My new years resolution this year is to read a book a week. On new years eve I was having a drunken conversation with my brother in law (technically my sister in law’s brother) and I was complaining that I feel like I’ve stagnated in my mental development. I hadn’t felt particularly encouraged or challenged in quite a while. I then realized that I hadn’t read a book in nearly three months. Somehow, in the extremely indolent time post grad school I had also forgotten to read. Wonderful.
I’m on track this year so far and will try to post at least once a month with the books I’ve read along with a short description and review.
I’ve just finished:
Malcolm Gladwell – What the Dog Saw: And other Adventures
Malcolm Gladwell is a genius and one of my all time favorite authors. This book is a collection of essays and so can be jumped around and/or left in the bathroom for casual perusal. Gladwel sees the same puzzles we all do but actually quests out to find the answers. For example: Why does one brand of ketchup dominate a supermarket shelf while there are dozens of mustards? Answer: read the book. Haha.
One of my favorite chapters is the one the book is named after “What the dog saw”. Gladwell meets and analyzes my hero, the dog whisperer, Cesar Milan. He concludes that its Milan’s extreme confidence, as shown through extremely subtle body movements, is the secret to his super powers. He expands on this by quoting research where people can predict the competence of professionals by watching 2 second video clips. I think it was a previous Gladwell book where I also read about another study in body language and how every minute body language detail is responded to by another’s body language. Unknowingly our bodies continuously act and react to each other multiple times per second. Fascinating. This is why confidence is so sexy, because it bleeds out of our bodies, and there’s no real way to fake it. Body language gives you away.
Barbara Demick – Nothing to Envy
The most fascinating and heartwrenching book I’ve read in a long long time. I’ve been interested in North Korea for at least 10 years, but this is the first book that has introduced me to the everyday life of North Koreans. Most books focus on security or human rights and skip the culture of normal citizens. What a tragedy.
As a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times in South Korea Demick extensively interviewed defectors living in South Korea and in the book tells their stories from an intimate perspective. The stories are terribly fascinating and focus not only on tragedy. There are love stories as well. I had forgotten that prior to the 1990s North Korea was a relatively decent place to live. Actually until the mid 1980s it was better off than South Korea and lost its power and economy only in the 90s. It is the only country in the world that went from a developed country to a black hole.
Which leads me to my next book, because I want to know… what the hell happened in North Korea? I know they were propped up by the USSR and China, but what exact economic policy blunders were made that caused the 90s fiasco? My next book is The Impossible State by Victor Cha.