Friday Favourites: August / September 2022

There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Never lend a friend a book. You’ll lose the book and the friend.” So if I ever want someone to read a book I love, I’ll sooner gift them a copy than lend them mine because in my experience, lending a book means I’ll never get it back.

I do, however, borrow books (I make sure they get returned). My latest read is one of them.

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell was first published in 2005 but just because it’s not new doesn’t mean it’s not still brilliant. I was trying to describe this book to a friend this week and did a pretty poor job of it. The author sums it up better:

It’s a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in the blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, Blink is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.

Malcolm Gladwell

While a book on rapid cognition might sound boring to you, it’s anything but. It’s full of stories and everyday examples that illustrate the science behind the decisions we make in a split second.

It explains why a fake statue was judged to be real by a museum that should have known better, why so many Fortune 500 companies have tall men for leaders, or why the number of women musicians playing in professional orchestras dramatically increased with the use of screens and blind auditions.

It talks about how market research gets it wrong sometimes, how we think we can distinguish Coke from Pepsi but are actually not much better at it than chance, how the Aeron chair design caused a horrible first impression but became a success, meaning people only disliked it initially because it was new and different, something we do more often than we realise.

It also covers speed dating, marriage, microexpressions, military intelligence, police shootings, how time limits and excess of information can impede our thinking leading to bad decision making, how what we think we want or what we think we believe might not correlate to what we are attracted to or how we respond unconsciously in the moment, and so much more.

Our brains make so many decisions. Sometimes we’re not even aware we are making those decisions, but they affect how we behave in the world.

If you’re in any way interested in how and why we make the decisions we do, or the unconscious ways the brain works, this is the book for you.

The color purple, by Alice Walker is a well known book I finally got around to reading this summer, thanks to a friend who gave me a copy for my birthday. I’d heard a bit about it, as you do with a title as famous as this one, but I found it covered far more than I thought it did.

I knew, for example, it talked about race and abuse but the one subject I was surprised to find in its pages was God. This conversation between Celie and Shug really stood out for me:

You telling me God love you, and you ain’t never done nothing for him? I mean, not go to church, sing in the choir, feed the preacher and all like that?

But if God love me, Celie, I don’t have to do all that. Unless I want to. There’s a lot of other things I can do that I speck God likes.

Like what? I ast.

Oh, she say. I can lay back and just admire stuff. Be happy. Have a good time.

Well, this sound like blasphemy sure nuff.

She say, Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

My edition has a note from the author who mentions how she also was surprised how so few people refer to the book as being a book about God:

Twenty-five-years later it still puzzles me that The Color Purple is so infrequently discussed as a book about God. About ‘God’ versus ‘the God image’. After all, the protagonist Celie’s first words are ‘Dear God’. Everything that happens during her life, spanning decades, is in relation to her growth in understanding this force. […] We grow in our understanding of what ‘God/Goddess’ means, and is, by the intensity of our suffering, and what we are able to make of it, […] In fact, a ‘Pa’ and/or ‘Mister’ are likely to turn up in anybody’s life. They might be wearing the mask of war, the mask of famine, the mask of physical affliction. The mask of caste, race, class, sex, mental illness, or desease. Their meaning to us, often, is that they are simply an offering, a challenge provided by ‘God’ i.e., the All Present and All Magical, that requires us to grow. And though we may be confused, even traumatized, as Celie is, by their historical, social, and psychological configuration, if we persevere we may, like her, eventually settle into amazement: that by some unfathomable kindness we have received just the right keys we need to unlock the deepest, darkest dungeons of our emotional and spiritual bondage, and to experience our much-longed-for liberation and peace.

Alice Walker

I knew it was good before I started it but was somehow surprised at how much I learnt from it. It gave me a lot to think about.

Stranger Things, season four. Everyone was talking about this show at one point. I watched the first three seasons but didn’t make much of them. So when season four was released I skipped it. I was probably watching something else at the time and didn’t fancy heading back to Hawkins and its weird monsters.

However, I kept hearing high praise for it. First some friends, then my brother, the whole online community of fans… Summer in Seville was hot and I didn’t have many plans, so one afternoon at siesta time I decided to give it another go. Somehow I became hooked and I surprised myself at how much I enjoyed it.

Either this season was far better than the previous ones or I need to go back and rewatch it from the start, because even though I had struggled to understand the hype, season four has a lot more going for it than I had anticipated. Episode four in particular got me wondering how I’d not seen its brilliance before. I applaud the script writers and everyone else who made this season work so well.

It’s worth giving some things a second chance (and that doesn’t just go for tv shows).

Manifest. I’m still in the middle of this one but what I’ve watched so far keeps me coming back for more. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best shows in the world, but it’s a good story with plenty of twists and mystery to keep it interesting.

Life is thrown upside-down for this cast of characters when their plane goes missing for five and a half years then suddenly shows up again. For the passengers no time has passed but life at home has moved on without them. You know how we were speaking of second chances a minute ago? There’s quite a bit of that here.

Second chances, strange coincidences and plenty of drama, it’s the kind of show that’s completely unrealistic and yet has moments that make you think about real life. I guess that’s what good fiction does: it offers both escape and opportunity for reflection. Or maybe, just another way to keep us entertained and pass the time.

Hey, Creator!, a podcast by Jeff Goins.

Listening to podcasts goes in seasons for me. Sometimes I find myself listening to episode after episode and others I can go months without finding any I want to listen along to.

Today I came across Hey, Creator! hosted by Jeff Goins and have found some fun insights for anyone trying to create something (the title is a bit of a giveaway).

I’ve enjoyed the episode on How to finish the First Draft of Anything, which feels kind of relevant at this moment in life.

Whatever it is you create, have a listen and see if any of it is useful for you, too.

There is plenty in this month’s collection of favourites to keep me thinking for a while. What have you been enjoying lately? Leave me a comment and tell me about it.

Let me know what you think!

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