This is a self-help guide to reducing your stress levels by choosing to care only about those things that are important to you.
What I Liked
I found this a very odd book to read. In almost every chapter, I found myself disagreeing with his evidence and examples, often thinking they proved the opposite of what he was trying to use them to prove, yet at the same time agreeing with some of the premises. It felt more like he had some solid ideas throughout, just not very well developed. Like, for instance, that we have limited bandwidth to care about things and therefore we should not care about a lot of unimportant stuff (hence the title), finding problems you like to solve (i.e. what you love), prioritizing better values for ourselves in line with what we love, and certainty being an enemy of growth (so you should risk failure more).
What I Didn’t Like
Most of his examples are Millenial-style rants, not actual evidence to support his arguments, and it is a lot of work to come to the conclusion “don’t sweat the small stuff and it is all small stuff”, but with swearing.
The Bottom Line
Not worth reading but at least I got a reading badge for it
Most days, I aspire to calling myself a writer. In reality, I’m merely a blogger. Sure, I’ve written more than 1M words on my blog, and my daily “hit” count is rising with each extra bundle of content I provide, but I haven’t finished my non-fiction book about HR processes, and it is a very long time since I attempted anything resembling fiction.
Some people maintain their dream through pre-writing activities. Maybe “reading about writing”, through books like Stephen King’s On Writing, or other writing guides by Lawrence Block or Sue Grafton, or how-to guides like Save the Cat!, or a whole host of other books out there from big writers talking about their writing process. Others join writing and critiquing groups, online or in person. And others subscribe to writing magazines such as Writer’s Digest to get their “fix” that somehow they are honing their craft without actually honing their craft through, you know, WRITING. I’m kind of in the first and third categories. I still subscribe to Writer’s Digest, and I regularly comb through issues of the magazine or the webfeed for tidbits, some of which I squirrel away for a rainy day of writing when I’m retired. “Oooooh, look,” I think, “a five step guide to developing a believable villain, I should clip that.” Which I do, and the folder grows and grows, likely to be just deleted at some point during a pointed purge.
Articles about creative nonfiction, i.e., applying creative techniques usually used in fiction to non-fiction topics to improve their readability, are obvious draws for me. I desire the time and motivation to write fiction, and in the meantime, I write almost entirely nonfiction on my blog. But one article that I tripped over recently goes all the way back to my March / April 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest. It is called “Straight Up Nonfiction with a Twist” by Debbie Harmsen (pp. 22- 25).
The article looks at seven techniques / approaches you can use to ensure you have a new, fresh, or original approach to your nonfiction writing. Here is my reaction to each element.
A. Employ a fun framework. The idea is to find a fun theme to your writing (she uses an example of driving for how to manage your life, with rest stops, road rage, etc.) with the intent to inject a bit of lightness to your topic. I understand the premise and the desire, but I think you first need to ensure that the person reading your work already trusts you, that you have hard-won credibility with them, before you take a light-hearted approach to something serious. If not, they are just as likely to be offended or turned off as they are to warm to your style. I remember being REALLY turned off by the approach in Biblioholism: The Literary Addiction by Tom Raabe (BR00013). It bops between light-hearted treatment of book addiction on the one hand and then treating it as a formal disease akin to other addictions on the other. I read it way back in 2001, and I still remember hating the approach. I wonder if it is more suited to shorter pieces than longer pieces, or perhaps merely less risky.
B. Be a contrarian. Frank and honest sums up this technique, but I already use it in spades. I always give MY take on things, and it frequently is NOT the party line in any genre.
C. Use scenes and dialogue. The advice is a bit of a mix between using “what if” scenarios to make something more real or more storytelling / anecdotes. For my HR guide, I have plenty of anecdotes. I don’t however have any “what if” examples to show someone confronted by a problem and how they can use my advice to solve it.
D. Add supplemental material. At first I thought this was going to be about annexes, but it was actually about ways to liven up your non-fiction text with text boxes, takeaway bullets, sub-headings, etc. I never really thought of that as a separate “creative” technique, but I guess it is. It is something I’ve struggled with in my HR guide, and I find it hard to use at all in my blog pages (at least as separate boxes; I do use subheadings a lot).
E. Play with time. I haven’t tried this with any of my non-fiction stuff. I tend to “recount” the story rather than taking me or the reader back in time to the moment and making it “present” tense at that point to make it more immediate. I may have to think about that for some of my HR articles. It could work really well for some of my anecdotes.
F. Bring in narration from others. I think this heading is a bit misleading. It means not only outside narration but even outside research that shifts from “here is my opinion” (for example) or “here is what I experienced” vs. “what really happened” (the facts). I do tend to put some of that in there, but I rarely contrast “what I knew at the time” with “what I know now” as I spend more time on the lesson learned than a previous gap.
G. Take an unexpected angle on a timely topic. This is a popular idea, and often badly executed. The idea is that if, for example, the anniversary of something significant approaches, then write something tied to that theme. It is often done badly, as I said, by people who take the smallest link to the anniversary event and try to tie something they were already going to write to it in some superficial way. Like, for example, trying to tie a cookbook about broccoli to the veggies that Obama served at the first official dinner. There’s no real link, other than dropping it in as an SEO filler to boost clicks, but there it is. Or worse, some bone-headed link such as a love of convertibles tied to JFK’s death or something. To me, it only works if the link is REAL, not manufactured to look real, and like with the lighthearted approach above, it risks alienating the reader rather than attracting them.
Still, regardless of which ones work for me and if I can find ways to use them in my own writing, I really liked the article.
This is the annual observer’s guide published by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
What I Liked
Each year, the Observer’s Guide is produced and sold to amateur and professional astronomers across North America, and those astronomers vary considerably in their capacity and interests. It’s hard to serve any “one group”, but as I am at the intro stage to the hobby, I’ll review from that perspective. Some highlights include:
List of observatories, star parties, planetaria (pp 11-14);
Observable satellites of the planets (pp 25-26);
Observing artificial satellites (p 38);
Overview of filters (pp 64-67);
Deep-sky observing hints by Alan Dyer (pp 85-87);
Lunar observing (pp 158-161);
The brightest stars (pp 274-283, 285); and,
The deep sky (pp 307-337).
Of course, it also has the key reference materials:
The Moon (pp 148-157);
The Sun (pp 184-193);
Dwarf and minor planets (pp 241-251); and,
Double and multiple stars (pp 291-294, 296-297).
And it has specific highlights for the year:
The Sky month-by-month (pp 94-121);
Times of sunrise and sunset for 2019 (pp 205-207);
2019 transit of Mercury (pp 139-143);
The planets in 2019 (pp 211-229); and,
Comets in 2019 (p 264).
I’m happy too that some of the errors in URLs published last year have been corrected.
What I Didn’t Like
I still find the pages on telescope exit pupils (pp 50-53) to be incredibly dense. I keep meaning to find a more basic set of explanations online for it, but never get around to it. I would add the next section on magnification and contrast in deep sky observing (pp 54-57) as equally confusing. I have to believe that dense text can somehow be explained more easily to the newbie into some basic guidelines for common scopes and ages of users. Equally, I’m not thrilled with the astrophotography section (pp 91-93) which still shows as the “big cameras” are best, in the same way that many photography websites ten years ago suggested the professionals would never go digital. There is an emerging market for people sharing prime shots they take with their smartphones — souvenir quality shots, not NASA shots — and it is almost completely ignored by the section (grudgingly it says “even cell phones”). I also find that the economic bias of last year towards higher end binoculars and scopes continues. But those issues are mostly me just being picky — they aren’t enough to reduce the overall rating.
The Bottom Line
Excellent edition for the year.
🐸🐸🐸🐸🐸 – 5/5 Excellent
While I have no link to the publication, its content, or its editors, I am a member of the astronomy association (RASC) that produced it.
Kottler reflects on the literature and personal experiences as a psychologist about the elements that lead people to not only make changes in their life but also sustain those changes over the long-term
What I Liked
I had the pleasure of hearing Kottler speak as an honoured guest at my wife’s university graduation ceremony, and he intrigued me enough on the subject of “change” — what we know and what we don’t know — that I bought his book. It was the perfect book for me at this point in my life, as I’ve been wanting to make a significant change that has been holding me back for at least 30 years. I’m great at the day to day goal-setting stuff, but I needed to understand large scale change on a deeper level, and this book was ideal for that education.
At the beginning, I was struck by a central question — when does an alteration in attitudes, beliefs, behaviour, thinking, or feeling “count” as change, and how long does it have to last in order to qualify? In shorter terms, when does a temporary change become permanent and sustainable? Chapter 2 was an eye-opener — hidden benefits from my current approach that resist change. Not the obvious ones but more internal ones that might even seem like positive traits in someone (being strong, standing up for oneself disguising some issues with temper, for instance). And some baby step coping techniques. Chapter 3 dealt more with the conditions that allow you to transition from temporary to permanent change, almost pre-conditions in some cases.
Other chapters were relatively straight-forward: the power of story-telling (chapter 4); hitting bottom in various forms (chapter 5); how you react to trauma and whether it can be a positive catalyst (chapter 6); the limits to psychotherapy (chapter 7); change through physical travel or spiritual journeys (chapter 8); moments of clarity (chapter 9); and resolving conflicts in relationships (chapter 13). The last chapter — Why Changes Don’t Often Last (Chapter 14) — was one that I was most looking forward in the book, and while he goes into various spins and examples, most of it seems to come down to varying forms of fear. It certainly did for me, and I find the chapter fantastic for presenting it quite concisely. In the end, the price of the book is worth it just to get the 7 pages at the end, if you have time for nothing else (308-315).
I managed to use it create a six-part “to do” list / game plan for the change that I’ve been wanting to make, and for the first time in my life, I’m doing it. I’m six months in and it seems to be holding. It’ll take another 18 months to “finish”, but the book helped me get there. Onward to the journey!
What I Didn’t Like
Several chapters didn’t really sing as well as the rest. Being happy (chapter 11) and transformation while helping others (12) were relatively bland, and a chapter on the importance of social capital (chapter 10) seemed almost like an afterthought.
The Bottom Line
It gave me the courage to get unstuck after 30 years.
This textbook-sized book includes ten case studies across America where former big box stores – Walmarts and Kmarts – have been put to new use after the store left or closed.
What I Liked
I was drawn to the premise of the book as I have frequently seen large big box stores in Canada, anchoring malls and plazas, move out and languish empty for a number of years. Sometimes it is a short time and another retailer moves in. Sometimes it is a long time, and it looks like urban blight. Rarely have I seen much in the way of “good news” around these sites, and I was intrigued with the idea of a series of case studies where the stores aren’t just languishing empty, but have been put to reuse.
From a policy perspective, the first thing that jumped out at me was that the stores were not all empty because the store “failed”. While the Kmarts closed, most of the Walmarts moved to larger facilities…instead of trying to renovate an existing space (and losing revenue while it was being renovated), they built a whole new store, sometimes just across the road. Secondly, I liked some of the challenges and opportunities that go with the store’s design…they are primarily utilitarian empty boxes. Which means they can be anything you want them to be, except perhaps attractive (usually). Beyond these first two, some other issues that I liked were some of the restrictions the former store put on future use when selling the land (lease restrictions to prevent competition for instance); local ordinances that were hard-learned lessons about responsibilities of the owner when the boxes are being built with a view to future reuse (accessibility, divisibility of the interior space, extra doors, etc.) or eventual removal if it sits empty too long; the short-term reuse by other types of businesses (like an indoor racetrack) until the lease restrictions ease at 10 years and the subsequent eviction of those temporary tenants in favour of larger more profitable retailers; the use of some of the properties as “land banks” to use the land for SOMETHING while waiting until the value increases; the importance of time frame for assessing success as some of the reuses look great initially but weren’t sustainable; the importance of interior and exterior aesthetics to the new users and the public; the consideration of the location not just as a “building” but as tied to the infrastructure around it – utilities, parking, accessibility to good transportation routes, etc; and the potential for complicated types of real-estate deals in place to address if you want to reuse something – current lease holder, building owner, and a land owner.
I think my favorite chapter was one that looked at a reuse of a Walmart box by three seniors services organizations who co-located into one building, and the place was thriving. Equally, I saw potential in the reuse by a few Charter schools and a couple of other “startup” organizations who couldn’t afford to build their own building, at least not initially, but could afford to lease a space, get up and running, earn some revenue, save up, and then buy the building, while slowly expanding their use throughout the space. A library project took the “challenge” of being in a big box and turned it into a way to engage the community (a common challenge to face together, which built support for the project). Finally, there is a chapter on converting the box store into a church, and not just in one location, it has happened in lots of places.
What I Didn’t Like
I was a bit disappointed that the book only looks at Kmart and Walmart stores, as they all have a very specific type of footprint, which would in some ways limit their reuse. Multiple sizes of stores might have more interesting reuses. I was also disappointed with the lack of much other context – how does big box reuse compare to gentrification of factory districts, how do the issues that crop up with historic buildings compare with the issues of more modern box stores, how do they compare with issues when converting schools or churches to other uses? A couple of the chapters are throwaway chapters for me as they are not truly reuse. One looks at a courthouse that took over the space, but just razed the building and built something new; another only used the parking lot; and another just had other types of retailers in the space.
The Bottom Line
An interesting series of case studies for a common modern-day problem.