Sunday, May 29, 2016

"Presentation Zen Design" by Garr Reynolds

Presentation Zen Design by Garr Reynolds rating: 4.17
my veridct: main dish is excellent, but the hors d'oeuvre and the dessert are terrible

pro: solid core messages, good examples
con: verbose and repetitive introductions, shallow show-off about the author's knowledge about Eastern culture

This book is almost refuting its own arguments in its design and contents. In presentations, less is more. The book could have been one third of its volume and still perfect. The book starts with a very long and boring introduction. When you're done with the waddling through the puddle and are gasping, you find that every chapter afterwards starts with its own verbose introduction, thoroughly till the end. You can imagine all those introductions are repetitive, thus boring.

Another thing that rubs you the wrong way is the author's imprudent quotes about Japan. The book starts with the author saying that the Japanese cuisine, "washoku(和食)", is about harmony. Following the same logic, the United States is a country of beauty, Germany a country of mercy, and France a country of law. I know that the author added "literally" in that argument to avoid this kind of criticism, perhaps. Then again, I can say that, literally, the author is one that protrudes in the family of Reynolds.

I know he lived in Japan for 20 years and I bet he knows a lot about its culture. But put yourself in the other's shoes. Imagine some Japanese guy who lived in France for 20 years talking about the Latin roots of French words. Most of Europeans will scorn at the insolence. His quotes about Chinese letters are actually very scornful for most East Asian people, but I will talk no more.

Now, on the bright side, content-wise this book is very satisfactory. Nothing spectacularly new, but most suggestions in the book are solid tips for good presentation (and the design of slides for it). I learned a thing or two about the selection of colors, among other things. And the examples found in the book are well chosen. What I liked most was, the suggestion about using a photo bigger than the screen, leaving the unseen for the realm of imagination.

Overall, the book is worth reading. If the author could have followed his own advice and have written the book in, let's say, 70 pages instead of 240+, it would have won 4 solid stars.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Namiya Zakkaten no Kiseki" by Higashino Keigo

Namiya Zakkaten no Kiseki by Higashino Keigo rating: 4.34
my verdict: the very best

pro: everything
con: nada

Higashino Keigo is crude. To talk about his style, I can't say anything but that his style sucks. His style is worse than most junior high students. His characters are weak. I admit that there are exceptions (for example, Yukiho in Byakuyakou, or Ishigami in The Devotion of Suspect X) but most of his characters are just names. His storytelling methods are most of the time very banal, or to put it more positively, cliché. His employment of frame narratives is so crude that it hurts the flow.

Still, I like most of his novels, and love some of them. The stories he tells are way too powerful. The basic idea that sustains the whole plot is simply genius. Small devices here and there do their job artfully in delivering the overall effect. As a result, his story rivets into your mind.

Reading Byakuyakou ("Walking under the White Night") is like being stabbed with a knife in the heart. When Yasuko reports herself to the police, and seeing this, Ishigami falls on his knees and cries, who is it that can stop himself/herself from shedding tears as well? (The Devotion of Suspect X)

But, of all his works, I love this one best. I can earnestly say that writing such a story is itself a miracle (kiseki). This novel is like a touch of a warm, soft hand of your beloved when you least expect it. It is like the first snow. It is like the moment when a kid finds what he wished for in the Christmas Stocking. The boy rubs his eyes because he is only half-awake yet, but he wants to find out sooner. And the world outside is shrouded with cotton-soft snow.

What I want to tell you is, reading this book is like receiving a gift. You never knew you wanted that gift, but now you know it.

Three good-for-nothing youngsters get into a shabby house. Then they find that there's a letter in the letterbox. They have nothing to do, and a night to spend. They decide to read the letter...

I still feel electrified just by thinking about the story.

I strictly stay away from containing spoilers in book reviews. So I do not wish to talk more. But I earnestly recommend this one to literally ANYONE. There are books that appeal to some but disgust others. But this one, I believe, will move any human being. I believe reading this book will make you happy, being reminded that you also belong to the same race.

(This is the cover of the Korean edition of the book, which I read)

"The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor rating: 4.13
my verdict: good!

pro: actionable
con: repetitive

Recommendation is a powerful tool in choosing books to read. The title of this book sounds so banal that you can instantly say that this must be a good-for-nothing self-help book that disguises itself as a psychology book. To tell the truth, the book title couldn't be anything else. This book actually says about the advantages of being happy. However, it is also true that I wouldn't have picked up this book if it were not for the recommendation of someone (and's high rating of course).

There are seven principles with the happiness advantage (even though they are not systemically interwoven like those seven habits of Stephen Covey).

1. The Happiness Advantage: capitalize on positivity to improve productivity/life.

2. The Fulcrum and the Lever: adjust your mindset (the fulcrum) so as to attain the most power (the lever).

3. The Tetris Effect: you are the lucky guy! Everything will turn out best for you!

4. Falling Up: Eureka, you fell! Now it's time to get up even stronger!

5. The Zorro Circle: start out small. Retain your core circle of control (i.e. the internal locus of control) whatever happens to you.

6. The 20-Second Rule: reroute the path of least resistance. Eliminate the 20-second obstacle to good habits. Build 20-or-more-second obstacle to your bad habits.

7. Social Investment: invest in friends, peers, and family so that you have a social support network when needed.

(Almost) Every item on the list is actionable. But I'd like to recommend the item number 6, that is, the 20-second rule, to people like me who get heavily challenged in terms of willpower on daily basis.

For example, you know daily exercise is great, but what if it takes 5 minutes in the morning to get ready and walk out the door to go jogging? Shawn says he went to bed in gym clothes so that he could automatically dash out of the bed to go jogging in the morning. For me, I found myself eating less potato chips when I put it in the pantry with a door, instead of right beside the coffee machine where I can see it (and grab it) more easily. So, for a good habit that you want to build on yourself, remove any obstacle that might discourage you from doing it habitually. For a bad habit that you want to shake off, build many obstacles so that it takes a lot of time and effort to do it. In other words, put your good habits on the path of least resistance.

Have I said that I like this book because it contains many actionable items? I will recommend some from the book.

1. Choose a day of the week. This is your good-deed day. Do five good things to others throughout the day. Of course, you will count each of them as you do it and feel great.

2. To have or to be? Spend money on experiences, rather than on stuffs. (This reminds me of the good book, The Story of Stuffs.)

3. Do you think you are doing petty things to earn living? That petty stuff most probably will lead to something greater in the bigger picture. Write down the petty thing you do not like, and draw an arrow. Then write down what that leads to. If that still does not satisfy you, draw another arrow and at the end of it write down what is accomplished by that. In most of the cases, your petty daily chore is a building block for a lot greater thing that you can be proud of.

4. Set an alarm at, let's say, 11 o'clock in the morning. When that sets off, begin writing down three good things that happened yesterday. Now your mind is set on the positive side.

5. When you get really stressed out, draw a table and divide the causes of your stress into two groups - those you can control and those you can't. Forget about those things you can't control. Focus on the little things you can tackle easily (the Zorro Circle). You will get improvement.

6. Clear obstacles to your good habits. Build obstacles to your bad habits.

7. Many people (including me!) spend energy and willpower in making small decisions that does not make any difference after all. Set up a simple rule and use it for quick decisions. Pizza or spaghetti? Toss a coin. You want to have one more cup of coffee? Set up the daily limit.

8. Make eye contacts. Look at people's eyes when they speak to you.

Wow, that's already quite a long list. At the end of the book, Shawn says about a man who thinks he is already doing all of these, while his wife isn't. Shawn told the man that he had heard the opposite from his wife a while ago. What I mean is, people (again including me) think they are doing things while they aren't. Let's start actually doing those good things. :)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Quiet: the Power of Introverts" by Susan Cain

Quiet: the Power of Introverts
by Susan Cain rating: 4.00
my verdict: well! (see below)

pro: good intention
con: this is part book, part manifesto (someone's review in

All's well that ends well. So, the final verdict for this book  is well(!) instead of good. The few pages at the end of the book, under the heading of conclusion, include some really good real-life advices for introverts, extroverts, teachers, and managers.

Except that, well, like the reviewer I quoted above, this may not be even a book. Yes, of course you can call a bundle of printed pages glued together a book. Yes, physically, a book. But what about the basics you learn at school about writing? I don't even accuse this book of being illogical. I accuse it of being incoherent. In one part, the author distinguishes being introvert from being shy, and goes on bedeviling shyness. In other part, she presupposes that being shy equals being introvert and goes on advocating shyness.

Even worse, for a very large part of the book, the author depicts a world torn apart between introverts and extroverts, and affirms single-handedly that it's the extroverts' bad. For example, she says the subprime mortgage crisis would not have happened if the bankers had been introverts instead of extroverts.

I am actually amazed that she has the gut to pitch this kind of stuff in the TED. Most people would have just ended up writing in their diaries.

However, as mentioned above, the book has a good intention. I wish it had a matching quality. And yes, I wasted a fair amount of time.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel" by Carl Safina

Goodreads rating: 4.38
My verdict: Good

Pro: Interesting and emotional episodes
Con: Do not expect science


Having a rating of whopping 4.38 on is a feat, you know. For your information, Richard Dawkins's Selfish Gene has a rating of 4.10, Stephen Hawking's The Universe in a Nutshell, 4.12, Keigo Higashino's Namiya Zakkaten no Kiseki, 4.33. My brief search could find only one book that has a higher rating: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, at 4.59.

This is a very interesting book, coming at you often with riveting stories of emotional depth that leave big impacts on your mind. I was an elephant lover but I am an adorer now. Wolves deserve much more respectable traits for metaphors. Killer whales, (I sigh,) they are much better beings than us humans, in every aspects.

But, is this a science book? If you expect it to be one, you will be disappointed. Most stories are told like a gossip. When the author argues something, what he brings as the proof is, most of the time, a hearsay. Yes, the hearsay is in the format of some scientist's argument, but the scientist is quite often a like-minded fellow researcher who happened to live in the author's neighborhood and told him the episodes over a dinner table.

This book is like the famous animal stories by Ernest Thompson Seton. The book strikes you with a very powerful insights about the world and the position of us human beings in it, but you'd better not expect what is told is scientifically solid. I strongly suspect the author actually believes that he is delivering a set of scientific arguments backed by solid evidences, but I don't think the author's arguments will appear on The Nature as they do in this book.

But do not underestimate this book. It will make you think about the world, mankind, and other habitants of our planet, from a different perspective than before. And once more, it is a powerfully compelling read. Science or not, you will enjoy this book and love the animals in it. And yes, there are other beings living in this world that matter too.