What I’ve Been Reading

Recent books.

1. Principles by Ray Dalio. In the category of “books worth reading since a lot of smart people are currently reading it.” I enjoyed it. I didn’t know a lot about Dalio / Bridgewater beforehand so it was a handy way to get up to speed.

The advice in this book that I hear referenced most often is about sharing blunt feedback with colleagues — i.e. if you think someone on your team screwed up, share that feedback with them without a sugar coat. Ray shares several vivid examples of colleagues more junior than him saying to his face (remember, he was the CEO) that his performance in a meeting was disastrous or that the quality of one of his presentations was C+ in quality. It’s the best way to improve, Dalio argues.

I’m a bit more cautious on this advice. No doubt that candid feedback is necessary to improve as an individual and as an organization. But I question how many people are truly interested in constructive criticism even if they ask for it. They know they should be asking for constructive criticism but deep down they don’t want to hear it and will resent you afterwards (without ever admitting the source of the resentment, of course). A resentful colleague may be less effective than a colleague who’s not addressing their weaknesses as quickly as they could because they’re only getting the “nice” feedback.

The other question I’m left asking myself after reading Principles is whether we should audio/video record more of our meetings at work, like Bridgewater does, have them transcribed, and then keep a searchable text archive of all meetings so that colleagues who weren’t in the room can quickly sync up at their convenience.

2. Emerald City by Jennifer Egan. After devouring Manhattan Beach, I’m now working my way through the rest of the Egan canon. This collection of short stories is terrific. Out of the 11 stories, at least 7-8 of them held my attention all the way through; indeed, I was disappointed when they came to an end.

My favorite story is “Letters to Josephine,” which is about a woman named Lucy’s complicated feelings about becoming wealthy (via marriage) relative to her childhood and to her childhood friends. Lucy’s reflections on the blur of luxury travel that she indulges in with her aloof husband are spot-on. An example exchange between her friend Josephine and her:

“What does it look like from an airplane, when you land at night?” Josephine asked. “I always try to imagine it, how cities must look from above with all their lights blinking. Is it pretty?” Lucy pictured herself and Parker in an airplane, both of them tired and eager to land. “Well, it’s…” she paused, wondering what Josephine wanted her to say. She longed to say the right thing, to acknowledge the beauty without dwelling on it in a way that would seem self-satisfied. “It is pretty,” she said. “But you get used to it.”

From other stories, on feeling preemptively nostalgic in the *present* moment:

Bernadette notices the breeze, the limp water washing her toes. She feels an ache of nostalgia. Jann’s hand presses against her back. Between them all is a fragile weave of threads, a spider’s web. Bernadette longs for this moment as if it had already passed, as if it could have been.

On developing pleasure in observing others:

Lucy sits with a magazine in her lap and watches people. She has only recently begun to know the pleasure of watching others. For many years she could only worry that she herself was being watched, and would hide beneath wide hats and sunglasses and lipstick to avoid people’s stares. But lately she has grown more curious, less self-conscious.

3. Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Terrific. A collection of meandering essays written in the second person as direct advice to his daughter. Here are my other posts on Knausgaard. Note this is not part of the My Struggle series.

One of my favorite paragraphs near the end:

And perhaps the following is nothing but self-deception: the easy life is nothing to aspire to, the easy choice is never the worthiest solution, only the difficult life is a life worth living. I don’t know. But I think that’s how it is. What would seem to contradict this, is that I wish you and your siblings simple, easy, long and happy lives.

On how quickly we forget the generations before us:

Grandmother and Grandfather had been dead for more than twenty years, but were still vivid in my memory. To you they would be vague figures in the murk of history; you were born a hundred years after them, and when you entered your twenties, they would represent for you what people born in the 1860s did for me. Which is to say, practically nothing. The only ones who count are the living. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it will always be.

The paragraph continues with an original way of capturing the idea that the trivia and tedium of life is life:

Life clatters within the living, with all their mentalities and psychologies, and when they die and the clatter within them subsides, it continues in their children, and one comes to understand that the clatter was the main thing, the clatter was the point, the clatter was life.

And the final two sentences, from father to daughter:

Do you understand? Sometimes it hurts to live, but there is always something to live for. Could you try to remember that?

4. The Diversity Bonus by Scott Page. Some solid research arguing that the quality of decision making goes up for complicated decisions when there’s more cognitive diversity around the table. Very similar to Scott’s previous book, The Difference.

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In movie/TV land, the film “Sorry to Bother You” is terrific and truly original art, and set in my current city of residence, Oakland. The Netflix documentary series “Wild Wild Country” is pretty wild indeed and fairly binge worthy.

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