Monday, March 26, 2018

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J.K. Rowling's Favorite Books

What books does J.K. Rowling recommend?

‘Emma’ by Jane Austen

With a penchant for matchmaking and interfering in the romantic lives of others, Emma Woodhouse is a headstrong, beautiful, and rich young woman who sees no need for either love or marriage.

Her skills, however, are put to the test when she tries arranging a match for her protégée as her plans soon unravel and consequences she never would have expected unfold. J.K. Rowling has supposedly lost count of how many times she has read Jane Austen novels with “Emma” being her favorite saying she has read it at least 20 times.

‘The Woman Who Walked into Doors’ by Roddy Doyle

Narrated by the victim, the book tells the story of Paula Spencer, a middle-aged woman struggling in her marriage to an abusive husband with a drinking problem. The title of the book comes from an incident where Paula’s husband asks how she received a bruise he was responsible for to which she replies she walked into a door.

Paula recounts her pleasant childhood, the audacity she learned as a teenager, the pleasure she felt in the early stages of her marriage to her husband and its eventual downfall, which left her feeling powerless. Telling O, The Oprah Magazine, Rowling says “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a believeable, fully rounded female character from any other heterosexual male writer in any age.”

‘Team of Rivals’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Published in 2005 by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, the book tells the story of the political genius that was U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and the men who served with him in his cabinet in the mid 19th-century. The book focuses on the leader’s mostly successful attempts to mediate competing personalities and political interests during a rather tumultuous time in American history that saw abolition and the American Civil War.

Goodwin attributes this success to his character which was forged by experiences that shaped him above his more seasoned rivals. In addition to being a favorite of J.K Rowling, US President Barack Obama has cited it as one of his favorite books and was said to have used it in constructing his own cabinet.

‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge

An orphaned Maria Merryweather finds wonder and mystery at Moonacre Manor and feels as if she has entered paradise. Like the manor itself, Maria’s uncle and new guardian, Sir Benjamin, and every person and animal she meets is as comforting as an old friend; she feels at home right away. 

However, she soon discovers that beneath this beauty, there is a tragedy that happened long ago shadowing the estate, village, and vicinity with Maria determined to find out what happened, change it, and leave her own mark to what she hope is a happy ending. The children’s book is as charming as Harry Potter with Rowling stating she “absolutely adored” the heartwarming book and can be enjoyed by anyone at any age.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

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Oprah Winfrey’s Favorite Books

What are Oprah's favorite books?

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee

The Pulitzer Prize winning book has been Winfrey’s favorite book ever since she was a little girl. The classic about a young girl in a sleepy town in the deep south and the racism and crisis of conscience that has engulfed the small community. The book taps into the very essence of human emotion and behavior. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, she said “I remember reading this book and then going to class and not being able to shut up about it… I was trying to push the book off on other kids.” She recalls the importance of the book in shaping who she would eventually become today.

‘Night’ by Elie Wiesel

Wiesel is a horrific but uplifting autobiographical account of his struggle and survival as a teenager during the Holocaust. More than just illustrating the terrors at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, the book addresses and asks many philosophical as well as personal questions necessary when holistically considering the Holocaust and its legacy. Oprah traveled with Wiesel to Auschwitz where he recounts daily life in the camps—sadism, hunger, and betrayal. It was here where he underwent a profound crisis of faith and was one of the first books according to the New York Times, which raised the question: where was God at Auschwitz?

‘Discover the Power Within You’ by Eric Butterworth

In “Discover the Power Within You”, the internationally known spiritual teacher shares one his greatest discoveries: the ability to see the divine within us all. The inspirational classic has guided thousands of readers with many saying the book has been truly a life changer. Butterworth says tapping into this divine dimension in every human being can be a souce of unlimited abundance and that through exploring this exposes our “depth potential”. He outlines ways readers can release the power locked within for greater confidence, better health, success, and how to be an inspiration for others.

‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck

“East of Eden” is a novel by Nobel Prize winner John Steinback with the plot playing out in a late 19th-century California’s Salinas Valley and follows the intertwined stories of two farming families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and their trials and tribulations. With biblical parallels to the story of Cain and Abel, many themes are explored such as love, the capacity for self-destruction, guilt, freedom, and the battle between good and evil. Winfrey says even if you read the classic in high school, reread it!

‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison

The book tells the story of a conflicted black girl who thinks she has to have blue eyes to be beautiful. Set in the author’s hometown in northeastern Ohio, it tells the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove who prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be beautiful and loved as all her blond, blue-eyed counterparts across America. Winfrey considers “The Bluest Eye” to be one of the best among Morrison’s many novels.

Image credits: Wikimedia

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Monday, March 12, 2018

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Warren Buffet’s Favorite Books

What are Warren Buffet's favorite books?

‘The Intelligent Investor’ by Benjamin Graham

Considered one of the luckiest moments of his life, Warren Buffet attributes Benjamin Graham’s “Intelligent Investor” for providing him with the intellectual framework for investing.

The book outlays Graham’s philosophy of “value investing” which describes the strategy of shielding investments from substantial error and teaches how to develop long-term strategy. Buffet is a testimony to this and states, “To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ… what’s needed is a sound intellectual framework or making decision and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework. This book precisely and clearly prescribes the proper framework. You must provide emotional disciple.”

‘Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises’ by Tim Geithner

Buffet lauds the former Secretary of the Treasury’s book about the financial crisis and states that it is a must-read for any manager.

The book is acclaimed because it provides a first-hand account of steering a wing of government through an economic catastrophe. Self-described as a fairly ordinary person thrust into a great many extraordinary situations, Geithner takes readers behind the scene of the crisis and explores the choices and politically challenging climate on the road to repairing the financial system and preventing the further deterioration of the economy. Additionally, Geithner touches on his childhood as an American abroad and ultimately shares a hopeful story about public service.

‘The Outsiders’ by William Thorndike

Taking the top spot on Warren Buffet’s recommended reading list at one point, “The Outsiders” details the extraordinary success of CEOs who chose to take their respective companies on a radically different path that was different from conventional approaches to corporate management. Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate that Buffet leads, takes center stage with Thorndike dedicating a chapter to director Tom Murphy who Buffet describes as the best business manager he has ever met.

The definition of a successful CEO can be found in a plethora management books but quite simply, Thorndike says a truly exceptional CEO performs in a way that delivers long-term return and value for shareholders. The book looks at patterns of success from top executives at companies such as The Washington Post, Ralston Purina, and Teledyne among many others.

‘The Clash of the Cultures’ by John Bogle

Bogle’s book “The Clash of the Cultures” was a recommended read to shareholders by Buffet in 2012 and remains a popular book by the American business magnet. The author—creator of the index fund and of the Vanguard Group—says long-term investing has been side-lined in favour of the aggressive, value-destroying culture of short-term speculation that is now so prevalent.

Bogle has bared witness to this shift of culture in the financial sector and argues for a return to the more common sense principles of long-term investing. The book ends with ten simple rules that will aid those looking to meet their financial goals. His views on politics and the failures in corporate governance are conspicuous throughout the book and gives readers a refreshingly candid and proactive take on issues relevant to investors big and small.

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Monday, March 5, 2018

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Tim Ferriss’ Favorite Books

What does Tim Ferriss read? 

‘Moral Letters to Lucilius’ by Seneca the Younger

“Moral Letters to Lucilius” consists of 124 letters written by Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist Seneca the Younger towards the end of his life. These letters, addressed to his student Lucilius, provide his pupil with tips on how to become a better Stoic—a belief on enduring pain or hardship without displaying feelings and without complaint—of which Ferriss has a long obsession with who says that the philosophy is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.

‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!’ by Richard Feynman

Published in 1985 by Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” is an eclectic collection of a variety of instances and events in his life. The book covers the scientist’s personal venture into the arts and unusual interest in safe-cracking to more profound topics that delve into his work on nuclear weapons production during World War II and his analysis on the education system in Brazil. Ferriss has adopted Feynman’s dogma and has said the semi-autobiography portrays a brilliant problem solver who was good at testing assumption even in the face of embarrassment or criticism.

‘Zorba the Greek’ by Nikos Kazantzakis

Written by Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis and published in 1946, the book describes the story of a friendship between a young Greek intellectual who aims to escape his literary life with the help of a vivacious and lively Zorba. The classic novel puts adventure on the forefront with two unlikely friends who teach one another about the joys of life and embodying the mantra of living life to the fullest. Ferriss says the book is a constant companion and reminds him to step outside of his brain.

‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert

Set 20,000 years into the future, “Dune” is a soft science fiction novel by American author Frank Herbert and tells the tale of a feudal interstellar society with noble families, drugs and war where the family of the protagonist oversees a desert planet that contains the most important and valuable substance in the universe. The story’s complex narrative examines the nuances of power and prestige of politics, technology, religion, and human emotion. Ferriss appreciates the novel for its detailed and convincing plot that even leaves him believing in the fictional landscape.

‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer

In her book “The Art of Asking”, musician and TED speaker Amanda Palmer rallies against the assumption that the road to the top is lonely. Knowing the life of a struggling artist, Palmer asserts that no one successful makes it big without a little help from others and says it is essential to know when to ask for help along the way. Using the book as a guide, Ferriss says that he isolates himself at the worst possible times but using Palmer’s book was a game changer as it helped him to learn to ask friends and family for help.

*Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

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Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies (Excerpts)

1. The function of suspense is to put the reader in danger of an overfull bladder.

2. Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.

3. Tension produces instantaneous anxiety, and the reader finds it delicious. (:D)

4. There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. (Amen!)

5. What can a newcomer do in a first paragraph? A lot. The following is the 1st paragraph from a novel by a student in my advanced fiction seminar, who is writing about a painter. “Shoshana stormed through the silent apartment. Mason, you son of a bitch! Where are you? Instinct told her: Mason had fled. You gutless coward, she raged. Returning to her studio, Shoshana stabbed the brush she carried into a jar of turpentine. Just try to get in one hour’s ego-affirming work of one’s own. No way!” The writer, Anne Mudgett, is using action to characterize. She is also setting up conflict between the narrator and Mason, and involving the reader in Shoshana’s emotional state.

6. In the example that follows, surprise is used by a student, Steve Talsky, whose work is yet to be published: “I am the way, the answer and the light, through me all things are possible. He had written this once as a joke on the headboard of his bed.” The reader gets an impression of a character who is unusual and about whom one wants to know more. Not least, one has the sense that this author’s work has resonance. The value of a well-written opening is that it makes the reader ready to give himself to the writer’s imagined people for the duration.

7. It should be clear by now that the unusual is a factor in arousing the reader’s interest. And so is action and conflict. So many writers fight an uphill battle trying to interest their readers in matters that have no inherent conflict. The worst possible way to start a story is with something like “They were a wonderful couple. He loved her and she loved him. They never argued.” The result is instant boredom. Boredom is the greatest enemy of both reader and writer. Do we gaze in wonder at the nice, average, normal-looking people we pass in the street? Our attention is arrested by the seven-footer and the midget, the oldster with the mechanical waddle, the child who bounces as she walks. Recall how people react to the sound of metal crunching metal, announcing an accident. They hasten to see what happened. Highways get choked when drivers slow down to gawk at the remains of a collision. To the student of literature it should come as no surprise that news programs concentrate on bad news first, on events filled with conflict.

8. Think of the novels you have loved most. Do you remember a character you lived with page after page, perhaps hoping the book would never end? What do you remember most clearly? The characters or the plot? Now think of the movies you’ve seen that affected you the most. Do you remember the actors or the plot? There’s a book called Characters Make Your Story that you don’t have to read because the title says it all: Characters make your story. If the people come alive, what they do becomes the story.

9. During all the many years in which I was an editor and publisher, what did I hope for when I picked up a manuscript? I wanted to fall in love, to be swept up as quickly as possible into the life of a character so interesting that I couldn’t bear to shut the manuscript in a desk overnight. It went home with me so that I could continue reading it.

10. We know what love is, we think of the other person at odd moments, we wonder where they are, what they are doing, we seem a bit crazy to the rest of the world. That’s exactly the feeling I have about the characters I fall in love with in books.

11. We were to improvise a scene for which there was no script. I was to play the part of the headmaster of the Dalton School, a private establishment in New York for the privileged young. Rona Jaffe was to be the mother of a boy who had been expelled by the headmaster. That’s what the audience knew. Then Kazan took me aside, out of everyone’s earshot, and told me that the mother of the expelled boy was coming to my office, undoubtedly to try to get the boy reinstated. This incorrigible boy had disrupted every class he was in, did not respond to the warnings of his teachers, and under no condition was I to take him back. After this briefing, which took half a minute, I returned to the makeshift stage and Kazan then took Rona Jaffe aside. What do you think he told her? (...) He told her that she was the mother of a bright, well-behaved boy, a first-class student, that the headmaster was prejudiced against him, had treated him disgracefully, and that Rona had to insist that the headmaster take the boy back into the school immediately. Rona Jaffe and I were turned loose on the stage to improvise a scene in front of the audience. Within seconds we were quarreling, our voices raised. We both got red in the face and yelled at each other. The audience loved it. We were battling because each of us had been given a different script! That’s what happens in life. Each of us enters into conversation with another person with a script that is different from the other person’s script. The frequent result is disagreement and conflict -- disagreeable in life and invaluable in writing, for conflict is the ingredient that makes action dramatic.

12. A long time ago I took an oath never to write anything inoffensive. In working with literally hundreds of authors over a period of many years I concluded that the single characteristic that most makes a difference in the success of an article or nonfiction book is the author’s courage in revealing normally unspoken things about himself or his society. It takes guts to be a writer. A writer’s job is to tell the truth in an interesting way.

13. A prevalent way of describing the difference is calling the successful commercial book ‘a good read’, whereas the other is likely to be referred to as ‘a good book.’ the implication is that one confers a transient experience on the reader, whereas the other may be durable, deserving the permanence of a hardcover binding and a place on a bookshelf, to remind one of the experience, or be reread. I wanted to clarify the distinction for a practical reason. In the end, you write what you read. If you read literary fiction with pleasure, that’s what you will attempt to write. If you read thrillers or romances, you will in all likelihood end up writing for the audience of which you are a part. The same is true for nonfiction -- not merely the field of interest, but the quality of language and insight you require of your books, read or written.

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