reading now

How To Be An Explorer Of The World by Anne Kreamer

Observe, Collect, Analyze, Compare, Notice Patterns

Keri Smith describes herself as author/illustrator turned guerilla artist.  One night when she couldn't sleep she made a 13 point list for How to Be an Explorer of the World.  "1.  Always be looking.  7. Notice patterns and connections. 13.  Use all of the sense in your investigations."  She distilled those thirteen points by connecting more dots...."artists and scientists analyze the world around them in surprisingly similar ways. Observe Collect Analyze Compare Notice Patterns.

I'm late in discovering this 2008 book, but it's timeless. Pick it up to break out of a rut.

10% Happier by Anne Kreamer

In his book, 10% Happier, newscaster Dan Harris, suggests that rather than trying to be happy all the time it's more attainable to imagine what it might feel like to be incrementally happier. A modest improvement can be transformative. Harris honestly reveals his struggle with drug addiction, ego, competitiveness and the journey he takes to quiet the negative voices in his head.

"...The voice in my head can be a total pill. I'd venture to guess yours can, too. Most of us are so entranced by the non-stop conversation we're having with ourselves that we aren't even aware we have a voice in our head...To be clear, I'm not talking about "hearing voices," I'm talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It's a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It's fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It's what has us reaching into the fridge when we're not hungry, losing our temper when we know it's not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we're ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn't all bad, of course. Sometimes it's creative, generous, or funny. but if we don't pay close attention -- which very few of us are taught how to do -- it can be a malevolent puppeteer."

Harris' exploration of faith -- encountering Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama and Mark Epstein -- leads him to meditation. When a colleague asked him "What's with you and the whole meditation thing?," he replied, "'I do it because it makes me 10% happier.' The look on her face instantly changed. What had been a tiny glimmer of scorn was suddenly transformed into an expression of genuine interest. 'Really?,' she said, 'that sounds pretty good, actually.' Boom, I'd found my schtick. 10% happier: it had the dual benefit of being catchy and true. It was the perfect answer, really -- simultaneously counterprogramming against the overpromising of the self-helpers while also offering an attractive return on investment."

Reading Now by Anne Kreamer

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.   Social theorist at Swarthmore College, Barry Schwartz, makes a compelling argument against the mushrooming of choice in our lives.  "We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction.  But beware of choice overload:  it can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures."  Here are a few of my favorite insights about our working lives:

" According to a survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners, a majority of people want more control over the details of their lives, but a majority of people also want to simplify their lives.  There you have it – the paradox of our times."

"After people choose a career path, new choices face them.  The telecommunications revolution has created enormous flexibility about when and where many people can work.  …And this means that whether or not we work has become a matter of hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute choice.  And whom do we work for?  Here, too, it seems that every day we face a choice.  The average American thirty-two-year-old has already worked for nine different companies.  In an article a few years ago about the increasingly peripatetic American work force, U.S. News and World Report estimated that 17 million Americans would voluntarily leave their jobs in 1999 to take other employment."

"It means that the questions “Where should I work?” and “What kind of work should I do?” are never resolved.  Nothing is ever settled.  The antennae for new and better opportunities are always active.  People can never relax and enjoy what they have already achieved.

"Existence, at least human existence, is defined by the choices people make."

"The process of goal-setting and decision making begins with the question:  'What do I want?'  On the surface, this looks as if it should be easy to answer.  The welter of information out there in the world notwithstanding, 'What do I want' is address largely through internal dialogue.  But knowing what we want means, in essence, being able to anticipate accurately how one choice or another will make us feel, and that is no simple task. "

Reading Now by Anne Kreamer

Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes. I read William Bridges book years ago when I was in a period of professional reinvention after leaving the corporate world.  In rereading it as research for my next book, I was gratified to discover that it remained as lucid and relevant today as it was when first published over a quarter century ago.  For anyone in the midst of change, and who among us is not, it is an essential primer.  Here are a few excerpts: "Why is letting go so difficult?"

"For some people, these times of change and renewal always seem to involve new relationships, but for others they involve new places or projects.  For still others, it is some new state of mind that appears first, a new feeling or self-image or goal.  Sometimes the beginning results from careful and conscious effort, but for most people important new beginnings have a mysterious and sometimes accidental quality to them.  That is interesting because most of us think we ought to 'take charge' of our lives and 'plan carefully' when we're trying to start again after an ending.  As we shall see later, most of us do that prematurely, for our most important beginnings take place in the darkness outside our awareness."

"The most important fact is not that there are one or three or four or six identifiable periods of crisis in a lifetime; rather, adulthood unfolds its promise in an alternating rhythm of expansion and contraction, change and stability.  In human life as in the rest of nature, change accumulates slowly and almost invisibly until it is made manifest in the sudden form of fledging out or thawing or leaf-fall."

"Sometimes the transition seems to rise up from inside -- a wave of boredom directed at things they used to find interesting or a mistrust of things they used to believe in wholeheartedly; at other times, the transition is precipitated by eternal changes -- either in their personal lives or in the organizations where they work.  Either way, people usually try to put things back the way they used to be.  If the transition is significant, however, that isn't likely to work."

"The task is to find the connection between the change in your work or career and the underlying developmental rhythm of your life."

"One of the difficulties of being in transition in the modern world is that we have lost our appreciation for this gap in the continuity of existence.  For us, 'emptiness' represents only the absence of something.  So when what's missing is something as important as relatedness and purpose and reality, we try to find ways of replacing these missing elements as quickly as possible."

"Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great. Ralph Waldo Emerson."

Reading Now -- The New Geography of Jobs by Anne Kreamer

Enrico Moretti is a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley.  His research is supported by the National Sciences Foundation and the National Institutes of Health and has been featured in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

"An unprecedented redistribution of American jobs, populations, and wealth is underway, and it is likely to accelerate in the years to come.  A new map is being drawn, and it's not about red versus blue or rich versus poor.  The rise of the American brain hubs is causing huge geographic disparities in education, income, life expectancy, family stability, and political engagement.  Dealing with this split -- encouraging growth in the hubs while arresting decline elsewhere -- will be the challenge of the century."

Here are a few excerpts:

"A growing body of research suggests that cities are not just a collection of individuals but complex, interrelated environments that foster the generation of new ideas and new ways of doing business.  For example, social interactions among workers tend to generate learning opportunities that enhance innovation and productivity.  Being around smart people makes us smarter and more innovative.  By clustering near each other, innovators foster each other’s creative spirit and become more successful.  Thus, once a city attracts some innovative workers and innovative companies, its economy changes in ways that make it even more attractive to other innovators.  In the end, this is what is causing the Great Divergence among American communities, as some cities experience an increases concentration of good jobs, talent, and investment, and others are in free fall.  It is a trend that is reshaping not just our economy but our entire society in profound ways.  It implies that a growing part f inequality in America reflects not just a class divide but a geographical divide."

"We spend the best part of our lives at work.  Every morning we say goodbye to our loved ones and rush to our offices, cubicles, counter, factories, labs, or whatever place we call “work.”  For most hours of the day, for most days of the year and for most years of our lives, our best energies are dedicated to our jobs.  Our jobs have become so important that in many cases they define how people perceive us and even how we perceive ourselves.  They determine our standard of living and where we live.  For some of us, our salary and work schedule determine what sort of family we have, how many children we can afford, and how much time we spend with them.  In short, our private and collective well-being depends on what kind of jobs are out there and what security they might offer."

"The geographical sorting of individuals with different educational and income levels is likely to exacerbate the longevity differences resulting from these disparities.  The reason is simple:  poorly educated individuals who live in a community where everyone else has low levels of education are likely to adopt less healthy lifestyles than poorly educated individuals in a community where there is a mix of educational and income levels."

"At the time of the Great Migration in the 1920s, when more than 2 million African Americans abandoned the South for industrial centers in other regions, less educated individuals were more likely than others to migrate in search of better lives.  Today the opposite is true:  the more education a person has, the more mobile she is.  College graduates have the highest mobility, workers with a community college education are less mobile, high school graduates are even less, and high school dropouts come at the bottom of the list. "

Reading Now -- The Unfinished Revolution by Anne Kreamer

In The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, New York University sociology professor, Kathleen Gerson, draws upon extensive ethnographic research to explore the new attitudes towards work and family. Gerson conducted in-depth interviews with 120 men and women between the ages of 18 and 32 from a wide variety of family backgrounds.  Yet despite their diversity, common themes emerged. “In contrast to the popular claim that this generation feels neglected by working mothers, unsettled by parental breakups, and wary of equality, they express strong support for working mothers and much greater concern with the quality of the relationship between parents than whether they stayed together or separated.”

"Coming of age in an era of more fluid marriages, less stable work careers, and profound shifts in mothers' ties to the workplace shaped the experiences of a new generation.  Compared to their parents or grandparents, they are more likely to have lived in a home containing either one parent or a co-habitating but unmarried couple and to have seen married parents break up or single parents remarry.  They are more likely to have watched a stay-at-home mother join the workplace or an employed mother pull back from work when the balancing act got too difficult.  And they are more likely to have seen their financial stability rise or fall as a household's composition changed or parents encountered unexpected shifts in their job situations."

"In the end, whether or not a mother held a paid job matters far less than whether or not mothers and fathers were satisfied with their lives and with the life they were able to provide for their children."

Reading Now by Anne Kreamer


I just finished reading Neil Gaiman's, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane -- "soaked in myth and memory and salt water" as  Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circusanother favorite of mine.  

Alexandra Alter described it in The Wall Street Journal as follows: "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is Mr. Gaiman's first novel for adults in eight years. It's also the darkest, most personal and most autobiographical book he's produced in his 30-year career.

The novel is set in the English countryside, where a middle-aged, divorced man returns to his childhood hometown for a funeral. He takes a detour to visit a farm where he used to play. As he stares at a small, scummy pond, a suppressed memory bubbles up. He remembers being seven years old, and the shock of discovering the body of a South African lodger who lived with his family and committed suicide in the family's Mini Cooper. The man's death attracts an evil spirit, a terrifying creature from another world whose body is composed of floating gray rags. The boy confronts the spirit with the help of his young neighbor, the 11-year-old Lettie Hempstock, who turns out to be far older than she looks, and capable of wielding powerful magic. The story manages to be both epic and quotidian, as the boy fights real monsters but also wrestles with more mundane but equally terrifying issues: the death of his kitten, a disastrous birthday party that no one shows up to, and being misunderstood by his family, especially his distant and cruel father.

Mr. Gaiman says he stumbled into the novel by accident. A decade ago, he bought a Mini Cooper, which reminded him of the Mini his family had when he was a boy living in Sussex, England. He asked his father, who has since died, what became of the car. His father told him a secret that he had kept from his son for nearly four decades. Mr. Gaiman's father sold the car because a man who rented a room from the family committed suicide in it after losing all his money gambling.

"I found it so strange that something like this had happened when I was seven, and I had no idea," Mr. Gaiman said. "That little thing sat in my head like a piece of grit and just irritated me."

Several years and many projects later, Mr. Gaiman decided to explore the fragment of family history in a short story. He borrowed the location and other details from his childhood, and created a protagonist that he describes as "very much me." To Mr. Gaiman's surprise, the short story mushroomed into a novel.

"I've never written a novel accidentally before," he said. "When I've written novels in the past they've been absolutely intentional."

Two of his other intentional novels I've loved:  Neverwhere and Mirrormask.  Perfect summer escapes.

Reading Now by Anne Kreamer



"How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy" - The Atlantic Monthly.  Kathleen McAuliffe profiles Jaroslav Flegr who for years suspected his mind had been taken over by parasites that had invaded his brain. So the prolific biologist took his science-fiction hunch into the lab. What he’s now discovering will startle you. Could tiny organisms carried by house cats be creeping into our brains, causing everything from car wrecks to schizophrenia?

"What Data Can't Do" - The New York Times. David Brooks explores why data mining won't solve all of our problems.  "This is not to argue that big data isn’t a great tool. It’s just that, like any tool, it’s good at some things and not at others. As the Yale professor Edward Tufte has said, 'The world is much more interesting than any one discipline.'”


When I read Madeleine L'Engle's, A Wrinkle in Time, I was roughly the same age as Meg, the protagonist. L’Engle transported me out of my quotidian Midwestern kid world through the wormhole of her imagination. I wanted nothing more than to be a heroine, traveling, tessseracting, through time and space, to save my father. What I didn’t know at the time was how pioneering L’Engle was. Among the first women to write science fiction, she persevered in the face of 26 publisher’s rejections. In A Circle of Quiet, the first of her Crosswicks journals, she explores themes of work-life balance that remain powerfully resonant. “Every so often I need out—away from all these people I love most in the world—in order to regain a sense of proportion. My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings… [there] I move slowly into a kind of peace that is indeed marvelous, ‘annihilating all that’s made to a green thought in a green shade.’”

Reading Now by Anne Kreamer


"Diaries, A Healthy Choice" - The New York Times.  At the time of the year when many of us try to envision ways we can improve our physical and mental health, Matthew Lieberman, a psychology professor at U.C.L.A., the editor in chief of "Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience" and the author of the forthcoming "Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect" proposes something very old-school, yet extremely effective.  The notion is, keep a diary.  His research finds that something as simple as labeling our feelings and articulating our beliefs and insecurities is enough to reduce our distress and produce other mental and physical health benefits.


William Zissner's definitive book on nonfiction writing.

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. I've been making my living for a while as a writer but have never had any formal training.  A friend recently suggested that On Writing Well is a must-read for any nonfiction writer.  Here's how Zinsser describes his ambition as contrasted with E.B. White's, The Elements of Style. 

"The Elements of Style was essentially a book of pointers and admonitions: Do this, don’t do that. As principles they were invaluable, but they were only principles, existing without context or reality. What his book didn’t teach was how to apply those principles to the various forms that nonfiction writing can take, each with its

special requirements: travel writing, science writing, business writing, the interview, memoir, sports, criticism, humor. That’s what I taught in my course, and it’s what I would teach in my book. I wouldn’t compete with The Elements of Style; I would complement it.

That decision gave me my pedagogical structure. It also finally liberated me from E. B. White. I saw that I was long overdue to stop trying to write like E. B. White—and trying to be E. B. White, the sage essayist. He and I, after all, weren’t really much alike. He was a passive observer of events, withdrawn from the tumult, his world bounded by his office at The New Yorker and his house in rural Maine. I was a participant, a seeker of people and far places, change and risk. At Yale I had also become a teacher, my world enlarged by every new student who came along. The personal voice of the teacher, not the literary voice of the essayist, was the one I wanted narrating my book.

For that I would need a new model—a writer I would emulate not for his subject but for his turn of mind, his enjoyment of what he was teaching. That book wouldn’t come from a professor of English, squeezing the language dry with rules of rhetoric. It would have to come from an entirely different field, and it did. My model for On Writing Well was American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950, by the composer Alec Wilder."  As someone who came to writing from an entirely different field, I cannot wait to dig into Zinsser's On Writing Well more deeply.

Reading Now by Anne Kreamer


Two recent pieces push our understanding of evolution.

"Can Jellyfish Unlock The Secret Of Mortality?" - The New York Times.  What we might learn from the "immortal jellyfish," a small, aquatic invertebrate that can transform itself back into a polyp and begin life anew. Or as  Friedrich Nietzsche conceived “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”: “Everything goes, everything comes back; eternally rolls the wheel of being. Everything dies, everything blossoms again. . . .”

"Human Evolution Enters An Exciting New Phase" - Wired Science.  "If you could escape the human time scale for a moment, and regard evolution from the perspective of deep time, in which the last 10,000 years are a short chapter in a long saga, you’d say: Things are pretty wild right now.

In the most massive study of genetic variation yet, researchers estimated the age of more than one million variants, or changes to our DNA code, found across human populations. The vast majority proved to be quite young. The chronologies tell a story of evolutionary dynamics in recent human history, a period characterized by both narrow reproductive bottlenecks and sudden, enormous population growth.

The evolutionary dynamics of these features resulted in a flood of new genetic variation, accumulating so fast that natural selection hasn’t caught up yet. As a species, we are freshly bursting with the raw material of evolution."  One finding?  "These variations, known to scientists as “cryptic,” might actually be evolution’s hidden fuel: mutations that on their own have no significance can combine to produce unexpected, powerful effects."  Maybe X-Men comics weren't so far-fetched after all.


The Legend of Broken, Caleb Carr's new fantasy

The Legend of Broken, by Caleb Carr. Carr's new genre-bending saga of fortress city.