I have a love-hate relationship with the Amazon recommendation engine. There are times when I get email recommendations that leave me scratching my head, saying “What the…?” And then there are other times when I feel like it knows me better than I do.
For example, I love the short story genre and feel it is underrepresented in books these days. It feels like so many authors and publishers are focused on prolonged series. Now it could be my ADHD speaking, but there’s something to be said for a captivating short story. So when I got an email from Amazon saying they created a new short story series focused on science fiction by the genre’s up and coming authors, called Forward, I was intrigued.
Favorite genre? Check.
Favorite authors? Check.
Short stories? Check.
Available to Prime members for free (via borrowing)? Double check.
Count me in. Since Blake Crouch has become one of my favorite authors as of late, I decided I would start with his contribution to the series, Summer Frost.
My favorite reading genre is science fiction. I especially like the stories that use current technology as the basis for the plot, or build off current technology trends. Stories based on hard science fiction both engage and captivate my imagination. Zero Hour by Eamon Ambrose fits into that category.
Zero Hour is a post apocalyptic glimpse into the future. It examines the consequences of an artificial general intelligence that goes into a runaway improvement state, meaning it becomes smarter at a faster and faster rate. It’s a condition often referred to as the technical singularity – the point at which machines become smarter than humans.
I don’t read much historical fiction. When a friend highly recommended the book Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, I’ll confess that I was a little hesitant to add it to my reading list. Since my friend was so enthusiastic about the book, I figured it was worth giving it a shot. It took me a couple of years to finally getting around to reading it, and I’m very glad that I did.
Orphan Train is based on Kline’s historical research into trains that carried orphans from major East Coast cities into the Midwestern states during later 1800’s and early 1900’s. According to Kline’s portrayal in the book, many of the orphans did not want to leave, were transported against their will, and were apprehensive and afraid about what would happen to them. At first, I found it hard to believe that such a thing would and could exist, but it’s true. If you do a Google search on the topic, you’ll find many websites dedicated to preserving their history, as well as an informative overview article that you can read on Wikipedia by clicking here.
There are times that I resist reading a book simply because of its title. If the title looks like it covers a subject that I’m not interested in, why should I read it?
Case in point is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I had heard people talk about it, and I’d had people recommend it to me. Since I don’t ride motorcycles and have no interest in them, I kept wondering why people would think that I would want to read a book on motorcycle maintenance. To be honest, it didn’t sound all that interesting.
After reading a post on Sean Murphy’s blog, where he talks mostly about startups, I had a change of heart. Sean had pulled a few quotes from the book and related them to discerning the future and running a startup. It intrigued me because the quotes he pulled from the book didn’t relate to repairing motorcycles. It felt like there was something bigger lurking behind that title that had frightened me away in the past. As it turns out, there was.
There aren’t a lot of books available that apply to small business owners. Most business books focus on theoretical concepts that apply to bigger businesses and corporations. The techniques and principles are complex, require large teams and specialized resources, and may even require complex tools or software to implement. They don’t take into account the limited time and budget a small business owner has.
When you’re running a small business or just starting out, it’s the simple things that are important. As the business owner or CEO, you need to stay focused on the marketing of your product(s) and service(s) in order to generate the sales to maintain and grow it. Usually, you don’t need a lot of time, money, or resources to effectively market your business. What you need is discipline, perseverance, and a well thought out plan. Fortunately, I was introduced to a book recently that fits these requirements perfectly, the The 1-Page Marketing Plan by Allan Dib.
In The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor makes numerous references to the work of his mentor Tal Ben-Shahar, who he studied under at Harvard. Given how much I liked Achor’s book, I figured it would behoove me to read some of Shahar’s work. I decided to start with Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. It seemed like it would be a good follow-up that would reinforce what I had read in The Happiness Advantage. It also fit in very nicely with the goals and theme of my morning reading activity.
One of the better habits I’ve developed over the last couple of years is setting aside 10-20 minutes in the morning to read. The books I read during this time are geared toward personal development. They are about business, leadership, personal growth, and related topics. As someone told me a few years ago, if you’re able to read 10-15 pages a day, you end up completing a book every month. Over the last two years, I’ve read over 25 books this way.
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Start With Why by Simon Sinek ended up as one of my morning reads. It was recommended through Sean Murphy’s blog that I follow, SKMurphy. The book’s also highly rated and has received plenty of positive press since it’s release in 2009. Given the short shelf life of most business books, part of my curiosity was to see if the ideas in the book were still relevant almost 10 years later.
There is a long list of items that compete for our attention these days. There are the everyday responsibilities that emanate from our professional and personal lives. There are the abundant entertainment options available from television, movies, and sports. There is the online world which covers email, web surfing, and social media. Basically, there are lots of ways available for us to spend our time.
Conventional thinking says the most successful people are able to incorporate and manage all of these distractions into their daily lives. They achieve their level of success because they are able to multi-task, meaning switch quickly and efficiently between distractions, better than others. In other words, they don’t spend a lot of time on any single task but are able to spend small amounts of time on many items throughout the day.
What if conventional wisdom is wrong? What if the most successful people are those who are able to filter out all of the distractions and instead focus on a singular, meaningful, important, complex task? Is it possible that multi-tasking is not a true indicator of success?
In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport explores this very topic. He makes the case that the ability to focus is more important than the ability to multi-task. I was intrigued by his contrarian point of view and was interested in learning more.
I enjoy reading and discovering new authors. My first interaction with Blake Crouch’s work was the Wayward Pines trilogy, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After finishing it, I knew that I would want to read more of his work. When the Amazon recommendation engine kicked in and suggested Dark Matter, which was reinforced by a strong review by Brad Feld (a regular source of book recommendations for me), it was done. Dark Matter would be my second foray into the works of Blake Crouch.
When it comes to personal development books, most tend to be abstract, theoretical pieces. They discuss the concepts of becoming a better person, being more self aware, leading people, and other desirable traits in high level terms. In other words, they leave the application of the concepts they espouse as an exercise for the reader. On occasion, you run into books that are different. Such is the case with Get It Done: by Michael Mackintosh. Sure, it has high level concepts in it, but more importantly, it has all the things you need to implement the system he professes. I would consider it more of an instruction manual than a personal development, self-help book.