Monday, October 6, 2014

104 Books in 34 Days, Including 4 Days of No Reading: Goal Accomplished!

And there you have it, folks.


30 Days
104 Books
Average of 225 pages per book  =  approximately 23,400 pages
Plus 600 additional miscellaneous pages [see below for explanation]
Approximately 24,000 pages of fiction and nonfiction absorbed during the month of September, 2014.

According to my survey just now of various writer and publisher websites, the average wordcount per page of trade paperback-sized non-fiction (most of my reading during this Challenge) = 350 to 400, possibly 500 or more if the font is tiny. Let's pick 375 as a middle number.  

This means that I read approximately 9 MILLION WORDS during the month of September.


It was a ridiculous goal to set for oneself -- to read 100 books in 31 days, but I accomplished it, even if my life got a bit out of hand and too busy to blog about the completion of the journey in real time.

This does not include the 600+ pages of 4 additional books that I didn't finish while reading for this Challenge. One was a 550 page murder mystery novel by one of my favorite authors, which I got 300 pages into and then put aside. One was an almost 700 page historical mystery intrigue novel that I got 200 pages into and then became distracted and moved onto another title. One was a French language novel which wound up being a bit above my level, so I put it aside after 70 pages. And the last was a very creative and funny book on electronics, a re-read that was so well-written and so full of meaningful analogies that I wanted to savor it at a later date, rather than plowing through it for this blog and Challenge.

There will be some who will say, sure, he can write about it almost 2 weeks later and tell us that he finished all of these books in 31 days, but how do we know he didn't really take the extra 10 days to finish the books. For that matter, how do we know that he actually read ANY of these books in the first place and didn't just look them up on Wikipedia or some shit like that?

Well, you don't.

But I do.

And so does Amanda at Roots Cafe in South Park Slope, who personally saw me read about 70 of the books mentioned in this blog as I enjoyed cup after cup of her fresh brewed varietal coffees like Colombian, Nicaraguan, Mexican, and Guatemalan -- each with a dash of almond milk and a pinch of honey. I must say that her vegan tofu scramble paninis with vegan Daiya cheese literally changed my life. Thanks for your many votes of confidence, Amanda (and her kind husband Christian), as you allowed me to clutter your space with stacks of books for a few hours each day during September 2014.

Also thanks to the NYC subway system, where I read a good portion of the books on this list. Good lighting, and just enough meaningless background noise for me to really be able to concentrate and hone in on the page in front of me.

Alas, a very true friend of mine is currently in palliative care at a hospital located almost 2 hours from me by subway, and unfortunately, part of the reason I was able to accomplish my goal and still get at least some things done in my life this past month, was due to the many, many trips back and forth, mostly late at night, to visit her and to tell her in her mostly non-responsive state that I love her.

Though I won't mention her name here out of respect for her family and business colleagues, who want to keep her status low-key at the moment, I would like to dedicate this blog and this journey, this One Month Reading Challenge to her. She has always inspired me to be a better person, just as this challenge inspired me in a way to test the limits of just how smart I might actually be -- or at least test one kind of "smarts."

Thanks to anyone who followed me on this journey. I hope that at some point in the future, perhaps with some editing and the right online marketing, this blog and my reading challenge might reach a wider audience. It really IS good to present ourselves with outrageous challenges here and there -- challenges that no one in his or her right mind would even think possible. In this case, with very little effort on my part other than maybe 4 or 5 hours a day of spare time, I was able to accomplish one VERY wacky goal in one month's time.

Thanks again to all for reading this blog, and very best wishes on your own intellectual adventures!


99. Do It! Let's get Off Our Buts: A Guide to Living Your Dreams by Peter McWilliams

This is an incredible book, made even more incredible and poignant by the author's biography found at the back of the book (sorry for the spoiler). This one is a re-read for me, of a book that I originally discovered by accident at Barnes and Noble 14 years ago, during or right after my breakup with my girlfriend of the time.

I am soooo thankful that I had held onto this book all this time, and that I recently found it again while searching through some bins in my basement. My copy has so many dogears that I hardly know where to begin with any kind of review.

I found this book particularly relevant to and resonating with my life right now, and my current search for career direction. Most important to me were the following insights:
  • You can have anything you want, but you can't have everything you want.
  • The effective person doesn't just get the job done right, but also gets the right job done.
  • The use of index cards to deeply inventory my life so far, and to then become clear regarding what I actually want to do with my life going forward -- what my Big Dream is...
  • Action focused all in one direction
  • Preparing oneself to let go of many side dreams in order to make room for and focus on the Big one
  • Freeing up extra energy and concentrating it, focusing it towards my dream
  • Don't tell anyone about my dream in the earliest stages -- only share when it has had a chance to grow and begin to succeed (not sure how I feel about this one; I think there is a lot to be said for accountability during the early stages of goal setting...)
  • I must become obsessively passionate about my dream
  • How to accept and manage the experience of achievement energy, and to further direct that energy towards even more achievement
  • A BIG ONE FOR ME: the confusion of creative energy with sexual energy!!!
  • Failing to plan = planning to fail
  • Also huge: Freedom is found in discipline, not in rebellion.

100. Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding by Arnold Schwarzenegger with Bill Dobbins

This was my "most favoritest book ever" from maybe age 15 to age 18 -- from sophomore year in high school through freshman year in college. No joke.

In all seriousness, this book inspired a gangly kid to gain 70 pounds of muscle in 6 years as my body matured and I lifted weights obsessively for 2 hours a day 6 days a week, religiously. Protein milkshakes. With extra powdered milk added. Eggs and eggs and eggs. Turn that scrawny ectomorph into a manly man. No joke.

All of my closest friends had a copy of this book by the time we turned 16; I think that even my friend Dave, the skeptic in my circle, picked up a copy of this, or perhaps he borrowed Michael's copy; not sure.

Summer after summer. Weight training at home. Weight training during the school year with the wrestling team and then on my own. Exercising at the JCC. Exercising at some club at Chartley Shopping Center; I don't remember the name. And then at Duke University. Freshman year, in-depth discussions with Damon Chandler, now a doctor of oculoplasty, regarding the many poignant philosophies of Arnold. And this went wayyyyy beyond Hans and Frans, people. We're talking memorized blurbs about Bertil Fox's massive arms; Frank Zane's ultra-aesthetic  symmetry; Lou Ferrigno's sheer size; Serge Nubret's incredible muscle belly to joint ratio; Ed Corney's artistic posing routines; Franco Columbu's super-sick lat spread. Man, this stuff was the shit. Way back when, this book taught me to own my body and to chisel a child into a man.

101. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

A classic book on non-fiction and journalism writing techniques, this accidental Strand find from the other day seemed very appropriate as a read for my current Challenge. I was neither impressed nor unimpressed. I read this book quickly, in about an hour and 15 minutes, and while I was reading it, I absorbed all of the examples and anecdotes. Once I closed the back cover, though, it all went away like a gentle breeze. In my head, bounced around a little bit, and then gone.

I definitely recognized while reading this book that all of the suggestions of what to do, and of course what not to do, were pretty much spot-on and that they will certainly help my writing going forward. However, I couldn't tell you any one specific "teaching" from this book except for the "rule" that I came away with for non-fiction writing, and presumably for all writing in general: keep it simple, straight-forward, and don't use unnecessary words just to fill space. Don't use flowery language where plain language would communicate the point faster and more effectively.

To this, I would add from personal reading experience, and from the various classes I have taken in songwriting / lyric writing: show, don't tell. Let the story speak for itself most, if not all of the time, without explaining it or tapping it out in the reader's paw. The reader really can figure it out most of the time, and the impact of one's words might be all the more powerful for this brand of storytelling, for this approach to writing. I don't remember how much the author Zinsser emphasized this point in this book, but I feel like it is certainly related to his "rule" that I mentioned just now.

102. The Urban Treasure Hunter: A Practical Handbook for Beginners by Michael Chaplan

THE book that got me into metal detecting as a hobby -- something I really enjoy, but which I haven't done much of for the past year or so. I used to go either on Saturdays or Sundays quite often during the summers of 2012 and 2013; I don't think I've been once so far all year in 2014.

What a great armchair adventure this book is for me. Like the previous book that I reviewed on amateur archaeology (see earlier in this blog), this book focuses on techniques that the layman can use, appropriately per the laws of your city or town, to find really interesting historical relics and coins in the ground from bygone eras.

Chaplan first explains and gives many examples of the various sorts of items that one might find on top of and under the ground, if one searches in the right places. He describes in detail strategies and even research methods to seek out likely hunting spots, focusing on the topography of city parks, in particular those in New York City -- which is great for me since I live here!

Following this is a cursory, but effective, introduction to the workings of your average metal detector using the current technology, and then a short explanation of how to use these various features to discriminate against garbage and properly read and listen to the signals of a detector to locate coins and other objects. Later in the book, Chaplan, an archaeologist by training, goes on to expand the scope of his how-to to include searching for Native American relics, and even explains how to read an archaeological site report. Man, this is a really excellent book if, like me, the reader might be interested in getting his or her hands dirty and taking a little adventure here and there into our accessible urban past. I will keep rereading this book every so often for years to come!

103. Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America by American Foreign Service Association, edited by Shawn Dorman

I read this book as part of my Challenge for two reasons: 1) it is very short at 125 or 140 pages; and 2) because of my interest in language learning, I have been toying with the idea of eventual government work involving travel. Reading a book like this, I thought, might be a good way to see if this really is something I might like to think about doing down the line.

I must say that the jury is out for me regarding whether I would like to one day work for the government. Certainly not full-time in the capacity of any of the sample jobs profiled in this compendium. I think I might like to one day consult for a government agency, though I am very unclear as to how the idea of that would fit into my future -- mainly because I am currently very unclear as to the future I want to carve for myself.

All of this said, I won't say that this was an enjoyable read for me; it was dry and not particularly inspiring. However, the many varied stories and "days in the life of a..." examples throughout the book do an excellent job of presenting a wide selection of US foreign embassy jobs at all levels, from administrative coffee maker on up to Ambassador.

104. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I had thought I was saving this book for last -- for book 100 of my Reading Challenge, but alas, due to a counting error, this was really book number 104. I had no idea while I was reading Schwarzenegger that I was actually completing my challenge. I guess that is appropriate, though,. since at 736 pages (albeit with a lot of photos), Schwarzenegger's book was both the longest and the most sentimentally evocative of warm childhood feelings of any of my reading choices for this blog and Challenge.

Now to the book at hand, Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I did not read this entire book today; I read a chapter or so of it each day for the past week, and then finished the last 3 or 4 chapters this morning.

My favorite piece of prose ever, I think -- or perhaps tied with Jack London's Martin Eden, which I was hoping to read as part of this Challenge, but didn't get to this go-around -- this is such an amazing graphic novel that I am almost at a loss to review it. It is no wonder that it won both the Hugo Award, the top honor a science fiction writer can receive in the world today, and was selected as one of Time Magazine's100 best novels of the 20th century. Wow!

I would need to really collect my thoughts to do this book justice, because I think that this work, Alan Moore's writing, is so important to the evolution of the modern comic book and to comic book storytelling in general, that it kind of needs to be analyzed and explored in a classroom setting, in a graduate literature thesis, or in a book length analysis.

This said, I will mention some of the things that most impress me every time I reread this amazing story, this amazing writing:
  • The quality of the writing itself. From character Rorschach's very first words on page 1 of the book, I remember being awestruck and enraptured at writer Alan Moore's command of the English language. Though to my knowledge writing almost exclusively within the comic book and graphic novel genre, Moore's choice of words, phrases, his use of symbolism and other narrative devices matches or exceeds most of the 20th century authors that I studied in school. His writing simply is beautiful. Beautiful to read, and beautiful to marvel at, that one man can express himself SO well in a medium that many have come to think of as limited by the frame structure or "mentality" of most comic books out there.
  • The flow of the story, how well everything fits together. I am not sure how much of this story Moore wrote in advance, and how much he wrote issue by issue. This graphic novel, in case readers don't realize, is actually a compendium of 12 separate consecutive comic books released by DC Comics in 1986 and 1987. It is only in hindsight, reading all 12 in order as a book, that the reader realizes just how amazing and special this work really is. It is truly a work of art -- one originally released in serial form, like many of the great works of European and American literature in the 19th century.
  • The subtle, super subtle details in Gibbon's artwork and in Moore's storyline, creating foreshadowing and symbolism that tie together bits of the story that otherwise might be left unexplained. These pop out to me each time I reread this book. This story is so well crafted that it is literally astounding to me how much is packed into the 12 original comic book issues. 
  •  Book 4 (Chapter 4), entitled "Watchmaker," is the most beautiful writing I have ever read in my life. I am not exaggerating when I say this. Every time that I read this chapter, which I sometimes reread without rereading the rest of the book, I literally get chills down my spine and tears well up in my eyes. Sometimes I literally start to cry, as I would at a really great Broadway show or at a beautifully filmed tear jerker of a movie. The writing in this chapter -- the English language words that Moore has chosen to communicate this section of the story -- are so beautiful that they literally changed the way I viewed writing, the way I viewed written language as a medium for communication. It is because of this one chapter in this particular book that I began to hope, maybe 5 years ago when I first read it on a plane from New York to LA, where I was working on the production of a friend's album at the time, that one day I might be able to move readers in such a way with my own writing. It is because of this one chapter, in addition to my rereadings of London's Martin Eden, previously mentioned in this review, that I continue to hope that I might one day make this dream a reality.

September 29: ZERO books

Tonight was the beginning of my 2014-2015 academic year as a volunteer beginning Cantonese and beginning Mandarin Chinese instructor at New York City's ALESN (Asian Language Exchange and Social Network) language school. As such, due to various errands and personal stuff I needed to take care of in addition to preparing for my two classes, I literally did not have time to read even 5 pages of a book.

Thus, no reading today. But tomorrow...

98 Books as of September 28: 30 days of reading so far during 1 month plus 1 day

I had miscounted and thought that I had only read 94 books at this point; I was wrong.

I was very wrong.

As of today, I have read 98 books. Some shorter than I would have liked, but given that the average page count of most books read so far in this Challenge has been between 225 and 275 pages, I feel justified in including the shorter title. Besides, my friend Amanda, owner of Roots Cafe in South Park Slope, Brooklyn, insists that I include the shorter titles and, well, I have to listen to her, right?

So, NOT 94 books as I had thought, but 98.

Because I thought I had 6 to go, you will see that I read 6 books instead of 2 on my last day of reading, 2 days from now. In hindsight, overachieving at least allowed me to lay to rest any complaints or guilty implications regarding the inclusion of the 4 or 5 earlier, shorter entries into this blog...

September 28: 5 Books

94. Aha! 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and Find Your Great Ideas by Jordan Ayan

 This is a GREAT book! Chock-full of various tips and activities to get the creative juices flowing, it features many practical suggestions to take your life and career from here and now to something more, something you may have vaguely imagined, but which with the help of this book, you might be able to clarify and begin to approach. I am not being paid by the author or publisher to say this, but this book is a re-read and as such, I am very familiar with what it contains.

My copies has many dogears, including:

  • the idea journal (something I already do, though I am looking forward to revisiting all 70 or 80 + journals I have written since 1998 to cull major creative and money-making ideas
  • setting up an ideal workspace
  • using travel to break through mental and career blocks
  • activities in the same spirit as Julia Cameron's Artist's Way's Artist Dates, such as museum visits, etc.
  • a focused discussion on the role of intuition in taking creative ideas and turning them into actual real-life projects
  • a final section on creative visualization, presented in a much less hokey way than Shakti Gawain, which I read many years ago. Less new agey crystal bullshit and, in its place, a much more practical 21st century "get down to business" approach. I like it!

95. Language by Edward Sapir

In all of Linguistics as a discipline (in which I want to pursue graduate studies for a Masters and eventual PhD, as mentioned previously in this blog), there are several books which have served as "foundation documents," upon which all further study was based. This title from 1921 is one such book. I have the 1949 reprint.

THE Structuralist work on Language, Sapir's book is full of important stuff; of that, there is no doubt. For me, highlights include
  • chapter 7 on Language Drift, and in particular page 167's brilliant answer, once and for all, to the ridiculous insistence of grammarians regarding the use in "proper" English of "This is HE." All grammar nazis should be REQUIRED to read this one page over and over again and then SHUT UP regarding all debates over the use of I and Me, He or She and Him or Her in this and related English language sentences!
  • chapter 10's discussion of Language, Race and Culture, ESPECIALLY Sapir's distinction between culture and language on page 218, and his insistence on why the two are not necessarily intertwined to the degree that we might think today
  • his concluding statement for the entire book on page 231 regarding language and artistic creativity in any one cultural context

96. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown

I read this book at the uber-enthusiastic suggestion of my very close friend Twyla, whom I might have mention in this blog; I don't remember...

This was a very quick read for me, probably because most of the book did not in the end resonate with my own personal life journey right now. I had great hopes that it would, based on various quotes and reviews that Twyla shared with me during a recent phone conversation. Disappointingly, for me, that was not the case. However, there was definitely good stuff in this book, and I will mention a couple things that DID resonate with my own life:
  • Beyond the title's suggestion regarding the importance of allowing oneself to be vulnerable in life and career interactions, the ideas of CONNECTION AND ENGAGEMENT IN THE MOMENT of whatever one is doing were the biggest take-aways for me during my reading experience. For example, at the end of a romantic breakup I experienced in June, my then ex- refused to really engage in the emotions of what was going on at the time. She literally removed herself from the situation by making a conscious decision to put up a wall and not feel anything after she decided to break up with me, and as such, the breakup process for me was like trying to communicate my emotions to a wall, to something inanimate instead of a real live, breathing human being. I should have seen warning signs based on a partial unwillingness to engage in "heavy emotions" earlier in the relationship. Contrast this to a later breakup I experienced with another woman at the end of the summer, who was completely engaged and connected to me emotionally during the ending of our 1-month dating relationship. Communication with this second woman, though painful, was much more authentic and memorable in the end, though I knew her for a much shorter period of time and had shared far less with her than the first woman. All because of different levels of connection, engagement, and vulnerability. Interesting stuff.
  • page 102's discussion regarding the difference between the way "most guys" are and the way ASSHOLE GUYS are. It was great to see this in writing. Every woman attempting to date in an urban environment today (New York City, for example) should be required to read this story and realize that not every guy out there is an asshole!

97. I Don't Know What I Want, But I Know It's Not This: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Gratifying Work by Julie Jansen

This book is a re-read. I think I picked up my first copy at The Strand. This copy was found on the street the same day I read it. No joke. I love my neighborhood. Since it directly pertains to my personal life journey right now, it seemed a super-appropriate addition to the current Challenge.

There are many writing exercises in this book that I dispensed with, first because I write regularly in my journal and many of the exercises would not have helped me to clarify what I need to work on clarifying in my life right now. Secondly, I needed to finish reading this book for my Challenge, so I did dogear many pages with the intention of perhaps coming back and revisiting the writing exercises at a later date, if I feel that they might help me down the road.

For me, highlights of this book included:
  • composing a vision statement (a writing exercise that I will definitely return to -- most likely in my journal as opposed to in the limited space provided in the book)
  • page 175's Checklist of 26 Things to Do When Starting a Business
  • page 199's Ten Keys to Success (nothing new here, but a nice distillation of conventional wisdom, and it is helpful to see this stuff in writing over and over again!)
  • recommendations for other books to read as I clarify my life direction (I love when this happens, though if this current Reading Challenge has taught me anything, it would be that after a certain point, most books begin to repeat what other books have already said, and the reader needs to just stop reading AND START DOING -- start acting on the changes that the reader wants to make in his or her life...!)

98. Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly

I dug this book out of a bin in my basement last week when I remembered it and realized that it would be completely appropriate as one of the final entries in this Reading Challenge. My copy was purchased somewhere in England during the summer or fall of 1993, when I was studying several broads at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and traveling around England, Scotland and Wales on a Britrail pass.

If you are into Joseph Campbell / pop folklore and mythology books delving into the resonance of these ancient, mainly Eurocentric, stories and modern Western society, this is a great book to get. Particularly if you are A MAN, the intended readership for this particular title. Yes, I imagine women interested in the field, or interested in understanding a particularly deep-thinking and deep-feeling romantic partner, might get a lot out of this book, but you are not the intended audience for this work. Sorry, sister.

First and foremost, this is a book by A MAN, written FOR MEN. Hence the subtitle of the book...

Really, though, the subtitle should be "A Book for Men Who Want to Take the Time to Psychologically Explore Their Souls and Connect to a Universal Masculine Energy That Is Sorely Lacking in Today's World." In my experience, most men do not think THIS deeply about their lives, and so I imagine that most men would not even remotely be interested in this book if they were to know what it is about prior to reading.

Still, I am a VERY deep thinking man, and for me, this is good shit. I will leave it at that, because I have one more day of reviews to write and very little time to do that.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sepetmber 27: ZERO BOOKS (first day of Chinese School; no time to read)

Some of you know that I teach and study Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese during the academic year at a not-for-profit language school in Manhattan's Chinatown. We partner with the Greater New York City YMCA, and in exchange for offering free language and culture classes to the community, receive free classroom space 3 times a week: Monday evenings from 6 - 8:30 pm (I teach back-to-back Cantonese I and Mandarin I classes); Thursdays from 6 - 8:30 pm (my good friend and Chinese language and culture mentor, Tony Parisi, co-founder of the program teaches 2 back-to-back Mandarin I classes); and Saturdays from 12:15 to 5:30 pm, when we have 2 large classrooms and offer all kinds of Chinese and Japanese language and culture classes, as well as martial arts lessons. All free of charge to the general public, with advance registration:

Anywho, I didn't have time to read anything today, literally, because I was busy acting as Assistant Director to the program as well as attending and sitting in on all classes today.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September 26: 5 Books

89. Two Billion Armpits: How the Experts Sell China What It Really Wants by John Keating

This is a fun and at times very funny little book that I had picked up at New York City's The Strand Bookstore a couple of years ago based on my interest in All Things Chinese. Now even more so, because after two separate 1-month language and culture immersion trips to Hong Kong and China, I am ready to find a way to incorporate "doing business" or "working" in China going forward, especially with my new consulting company that I formed this past summer, Brendan Davies Consulting, Inc.

This book is a little bit dated because it was published in 1996, and we have seen most recently from the current political unrest in Hong Kong that "the times they are a-changin," but after my two recent trips, and based on other recent readings as well as personal conversations I've had with Chinese school colleagues who have traveled and taught extensively in China over the past 4 or 5 years, I believe that a good amount of the material and many of the business practice suggestions contained in this book are still appropriate for and will still be helpful to anyone interested in working in China or doing business with Chinese companies and traveling to China in the coming years. I can certainly say that I am looking forward to moving my own career in that direction in the near future -- at least a portion of my money-making efforts.

90. Love Signals: A Practical Field Guide to the Body Language of Courtship by David Givens, PhD

Over the past however many years, I have read my share of relationship books, and the occasional title about female body language and how to tell if a chick likes me. I have to say, this is a pretty solid book. Written by a credentialed scientist who knows what he is talking about, this book uses many examples from primate and human research to discuss male and female (human) body language as it pertains to romance, dating, sexuality, and other related scenarios.

I had purchased this book at the end of 2013 during a period of time when I wasn't dating anyone, but desperately wanted to. Then, just as I was about to leave for February Hong Kong and China trip, I met a lady whom I dated until the beginning of June of this year, so there was no reason for me to read this book, since it seemed pretty obvious that I had, at least for a short time, become a master at interpreting female body language. Immediately following this relationship, I dated another lovely young lady for a month or so -- so again, no real reason to read this book, and it continued to sit on my shelf.

Skip forward to September 2014 when, utterly single and dejected (by my own choice), it seemed timely to finally read this book, so I can list it in my Amazon store and get it the hell out of my cluttered apartment.

This is a solid book on interpreting male and female body language as dating and romantic and sexual interest cues (or lack thereof). I will review the book before I list it this coming week on Amazon. I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

91. The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life by Kimberly Palmer

This very inspiring book is a re-read for me, initially having been read earlier this year when my job of 7 years came to an end and I was starting to figure out what I wanted to do next -- a quest that has not really reached its fruition, in fact. I am still trying to figure out exactly what I want to do with my life right now...

As its title implies, this book aims to arm the reader with multiple strategies to set up additional sources of income, in addition to a primary job or career. During the final year of my previous employment, I was not necessarily what we would refer to as "happy" or "fulfilled" in my position, so I had given much serious thought to additional and alternate streams of income.

Highlights of this book for me included:
  • 9 key qualities of successful "side businessers"
  • 7 helpful websites to sell crafts, as well as other side business products and services
  • a suggestion that I might want to purchase liability insurance for my consulting company
  • branding advice for many side business industries and categories
  • crowd-funding options (this definitely appeals to me, and I know that many of my music friends have successfully crowd-funded album projects over the past few years)
  • advice on creating an action plan for a successful side business
  • profiles of the author's top 50 suggestions for side businesses

92. The Silent Language by Edward T. Hall

This is a classic book in the canon of mid to late 20th century socio-cultural anthropology. I read it in college as part of the required curriculum for one or another upper level anthro class in anticipation of my eventual major in that area, and my current rereading of this title did not disappoint.

I didn't remember this book as resonating so much with my life at the time of my initial reading 23 years ago, but I can honestly say that, given my current interest in travel and languages and linguistics, rereading this book was SO appropriate for my current Challenge.

I wish that I had written this review right after reading this book, because I dogeared many pages, and I would have liked to have expounded on various intercultural communication and MIScommunication concepts that fascinated me. Alas, this review will have to content itself with these few bland observations as I get ready to move onto the next review:

Edward T. Hall's book does a great job, even 55 years after its initial publication, of bringing to the reader's attention any of a number of common assumptions leading to major MIScommunications between speakers of different languages via translation as well as between speakers from different cultures where one or the other person does in fact know the second speaker's language well enough to communicate -- BUT, the material of what is communicated actually has two completely different sets of meanings and implications -- one for each speaker. Think of the ramifications for politics. Think of how this concept is EXACTLY the root of all misconceptions and hostilities in the world today, particularly what is going on in the Middle East. In an incredible stroke of foresight, Hall chose to site many examples of cultural disconnect between speakers of Arabic and English while supporting his points in this book, written in 1961.

93. How To Think Like A Collector by Harry L. Rinker

Rinker is a regular columnist for several major collector newsletters and magazines, none of which I was even remotely familiar with prior to reading this fun book. As a lifelong collector of all sorts of miscellaneous crap, I was interested to see what Rinker might have to say on the topic when I spotted this book at The Strand a few weeks ago.

There are some really good stories in here that discuss the obsessive nature of many collectors for their particular collectible(s) of choice. The author cites a broad selection of personal confrontations with his ever-patient and understanding wife as he brought home any number of odd and very large items over the years. Particularly humorous and yet somehow poignant was the story of someone Rinker invited to view his collection who in turn brought a large group of uninvited "other collector enthusiasts" (my term; not a quote from the book). His wife's reaction to that one was pretty spot on, based on my own experiences with patient and not-so-patient ex-girlfriends and past flea market and thrift store excursions.

I was happy to read the many personal stories and relate advice on collectibles purchasing experiences, but I was hoping for more advice on selling portions of or entire collections. Seeing as this book was published in 2005, I was surprised at the lack of foresight of Rinker when it came to his prediction regarding the future impact of eBay on the collectables field. He sort of missed the boat on that one, and for me, that was a bit disappointing. Still, this was an enjoyable read. Not one to seek out, but certainly one to take advantage of if you have access to this amusing collection of stories and insights.

September 25: 3 Books

86. Your Older Cat: A Complete Guide to Nutrition, Natural Health Remedies, and Veterinary Care by Susan Easterly

Naysayers will go on about how convenient it is that I am typing the last 14 entries in this reading challenge over a week and a half after the end of the challenge period. Thankfully, though I don't really care what negative people think about me for the most part, all of my close friends and family know that I did indeed finish this reading challenge in almost the timeframe I had set to read everything -- or, if you want to be flexible with your interpretation of "one month" and discount days when I didn't have time to read at all, or when I only had time to read maybe 30 pages before something else came up that needed my immediate attention, then I actually DID accomplish and even EXCEED the stated goal of reading 100 full-length books (or their equivalent) in 1 month (31 total days of reading). In fact, due to a counting error on my part, I read 6 complete books on my last reading day and accidentally thus completed 104 books in 34 total days, or 30 days of reading.

Now, to this particular book.

I have 3 cats: Stinkie, Squeaky and Munchkin. All 3 qualify as "older cats," or "senior cats" as my vet refers to them when they have their checkups, but Stinkie in particular is almost 16 in human years and has been suffering from kitty kitty IBD -- Inflammatory Bowel Disease -- for about 3 years. He has slowly lost almost half of his body weight, and I am about to take him to a holistic specialist vet to see if there might be other treatments we can try involving diet, vitamins, enzymes and probiotics before it is too late. This is a sad time for Stinkie as he continues to waste away, but his spirits remain high and he occasionally has bursts of playfulness, like when he sneaked into the basement early this morning and I couldn't find him at feeding time. I picked up this book at The Strand earlier this year and finally got around to reading it for this challenge. It is a good overview of the changes to expect with an older cat, but because I have been taking all 3 of my cats to the vet for regular checkups since I moved to my neighborhood 8 years ago, there was no new info in this book for me.

87. Whittling and Woodcarving by E. J. Tangerman

This book represents a visit for me down memory lane.

When I was a kid growing up in Owings Mills, Maryland, they had just built a then state of the art shopping mall in my area called Owings Mills Mall. In recent years, after several murders and much gang violence as the neighborhood "turned over," stores moved out and I believe that the mall is currently slated for demolition or extensive remodeling in an effort to attract a less violent sort of clientele.

When I was a kid, though, before the mall's downward spiral, I used to go there all the time with my parents and friends. One of my favorite stores at the mall was the B. Dalton Bookstore, where my parents used to let me buy maybe a book a week or so, if you average out over time. As I mentioned at the very beginning of this blog, I started off as a VERY remedial reader, and my folks were so happy that I actually wanted to read that they allowed me somewhat free reign when it came to my purchases.

As a kid, I was very into the outdoors -- hiking, fishing, trees, fossil hunting, and whittling. Sitting for hours at a time with a pocket knife or X-acto set and creating little figures and other carvings from sticks and scrap wood. At a certain point in my life, maybe from age 11 to age 14 or so, this was one of my favorite books. I think that my original copy is still at my parents' house, where I grew up. When I recently saw this book at a neighborhood thriftstore, I had to get it. Rereading this book literally allowed me to visualize and relive in glorious detail an entire portion of my very happy childhood. Many thanks to this book for that!

88. Yoga for Men Only by Frank Rudolph Young

I have had varying degrees of success over the years with home workout routines -- whether they have been weightlifting, calisthenics, pushups and pullups, sports-style stretching, martial arts, or yoga. This book isn't REALLY yoga -- at least not in the classic Indian sense of what yoga really is. It should be called "Isometric Muscle Flexing and Stretching Exercises That You Can Do At Home To Firm Your Body and Stop Being A Fat Bastard." However, as that title probably would not have sold the book in 1969 when it was first published, we are stuck with the current misnomer of a title.

This is a GREAT book. Ok, sure, the text that goes along with the exercises is hokey and just plain ridiculous at times. Maybe this was inspiring stuff in 1969; now it is just plain laughable. However, the exercises themselves, complete with their at times outrageous names (witness Dynamic Diaphraghm Piston Powering -- either while seated or standing), are really quite excellent, and most importantly FEEL GREAT!

I have several times considered selling my copy of this book, near mint and a first edition commanding almost $50 on Amazon (seriously), but every time I have gotten ready to list it in my store, something has reminded me how powerful these exercises are, how great I feel when I do several "reps" of each exercise in sequence, and when I complete all 25 separate movements. I have taken this book with my on several vacations -- to Israel in 2012, to China twice in 2013 and 2014, and I believe to Mexico earlier this summer if I remember correctly -- and I have to say, these exercises, while having absolutely NOTHING to do with traditional yoga as we understand the term today, constitute an amazing workout when you don't have access to a gym, or even on a rainy or snowy day when, like me, you work from home and you really don't feel like going out.

Monday, September 29, 2014

September 24: 2 Books

84. Fluent Forever: How To Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner

I try to read every language learning book that comes out as soon as possible after its publication date. I was not aware of this one until I ran into it quite serendipitously at a small mom and pop bookshop in SoHo recently while waiting to meet my good friend Alan for dinner at a local Israeli food joint.

As a language teacher (beginning Cantonese Chinese to non-native speakers for 3 years now and beginning spoken Mandarin Chinese to non-native speakers as of this past week (this is my first semester teaching that dialect)), I am usually not particularly impressed by popular books on language learning techniques and resources. Case in point, my personal opinion about Rosetta Stone, which I view as an excellent resource for intermediate and advanced learners but just about the worst method ever for absolute beginners. However, I was VERY impressed with this book -- so impressed that I intend to reread it this fall and contact the author to hopefully interview him for my foreign language learning blog, which I also plan to develop into a fully-funtional internet learning portal in 2015.

Because of my need to keep these reviews short, due to the fact that my life recently exploded with unintended and unforeseen time-suckers and I "shouldn't" even be using this time right now to type this entry, I will summarize my impression of this book by saying this: if you are interested in learning how to mount a multi-pronged approach to learning your foreign language or languages of choice right now in 2014 / almost 2015, THIS would be one of the first books you should read, especially if you are a Youtube / Skye / social media-savvy so-and-so and would like to spend a good portion of your time using these resources, along with various apps and electronic flashcard resources in your studies. Feel free to comment on this entry and I will elaborate if there is any interest. For now, I need to move onto the next review.

85. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Boy feels that the entire world is phony and that no one he knows except for his younger sister and at times his older brother (who has sold out, but is still loved) are "real" individuals, saying what they mean and living life as they intend to live it. Boy has a fist fight with an arrogant prep school classmate and is kicked out of his umpteenth high school. Boy has a couple of weeks before he is due home in New York City for semester break. Boy travels to NYC early, accidentally hires a prostitute who is younger than him, and gets into another fist fight with said hooker's pimp when boy refuses to pay an inflated price for a trick he didn't even take. Boy calls up several girls and guys that he knows from his past in the hopes that they might not be phony like everyone else. Boy sneaks into his house and runs into his kid sister, who sees right through his scam and wants to be a part of his adventure. Kid sister refuses to back down and threatens to run away with boy. Boy relents and waits for his parents' arrival, so he can have yet another confrontation about yet another failure in his young life.

I am blessed to have my dad's original copy of this book from the late 1950s / early 1960s (alas, not a first edition pb, though), and I have read this copy 4 times now, I believe. I decided to reread this book because I have always enjoyed the writing style as well as the narrator's attitude towards trying to find meaning in life and in social interactions. Living in New York City, albeit 50 years after the main character of this book, the story has continued to resonate with me through multiple readings throughout my teens, twenties, thirties, and now forties. My friend Alan had mentioned this book in the same moment when he suggested that Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby did not measure up to Dickens. I am not sure that I agree or disagree with that statement. Good writing must first and foremost resonate with the time and world of the contemporary reader. Great writing should continue to resonate with the lives of future generations. I think that this book accomplishes that, in its comparative simplicity of style and content. It has my vote of confidence as a part of the 21st century canon of American literature.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

83 Books in 27 Days as of September 23 -- EITHER 4 or 6 more days left to The Challenge, depending on how you look at it...

So if we take my blog at face value and tally a total as of today, I have read 83 books so far. If you are rereading this entry (for whatever inane reason), you will note that I was off in my count, in my favor. I had thought I had read 79 books as of today. I am actually up to 83. No idea how that happened, but COOL!

27 total days / 83 books. 

This represents 25 actual days of reading, which means that I have either 4 days or 6 days to finish the remaining 17 books. Let's see what I can accomplish in the next 4 days.

Thanks for following this Challenge so far. Let's see what the rest of the journey brings...

September 23: 2 Books

82. The Whole World Guide to Language Learning by Terry Marshall

This book is also on my list of Top 5 Favorite Language Learning Books. I hope to read at least one of the other books from that list before the end of the current Challenge.

What I like most about this book is the same thing that I liked most about Nida's "missionary style" language learning field manual reviewed earlier in this blog: This book presents a wonderful method (though completely devoid of the pompous white man's burden ethos of earlier works in the genre, thank goodness!) for working with an "informer" or "mentor" in the field to learn the spoken version of a language from scratch without a textbook and without formal language classes or a dictionary. This method is not for the faint of heart and is most definitely only for dedicated, serious self-starters who really are determined to learn a new language on their own outside of the "traditional" classroom setting.

My copy of this book has so many dogeared pages at this point that I wouldn't know where to begin if I were to summarize the many excellent points in this short review. Perhaps I can simply say that I intend to suggest many of the methods from this book to my Cantonese and Mandarin students this fall, beginning next week, when I start volunteer-teaching beginning classes in each dialect in Manhattan's Chinatown.

83. In Other Words: The Science and Psychology of Second-Language Acquisition by Ellen Bialystok and Kenji Hakuta

Ostensibly an academic work on the subject, this book nevertheless maintains enough of a popular approach that it would certainly appeal to the average intermediate-level language learner looking for a broader understanding of the various research in recent years on language learning, and how that research might (or might not) help the language learner to acquire more of a given foreign language.

As with many of the books in my personal collection on linguistics and language learning, there needs to be some sort of distinction between books that aid in general language learning approaches and books that specifically further a knowledge about developments and prevailing theories within the field of linguistics as an academic social science discipline. This book falls into the second category.

This book does an excellent job of presenting multiple prevailing linguistic approaches or philosophies, and because this is a reread for me, my copy has many dogears and much underlining, ensuring that I will return to this book again at a later state when I want to delve deeper into an understanding of one or more concepts of the discipline of linguistics. In the short term, though, it doesn't lend much to an improvement in strategies that might increase my command of any of the languages that I am currently studying and attempting to speak.

September 22: ZERO BOOKS (no real time to read today)

Today was a weird day, alternately of productivity and procrastination as I again worked on my own purge of items from my bedroom and home office in an effort to clarify and refocus my life. Before I knew it, the entire day had gone by.

Today was the second day this month that I was not able to read a book for this Challenge.

September 21: 6 Books

76. How to Improve Your Foreign Language Immediately: Foreign Language Communication Tools by Boris Shekhtman

Ok -- so this is a super short book -- around 100 pages, and even that is stretching it, considering the font size and typset of the text. Still, in light of the 543 page book that I read the other day, my friend Amanda at Roots Cafe in South Park Slope, Brooklyn assures me that I should count this as a full book. It was indeed published as a "full book" with its own isbn and its own separate listing on, where I purchased it in 2013.

I love love love love LOVE this book. It is not a book for beginning language learners. Rather, it is a distillation of the author's main points from his much longer work, Developing Professional Level Language Proficiency, which I also read earlier this year. In How To Improve Your Foreign Language Immediately, Shekhtman provides multiple CONVERSATIONAL STRATEGIES to take whatever level the language learner has attained and maximize what he or she is able to show during conversational interactions with native speakers of that language.

The ISLAND STRATEGY is my absolute favorite point of this book, and is the main reason that I will continue to reread this short, crucial work on language learning as well as recommend it to every single intermediate learner of any foreign language that I meet for the rest of my life!!!

77. How To Learn a Foreign Language by Edwin T. Cornelius, Jr.

This book originally came with a dust jacket, which my copy is missing. Rather than post a copy of the plain blue front cover of the non-jacketed hardback, I am instead including a cover of the interior title page for those who are interested in ordering this book on Amazon or perhaps taking it out of your local public library.

Published in the 1950s, this book contains a solid method based on finding a native speaker "informer" or "mentor" in your target foreign language and then preparing lessons for yourself that you then have your mentor teach you, based on your specific needs. In this respect, though the book focuses entirely on the author's experiences learning to speak modern Greek, the book follows much the same "missionary linguistic" approach to language acquisition as several of the upcoming entries in this blog.

I have decided to keep this short work as a permanent part of my language learning book collection for two reasons:
  1. I intend to study classical Greek at some point in the future and when I do, it will be good to have an example of a practical Craigslist-style language trade method for learning modern conversational Greek at the same time; and
  2. There are some very sound "missionary" style language learning techniques in this book that I want to revisit in the future as I continue to re-evaluate my own language learning efforts in Chinese -- especially going forward as I begin to take my Chinese out "into the field" for personal fieldtrips to Cantonese and Mandarin speaking NYC Chinatowns and develop my own in-situ language "assignments."
78. Learning a Foreign Language: A Handbook Prepared Especially for Missionaries by Eugene A. Nida

From what I can tell from my cursory research on Amazon prior to ordering this book in 2012, this was THE book for the 1950s / 60s generation of "Travel to a Foreign Country and Learn the Local Language to Convert the Heathens to The Word of God" brand of Christian Missionary. If the reader is able to put aside the white man's conceit that that is even remotely an appropriate way to approach other non-Western cultures, there is much of value in this thin, pithy volume.

I have dogeared many pages in my copy, and my intention a few days ago was to write a bit about some of the more salient points in this book. However, in the interest of time, let me just end this review by saying that if you are interested in going to a foreign country or immersing yourself in a foreign language speaking community in the US, and you are a self-starter who is genuinely interested in becoming fluently conversational in another language via a method focusing on conversations with locals in which you use the language (once you learn it at a basic enough level) to learn about the culture from which the language springs, THIS is a great book to check out. If, on the other hand, you are the sort of learner who insists on sitting in a class and having some teacher or "person of authority" tell you what to do, what to learn, then this is definitely NOT the kind of book for your language learning approach.

79. The Principles of Language Study by H. E. Palmer

This is a reprint of a book on language learning from the 1920s, and if ever there was a book written from the pompous "I am a white man and I know much more than you uncivilized heathens" perspective on other languages and cultures, this would be a shining example. Still, there are some positive points and because my personal interest in language learning and teaching is much more than cursory, it is very worthwhile for me to read books like this every once in a while -- if only to make me angry about the previous generations' notions of white man's privilege...

Focusing mainly on French language examples, the author does a good job of contrasting the fors and againsts regarding spoken vs. written language study at the outset of the student's efforts to acquire a new language. Most of the book focuses on the author's 9-point action plan for learning a new language:
  1. Initial preparation
  2. Building proper habits
  3. Accuracy, particularly of pronunciation
  4. Gradation
  5. Proportion
  6. Concreteness of examples and language rules as the student acquires them
  8. Order of progression of study materials and language aspects
I have capitalized 7 and 9 because they are the 2 take-aways for me from this particular book, and are very important to my own personal language learning philosophy as I have applied it to Chinese thus far.

80. Polyglot: How I Learn Languages by Kato Lomb

This is one of my Top 5 All Time Language Learning Books.

Written by one of the most accomplished interpreters of the latter half of the 20th Century, a Hungarian woman with a command of 16 languages who, most impressively AND MOST INSPIRING FOR ME, learned most of her spoken and written languages in her 30s and 40s, this book is both informative and specific in its prescription for language learning.

I have been a big believer in EXTENSIVE READING in a foreign language (my own Bombardment Theory of Language Learning, which I have promised to write more about either in this blog or at for several years now -- before I was ever aware of Stephen Krashen's work on the topic or this book currently being reviewed here and now. It is always nice to be validated through one's reading on a given topic of passion that one's own thoughts and ideas happen to resonate with some of the current thinking in the field. Yay -- go me!

Ms. Lomb's detailed description of how she initially learned to speak Russian via reading a novel over and over again over a period of months during the wartime occupation of her country is both inspired and inspiring. Recently, I have applied the exact same method to my own reading and rereading of Dav Pilkey's seminal work, Capitán Calzoncillos y El Terrorífico Retorno de Cacapipí (the Spanish language edition of Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers), from which I have literally much improved my own conversational Spanish (albeit to a 10 year-old level).

81. A Linguistic Guide to Language Learning by William G. Moulton

This is a very dry work, focused mainly on Chomsky-style language tree diagrams and a circa 1970 understanding of the state of linguistics as a social science and how that science might aid foreign language learning. In actuality, I would argue that the contents of this book certain aid linguistics as a field, and would aid a student who wants to read ABOUT and think ABOUT language, but this particular book would do very little to actually help a student acquire a new language or learn to speak it.

This seems to be a common misunderstanding throughout the linguistics literature up until recent years: one does NOT need to study ABOUT how a language works in order to learn how to speak and use that language. Even in order to learn the grammar of that particular language. The only people aided by a book such as this would be linguistics who want to understand more about how language AS A CONCEPT might function at a deeper "social science research" level. Taken with that particular grain of salt, a book like this might be interesting to a linguist doing research into why certain language teaching methods might be more or less effective for certain segments of the population. However, this book does little to help a student learn to speak, read or write any specific language.

September 20: 5 Books

71. What is History? by Edward Hallett Carr

I was all set to begin today with Kon-Tiki (see below), but when I was walking to my regular Saturday morning therapy session with my new social worker Joanne, I found this book on the street. What an amazing collection of lectures by the author on the philosophical implications of the concept of "history" and "historians," as these terms are understood from a European/American perspective! I had already read the first 2/3 of it by the time I walked the 30 blocks from my home to my appointment!

I was actually blown away by this book; it is not often that a book that I find in recycling rocks me to my core by laying bare the workings of Western education and exposing a fundamental truth that knowledge is as much a product of those who "create" it and tell us that it is important as it is of the things or events that are supposedly important in the first place.

Wow -- this is REALLY deep stuff. On the surface, this book is an exploration of the notion that history as we know it, as it is studied in school and written about by scholars, actually represents an almost equal participation from both the events and historical figures themselves AND the historians and writers commenting and creating insights on those people and events. Something about my mood this morning when I read this book, though, made me draw a much deeper connection regarding all "knowledge" in this world -- or at least the kind that I have learned so far in my limited time on this planet.

72. Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

As readers will remember from my earlier entry on the book Columbus Was Last, I have long been fascinated with explorations into who were the first people to "discover" the Americas. Four of Thor Hyerdahl's books have been on my shelf for several years now, and I am finally getting around to reading them in chronological order of publication date.

Kon-Tiki is a very famous book, published in 1950, detailing the author's testing of his hypothesis (now a proven theory) that the various Polynesian islands (Samoa, Hawaii, Tahiti, etc.) were originally populated by early residents of the west coast of South America (now Peru), sailing west across many miles of ocean on balsa wood rafts. What an adventure story!

Reading like a novel, this true story is well-researched and detailed enough for even the most scientifically-minded to sit up and take notice of Hyerdahl's postulates regarding the initial peopling of Polynesia. I am really looking forward to reading his follow-up book, Aku Aku, on the building of the famous Easter Island statues.

73. The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People by E. E. Evans Pritchard

Everyone should read a famous social anthropologyical monograph written during the height of British Imperialism. The Nuer are an indigenous people of Sudan in Africa, and Pritchard was sent by the British government to chronicle their inner workings, presumable so that the British government might better and more efficiently subjugate these people to British Imperial rule.

The arrogance of the white man can be astounding at times.

Taken in stride as a reflection of the age from whence it came, this is a well-written book by one of the "fathers" of modern social and cultural anthropology, my undergraduate major at Duke University, from which I graduated a million and a half years ago.

Especially in light of today's earlier book, What is History?, I couldn't help but think the entire time that I read this book, how much of the author's experience and research represents "the truth" of The Nuer (i.e. the way these people really see and understand themselves and the significances of their own social, political, religious, etc. institutions as would be discussed between educated native speakers of their language), and how much are simply guesses on the part of Pritchard -- or worse yet, misinterpretations based on language mistranslation issues or possibly even purposeful misdirection on the part of the Nuer, who may not have wanted a white outsider to really know about their lifestyle and its meanings?


74. The Secret Power Within: Zen Solutions to Real Problems by Chuck Norris

Sometimes, I buy a book just for shits and giggles, and this particular book is an example of just such an impulse purchase.

However, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Mr. Norris filled this book with some wonderfully insightful personal  and career stories and some very valuable life insights.

Carried throughout the book is an underlying tribute to the author's brother, who died as a soldier in Vietnam, and it is this source of motivation that informed much of the author's personal philosophical quest to find deeper meaning and ultimately happiness in martial arts, movies, life and love. I found this book VERY inspiring -- so much so that I will be keeping it and rereading certain dogeared pages going forward as I reconceive my own life and career over the coming months. Funny enough, I think that maybe Chuck Norris's insights into the deeper meaning of the human condition are just what I need at this moment in my own life.

In all seriousness.

This is a witty and well-written, inspiring self-help book

75. Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a new winner for "Most Inspiring Get Rid of Your Junk / Clean Your Home and Life Book..." and it's name is Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui!

As my readers will see from all of the orange price tags in my cover photos of today's books, this afternoon provided a very profitable browsing session at The Strand Bookstore. I dogeared SOOO many pages in this book that I don't even know where to begin. THIS will actually be my bible for cleaning up my home and my life, starting next week, during my October focus on eliminating clutter from my apartment and my mind so that I can clarify and refocus my life and career going forward. Sometimes, we are very lucky to find a method to guide us through our moments of madness; this book represents just such a solution for me...

Focusing on the underlying symbology of most, if not all, clutter, this book REALLY resonated with my own personal battle to get rid of extra crap from my life. So much so this will most likely be the first book that I [re]read as soon as my 100 Book Challenge is finished!

September 19: 5 Books

66. The Third Ear by Chris Lonsdale

 This is one of my favorite language learning "psych up" / motivational books. Written by a white New Zealander who initially came to China in the 80s on a college scholarship, hacking spoken Mandarin in a much shorter time than anyone at the university where he was studying could comprehend, The Third Ear is all about an innate ability of all humans to listen (really listen) to the spoken portion of another language that we do not yet understand and use our "inner ears" (in a metaphorical sense) to begin to process incoming information and eventually acquire a new language.

I am not explaining this well, and in the interest of time (many more reviews to type today), I most likely won't be able to, so I won't really try. Chris's exploration of the "audibol" (a sound syllable) and how the human brain processes language is both fascinating and empowering for language learners. This book is a third time re-read; each time, it keeps getting better. I can't recommend it highly enough, especially to students of tonal languages like Chinese -- my own current linguistic focus.

I remember that upon my initial reading of this book 4 years ago, I was most inspired by Lonsdale's suggestions for building an initial functional vocabulary in a new language. In fact, I used his guidelines to create my first major self-study "push" with Cantonese Chinese at the time, and with the help of 2 of my first Cantonese teachers, I was able to jump wayyyyy ahead of the other students in my classes at the time, all based on the suggestions from this particular book!

67. Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World by Benny Lewis

Though I haven't spent a lot of time watching every single Benny Lewis video online, I have watched a good 8 or 10 of his vlog entries and sales pitches for his "Fluent in 3 Months / Speak from Day One" language learning method. But for the relatively high price point compared to my current budget for individual language learning resources, I would have purchased his kit long ago.

Because of this, I was super 'thused to find his recently published book at The Strand in NYC in their basement foreign language section earlier this year. I have read this book 2 or 3 times now, and my current reread has been very empowering. There are SO many positive points to this book that I can only mention a few:
  • Aspiring to and testing for internationally, academically recognized achievement levels in certain languages (mainly European languages and Chinese)
  • Memorizing short speeches in each language you are studying as vehicles to communicate and improve spoken language ability
  • Shortcut hints for new learners of languages that conjugate verbs, involving the use of helping verbs such as "want to," "can," etc.
  • Studying, speaking, AND MAINTAINING ability in multiple languages
  • Various internet and in-person resources to aid language learning in today's multimedia world

68. How to Learn Any Language Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably, and On Your Own by Barry Farber

I actually met Barry Farber maybe 12 or so years ago when I was working for The Learning Annex in NYC, recording many of their Manhattan seminars for website streaming. During this phase of my resume, Mr. Farber gave a 2-hour presentation on the exact method described in this book. I am sure that he took the opportunity to plug this book as well that evening, but I had not yet caught the language learning bug, so at the time, this was just another evening of freelance income. Skip forward quite a few years...when I saw this book at The Strand Bookstore, I immediately made the connection, and when I got home that same evening, I raided my Learning Annex data archives in my basement, eventually locating the original .WAV files for Farber's lecture.

I have since read this book twice (including this time) and listened to the audio presentation of this material many times on my mp3 player. This is really good stuff!

Farber shows how, armed with a dictionary; a basic grammar textbook; at least one audio resource with accurate pronunciation of the new language; a recorder / listening device to capture and playback real-life audio examples of the target language; some highlighters; and a magazine or newspaper article written in the new language (assuming a script that the learner knows how to phonetically read and pronounce), the serious self-directed language learner can systematically take apart and then acquire an understanding of a foreign language. Great stuff for self-starters!

69. How to Learn a Foreign Language by Paul Pimsleur, PhD

This is a book that I kept seeing on Amazon listed for outrageously high prices -- until it was recently reissued in honor of the 50th anniversary of Pimseur Language Programs' all-audio language courses, the first of which was Greek in 1963.

I recently came across this brand new printing while browsing in a bookstore, waiting to have dinner with a friend in Manhattan's SOHO 2 weeks ago. I immediately ordered it from Amazon that evening, and read it the same day that it arrived.

I am a HUGE fan of the Pimsleur method. It's greatest strength (exclusive focus on pronunciation and listening comprehension) is also its greatest weakness, if the language learner is expecting a "complete" language acquisition process from a single resource. Used in its "proper" and most ideal manner, though, I am firmly of the opinion that for many languages, in particular those without immediately readable scripts or characters for the learner, an all-audio introduction to the language is ideal. In fact, this exact resource -- Pimsleur Cantonese -- is one of 2 main reasons why my pronunciation of my main foreign language that I am currently studying is so accurate 99% of the time! Go Pimsleur!!!

70.The Polyglot Project, ed. Claude Cartaginese

This huge 524 page book is actually a compilation of emails from various members of the Youtube language learning community as of 2011.

Consisting of essays of varying qualities and varying levels of inspiration, this is a really great resource for the language learning for multiple reasons:
  • It contains stories and advice about language learning from many, but not most, of the most "important" and visible amateur and professional linguists on Youtube in recent years
  • Some of the essays mention key resources that really will help the reader with any of a number of language learning processes and sticking points
  • Some of the advice and methods are really well-conceived and work very well, depending on the target language
  • Most of the resources mentioned by the various authors are completely free and available anywhere in the world with an internet connection and the ability to stream audio and video from Youtube.
This book is also available for free as an eBook, which I am considering downloading and viewing on my tablet. This would allow me to click on various links mentioned throughout the text, which would then take me to the Youtube channels of each contributor, as well as to other web resources mentioned throughout.