Having spent endless hours on trains the past couple weeks, I’ve gotten a lot of reading in. Here are brief words on four winners, one so-so, and two stinkers.
Winners – The first two are about religion. The first is Jon Krakauer’s new Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. This is literary nonfiction at its best – a powerful story that starts with a 1985 murder by some fundamentalist Mormons and then jumps back into history to offer a chronological and intimate look at the creation and evolution of Mormonism. Krakauer’s prose is lucid and the broader ideas about religion are thought provoking. Required reading for anyone interested in religion, Mormonism/Utah, or simply well-written “new-new journalism.” The second is Harvey Cox’s classic The Secular City. This one’s applicability to the average reader is not as broad as Krakauer’s. But, anyone with an academic interest in the intertwining of religion and urbanization must read this book.
The third is The Marketing Playbook: Five Battle-Tested Plays for Capturing and Keeping the Lead in Any Market, a clear and entertaining look at proven tactics that start ups can employ to make inroads in a new market. Finally, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life is a solid follow up to Csikszentmihalyi’s bestselling Flow. For anyone who subscribes to the Flow school of thought, you’ll find helpful reminders and the occasional new tidbit. Like any sequel, it’s not as good as the first, but still pretty powerful in shaping my outlook on life.
So-So – Oldschool by Tobias Wolff was an occasionally engaging portrait of a fictional east coast prep boarding school but required too deep an understanding of classic literature (an area where I’m admittedly pretty weak) to make it a winner. Nonetheless, the story may resonate with those who attended east coast boarding schools.
Stinkers – The New Normal : Great Opportunities in a Time of Great Risk was simply a regurgitation of what we’ve all read a million times in print media and on blogs. Maybe hearing everything a third time will help me remember this Web 2.0 world we live in, but I think I get it. New Lanchester Strategy: Sales and Marketing Strategy for the Weak was a cute attempt at using cartoons but after a few pages I tired of the cartoons. I like prose. Plus, the marketing concepts presented were pretty lame.