Barry Yourgrau wrestles with Internet distraction too?!

I found myself back at my laptop, Web surfing. It was all sinkingly familiar. I was suckling on the cyber teat in the face of gnashing anxiety. I realized (not for the first time) that thanks to new technology I’d harmed my capacity to press on through such anxiety. The same way computers had affected my handwriting. My muscles for sustaining focus had turned twitchy and flaccid. 

This passage in Barry Yourgrau’s latest book Mess really caught my attention as it opens up a facet of his life with idiosyncratic authenticity. And that’s really the crux of this book; it opens up Barry Yourgrau’s physical and mental world for us in distinctive poetic prose that delightfully almost verges on melodramatic at times. It’s a travelogue taking us through his life by way of an itinerary of personal belongings, attempts to wrangle their overwhelming abundance and actual travels—the chronicles comprising the narrative all rendered in the writing style that made Mr. Yourgrau’s fantastical travelogue, The Haunted Traveler, a unique joy to read.  Continue reading

Just Read: The Meaning of Human Existence

Exalted we are, risen to be the mind of the biosphere without a doubt, our spirits uniquely capable of awe and ever more breathtaking leaps of imagination. But we are still part of Earth’s fauna and flora, bound to it by emotion, physiology, and, not least, deep history. It is folly to think of this planet as a way station to a better world.

Picking up where The Social Conquest of Earth left off, EO Wilson continues to tell the story of humanity in The Meaning of Human Existence. With such a suggestive title, this book could very be about humanity’s destiny, and while there is certainly some discussion of that, of our potential as a species, this book feels to me largely concerned with what it means to be human from a variety of perspectives.

Although you may not come away with a sense of what our purpose is, reading this book is tremendously worthwhile, even (or especially?) Continue reading

Hedgehog’s Dilemma—Just Read: Say What You Will

Say What You Will, cover“WHY DID YOU APPLY FOR THIS JOB?”

“Because I wanted it. I thought helping someone else might take me out of my head for a while.”

Amy’s head bent down as she typed for a minute. Then she rethought what she’d written, pushed delete, and typed something else. “THAT’S EXACTLY HOW I FEEL.”

There’s so much packed into this recently released novel, it’s like Stargirl meets Juno… meets Beautiful Life? Regardless of what this engrossing work of YA lit reminds me of, Say What You Will feels uniquely epic in the sweep of emotions and situations it quickly draws the reader into. While the characters and their situations can be very, um, adolescent, the insights they offer into human thoughts and needs are perhaps timeless; sometimes we end up saving ourselves by trying to save those we care about; sometimes silence, whether easy or hard to break, can corrosively persist between us if we default to passivity; sometimes we’ll push away those care about by trying to draw them closer.

If you spot this in a bookstore or have a moment to use Amazon’s “look inside” feature, give the first few pages a read. After I did, I had to read the whole thing and wound up being taken by it to unexpected places, including back to my alma maters.

When this book is turned into a major motion picture, Allison Weiss‘s “I Was An Island” must be in the soundtrack.

Summer Reading Suggestions: Nonfiction

Looking for a beach-bag, in-flight or in-hammock book that offers cutting-edge, even actionable ideas, instead of literary escapism? Here are some paradigm-shifting books I have been enthralled by and continue to use personally and professionally. Enjoy!

Creative Productivity

Glimmer (aka CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies and T-Shaped People)

By Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential—excellent guidance on how to be an effective creative professional

Steal Like an Artist

Getting the Right Work Done

Do More Great Work—the workbook for making the work you care about even better

The Nature of Thought, Human Behavior and the World

The Heath Brothers Trilogy: Made to Stick, Switch, Decisive—effective strategies for communicating, driving behavioral change and making decisions based on psychology research, explained clearly with compelling stories

The Social Conquest of Earth—the story of who we are as species, why we can be so kind and so hostile (

Your Brain on Nature—how we’re healthier with nature (and some explanation of why)

Leaders Eat Lastthe anthropology and neurobiology of leadership

Imagine, how creativity works (

Where Good Ideas Come From

The Rise of Supermanthe neurobiology of flow through the lens of extreme sports

Antifragile—systems can be more than resilient; rather than bounce back from disruption, some can be made stronger by it; enter antifragility

Focus: the hidden driver of excellence—“The more you can concentrate, the better you’ll do in anything, because whatever talent you have, you can’t apply it if you’re distracted.”

The Power of Habit—the anatomy of habits (

The Paradox of Choice—how more choices actually make us less happy (

The Willpower Instinct

Your Brain at Work

Ha! The Science of When and Why We Laugh—“humor is by nature confrontational—sometimes cognitively, sometimes emotionally, and sometimes both” (

The Information Diet (;

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

The As If Principle

The Social Animal

Disciplined Entrepreneurship

Just read: Heft by Liz Moore

photoFantastic ending. Leaves me in a sort of contented expectancy.

Following yet another NPR recommendation, I got a copy of Heft by Liz Moore and was quickly drawn in by the flow of the prose and the characters it revealed. The sentences have a deliberate and adept succinctness that confers upon the events in Heft a measure of realism and upon the thoughts of the characters a quintessential tenderness. With this language, the first-person narratives excellently convey a sense of the convergences and divergences people’s lives can take on, and how tenuous relationships can be while the circumstances and emotions (like loneliness and sorrow) have at times an unrelenting grip.

Here’s a little bit from the beginning of the book…

She said noting in class. She gazed at me steadily from halfway down out seminar table, blinking occasionally through her large glasses, observing her classmates respectfully. Only once during the entire semester did she ever speak, and it was to volunteer an answer that was incorrect. I didn’t have the heart to correct her myself, so I turned to the class and allowed them to, and after that she returned to her silence. But she came to visit me in my office several times… p. 23 Continue reading