Tag: Books

I always complain that I don’t read books often enough. This is proof.

Stop Planning

I’ve recently managed to do something I’ve been trying to do for a while.

In fact, I’ve managed it twice.

The interesting realisation for me is that I hadn’t planned to do it the way it happened, it just … happened.

This event had it’s genesis in the realisation that it’s ok to fail. That it’s ok to stop doing something in favour of something else. That I don’t need to do everything.

I’d been trying to do since January and started out well enough, best intentions leading me forward and, for a while, it was going ok but over the past few weeks it started to falter.

So I did something I don’t recall ever doing before and, once I’d done that, I felt ready to move on. It felt cathartic, liberating, and maybe a little bit of the right kind of wrong.

It got me thinking. Maybe I need to stop planning things, stop trying to control things so much and just let things happen, be more organic (is what I think the marketers would say). I have always presumed I worked better if I had a goal in mind, set myself a challenge and then layout out a plan of attack but I think that’s only true in certain cases.

It seems that, for things I want to achieve that I’m not able to do on my own, I need to be challenged, need to have something to prove to someone else. To succeed I need to have that nagging feeling that someone else will ‘win’. I’ve tried setting my own goals but it just doesn’t stimulate me as much as the desire to prove someone wrong, or to put it another way, I thrive on competition.

The most obvious example is the fact that I’ll happily play an hour of basketball, push myself to my physical limits and if the chance arises play on for another 30 mins. If I go to the gym, with only myself to compete against I start to flag and that’s when the excuses start.

Of course it depends on what the goal is and what I’m only just figuring out – seriously, I’m almost 40 – is that some things don’t need planned, don’t need a goal. If they need to happen, they will.

Lesson learned, read what you want, when you want.

Dance Your Way to Psychic Sex

Dance Your Way to Psychic Sex by Alice Turing

Every now and then I end up reading a book that takes me by surprise. It’s not always a huge surprise, sometimes that surprise sneaks up on me part way through the book with the realisation that I’m really enjoying it, and sometimes that surprise waits until the end to reveal itself as I realise I’m disappointed that the book has ended.

Dance Your Way to Psychic Sex is one of those books.

I’m lucky enough to know the author who very kindly sent me a copy of this, her second book. She’s had no joy in finding a publisher for it in the UK (it’s been published in Germany already) and has taken on the not inconsiderable task of self-publishing it. But enough of that, the question is, is it worth buying?

Well, that depends.

If you want a book that delights in simple narrative, which has a well paced story to keep you intrigued and turning the pages, a book that dabbles in drugs and sex and sexuality, and above all if you want a book that presumes you are able to follow along without signposts at every turn, then you should buy this book.

If you want a book that doles our the same descriptive prose and spells out each and every plot twist to make sure you are following along (you know, because you are an idiot), then you probably shouldn’t.

It is a book about magic and trickery, emotions and desires, and the kind of everyday people we all know. A single mother and her son, a failing magician and his frustrated wife, all of whom end up tangled together in a day to day existence which hints at whimsy from the off. The story taps into our basic human needs of connection and hope, and that an underlying need to have something to believe in, no matter what it, or how ridiculous, it is.

It’s loaded with sharp dialogue, some gorgeous imagery, and is punctuated with a down to earth wit which has you laughing and smiling, before yanking you back to the story which invariably manages to keep you guessing as the quirks of main characters are explored. It would be wrong to say that this is a lightweight book, as the plot cleverly weaves events together, each mirroring the last as you tumble to the conclusion.

I think it’s telling the story closes with two of the characters having books published, a bittersweet reminder that so many talented writers, such as Alice, remain unpublished, which is a shame because this is easily one of the more original stories I’ve read all year.

Enough from me though, go get your own copy: http://www.danceyourway.co.uk/

And then… nothing

All quiet on the house front unfortunately.

But I have been able to crack on with some website work and as always it’s great when the client is accomodating, helpful and all round just a nice guy. Say hi to www.davidbelbin.com (then go buy one of his books!).

I’m also adding some functionality for a previous client, so I’ve got plenty to keep me busy AND I’ve found time to gently kick start my reading habit. Tackling the last of the Larsson trilogy which is a fun read in a Dan Brown kinda way. Mind you, I did read half of From Russia With Love before realising I’d already read it, oops.

The only other moment of excitement has been paying £4 for the privilege of receiving 4 rather shady looking photos of my fizzog. I need to renew my driving license and, amazingly, the photos actually look like me! (and no, I’m not showing you them).

Right, time to mark off another day in the “Hurry up I want an iPhone 4!” calendar.

Oh yeah, and football. World Cup and all that. If you need me, I’ll be in front of the TV.

A Super-Role for Technical Communicators?

Are you bored of all this talk of social media? Still not quite sure what it’s all about or why you should bother with it? What IS an Information Platform anyway?

Maybe an eSeminar or two would help?

As I mentioned last month, Adobe sponsored a supplement for the ISTC Communicator magazine, in which four very handsome* and wonderfully talented** gentlemen put forth their ideas and thoughts on social media in various guises.

Caveat: I may be one of said gentlemen.

Since then, Adobe has setup two eSeminars to allow each of us to expand on our articles and hopefully get some more excitement and buzz about social media into the Technical Communications industry.

The first eSeminar took place on Tuesday this past week, and there will be a recording available soon (I’ll post the link here). David Farbey and Noz Urbina talk up a storm and offer some good advice on how and why social media offers a great opportunity for technical communicators, it’s well worth a listen.

The second eSeminar, featuring yours truly and the velvet tones of RJ Jacquez, is happening on Tuesday next week. I’ll be covering why you should consider blogging as a route to starting a conversation with your customers, and RJ will outline some thoughts on the possibilities that social media brings to our profession.

Exciting times, and I’ll add one more link to keep you all going. Yes I’ve mentioned it before but if you have queries on whether this social media thing is worth all this noise then this book will answer your questions, and stimulate your mind (and the author, Anne Gentle, is keynote speaker at this years UA Conference.

* may not be true

** is mostly true

Words and books

I’m blaming Stephen Fry.

I tried, I really did try and read his autobiography but it just didn’t flow for me. As wonderful a wordsmith as he is, it just didn’t read well, the flow and cadence was wrong and I found myself slowing down to read things in his voice. Whilst I like Stephen Fry, taking him to bed every night got a bit taxing.

So I gave up. I stopped. I admitted defeat and stopped reading which isn’t something I’ve done before.

Actually that’s a lie, I’ve given up a several books after faltering in the first few pages but that’s different. That’s like taking the first bite of a meal before realising it’s not what you wanted, or isn’t sitting kindly on the palate, and so you call over the chef (cook, wife, whatever), send the meal back and ask for something else.

No, this was different and it took me a while to realise that, although I’d read over half of the damn thing, I just wasn’t enjoying it.

That got me thinking about things I do enjoy, things I don’t enjoy, and which things I would have to change in my life to get more of the former and less of the latter.

And before my mother pitches up, yes I know life includes things you don’t enjoy but need to do but gosh darnit I’m all grown up now and if I can’t sway things more in the favour of enjoyableness then… well… that’s just not fair! Or some other slightly more reasoned argument that I can’t quite think of at this time of the morning.

With that in mind, one of my New Year resolutions (and I’m very aware of such things, setting yourself up for failure and all that) is to read more. Like my resolutions of last year, I’ve written it (and two others) on a piece of paper and wedged it in the frame of the mirror I use everyday, so I have a constant reminder of such things.

I am now reading, and enjoying, Empress Orchid. A tale of the last Empress of China, a story with characters, intrigue, passion and no small amount of gorgeous imagery. It’s nice to find myself enjoying the act of reading again, and perhaps I’ve dwelt too long on “professional” books in the past couple of years. I need to make more time for the novel.

Which means my rather quiet Goodreads account should start seeing a few more regular updates. It also tells me I have 34 books in my ‘to-read’ pile but don’t let that stop you recommending me more.

Scheduling everything?

My birthday is in a few weeks and, as is the way of things, I’ve been asked for a few suggestions for presents.

Apparently “nothing” isn’t an option though, so I did some thinking and googling and as ever came up with a few books that caught my eye.

The problem is that I already have 31 books in my “to read” list (which is missing a further 7 or 8 I think) so it seems a little pointless asking for more.

But the thing is, I like books. I do like reading I just don’t seem to make the time.

So I’m going to try scheduling some time for reading. I already have “get off your arse and go to the gym” in my calendar, so why not set aside a few hours a week specifically to get me back in the habit of reading.

That’s the plan.

It does seem, I dunno, wrong, to be forcing myself to read. Shouldn’t it be an enjoyable activity, something to while away a few lazy hours here and there? A way to lose myself in the depths of another time or place, escape the daily drudgery, and indulge my emotions.

All of these things, and more, are why I enjoy reading so I’m hoping that, by recreating the habit, I’ll re-learn the pleasure that can be had reading a good book.

One Minute

My current role is changing a bit, with some additional responsibilities being added, specifically around line management.

As such, I’ve been reading The One Minute Manager and have to admit it’s given me a lot to think about.

The basic principles are to instill any team members or staff with a simple structure in which they can operate by breaking down the main management tasks of praise, reprimand and goal settings, into one minute activities.

The one minute goal setting helps set, review, clarify and agree on (SMART) goals.

One minute praising and recognition makes sure you are rewarding people as soon as you spot a behaviour you want to encourage, which in turn help set the expectation of how they should behave.

And one minute redirection and reprimand ensures that any deviations from the expected behaviour are caught as soon as they happen, making sure it is clear that the behaviour isn’t acceptable, again setting the expectations of how you expect your staff to behave.

The book itself is told from the point of view of a young manager who is struggling to find his way. He visits a successful manager who slowly reveals all of the secrets of one minute management. It’s not a big book, just over a hundred pages, and it’s certainly not a dry read as you are following the story to see what the young manager will uncover next. Yes it can be a bit over the top on occasion but all of the points are well made.

If you manage a team, no matter how big or small, I’d recommend you pick up a copy as it will undoubtedly change the way you think about how you manage your team.

The One Minute Manager (from Amazon UK, currently less than £5.

The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi

Part of me thinks I’ve read The Buddha of Suburbia, part of me doubts it very much, and a quiet part of me, which knows better, points out that it was probably White Teeth by Zadie Smith or the unending London Fields by Martin Amis. The comparison is all I’m looking for which is particularly unfair as I thoroughly enjoyed this book, far more than London Fields (still to be finished after several years) and White Teeth both of which feel a little exclusionary to those not ‘blessed’ enough to live near the capital of England.

The Black Album is the story of a somewhat naive and trusting soul who embarks, unwittingly, on a journey of discovery in which it comes to light that, of all the characters presented here, he is perhaps the best balanced and most well reasoned, if not the most rounded.

He is a young British Asian, taken in to a Muslim group whilst simultaneously embarking on an affair with an older married woman. He learns the ways of both worlds, of sex and debauchery, of fastidious religion and fanatical shortsightedness, all of which adds up to … well that’s the thing, I’m not entirely sure but so much the better to be honest.

The book covers many moral and semi-religious themes, from the bettering of oneself, the abandonment of morals and finally to the integrity of man. Large themes, yes, but all presented in an easy manner, sweeping you along as the story progresses. It’s a rich world this, veering from run down council estates and squalid student accomodation to the upper reaches of English society. Whilst perhaps a little too obvious in direction, the journey is enthralling and after a slow burn beginning you are soon turning pages, delaying dinner and generally grasping each moment you can to get to the next page, then the one after.

The Black Album

The latest thing

I’m terribly guilty of starting things but never finishing them, and Tuesday prompted me into action once more.

With all the best will in the world I just know that I’ll use the Goodreads website avidly for a few weeks and then my interest will be grabbed by someth… ohh shiny!!

I am an online, web 2.0, magpie. If it’s new I’ll sign up.

So, whilst I’m slowly filling it with “to-be-reads” feel free to have a gander at my shiny new Goodreads account/list, and if you have an account then, hey, let’s be ‘friends’ too!

Book Lull

Teetering tall and shamed, the pile remains dust covered and untouched. A reminder of best efforts and failed endeavours, a totem of willing words, waiting to be uncovered.

And my parents added another two books to the top of it last week. Gah!!

I dare not count them for, not only would the number be high, it is likely that the number has almost doubled since the last time I checked (19). Most of the time this doesn’t bother me but every now and then I get a huge pang of guilt and promise that I’ll lock myself away with a good book or two and not come out until I’m done (or until someone else needs the loo).

Last month I slowly managed to plough my way through Live and Let Die, all 190-odd pages of it, a couple of pages a day over almost the entire month, whereas my norm is usually to devour a book in a few hours. This has been going on for a while and it really is getting ridiculous.

So, what to do? Schedule in a ‘book reading’ afternoon perhaps? Actually… that might just work. Get the coffee brewing, chuck the headphones on and lose myself in a good book. I have all the ingredients, so guess I just need to find the time.

Any hints or tips, my little bookworms? How do you get ‘in the mood’ to read a book? Do you have a routine? Or just read on a whim? Or is it so part of you that you can’t imagine NOT having at least three books on the go?