What I’ve Been Reading

A recent roundup of books.

1. Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday. Ryan paints a dark picture of the blogosphere, rightly identifying the bad incentives that corrupt internet journalism (and in turn, offline journalism). I don’t agree with everything here, but if you’re in the business of generating content on the web or trying to get your stuff covered by bloggers or online journalists, there is much provocation here from an insider who knows what he’s talking about. Oh, and if you love books, you should be subscribed to Ryan’s reading newsletter, which is always broadening my literary horizons.

2. The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness by Virginia Postrel. An excellent analysis of the role of aesthetics in society and business–and how and why matters. She wrote it in the early 2000s, so before Apple took over the world with its nice shiny things, which makes the book especially prescient (without it now feeling dated). Postrel analyzes words usually lacking precise definitions; words like “beauty” and “style.” My favorite insight: aesthetic identity is when “I like this” becomes “I’m like that.” One sum-up paragraph near the end: “Aesthetics is prerational or nonrational, not irrational or antirational. Look and feel appeal directly to us as visual, tactile, emotional creatures, but they do not inevitably override our cognitive faculties, much less our sense of right and wrong.”

3. The Southern Tiger: Chile’s Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future by Richard Lagos. The former president of Chile recounts his time before, during, and after office. Lagos started emerging as a revolutionary figure when Pinochet’s grip on the country started weakening. The chapters where he talks of Pinochet’s iron fist and his own brave refusals to stand down are riveting.

4. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki Murakami. I love Murakami. And this is one of his most famous novels. I was totally engrossed to the halfway point, lost steam in the next quarter, and didn’t quite finish. But, the highs were high; such a rich, imaginative world Murakami creates. I enjoyed paragraphs like: “Even so, the anger, like water, seeped soundlessly into every corner of my body. It was an anger steeped in sorrow. There was no way for me to smash it against something, nothing I could do to dispel it.” Or sentences like: “The quiet rain continued through the night, tapering off toward dawn, but the sticky presence of the strange little man, and the smell of his unfiltered cigarettes, remained in the house as long as the lingering dampness.”

5. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks. Nuggets abound on human nature and modern society. The fictional characters he created to convey the points don’t work, as many reviewers have noted, but forget about the narrative and jump around to the different studies and quotes about what makes us tick. Brooks’s writings about how each of us is enmeshed in a social network and in a society have influenced me in many ways.

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