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Reading

Side Hustle

Currently reading: Side Hustle by the great Chris Guillebeau. I’ve always been pretty thrifty and disciplined about money in order to support myself as a writer. But I’ve recently started looking at things differently: there’s a limit to how much you can cut back on your spending, but there’s no ceiling on how much money you can make.

Tons of artists and creative people I’ve known think that money is evil and view making a living as “selling out.” I think this just helps perpetuate the myth that creativity requires struggle and hardship in every aspect of life. I’d rather have a boring, comfortable life so I can focus my energy on creating things of value to others. The definition of a stressor is something that threatens homeostasis because you don’t have the resources to control it—and when you don’t have money, you simply don’t have the resources needed to deal with lots of things that come up. Being stressed out about money makes it harder to think.

You are under no obligation to live a traditional 9-5 life. Lots of great case studies and inspiration are available at Guillebeau’s Side Hustle school.

The Sports Gene

cover of The Sports Gene

cover of The Sports Gene

 

I haven’t posted what I’ve been reading for several months—okay, for this entire year—primarily because I’ve been immersing myself in plenty academic books, and I want to use this space to recommend books I can’t put down. As fascinating as I found it, I’m not going to recommend The Social Psychology of Power to anyone unless their prescription for Ambien has run out.

One book that I read a few months ago and can’t stop recommending is The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein.

My background in connection with the book is a big, fat zero. Not only am I not particularly interested in sports, but I’ve never taken a biology class in my life. When I was a very impressionable age growing up in Buffalo, New York, our beloved Buffalo Bills lost four Superbowls in a row. There are only so many times you can watch your relatives and countrymen mourn a collective death before you develop an aversion to whatever it was that brought them so much pain.

But I couldn’t put The Sports Gene down, and can’t recommend it highly enough. It achieves what I believe to be the ideal of any popular science book: it’s so entertaining and enthralling that it tricks you into learning. It’s the best possible combination of storytelling with current research, and even this girl from Buffalo who usually flinches at hardcore science couldn’t put it down.

Mindless Eating

mindless-eating-coverHave you ever woken up and realized that what you lovingly refer to as “your fat pants” are now just your normal, everyday pants? Have you ever declined to be weighed at the doctor’s office? Do you notice that sucking in your belly doesn’t really do anything anymore? Have you ever seen a photo of a party you went to, noticed a chunky person in the background wearing the same outfit you wore at the party, only to realize that that was actually you? Have you managed to convince yourself that iPhone cameras automatically stretch out the photos horizontally by 110% or more?

Even if you don’t know about any of those feelings, I recommend Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink. I read it in a day and have already loaned out my copy, so while I can’t comment on specifics, I can say that the hyperbolic quotes on the cover are true. Our behavior is hijacked by our environment, we’re constantly on autopilot, and somehow I’d never thought about it in the context of food until now. Wansink doesn’t get into the nuts and bolts of the psychology, preferring to stick to the antecedent-behavior-outcome route, which makes this a very practical, helpful book.

How Children Succeed

How-Children-Succeed-by-Paul-ToughI just finished reading How Children Succeed by Paul Tough and can’t recommend it enough. Tough delves into the world of visionary educators who are getting results, how class and economic status influence a child’s chance of success, and how our current education system is largely failing us.

The title is slightly misleading, because what Tough uncovers is applicable to anyone. Education is a pretty perfect proxy for looking at success overall, since school is the one time in our lives when success is fairly standardized, quantifiable through test scores and GPA. Self-control and character—abbreviated by the personal attributes zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity—are responsible for a large part of our success.

Tough does an amazing job explaining how class and economics affects one’s chances for success, which is something that I’ve been trying to tell acquaintances for a long time. Most of the people I know who seem to doubt the impact of economic or childhood stressors have been very fortunate, and believe that growing up poor means that your house didn’t have an extra bedroom.

The lessons in How Children Succeed can be a little tricky to parse if you’re only reading excerpts, since they seem to imply that a little gumption and extra effort can be enough to close formidable gaps. Not only are they difficult lessons to learn, often ones that aren’t reinforced in the environment, but the children who have to learn them are several years behind peers who’ve grown up with such lessons.

Antifragile

I’m currently reading Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for a forthcoming book review. As always, I’m floored by Taleb’s erudition and mastery of so many complex topics.

Ready to get lucky?

To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.

Joan Didion

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Can You Learn to be Lucky: Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others by Karla Starr

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