I believe that one can never have enough books. As an avid reader, I’m always on the lookout for random lists of “favorites” of other people so I can stretch my palate. I’m not selective as I’ve learned that if I don’t like a book, I can simply put it down and go to the next one.
I got a nice note from a Steve Proper with a pointer to 20 Strange and Wonderful Books – a magnificent list by a guy named John Cartan. I don’t know John (and don’t think I know Steve, but he reads my blog) – but I am now the proud owner of 17 new books via Amazon (I already owned three of them – 2. Flatland; 11. Godel, Escher, Bach; and 20. The Tolkien Reader.)
One of my favorite piles (the “book pile”) just got bigger.
I’m been in Hotchkiss, Colorado with Amy the past few days enjoying the run up to Christmas. Amy has family here (on the western slope of Colorado near Grand Junction) and we’ve been hanging out in this town of 800 doing what you’d expect.
It’s pretty useful to head over the continental divide every now and then and remember what small town America is like. The houses do NOT have high speed Internet (so – I’m typing this at Weekender Sports – the local sporting good store owned by Amy’s uncle – surrounded by all the snowmobiles and guns one could ever want.) I managed to find the local coffee shop which does a nice Starbucks imitation, but I’m yet to find any democrats. That said, the people here are delightful and I always am welcomed as family, which takes the edge off this cranky jewish boy at Christmas time (years of therapy haven’t managed to cure me of my annoyance at not getting gifts on December 25th and I’m too stubborn to just accept fate.)
So – I’ve been reading.
I started with The Runes of the Earth – Stephen Donaldson’s newest book (book seven) in the Thomas Covenant Chronicles. This sent me back to eight grade sitting in study hall devowering Donaldson’s books between fantasizing about how I was going to kick all my friends butts at Dungeons and Dragons. Donaldson has mastered the epic fantasy – I’ve read them all – and I think he’s the best (Zelazny comes in a close second for me.) Thankfully Donaldson decided to write “the final trilogy” – this is the first book and it lived up to my expectations. If you are a fantasy fan, give Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant Chronicles a try – but start with the first one – Lord Foul’s Bane
Next up – Wil Wheaton’s magnificent Just A Geek. I’m not a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, so I missed the whole Wil Wheaton / Wesley Crusher thing. I saw Wil’s book referred to by enough bloggers that I grabbed it one day just to see what it is about. Wil is great – he mixes a real book, his blogs, and his personal evolution in a captivating, hilarious, and endearing way.
Since Wil managed his own Movable Type-based web site, I decided I should learn PHP (since I recently PHP-enabled my site.) PHP 5 was a good start and – as expected – PHP is pretty simple, but extremely powerful. Now – I’ve just got to figure out what I want to do with it.
Jenny sent me the publishers proof of Leg The Spread. This is a fascinating romp through the Chicago Merc (and other Chicago exchanges) from a woman’s point of view. While it reinforces a truism that male traders are generally disgusting creatures, it’s extremely well written, gets underneath the personalities in the trading pit, and highlights a handful of incredibly powerful women and how they’ve adapted and succeeded in a male-dominated, testosterone-laden scene. I’ve never been to the Merc, but whenever I see it on CNBC, I’ll think of it differently.
Ok – Amy’s been making me watch too much Jeopardy these days (although I’ve had a blissful week off from it since I banned TV from this trip.) Fortunately, I can read while it’s in the background (plus Ken just wins all the time – what’s the fun of that.)
So – I picked up Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got with my typically cynical point of view toward marketing. As I wrote in my post Your Marketing Sucks (the title of my favorite marketing book to date), I expected very little from this book even though it was recommended in a comment to the forementioned post by Troy Angrignon (who I don’t know, but did appreciate the comment.) Troy highly recommended this book so it went into the “read some day pile.”
Some day came. For a marketing book, it was a notch above sucking. The pretty little “bonus star” on the cover says “21 Ways You Can Out-Think, Out-Perform, and Out-Earn the Competition” – never, in my mind – a particularly good sign. However, while the book was pretty simplistic, I found myself getting into it after about 100 pages. Jay Abraham (the author and self proclaimed “master motivator”) loads it up with examples – many of them commonplace ones that ironically made me think “oh – that makes sense – duh – why aren’t we doing that at company X.”
The chapters on Internet and email marketing were pretty lame, especially in contrast to the final publisher proof of Sign Me Up! by Matt Blumberg and the Return Path folks that I read earlier this week. But the rest of the book had plenty of straightforward but useful ways to out-think, out-perform, and out-earn the competition.
Ok – I’m done with business books for a while – time to go for one last run on the beach this trip and then disappear into The Runes of the Earth – Stephen Donaldson’s first book in The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.
My official best book of Thanksgiving week is Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham.
I know Paul Graham indirectly through his role as founder of Viaweb, which was bought in 1998 by Yahoo! for $49m in stock. Viaweb was a startup in Cambridge that was down the block from NetGenesis (when I was chairman) and was part of the first wave of Cambridge/Boston-based Internet companies.
While I never knew Graham personally, I’d heard that he had a provocative personality (“provocative” in a good way – typical of the Cambridge / MIT / Harvard software set.) A look at his web site confirms this.
Hackers & Painters is a collection of Graham’s essays woven together in a captivating book. While I don’t agree with all of his thoughts – the book makes you think – which is refreshing. Blogging has helped stimulate the re-birth of the personal essay – which I love to read (and am trying to be effective at writing.) Graham’s book is 200 pages composed of 14 essays (at least half of which are likely to be interesting to anyone that is in the computer business, half of which are likely to be interesting to anyone that likes to think, half of which are likely to be interesting to people involved in startups, and half of which are likely to simply be – interesting.)
My favorite paragraph in the book is about startups in the essay titled How to Make Wealth. “A startup is a like a mosquito. A bear can absorb a hit and a crab is armored against one, but a mosquito is designed for one thing: to score. no energy is wasted on defense. The defense of mosquitos, as a species, is that there are a lot of them, but this is little consolation to the individual mosquito.”
Back to the beach for another day of running, reading, and thinking.
When some people think of Thanksgiving, they think of turkey and football. I think of sleeping late and reading a book a day.
Amy and I are in Cabo San Lucas and off to a good start. Beach running is much different from mountain running, but when you net everything out, it’s about the same effort.
I’m tracking to a book a day this trip. I started with The Dinner Club which is the story of a bunch of DC-area Internet heavy hitters – including Ted Leonsis, Art Marks, Mario Morino, Russ Ramsey, John Sidgmore, Rajendra Singh, Steve Case, Raul Frenandez, James Kimsey, Bill Melton, Michael Saylor, and Mark Warner – who started an angel group called “Capital Investors.” Their investments stunk, but the story of their dinners, the thought process at the time, and their respective struggles with the ending of the Internet-bubble was a nice “recently passed current events retro-read.”
The Warren Buffet Way was what you’d expect – a solid treatise on Warren Buffet by Robert Hagstrom. As one of the many people on this planet that are simultaneously fascinated by and in awe of Warren Buffett’s investing skill and style, this book exceeded my expectations and is a must read if you are into Buffett.
The best book so far is Raising The Bar – the story of Gary Erickson and his company – Clif Bar Inc. The first chapter starts off with the story of him deciding to walk away from the sale of Clif Bar for $120m on the day they were signing the definitive documents. He tells an awesome entrepreneurial story – both of the run up to this amazing decision to not sell – as well as the aftermath as he buys out his parter and recreates the magic of Clif Bar. Erickson is a great storyteller, adventurer, and entrepreneur – this one is an inspiration for anyone creating a company.
Enjoy your turkey.
I bought all of his books and tossed them in the to read pile. Today I read Change Your Underwear Twice a Week: Lessons from the Golden Age of Classroom Filmstrip. Remember filmstrips? I do. They sucked. I remember taking off my glasses in elementry and junior high school to make it “harder” to see them since they were so incredibly dull and banal.
Gregory goes deep in his analysis of filmstrips in this beautifully illustrated book. He concentrates mostly on filmstrips from the late 1940’s to the early 1950’s. The actual filmstrip frames form the core of the story with Gregory’s narration of each section dripping with sarcasm as well as insight into the way our government was programming the minds of our youth through the filmstrips they funded for public education.
Cynical, sarcastic, and beautifully illustrated – this is a must read for anyone that ever had to run the filmstrip projector as their punishment for being an overachiever.
I finished Florence of Arabia by Christopher Buckley an hour ago. I am still laughing about it. It’s by far the funniest thing I’ve experienced in October – even better than the Jon Stewart Crossfire episode.
If you desire a “middle eastern comedy” written by a satircal god, you’ll enjoy this one.
If you are a Neal Stephenson fan, there’s a great interview with him up on Slashdot.
Snow Crash remains one of my all time favorite books and losing myself in The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon was the only way I survived a two week safari in Africa (the seminal moment of the trip was captured on video tape by my brother – I was sitting in a chair looking sunburned, dirty, tired, and generally miserable at which point I said “if I ever talk about going to Africa again, show me this video.”)
I’ve been holding off tackling the The Baroque Cycle trilogy (Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1), The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2), The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3)), but as someone once said, “I yield to superior firepower.”
Amy and I spent the weekend in New Hampshire. We stayed at a Stepping Stones – a bed and breakfast we used to stay at regularly when we lived in Boston – and hung out, read, slept, and looked at leaves.
Once we crossed the New Hampshire border (from Boston – where we spent the night at XV Beacon – one of my favorite hotels in the world), we saw plenty of pumkins, corn, and leaves (yellow, orange, and red). However, my Sidekick immediately stopped working since apparently New Hampshire doesn’t have any cell phone towers (according to the locals.) Our B&B didn’t have high speed Internet either, so I decided to punt on email for the long weekend and read instead.
I had started Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir so I gobbled that one down first. It was intense – it reminded me of a book I read this summer called Learning Joy from Dogs Without Collars : A Memoir. Both are books about homelessness, written by children (Joy: daughter; Bullshit: son) of chronically homeless parents (Joy: mother; Bullshit: father). Bullshit was much more abrassive – in addition to being homeless, the father was portrayed as a generally unpleasant human (compared to the mother in Joy – she had her problems, but at least she seemed to try.) Both authors struggled to figure out their lives and these books were clearly a reflection on their experiences while simultaneously being a catharsis of sorts for them. Bullshit knocked me out – the author Nick Flynn is an awesome writer and – when I was done – I needed something very different.
Rich Karlgaard’s Life 2.0 : How People Across America Are Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of Their Happiness was next. I don’t know Rich, but I fondly read his Forbes column (he’s the publisher and rates a nice column at the front.) The first section of Life 2.0 is delightful – Rich pilots his own small plane across America (in Richard Bach-like fashion) and meets with entrepreneurs and executives who are reshaping their lives by fleeing the big coastal cities (San Francisco, Boston, NY) to find a more rewarding life in small town America. I identified with many of these stories – which are fun and inspiring – since I left Boston ten (yes 10) years ago to move to Boulder. While I still spend plenty of time on the coasts, I try to live my life in Boulder and Homer, Alaska – two places that definitely fit in the small town category. In the second section of the book, Rich tries to – in his words – “pull together the meaning of these individual portraits of people and places and to examine the long-term economic, technological, and spiritual implications of the move to a saner style of life.” He does an ok (not great) job here – it feels more like the obligatory “I just told some stories – now – here are my conclusions” section. The third section is a fun list of 150 “cheap cities” which I think is a misnomer – they are 150 “small cities worth paying attention to and knowing about” – along with Rich’s commentary. Overall, a very worthwhile read if you are stuck on either coast and wondering why you’re (a) struggling to make ends meet and (b) frustrated with big city life. Of course, if you love big city life, don’t bother with this book.
Next – Term Sheets & Valuations – A Line by Line Look at the Intricacies of Venture Capital Term Sheets & Valuations. Yeah – I know – pretty dry. I grabbed this book hoping I could recommend it to you. I can’t – I was really disappointed. While it’s an ok primer for anyone faced with a VC term sheet, it’s very shallow, somewhat disorganized, and lacking in clear anecdotes and examples. I was intrigued by the publisher – Aspatore – which has a whole series of VC books – and claims that this one was the best selling venture capital book of 2003. Egads.
I finished with Breaking Ground: Adventures in Life and Architecture. Amy and I had the honor of having dinner with Daniel Libeskind on Wednesday night with a small group of folks from the Denver Art Museum (I’m on the technology advisory board for the museum and we are long time supporters.) Daniel is an amazing person – if you don’t know of him – he’s the master plan architecture for the World Trade Center Reconstruction Site. He’s also the architect for the extension to the Denver Art Museum – which will be his first constructed building in the United States. Amy and I love architecture – we’ve done a few designs with Coleman Coker (the “eldorado canyon” project is one of them) – and jumped at the opportunity to have dinner with Daniel. Amy fell in love with him (she got to sit next to him in the seat of honor) – I had to remind her on our way home that he was already married. His book exceeded my expectations – it’s beautifully written, tells an incredible story, and blends his philosophy, vision, life history, and architectural journey in a very accessible way.
Now – back to work.
If you follow my Read Recently list, you know that I plowed through a lot of books this summer. However, I’ve been stuck on What Einstein Told His Cook for two weeks. It’s not a bad book (in fact, if you are a foodie, it’s a very interesting book.) However, as I’ve been crushed with work the past two weeks, I haven’t been reading much and the book hasn’t pulled me in to escape from the world.
When I was a teenager (and reading a ton – remember the “bookworm” – ok – that was me) I decided that it was ok to simply stop reading a book when I wasn’t getting through it. I know a lot of folks that seem to be unable to bail on a book – I’ve never completely understood this as I think it feels liberating to decide that a book wasn’t meant to be finished.
On to the next one – Blue Mountain: Turning Dreams into Reality – Susan Polis’ story of how she, her husband Stephen, and her son Jared created a greeting card giant that spun off Bluemountain.com – one of the most financially successful Internet bubble-era exits.