoking book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

At first I feared this would be a Luddite, over-anxious screed against computers, but instead I found it to be fairly balanced, and devoted mostly to an exploration of the considerable and growing body of research into the impact of screen reading and internet use on how we think, learn, reason, and process information.  The findings are quite interesting and have staggering implications for our social, political, and intellectual future.

Topics raised include:

  • How reading on a screen is vastly different from reading in a linear book, and what that means for an individual’s ability to retain, engage with, and learn from the material.
  • What linear reading allows that screen reading does not (including questions of what literacy means beyond simple decoding of letters).
  • How interacting online impacts our ability to see nuance and respond with empathy (hint: over time it draws both down shockingly)
  • Why online connection is addictive and how it differs from in person interaction or direct correspondence.
  • The nasty side effect of internet quick hit information–including unbundling content and being able to find things fast on google–which is distraction, and how that changes the ways our brain works with a negative impact on creativity, deep thinking, and higher-level cognitive skills.
  • How the philosophies of technology–especially in influential industry giants like google–really drive the direction of how we interact with the internet, ideas, and each other.
  • Why brains aren’t actually like computers, but how believing they are drives a lot of technology and the resulting flattening of our intelligence.

These are heavy subjects.  And yet the book does not have a doom-and-gloom feel at all.  The author concedes that technology and the internet are inevitable, and won’t be rewound.  But I think he hints at hopeful ideas as well.  If you’re aware of what’s going on, and what the medium is doing to you, you can take steps to combat it in yourself and your children.  I’m less certain what to do about society overall–especially the kind of frightening political implications of a populace in which the majority basically loses the ability to interact deeply with nuanced ideas.

Personally, I felt confirmed in my convictions about limiting screen time for my kids and requiring them to read only print books for now.  Obviously there is a huge continuum here that bears a lot of reflection.  This year I’ve taken steps to self-monitor the time I spend in online community versus the time I devote to real-life, in-person relationships.  I also watch how much time I spend reading things online versus reading sustained arguments and narratives in actual books.  My experience mirrors the findings in the studies Carr cites: I retain more and interact more deeply when I’m reading linear paper books than when I read online, and not just because of click-bait articles being inherently shallow–I’m talking about the difference I see between reading a book on my Kindle app and reading it in paper form.  There is value to having a book ready on my phone for many situations.  But I am mindful about which format would be best for different types of books.

Your conclusions may–and likely will–be different.  But The Shallows is the sort of book that begs to be discussed!  If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments!


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The Glass Cage

glass cageIn The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, author Nicholas Carr examines the philosophy, ethics, and consequences of automation, and suggests a more considered alternative approach.

Automation, Carr writes, is the use of computers and software to do things we used to do ourselves.  Used wisely, it can relieve us of drudgery so we can do more creative and fulfilling work.  However, most people don’t devote much thought to wise technology deployment or use, and so quite often automation has the negative effect of reducing human creativity–shifting the human in the equation to a routine monitor rather than a strategic craftsman.

Carr gives plenty of well-researched examples.  Starting with auto-pilot in airplanes, then proceeding on to other technologies from Google cars to Facebook, Carr explores the tacit philosophies driving different programs and the effect that uncritical use has on human users.  His research points to drops in ability to think strategically, to leverage memory, and even to the way habitually using GPS negatively impacts the hippocampus.

While I found the brain science sobering, I was particularly interested in the philosophical arguments Carr puts forth.  Carr notes that “every piece of software contains hidden assumptions” and is designed according to someone’s view of the world.  For example, I feel protective of my hippocampus, but was really sobered by the studies about how map apps change the way people view themselves in relationship to their cities–even extending to the connections they feel to others in their communities.  The discussion of the philosophies driving social media platforms was likewise sobering.  This review is too short to devote adequate space to Carr’s discussion of the way Facebook is changing the meaning of integrity and the notion of self, but that section is worth reading even if you skip the rest of the book.

Ethical conundrums were another interesting component of the book.  Like many people, I suppose I succumb to automation bias, because when I heard about Google cars (the car drives itself) I thought that sounded great–I’d be freed up to read or something instead of driving.  But Carr points out that automation requires ethical programming.  And who gets to decide the ethics programmed into your driver-free car?  He raises several thought experiments that illuminate examples: what if your car has to choose between running over an animal or a 30% risk of running the car off the road and damaging it?  What if the animal is your dog?  What if it’s not an animal but your child?  What if the risk to the car and to you as an occupant is much higher, like 80%?  What if you have another child in the car with you?  Who gets hurt?  And who decides how that programming is done?  You as the owner?  The car manufacturer?  Politicians?  Philosophers?  Insurance underwriters?  Automation bias leads us to assume that all new technology is good technology, but that’s not necessarily true, and technology always has to exist and function in our imperfect world.

Ultimately Carr does not advocate eschewing all technology, but he does think we need to think much, much more carefully about creating and adopting it.  Rather than putting our priority on technical advancement whatever the costs, he thinks that technology should be designed and used with a goal of advancing “social and personal flourishing.”  Of course, the meaning of that phrase could be debated.

In any case, I think Carr’s admonition to think carefully about our technology is valid.  While I don’t find myself quite as alarmed as he is about some technologies, I appreciated the encouragement to think more deeply about the way I use technology and the philosophies I am–wittingly or unwittingly–adopting when I use it.  The Glass Cageis a worthwhile read for anyone involved in modern life, and I recommend it. I agree with what Carr writes in his conclusion:

“We assume that anyone who rejects a new tool in favor of an older one is guilty of nostalgia, of making choices sentimentally rather than rationally. But the real sentimental fallacy is the assumption that the new thing is always better suited to our purposes and intentions than the old thing…what makes one tool superior to another has nothing to do with how new it is. What matters is how it enlarges or diminishes us, how it shapes our experience of nature and culture and one another.”

How careful are you about adopting and using technologies? Do you feel like using certain technologies has changed your way of relating to the world?


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Steve Jobs


I am currently signed in to my husband’s Audible account so that I can listen to the books he has listened to and we can talk about them.  We don’t always have overlapping taste in books, but we both tend to like biographies.  Josh couldn’t stop talking about Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs, so I decided to listen to it too.

As biographies go, this one was a compelling one to listen to – versus some that are really better reading from a page.  Jobs was such a bizarre and fascinating person that the book can’t help but be interesting.  As I listened I often asked, “why didn’t someone smack him upside the head!?!?!?” because he was such a jerk, and yet he was also a really brilliant person and came up with ideas that changed entire industries.

I don’t think that Jobs should get a pass because he was a genius.  He was often mean just for the heck of it, had a megalomaniacal streak, and hurt other people inexcusably.  The author of the biography seems to struggle with that tension though–did Jobs’ character flaws contribute to his radical abilities?  If his parents had helped him to overcome his faults rather than enabling him, would he have grown up to be such a world-changer?  In the conclusion, the author admits that not all of Jobs’ quirks were tied to his abilities, but I found myself thinking about it throughout the book.

Obviously you want your children to be creative and to have impact in their world, but my conclusion is that the desire to foster big thinking and calculated risk taking should not–and doesn’t have to–supplant basic functioning in society.  Jobs was ethical (mostly) but he wasn’t kind.  He had a rigid internal code, but it was based on his own whims, and often completely counter to reality.  I think he could have still challenged the status quo and pushed the envelope with his business endeavors without being so arbitrary and solipsistic.

I also found Jobs’ spiritual grappling interesting.  He was a brilliant man who knew there was something like God, but he could never bring himself to give up control to the point of accepting a sovereign deity.  He dabbled in eastern religions, made up what was essentially his own self-religion, and yet was always questioning and feeling unsettled about ultimate questions.  Apparently he spent a lot of time talking to the biographer about religion and the question of belief, so it was on his mind a lot.  I wonder what his final thoughts were on his death bed.

Another subject that obviously got a lot of play was technological advancement.  I remember when I was little my dad explaining that we were not getting a Mac because you couldn’t use outside software on it or make any modifications to the hardware.  After reading the history behind the Mac, I understand what he was getting at, and also how the Apple concept evolved.  Nowadays I live in an Apple-loyal house, and I found the transformation of the brand really intriguing.

From a business perspective, I loved hearing about Apple’s internal culture, and found I agreed with most of Jobs’ convictions about breaking through corporate atrophy and actually fostering creativity.  Jobs thought an environment of beauty and simplicity would lead to better thinking, so he was fanatical about the design of facilities and workspaces.  I find that I do better work when I’m not distracted by visual clutter, and I put together my entire main living space around the theme of “calm.”  If you have a primary workspace–in your house or at an office–you’ll find a lot of things to consider in Jobs’ aesthetic philosophy.  Because I work in marketing, I also loved the insights into how Apple products were launched, how the brand was built and recast over time, and what sorts of advertising worked or backfired along the way.

I should note that if you’re on the fence about reading this versus listening on Audible, the narrator had some seriously annoying verbal tics?  Like ending non-question sentences with rising inflection?  And I had a hard time getting used to that?  Eventually I tuned it out.  Also the book is pretty full of profanity, primarily in direct quotes.  Consider yourself forewarned on both counts.

If you’re interested in biographies, technology, business, or creativity, the Steve Jobs biography would be well worth your time.

What do you think about balancing creativity with social restraint?


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Oreo Fiction

I love literary fiction; it’s my favorite.  I love to sink my mind into a complicated and deep exploration of themes and cultures and characters–the kind of book that keeps me thinking for weeks and expands or strengthens my point of view.  Books of literary fiction are like the Bon Appetit recipes of reading.  They take a long time and involve ingredients you don’t already have on hand, but in the end the truffle-infused-whatever feeds you on a whole different level than standard fare.

But sometimes you just want the store-bought cookie of reading material.  Everyone needs a break sometimes.

Enter Oreo fiction!  Oreo fiction is not trash–it’s a great blend of texture and flavor–but having too much of it would be bad for your brain the way a steady diet of the cookies would be bad for your body.  However, as store-bought cookies go, and in small amounts here and there, Oreos nail it. As an occasional treat they can be just the thing.  See how that works?  Metaphors.  I love them.

scarletRecently, after putting my brain power toward a lot of deeper fiction and non-fiction, plus working on Spanish, I felt like I needed a mental break.  Having enjoyed Cinder, I got the next two books in Marissa Meyer’s best-selling YA sci-fi/fantasy/fairy-tale-retelling series.  The combination works.  This is solid Oreo fiction.

Scarlet reimagines the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, and Cress is an even more clever recasting of Rapunzel (See what she did with the title? Rapunzel is a salad herb, as is watercress, and cress is also short for crescent moon).  The books connect all of the characters into a larger narrative intertwining the storylines of all three main characters, which is a great way to propel the series.

Because I’m not a fan of YA, I definitely found plenty of eye-rolling scenes (teen romance–gag me with a spoon) but nothing more than an occasional kiss and sappy exchanges (“You’re my alpha!”).  However, because I liked the story line and really, really appreciate the world-building, I kept with it and hoped the wind wouldn’t change while I was making faces at the drippy bits.

Ever since I read Wired for War (a non-fiction book, and exceptional – you should read it) I’ve been more interested in science fiction as a vehicle for exploring the ethics and philosophy of technology.  Meyer’s books, while geared for a less serious audience, do explore questions of prejudice, the boundaries of personhood, and ends versus means.  Her conclusions are nebulous (is someone less of a person if they have some mechanical replacement parts like a foot?  Is a robot a person if she has a sense of humor?) and she doesn’t get too deep into these topics, but at least it could start a discussion if you knew someone reading the books.

If you don’t read a lot, you could skip the Lunar Chronicles.  They won’t change your life or rock your world or go down in history as game changing classics.  But if you’re in the mood for some Oreo fiction, they could be just the thing.


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2014’s Third Quarter in Books

This quarter I had an uptick in work, which resulted in a downtick in reading, to my chagrin.  However, I did still read 27 books in July, August, and September, and also read 20 long/chapter books (of around 100 pages or more, not picture books) aloud to or with the kids.  I broke the titles down into categories of Fiction, Life Management/Creative Work, Communication/Relationships, Parenting/Education, History, Memoir, and Faith.  The links below are to my longer reviews, starred titles were my absolute favorites.


  • The Night Circus – An incredible fairy tale set in a Victorian circus that begs to be read on a rainy day, The Night Circus was excellent in audiobook version, and I might skim the print version too.
  • Speaking From Among the Bones – A Flavia DeLuce mystery.  Enough said.
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – Another Flavia DeLuce mystery. Really, if you haven’t read these, do.  Impeccable plotting, fantastic characterization, funny and smart writing…the entire series is excellent.
  • Children of the Jacaranda Tree – The author used a dissonant writing and narrative style to convey the dissonance of Iranian post-Revolution culture, but those aspects of the book wound up detracting from the story significantly.  Mostly I felt the book suffered from lack of setting and descriptive voice.  Read A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea instead.

Life Management/Creative Work

  • What Should I Do With My Life? People who are perpetual reinventers and tryers-of-new-things will like this book.  People who never ask themselves the title’s question should skip it.
  • Manage Your Day to Day – If you’re a creative and/or flex-worker you should read this book.  I’ve especially benefitted from the advice on how to be the boss of your technology (sorry Facebook, it had to end sometime).
  • *Essentialism* – This exceptional book is not about maximizing your life in 15 minute increments, but more about how to untangle confusion, busy-ness, and triviality to get at what’s most important to you, and then how to protect your time and focus so you can really give your best efforts to those priorities.  The book is excellent and I highly recommend it.
  • The Accidental Creative – Normal time management advice doesn’t always work for creative workers.  This book explains why and gives tips for how to work around that.  I felt affirmed in that I already do many of these things, but also got some new tips.
  • Die Empty – By the same author as The Accidental Creative, this book covers how to be more focused and gives some really helpful advice on curating your information flow.  Curating is a modern requirement I find very interesting, and this book helped me realize that I do have a choice about it.
  • The Art of Small Talk – A light but helpful book about small talk and how to use it, I found this one particularly helpful for business contexts and have been using tips about meetings all summer.
  • Difficult Conversations – This very helpful book not only walks you through how to handle difficult conversations on big and important topics, but also helps you to reframe hard topics for yourself, even if you never have the touchy discussion with someone else.
  • *Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work* – If you’re engaged or a newlywed, put this book back for a couple of years.  If you’ve been married for 5 years or more, read it.  The book is written by a researcher who studies marriages and relationships, and so the findings are based on real data, profoundly interesting, and very hopeful.  I have given this book a lot of thought after reading it, and highly recommend it.  (Note: it’s a secular book, not at all from a Christian perspective, and yet you’ll find that the conclusions are very much in line with Biblical direction on relationships and relating to other people. Fascinating.)


  • The Artful Parent – A helpful book that expands the definition of the artsy parent so you can feel better about not being someone who allows glitter in your environment, and which also contains interesting art projects to try and advice on good materials.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – This amazingly helpful primer on drawing will change how you look at things, even if you don’t take the time to try the exercises.  It also seems that the book would be profoundly helpful in teaching children to draw.
  • Real Learning – Without a doubt this book is the most helpful resource on artist study and composer study I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Charlotte Mason fan or homeschooler, this book will be helpful for you.


  • Fever – Although it’s a historical novel, this book illuminates an interesting historical figure and period of change in medical history.
  • The Great Influenza – Although it’s too long, this history of the flu of 1918 is fascinating really illuminated my understanding of geopolitical events surrounding World War I.
  • The Professor and the Madman – An oddly compelling history of the Oxford English Dictionary, with wild stories and the sort of excellent vocabulary asides you’d expect in a book about the OED.
  • Tallgrass – Another historical fiction book that wound up in the history section rather than fiction, Tallgrass have me unique insight into the Japanese interment camp facet of World War II, plus showed me how the experiences of the Dust Bowl and World War I, which I’ve also read about this year, influences people’s perceptions of the home front in World War II.  Not notable fiction, but notable history.
  • The Long Shadow – This wide-ranging book covers the lead up to World War I, an analysis of popular views on the war itself, and then a discussion of the lingering impact World War I had on political, cultural, and social developments up to the present.  Really fascinating and illuminating.
  • The Big Fat Surprise – Fat is not the enemy.  If you really need to be convinced that fat is not bad for you, especially if you need very detailed discussion about just about every study and research project related to nutritional topics, this book may be for you.  It’s interesting as a history of nutritional science (and I use that phrase optimistically).  Otherwise, read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat instead.
  • Eiffel’s Tower – This interesting history of the making of the Eiffel Tower, the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and the fascinating historical figures who converged there is well worth a read.
  • Stitches – I don’t usually like graphic novels, but this one was very thought-provoking and the format fit the subject matter quite well.
  • *How the Heather Looks* – Probably my most favorite book of the year so far, this is a travel memoir of a young family who toured England looking for the sites in all of their favorite books.  I adore that concept and just loved the descriptions and the author’s evident love for literature.  An utter delight for this Anglophile and bibliophile!


  • His Word in my Heart – If you need some inspiration for memorizing longer passages of Scripture, or even entire books of the Bible, this book is for you.  I got a lot out of this short book, although ultimately I realized that my memorizing style is different than the author’s (don’t feel tied to the index card thing).
  • The Family Worship Book – Although I got some helpful ideas from this book, A Neglected Grace is a far, far better resource both in terms of casing a vision for family worship and in providing practical helps.
  • Sabbath as Resistance – Not a complete reference on Sabbath-keeping, but written around a helpful and thoughtful exposition of the Israelites in Egypt, this book has made me mindful of ways that I keep the Sabbath in outward form, but am inwardly still “making bricks” on Sunday.  I wouldn’t say this is the only book you need to read on the topic, but it is a good one.

Long/Chapter Books Read Aloud to the Children (or read to discuss with the children)

What were your favorite books this quarter?

The Bookmarked Life

2Something new!  The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


Did you see this Slate article about the girl who sent all of her texts in calligraphy for a week?  Something about that really appeals to me–maybe it’s the juxtaposition of fast and slow communication, or the fact that it would force me to think before I mindlessly use my phone.  I probably won’t text in calligraphy (although I could!  I love calligraphy!) but I’m thinking about mindful technology use.

…Furnishing my mind

As we’ve been reading more poetry and going over grammar in a different way this month, I’ve been reminded of how beautiful language can be–it has a structure, but there’s a wildness to it too.  Reading about the Oxford English Dictionary reinforced that feeling!

…Learning about

…Spanish curriculum options.  I decided to go with PowerGlide based on the Rainbow Resource review, and then after a 20 minute perusal of Homeschool Classifieds I found a like-new used set for $25, postage paid.  Since my kids love mysteries and stories, I think this option is going to be a win for us.

…Living the Good Life

The kids wanted to put on a colonial feast at the end of the semester, but we were getting ready for our big trip then so we put the idea off until this month.  Sarah made blancmange, Hannah made Scotch Collops, and Jack made Martha Washington’s Great Cake with meringue on top.  They did a great job, and it turns out that blancmange is really good.


We had a short Summer Term this month–nothing taxing, just reading from Sonlight, Ambleside, and other book lists.  We checked out all of the preschool and kindergarten type books to read aloud and Hannah and Jack read a lot of the older grade selections.  We also found some fun new favorites.  I’m happy that we got a chance to really focus on reading great children’s literature, read more poetry, and brought in math concepts in different ways this summer.  We also started a fantastic language arts enrichment curriculum that I’m super excited about.  More about that later.


After living in our house for over a year, I’m finally doing something about the children’s rooms.  Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the baby is now over a year as well?  First up, the nursery.  I painted the walls (Baby Bee Yellow, same as the old house) and also painted some furniture and rearranged knick-knacks and pictures.  I think the new color makes the changing table/dresser with the Peter Rabbit knobs look much smarter.


We’re working on 1 Corinthians 13 together, and I’m beginning to memorize Colossians on my own.  I recently read a fabulous book on the topic of using Scripture memory to deeply meditate and study the Bible–look for the review next week.

…Seeking balance

As I look ahead to the fall, I’m trying to think through the best way to handle my work/life balance in terms of windows for our best work.  I do my best focused creative work in the morning, and the kids focus on schoolwork better in the morning too.  I don’t want to wake up at 4am, but sometimes the kids are up before 6:00.  So as I work through plans for fall I’m considering the best times to schedule our babysitting (we have an amazing adult, Christian, educated babysitter who is available part time and who is fabulous with the kids and willing to supervise them doing schoolwork assignments–it is nothing short of a miracle, I know) in order to maximize everyone’s best windows.

…Building the habit

Exercise.  It’s addictive when I can get into a rhythym, but due to my aforementioned desire to sleep past 4am, it’s tough to schedule.  I’m trying to give myself points for showing up, even if some days I only make it through 15 minutes of Jillian Michaels before the baby starts eating crayons or someone starts a small fire in the toaster.

…Listening to

The baby now refers to herself as “Ah-za-za!” and it’s so stinking cute.  I could listen to that all day.  In the car, the kids and I are listening to the audio book of The Swiss Family Robinson (it’s very, very, very long).  And, since the new carseat I bought last week was a Graco TurboBooster, naturally I have had I Got a Man on the brain (“When your man don’t treat ya like he used ta, I kick in like a turbo boostah”).  Late 90’s hip-hop is always relevant, isn’t it?

What are you bookmarking this week?


Disclosure: A couple of links in this post (the ones to Amazon) are affiliate links.  Thanks for clicking through from A Spirited Mind!