Monday, May 30, 2016

Pilgrim, by Lee Kravitz

Mr. Kravitz yearns for a spiritual life and to be a member of a community of like minded believers. This book outlines his journey across a variety of beliefs (Quaker, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish).  It was not a great book.

Here's what I learned. His wife Elisabeth comes across as selfish (faced with Mr. Kravitz' allergic reaction to her pets she tells him learn to live with the discomfort or find another girl) and judgmental (she hates all Republicans; heaven forfend they might have a useful thought). Mr. Kravitz's journey treads a narrow path in that he can't include his spouse who is committed to her atheism and seems to look at his quest for spirituality as a behavioral defect.

Mr. Kravitz' desires seem reasonable. It was exhausting that it took him so much effort over such a long time span to figure out what works for him. I'm happy he finally did.

While the book was interesting enough that I kept reading -- in fact, for at least the first half I was trying to figure out what the book was actually about -- my overall view of it is, meh. The subtitle is killer, "risking the life I have to find the faith I seek," but disingenuous, as there was no risk whatsoever. And no real dramatic tension.  My recommendation: do not bother reading this book.

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead

I wasn't a big fan of Mr. Whitehead's novels, Zone One and Intuitionist. So why did I imagine that this would be any better? Chalk it up to (uncalled for) optimism.

This is autobiographical; it covers Mr. Whitehead's participation in the 2011 World Series of Poker tournament. The big problem with this book is that is seems to reveal the author's genuine personality. Yikes. Mr. Whitehead refers to himself as a native of the "Republic of Anhedonia," and that pretty much says it all. Anhedonia is the inability to take pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences.

Oy, no wonder he refers to a recent divorce. Mr. Whitehead, it seems, is not so much of an optimist. Given my experience with his novels, he probably wouldn't have spent the $3.28 (with free shipping) for a used copy of this book. I kind of wish I hadn't either. Oh well.

Mr. Whitehead's writing is occasionally interesting and there are enjoyable moments in the book. They are few. Spoiler alert: he doesn't win the big payout at the tournament. No surprise: not having built up a ton of relationship capital with his reader, I don't really care.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, by Scott Adams

This is a self-help book from the author of the Dilbert cartoon. I find Dilbert enormously funny, probably because I worked for many years in a large company that gave me cause to resonate with so many of the silly situations at which Mr. Adams pokes fun. But this isn't meant to be a humor book (although it is amusing at times); it is meant to be taken seriously.  I'd say it is more interesting and helpful than not.

The key notions include being selfish enough to take care of yourself and your finances well enough that you're then positioned to take care of others. Mr. Adams spends many words explaining his use of selfish in this context; it isn't grabbing the last donut in the box. His ordered list might look like this:

  1. Eat right to maximize energy; exercise to further improve your energy. This will allow you to be more productive, creative, positive, etc.
  2. Improve the odds that you'll have good luck. Mr. Adams provides many examples and the net is, develop multiple skills. You needn't be great at any of them, but having a bit of capability across a number of domains is a game changer at generating luck.
  3. Perhaps just to set up some tension and controversy, Mr. Adams asserts that goals are for losers, winners use systems. He explains the notion of systems in detail.
  4. Most of the auto-biographical content describe his many failures and motivates the notions that failures are okay and that you have to learn from them.
In one part of the book [p111ff], Mr. Adams discussed cognitive traps that allow folks to be taken advantage of or sub optimally negotiate. He provided a list, but didn't explain any of them in detail. This is very unfortunate; while it would have added a very long chapter to the book, it would have been worthwhile.

This is light reading with good advice and some humor. Not an academic treatise, but probably useful because it is so accessible and easy to read.

NYPD Red 4, by James Patterson

I was still looking for light reading, and this sequel to "NYPD Red 3" was available, so here we are.

This book has more plot twists than the prior, so much so that I won't even bother getting into it.

The relationship between the two detective heroes, Zach and Kylie, turns out to be a dominant theme in the book. It reminds me of television detective series like Moonlighting and Castle, where solving the mystery was an equal partner to the relationship tension between the lead characters.

Still, it was a fun light read, and I will keep reading the series as long as the library stocks the books.

Monday, May 23, 2016

NYPD Red 3, by James Patterson

I jumped in to the third installment of this series only because it is the one my spouse just finished reading and I was looking for some low effort entertainment.

The concept is that NYPD Red is a police unit that handles very politically connected situations. In this book, a billionaire who can affect the mayor's campaign financing is the key. Alden's son has gone missing, Alden doesn't care to report this to the police, and the plot thickens.

Our heroes are Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald.  Zach is romantically involved with police psychologist Cheryl, and worries about how she perceives his relationship with Kylie, which whom he'd previously had a serious relationship. Kylie's husband is in rehab and their relationship is tenuous.

I enjoyed the plot. A bit more "romancy" than I'd prefer, but not enough to drop the book.