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Books I Read in 2019.

Want to know what I was up to, with my reading last year?
The whole big list is here.
I read in November and December too, but some books you just … cannot :)



via the ever creative, Tom Gauld


If you want to see the books I read over and over again, every single year, here is my Lindy list.

I hope to learn more, enjoy more, read more this year.
I got so much more out of my books this year, by being more mindful as I read.
I enjoyed my pulp and my crass fiction too :)

I owe some of you kind folk, loads of gratitude.
I started the feed my reading, list on a lark and some of you have actually gone and bought me books :)
This probably is the kindest thing, people have done for me and I internally squeal with glee, every time a book comes home.
From Rumi, to Computer Science Problems, to Market Cycles, to communicating well using drawing … you have indulged my every whim.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I start, as I usually do with the Lindy list and then lets see what the New Year holds.
I hope something from that list catches your fancy and you do read this year.

Because like Gaiman says,

Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

Einstein does one better,

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

I wish you, Happy Reading! :)

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P.P.S. Feed my insatiable reading habit.


Year End Reading For a Better You

As much as I love books, I also like to read blogs, and listen to podcasts.

So here is the year end, most popular, best of stuff that some of the places I frequent, have shared.
And in turn, I share it with you, to help you get a good jumpstart to the new year :)

For times, when you just want to veg out, the Ars TV Guide should have you covered, at least for January

Let’s start with Austin Kleon, in Your output depends on your input:

Problems of output are problems of input.

These amazing curated playlists are just a feedback loop. They’ll tell you what to listen to next week based on what you listened to last week. And because they’re a feedback loop, they won’t show you anything new or interesting.1
So what you need to do, if you really want to broaden your horizons as a listener, is to get exposed to new things. Pick somebody. It doesn’t have to be me…. Find somebody who you trust as a guide, and let them open your ears to these new experiences.

If you do that, you will be rewarded infinitely …

And here is Austin’s list of books he read in 2019.
(I just started reading Range.)

To get your finances in order, it always helps to stick with the basics.
Subra has a list of sensible suggestions to get stuff, ship shape.

I love Tim Urban’s ginormously long posts, like this one on SpaceX’s Big Fucking Rocket.
But what I really love about Tim this year, is that he’s started with a ginormously long series.
It’s called The Story of Us and it’s about, well, us.
From how consciousness evolved in us humans to how our animal brain still shapes our collective actions, this series has it all!
Read it all here. Definitely worth your time.

Tim Ferriss has started a series within his podcast, called Books I’ve Loved.
Short little episodes, from people, I love reading.
Tim kicks it off himself, here.
Seth Godin and Esther Perel share an episode. (I loved Thinking in Bets, a Seth recommendation)

Leo Babauta, the man who practically gives away darn near everything he creates and helped me find calm, celebrates a decade of writing on Zen Habits.
His list of posts are at the bottom of the page.
I personally loved, Working with the Heartbreaking Feeling That Something is Wrong with You.

Derek Sivers, argues Your year changes when your life changes.

If my post summarising James Clear’s Atomic Habits didn’t do it for you, then Ryan Holiday does a much better job with How to Develop Better Habits in 2020.

Daily Stoic has their best of the best up.
I loved You Have The Power To Straighten Your Back.

The Art of Manliness has a post on the highlights that made up their year.
I’m a big fan of all their Fireside posts.

On to the man who made me fall in love with learning, Scott Young.
He too had long guides this year, alongside all his other learning endeavours.
Find them all here.

Farnam Street were their usual incredible selves this year.
I am happy I live in a time when something like this exists.
Shane’s annual letters now rival Warren Buffett’s for their clarity of thought.
The podcast is a treat, I always look forward to. I loved the Kahneman episode.
And this years posts, somehow resonated with more depth, for me.
How Not to Be Stupid is one such example.

I’ll close with two people, who I cannot pick any favourites out of.

If you can, read all of Neil Gaiman’s tumblr.
The man is kind, patient, wise, and has incredible advice.

And finally, read Maria Popova.
I credit her, (after my dad) with opening my eyes to everything in life.
Art. Beauty. Tolerance. Kindness. Poetry.
Name it, and she beautifully explains it.
She has a best of, page, but seriously, you owe it to yourself, to just subscribe to her blog.

And with that, I bid you good bye for now.
See you warm folk, next year :)

P.S. Subscribe to my mailing list! Forward these to your friends and get them to subscribe!
P.P.S. Feed my insatiable reading habit.


  1. Yes, I get the irony of quoting this in my curated list :) 

I Wish You Warmth!

Sandra Fabiani

Warmth is a fire place in winter.
Warmth is the love of your family and friends.
Warmth is compassion end empathy.
Warmth is a smile and kindness from strangers.
Warmth is a hug when we are feeling bad.
Warmth is kind words when you are doubting yourself.

Monica Lewinsky

Soul connecting hugs …

Ben Stiller

Fireplaces, hearths, wood. Everything I didn’t experience growing up […]
Also puppies and Xmas music

Caitlin Geghan

My dad’s last letter to me—words of encouragement & love, handed to me after he passed for our first Christmas without him. (Amazing how a single paragraph of love can push you through the hardest days. I reread it whenever I need his long-armed hugs.)

Sarah Hajar

Warmth is "Sabrina's Scarf"

December 2014. Amman. On a bus. Ready to move on. A little girl appeared. Our guide called to us. "Anyone has extra scarf for this girl. She is from the Syrian refugee camp." My sister Sabrina took off hers.

Melinda Beatty

The smell of cinnamon. The color orange. Coffee. Fresh bread. Low ceilings with dark, oak beams. 

Roger Burks

For me, warmth is togetherness. Shelter in family & friends. A feeling that, no matter what else is happening or what troubles await, that particular moment is safe, sacred & shareable. It's a sense of care that endures. […]

Tina Knuth

As a homeless single teen mother in November of 1981, Friends shared an apartment. 5 adults and three children under age 4. We kept everyone fed (barely) and were warm for that winter. Life sucked badly, but the apartment became our stronghold for 6 months.

Kit

I grew up poor, our parents only let us turn the heat on when family visited on holidays. When I moved out I fell in love with cast iron radiators. They make strange noises and when I use them I get the sense my grandma is about to arrive for dinner.


“What reminds you of warmth?”



That was the question Neil Gaiman, posed to his twitter followers, hoping to crowdsource the best thoughts into a short poem to help the UNHCR with their appeal to help Syrian refugees survive the freezing winter, far from home.

Easy peasy. How hard could it be?
It was only ridiculously difficult, as it turned out.
The tweet went viral and Gaiman found himself facing twenty five thousand words worth of replies.
And from there, he wove a poem of beauty.
I quote it, in its entirety here.
via The Guardian


What You Need to be Warm by Neil Gaiman

A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.
A blanket knitted by your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s.
A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow
or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.

The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.
To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,
the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think
just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.

Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.
We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace
or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,
to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.

Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.
Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.
An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,
a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You’re safe now.

A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.
Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.
A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug
and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began

as we walked away from our grandparents’ houses
away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,
to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,
while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.

Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.

You have the right to be here.


And here he is, narrating it …


So, on this Christmas day, I wish you all warmth!
I wish we be kinder, and more inclusive.
I wish we be more generous.
I pray that we start with the Man in the Mirror.
I pray for more warmth :)
And if you do need reminding, just look at the replies to Neil’s question.

Merry Christmas, all you warm and gorgeous people!
And a Happy New Year!


On Writing as a Discipline, a Practice

My brain is too scattered, so here are a few scattered thoughts on writing and why I write.

On the why?

Writing, to me, is cathartic exercise.
It acts like a pressure release valve.
It makes me calmer.
The very act of writing clarifies my thoughts, and helps sharpen my mind.
It gives me distance from my thoughts, makes me more objective.
It helps me learn better.
As I was learning Maths last year, the teacher constantly reminded me that learning, true learing and understanding, comes from written practice. Knowledge, he’d say flows upwards, through the pen to your fingers, through your brain and into your mind.

On how often?

Should you write regularly?
Thrice a day? Once every day? Once a week?
That does not matter.
The point is that you do write.
Often.
And to a rhythm, you find comfortable.

We need a routine.

Tim Ferriss on getting back to basics.

but without a regular writing practice, books eventually became terrifying. It was like committing to an Ironman every few years without doing any training in between. Even if you can muscle things on game day, and even if the outcome looks great from the outside, the lead-up and the internal experience are likely to be anxiety-ridden and unpleasant.

All because I stopped blogging.

Private journaling is a step in the right direction, but it’s not a replacement. I need to face the squirmy discomfort that comes both before and after publishing. So…

I’m getting back in the writing game, and I’m going to publish something on this blog at least once per week.

[…]

I hope that some of the writing will be decent, but a lot of it will be worth taking behind the barn and shooting in the head. Some of it will be long (e.g., unpublished chapters from secret book projects), and some of it will be short (e.g., terrible haiku out of desperation). As long as I publish something — anything — once a week, it doesn’t matter.

On writer’s block

Thing you will get stuck? I assure you, you will. :)
I do, all the time.
This post was supposed to be an quickie.
And forty five minutes two hours later, I am still trying to grasp at what exactly I want to share.

The best way out, is through.
Power through the block.
The Daily Stoic, has sage, stoic advice.

What about when a writer gets stuck? What about when the words don’t seem to come? John Avlon, the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Beast described writer’s block as “getting stuck in a desert, a nightmare.” Similarly, Esquire writer Cal Fussman has said this on his ten year war with writer’s block on a particular article: “On the sunniest day of summer the fact that I couldn’t write that piece hung over me like a dark cloud.”

The first key is simple: Do not despair. As Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself as consolation: “Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit you’ve embarked on.” Marcus talked a lot about rhythm, about how important it is to return to it, to stick with it.

Again, this is why routine matters so much.

So you build a habit and a routine to write no matter what—that’s how you overcome writer’s block. John Avlon who we mentioned earlier has said that “writing is a muscle: it gets stronger the more you use it. If you let yourself fall out of the habit, it can be hard to get back in form.” Same goes for author Jeff Goins: “What do I do when I feel blocked? I write through the block.” How would you get rid of runner’s block or talker’s block? By doing those very things.

Of course it’s not just about putting your ass in the chair. The Stoic advocate and bestselling author Tim Ferriss has talked about how his routine involves just “two crappy pages a day.” The goal is just to make progress, anything more ambitious can be intimidating or cause paralyzing anxiety. But those pages add up and eventually crappy pages can be polished and refined in editing.

Being disciplined and establishing a routine can help you beat writer’s block, but the bigger lesson is this: Creating a habit and a routine is true for just about any profession and any desire to live a better life. Routine and habit are the only way to do it. You can’t just randomly improve. You don’t do great work or make great decisions on accident—not, by definition, with regularity anyway.

Routine is everything. In writing, philosophy and in life.

Like Seth says

Streaks are their own reward.
Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going.
Streaks require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit.

Read my summary of Atomic Habits, to help you build sustainable routines.
If you need more detail, go buy the book. I promise you it’ll be the best two hundred bucks, you will ever spend.

Writing is work

I used to think, that I could write whatever, I wanted, quite easily.
My language is fairly good. I have a decent vocabulary.
How hard could it be?

But now, after years of writing, it still hasn’t gotten easier much.
It might be easy for other folk, but I still struggle, every time, I put pen to paper.
One thing to note though, if I keep to my rhythm, the flow stays and the words come easier.
So all I need do, is to just keep swimming writing.

Susan Fowler agrees. This is her, reflecting on her writing.

Becoming a Better Writer (and Writing a LOT)
This year was transformative for me as far as my writing skills are concerned. I got to the point where I can now sit down and knock out 3000-5000 good words in one sitting, even when completely exhausted at the end of a long workday. My day job as an editor made all the difference here: since I’m so used to thinking of writing and editing as work, I no longer get writer’s block and writing has lost most of its mythical quality (which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned). In addition to finishing my memoir, I also wrote a couple of pieces for the Times, two novels (which I am currently revising), and one very joyful screenplay.

Writing Isn’t Magic; It’s Hard Work I used to struggle to get my thoughts onto the page because the first time I put them down, they were complete crap. The second time I put them down, they were also crap. And the third time. And the fourth time. And the fifth time. But each time, what I was writing got a little bit better, and eventually I realized that by approximately the fiftieth time I revised something, I’d have something really good; therefore, if I wanted to write something worth reading, all I had to do was put in the time and effort to revise it enough times. This is a general lesson that I think applies to most things: if you want to get better at something, you have to do it over and over and over again and incrementally improve with each new try; given enough time, you can take something from crap to good (and maybe even to great).

But in the end, it’s worth it.
You’ll become calmer, more objective, more kind, more thoughtful.
You’ll become as immortal as you’d ever be, with your words carrying your thoughts after you are gone. Like Sam says,

That’s what death is, isn’t it?
Forgetting. Being Forgotten.
If we forget where we’ve been, and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore, just animals.

Writing gives me, us, our humanity!
And so, I write.


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How to be Unhappy (Or Happy!)

Riffing off a quote in last week’s newsletter,

Make any behaviour you want to encourage easier to do, and any behaviour you want to discourage harder to do.

How to Be Unhappy:

  • stay inside all day
  • move as little as possible
  • spend more than you earn
  • take yourself (and life) too seriously
  • look for reasons why things won’t work
  • always consume, never contribute
  • resent the lucky and successful
  • never say hello first
  • be unreliable

Invert for happiness:

  • get outside each day
  • move: walk, exercise, dance
  • spend less than you earn
  • view life as play
  • be the one who looks for solutions
  • develop a bias to contribute and create
  • learn from the lucky and successful
  • be the first to say hello
  • be reliable

I stole this from James Clear’s 3–2–1 newsletter.
You should subscribe. They are short, pithy and awesome!

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P.P.S. Feed my insatiable reading habit.


How to Stop Checking Your (My) Phone

As I battle my physical demons, the newsletter will probably be on this slightly off cadence as I struggle mightily throughout the week, thinking about what to write, failing and then at the last minute panicking and sharing a short snippet of something I love and enjoy.

LMP

I hope you do too :)

So where was I? Oh yea, my favourite personal development, web researcher, Mr. Barker has this to share on what the issue is with our minds and how we can all gain some perspective and a bit more happiness by not checking our phones ever so often.

From How To Stop Checking Your Phone: 4 Secrets From Research,

We’re not looking at the problem correctly. For starters:

You do not have a short attention span.
We have a “mind control” problem. But it’s not other people’s ability to control your mind. It’s your own.
We spend so much time trying to get others attention yet the true determinant of our happiness is where we direct our own.
So what do we do? Throw our phones in a wood chipper?

Well, I wouldn’t :) So what do we do?
We gain Attentional Control.
By strengthening the part of our brains called the Prefrontal Cortex (hereinafter referred to as the PFC), our thinking brain against the onslaughts of our lizard brain.

Here’s his 4 step plan in a nutshell.

1. Get your sleep. Get your exercise. Be healthy.

No sleep. PFC weak. That simple.
Even one round of exercise will improve your PFC strength.

2. Control your context.

Basically, what’s around you?
How is it that the phone slips into your hand and your thumbs go scrolling without you even realising it?
For me, I am a tech news junkie.
So if I am in a queue, or on the potty, or going to bed, I read!

And to fix that, I now rely on a simple trick I learnt in Atomic Habits.
Make any behaviour you want to encourage easier to do, and any behaviour you want to discourage harder to do.
So now, the news apps are not easily accessible, twitter is no longer installed, there are no notifications, and I have to type a complicated password to unlock the phone.
I am pleased to report, that while I am not completely cured, my consumption has dropped significantly.

3. Mindfulness

Well, this is my good habit!
Apparently it’s a good habit everyone should have.
Because, it is a superstrengthener of your PFC!
I even wrote a whole blog post about it.
Need I say more?

Well, I think Eric’s being a little sneaky here. When I look up, I see changes to mind, body and soul.
So in an even smaller nutshell, what he actually aims at is

4. Be the change, you want to see in yourself!

Once again, this is an idea I read in Atomic Habits.
The best way to sustain and build a habit?
By deciding that this is what I am like.
I hate exercise and physio, but I do it.
Why? Because I am a man with a broken back, who has learnt his lesson and wants to be healthy and pain free, and who exercises in order to stay that way.
I don’t stress about smoking.
Why? Because I am not a person who wants to ruin his life by being a smoker.
Vegetarians don’t stress about eating meat.
Why? Because they just don’t eat meat.

I decide, who I want to be :)
Like the old bon mot goes, It’s simple, not easy.
And it’s worth it.



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