Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

I first heard about this book when Lewis was interviewed on “The Daily Show.” I was intrigued right away because the story centers around a Canadian trader and banker. This book was a bestseller in Canada as well. The concept of the book interested me, and even more so when I heard that it might have been optioned for a movie. In the Sony email leaks scandal, it was revealed that Aaron Sorkin dismissed the idea of writing the script even though he’d been already paid for it. One of the reasons was that there weren’t many leading Asian actors. I was not a huge fan of Sorkin’s work before, but knowing that about him really irked me.

I think this book would make a nice movie. Better than The Social Network or the upcoming Jobs movie any way. I feel this is a serious topic of exploring the American and global financial markets. Furthermore, Lewis has written about a literal cast of characters.

Over the last few years, I have read more non-fiction than ever. I have been exposed to many journalist-authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Pollan, and now Lewis. Most of these non-fiction writers capture audience by bringing in standard fictional narratives emphasizing real people. I feel Lewis is one of the best I’ve read in awhile in terms of using that technique. He also explains things using “You.”

As I get older, I have been reading more non-fiction and I’ve began to deconstructing the style and prose. I found a lot of this story had an element of Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey with Brad and his colleagues being the heroes. Another technique is the very faint personality of Lewis that comes through. Just a tiny little bit (more than Gladwell, but less than Pollan).

All that is to say, I really enjoyed this book. It really was like reading a novel. I will preface it to say that I have taken Economics courses and even went to a school with a strong Econ background (though I never Majored in it). I was never great at Econ or Finance, but I probably have more than the average layman’s understanding and interest in the global markets. Some of the technical stuff would not be interesting to most readers; however, I think the background and personality of the people involved can draw people in. I became interested in these people who became like characters in a novel.

I would not necessarily reread this work, but I enjoyed myself and learned a number of things about High Frequency Trading so it delivered on that. I guess the movie will never be made. Oh well. For more on this adaptation that won’t happen, this blog post on Fiction Diversity covers my feelings.

Read July 19-23, 2015.

This entry was posted in Books.

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

In all the Kingsolver books, the setting and natural landscape become a secondary or even central character. The protagonists also have an interesting relationship with their environment through various interactions. It can be with a political or environment aspect, but it is often a very spiritual and transformative journey for the protagonist.

The beginning of this novel was a bit difficult to read. Cosima aka Codi, the protagonist, was depressed and lethargic in the beginning. She has issues as we learn, but then she became more real as I read about her and in a couple of moments, relatable. Slowly, as I do with Kingsolver characters and novels, I began to be moved and touched by moments in the book. I enjoyed the romance as well; as usual, it was not the central aspect of the book, but a great touch.

It was a lovely little novel. I enjoyed this excerpt:

Codi here’s what I’ve decided: the very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope… What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed.

All I ask is for a book to make me feel and think. I consistently do with Kingsolver’s works. I’ve read most of them now and will continue to do so.

Read July 12, 2015.

This entry was posted in Books.

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

Even though I am a perpetually single person, I find reading books about relationships and romance interesting from a sociological and psychological point of view.

This is one of the most well known of relationship self-help books and I knew most of the concept of it by reading the author’s website awhile back. This book was very easy to read which is probably one of the reasons it was so popular. The book also has a very Christian
bent which is something that I did not need. I think the themes in the book are rather universal for couples.

I noticed some of the advise in the book came natural to me. For example, the idea that people should write their feelings at various times and places in their day as a way to help them express their feelings. As an uberintrospective person, I do this naturally, but it’s a good technique for those who are not analytical or whom assess their relationship often.

A couple of lines from the book that I felted echoed with my own experience of relationships (romantic or otherwise: “Being sincere is not enough.” and “Love is a choice and cannot be coerced.” I think both are things that fairy tale movies do not necessarily tell you.

Reading the book confirmed my “love language”. My rankings:

  1. Quality Time
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Words of Affirmation
  4. Physical Touch
  5. Receiving Gifts

At first, I felt like Words would above Acts, but if I look at my own childhood, Acts is more important for me. I grew up in a culture where my parents did not verbally tell me they loved me nor would they compliment me. As I grew older, I knew and appreciated that they loved me through their acts of service.

Overall, I think this book reaffirms what most relationship and psychology experts think is the best way of maintaining a long term relationship: kindness and generosity. The Atlantic had an article about this specifically last year. I feel like reading that article more or less was the same as reading this book.

Read July 11, 2015.

Sunday Salon: Summer’s Back!

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Hello! It’s been awhile since I did a Sunday Salon. I’ve missed it, but life has really gotten in the way.

This weekend has been hotter than the standard here. I love that it’s sunny and bright out, but I like to be in the shade or indoors in this kind of weather. It’s relaxing so I like to read! I read one book yesterday and anticipate more day.

I officially started my job this past Monday. The job is the same one I’ve been doing for a year now, but I was made an employee. This is good for me since I now have some financial security and benefits to boot! Working full-time on this project has been tiring though and does not leave a lot of room for me to keep all my hobbies.

It’ll be easier if I just do a quick run down on things:

Books: I hope to read one more book today and start another. I really have not been reading much this year, but hopefully I can catch up this summer to complete my humble 52 books goal this year. I just have too much other stuff going on in my life.

TV: Was off for a couple days for Canada Day and spent that time and this past week watching: “Sense8,” “New Amsterdam,” “Humans,” “Unreal”, and “The Borgias”. I recommend them all in various ways. Two are airing now.

Movies: I went to see Magic Mike XXL in a cinema VIP lounge experience. As someone who no longer really goes to the cinema, I loved the comfortable and bigger seating. So much so that it makes me think I’ll do it again this year. Movie was really fun as well.

Food: I usually bake at least once or every other week, but I didn’t this past week due to the weather. Made a really nice Orange Ricotta loaf the other week though. I haven’t baked bread in over a month. I made a really good black bean and quinoa salad for lunch last week. Now I’m a bit stumped on what I will eat this week for lunch.

Fitness: I’m not running :( A couple weeks after I completed my half-marathon in May, I noticed some pain in my inner calf. I think it’s a minor stress fracture. I’m going to go to physiotherapy soon to check it out. I have a 10K in early September that I still hope to run. In the meantime, I am trying to ride my bike and I’ve been doing some yoga.

Knitting: Finally finished those socks I started in September. No photos yet. I am really not knitting anymore.

Travel: Maybe heading down to the USA for a couple days in August. I am also planning a holiday back to the UK in the autumn. Hope to get that finalized soon. I can’t wait to travel abroad again!

Real Life: Work has complicated things and I had some issues with my neighour the last two months. I really hope things will be calmer now. My friends and family are still very important so I am prioritizing them more in the warm months.

Whew! I think that should be a long enough update. I will continue to blog about my books. To those of you still reading this blog, thank you!

Have a happy week!

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

This book took me a bit longer to read. I kept putting it off for other books and had to return it to the library twice. In the end, I finished it on the Kindle. As a typical introvert, I’ve wanted to read this book for awhile, but I didn’t get into it easily. The more I read this book, the more I related to it. Continue reading →

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

A funny and light autobiography. I actually read this book straight through rather than choose any choices as I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. While not completely linear, going by the actual page numbers was fine. NPH and the book publisher made it relatively cohesive if you read it straight through.

I laughed a couple of times which is all one can really ask for from a biographic work of an actor known for comedy.

Content wise, I was amused by the celebrity gossip and most of the stuff did not shock me. I like NPH, but I didn’t really start to know him until “How I Met Your Mother”. I enjoyed that show in its early years (not so much later). Harris’s insight on the show tickled me because he addresses how he himself loved the Robin character and engineered it so that Barney and Robin would get together. I was a Barney/Robin shipper because I saw the attempts at chemistry. I’m glad it was intentional.

All in all, a night and frothy cocktail of a memoirs.

Read June 16-17, 2015.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

This is a small book on tidying, organising and minimalizing in life.

As with many people, I like stuff. I would say I am a collector too. I have small collections of pens, agendas, writing paraphernalia, bags, clothing, and of course, books. I like to think that I have decent self-control with shopping and finances too. I do love a good deal. I love window shopping and I routinely even put things back in the store. I am not particularly dirty or particularly organised. Everything could be better so I dabble in minimalism by reading such topics and books.

There are lots of nice tips in this book that spoke to me. I think on the whole, it addresses the issue that people will and do get attached to things and objects, but they must serve an emotional and practical purpose. This is why Kondo recommends people asking “Does this spark joy?” and actually talking to the item. I discard clothes more easily through donation and take the same perspective as well. I also try to do the vertical folding method, but it can become inconsistent.

The book reminded me to not buy if I didn’t need it. There were good tips about having a closet for each person in the household. I also appreciated the sentiment how parents find it difficult to see their children discarding things. Most of the things I use less frequently, files, books, out of season clothing, and more are at my parents’ place. When I tried to donate some clothing from there, my mother said I shouldn’t and got anxious about it.

I still need to clean my own one bedroom flat. I am lucky to have two closets. I don’t think I could do all that Kondo recommends for my current situation and life, but I can definitely use the philosophy behind it.

After reading the book, I read the Good Reads reviews and was surprised by how many people hated it. In fact, many called Kondo “crazy” or “insane”. I guess it’s the kind of book that you either understand or don’t. I think a lot of the negative reviews took Kondo’s method too literally and they also didn’t exactly understand her lifestyle or Japanese mentality and culture. I think this book is very Japanese and Eastern. I would even venture to say that the method is very spiritual. Kondo talks about her own experiences working as a Shinto temple maiden and the idea of respecting your possessions and imbuing them with energy aligns to many Eastern religions which emphasize minimalism and energy. She emphasizes the present day as well when evaluating items which is important to Buddhist philosophy of living in the moment.

Personally, I can take many of these tips to my own life. I hope to keep a copy of the book with me so I can review it in the future. I look forward to evaluating my items in my next clean-up.

This is a quick tips list of Kondo’s method on Today.com.

Read June 15, 2015.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

The last couple of Hornby novels were starting to confirm that I loved Hornby’s non-fiction writings more than his novels. This novel reminded me why I keep reading Hornby’s fiction.

This novel was delightful, snappy, and full of distinct characters. I really enjoyed the dialogue and the pacing. The novel is about the cast and crew of a 1960s British sitcom, and there were just enough period details to make it fun and believable.

I’ve been ruminating a lot on romantic relationships and there were characters and relationships in this novel in that same vein. There is a central romance, but it’s subtle and the man in love with the protagonist has a crush on her for years. He admitted he would be happy if he could just eat breakfast with her everyday for the rest of their lives. I thought there was a good emphasis on companionship, both romantic and platonic in this novel.

I am very glad Hornby seems to be really back in the novel game. While I didn’t dislike his last couple of novels, they were not as memorable for me. This one makes me more excited about reading all his works.

Read May 23-24, 2015.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

A good start to a mystery series.

I read the first few pages of this novel back in February, but I didn’t really pick it up until recently where I finished it one weekend day as I often do. I had a Not Great week. I had not read a book in a few weeks so this was just right. It was a hot, humid day. I needed this book after a long week. I sunk into the mystery.

It was not the absolute best mystery, but pacing was right. I think it is a bit too long though, but I enjoyed it. Now that I’ve been reading J. K. Rowling for almost seventeen years, I’ve become use to her style. There is a certain wry humor and I share her love of English words. Having read The Casual Vacancy, I could see the similarities in her characters and themes as well. She is not a perfect writer nor the most literary, but she has become almost a comfort.

One thing I really liked was how London it felt. I knew that area of central London well and reading the street names brought feelings of nostalgia. Rowling has always been an interesting observer of class as well. I think she tackles it just as well as any modern British writer. Maybe even better because of her backgroun.

While I did not absolutely love Strike at first, I did find him a fascinating character and well drawn. I really liked Robin too. I wish there had been more of her. It’s got a good Holmes/Watson dynamic. I am looking forward to reading the next novel.

Read May 9, 2015.

This entry was posted in Books.

No-Knead Bread Diary Vol.1

bread

This is a bread technique I’ve wanted to try for some time. I actually like kneading. I started doing this in January when I moved into an apartment with a kitchenette and almost no counter space. I have wanted to own a dutch oven for a long time too.

Yeast: Unless otherwise stated, I used Fleischmann’s Traditional Active Dry Yeast. I didn’t proof it before using.
Salt: Fine sea salt or kosher salt.
Water: Room temp distilled water or room temp boiled tap water. I didn’t measure my water as I would always just pour enough to get a sticky dough.
Proofing: My first rise was usually 18 hours or more, but due to my schedule, I’d often have a very short second rise for about an hour. I found no significant difference with a longer second rise.
Non-stick Grain: I experimented with flour, wheat bran, cornmeal, oats, and polenta. Plain or WW flour was best because cutting made a mess of the others.
Dutch Oven: Lagostina 4-qt round dutch oven from Canadian Tire. I could not afford a Staub or Le Creuset yet; I would have to order a Lodge one online. The Lagostina is enameled on the inside unlike the Kitchen Aid and it had the dimpled lid (perfect for steam) unlike the Cuisinart. The only downside is that it’s a bit wider than I like and not 4″ high, but that’s alright for now.
Lid: I usually covered the bread for about 15-20 mins and uncovered for another 10-15.

Continue reading →

Time and Again by Jack Finney

I started this 1970 time travel novel on the day of “Mad Men”’s 7B premiere. This book does excel in its details about 1882 New York City. It was an interesting historical novel to read about 1970 as written by a writer of that time. It had some interesting moments about how someone would think about it. There was even a line about “seeing Negroes… and I prevented myself from going over there to tell them I had liked Martin Luther King Jr.”

The plot and characters were alright. Neither aspect was exceptional. I thought the protagonist and most of the characters were decently drawn out. I understood their motivations. At times, I was a bit irked that for a man trained by a government time travel programme, he made a number of historical gaffes in the past. The plot prodded along. I did no find it very compelling and not much actually happened until the last quarter.

I found the actual time travel method used in the book to be a bit silly. Maybe it was the style at the time, but there was no technology or magic involved. It was never explained in detail. The author just wanted the character to go back to 1882 more than anything.

The ending was interesting. I will no spoil it, but there is a paradox involved. It is not annoying because I think for the purposes of character and plot development, I liked the ending. However, if you have read or watched even a couple of time travel books, shows, and movies, you’d realize the paradox.

Not a bad novel. I recommend it to New Yorkers since if I lived there I’d love to find time and explore the city as the characters did.

Read April 5-6, 2015.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

This was such a simply yet nicely written memoirs. There is such a deep humbleness to Hadfield even though he admits to being an overachiever.

He is very self-aware about life and goal setting. There was a big emphasis on being prepared while enjoying the journey. At times, it felt like a good self-help book does. I wanted to emulate this man. I definitely admire him more so now after reading the book.

I also think his message and the writing about his life is not over the top or pushy. He seems to be grateful and happy with his life. He’s also worked hard and had struggles. As another optimist, I liked that. Good read.

Read April 3, 2015.