Book 18 – Homesick!

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Title: Walking to Vermont

Date Completed: 12/26/09

Author(s): Christopher S. Wren

Copyright: 2004, Simon & Schuster

# pages: 273

Genre: Autobiography

 Any book that has Vermont in the title is bound to peek my interest.  One of the ways that I decide what book I’m going to read next is to just walk up and down the library gazing at the shelf until something catches my eye.  This is how I found my favorite book (Bill Ford’s High Energy Habits), and this is how I found Walking to Vermont.

 Christopher Wren was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times.  He and his wife were moving to Vermont for their retirement (for those of you who don’t know, that is my plan also!).  The day after he retired from the Times, he set off on foot to walk from his home in New York to his new home in Vermont.

 This is the story of the walk.  It was just over 400 miles, and took him five weeks.  Most of the walk was along the Appalachian Trail. Although the majority of the book is about his hike, there are times when he uses something that happens along the Trail to segue into a story about his adventures as a foreign correspondent. 

 I’ve read other books about hikes along the Appalachian Trail, and I also enjoy them.  There is something about the camaraderie that the hikers develop, while still maintaining their independence.  I also love the ‘trail magic’ that so frequently happens.  It has been written about in several of the books that I’ve read, so I know it is real.  Trail magic is when you’ve just run out of your last drop of water, with 10 miles to the next water source and someone has left a cooler filled with ice and bottled water and a sign ‘help yourself.’

 Although the blog is about the books I read, let me take one second of your time to encourage you to go to Vermont if you haven’t been.  It is the most beautiful, quirky, down-to-earth place you’ll ever find.  Although I am not from Vermont, I get homesick for it.  I can’t explain it, but there it is. 

 And, if you are going to go, let me know and I’ll give you all of my favorite places to see.   But, make sure you have some time, because it is a topic that I could talk about for hours!

Book 17 – Building Relationships

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Title: Click: Ten Truths for Building Extraordinary Relationships

Date Completed: 12/20/09

Author(s): George C. Fraser

Copyright: 2008, McGraw-Hill

# pages: 200

Genre: Self Improvement

 This book caught my eye because starting a charity means building relationships and asking people for things that you wouldn’t normally ask.  I thought it might give me some magical tips that would make me at ease in asking people for things.  I’m sure you are surprised to find out that it didn’t – as with everything in life, you’ve got to work at it to be good at it!

 As the book’s title suggests, the author has ten truths about building and maintaining relationships.  Each truth has a chapter dedicated to it.  The book is an easy read because he uses examples from his own life to explain how the truth is applied.  Some of the truths are: be authentic, communicate with your heart, trust first, and tailor your relationships for the perfect fit.  All of the truths seem obvious when you read them – like, duh – if you want to make friends you need to be yourself and trust them – but it is funny how we really do need to be reminded of these things on a regular basis.

 These ten truths are also grouped into three categories that Fraser feels must be present in order for a relationship to bloom.  They are chemistry, fit, and timing.  Essentially, the idea is that you will never develop deep relationships with everyone you meet.  There are some people that you click with (hence the title!), and these relationships are naturally going to grow deeper.  In order for you to click with someone, you must have chemistry, fit and the right timing. 

 Of the ten truths, none of them were really very earth-shattering for me.  Nothing I haven’t heard (or read about) before.  Of course, I read more than the average person, so that probably has something to do with it.  But, it is always nice to be reminded of these things because when you get into your daily routine, sometimes you can forget these things.

Book 16 – Meeting Hell

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Title: Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable

Date Completed: 12/15/09

Author(s): Patrick Lencioni

Copyright: 2004, Jossey-Bass

# pages: 257

Genre: Business

For me, this is one of those ‘right book, right time’ books.  It is exactly what I needed at this point.  I work in a department that does not have strong leadership, and I found a lot of the answers about why in this book.

Although this is a business book, it is written in the format of a story so that you can learn the lessons of the book while being entertained at the same time.  The premise is that a successful video game software company has very low morale.  The reason for the morale problem stems back to the fact that the leadership team does an ineffective job of prioritizing issues and addressing them head on.  The reason that they are ineffective is because they don’t properly run their meetings.

You know how you read a Dilbert cartoon and feel like the author must be hiding out in your office getting all of him material from your company?  That is how I felt about this book.  He hits the problem with meetings right on the nose.  They are too long, unproductive, and nobody enjoys them.  Yet, for most of us, they are the way we spend the majority of our time.

He offers two key ideas for fixing meetings.  The way that he explains his ideas is simple, effective, and universally understood by all of us.  He uses tv and movies to explain why meetings don’t work.

First, we typically try to cover many different topics within one meeting.  We try to cover the immediate, the short term, and the more strategic topics of our business all in a single weekly ‘staff’ meeting.  He draws a parallel to trying to combine Headline News, a sitcom, and a mini-series all into a single program.  It just wouldn’t work.  If you turn on headline news, you have an expectation that you will watch for five minutes, get the highlights, and move on to the next thing.  With a sitcom, you expect to commit a little more time, and become involved with your characters, but you know you will see them again next week, so you only expect to get the current events in their lives.  And, of course, a mini-series is a much larger commitment where you become deeply involved in the story, which can span a lifetime or more.

Meetings should be the same.  The purpose of the meeting should either be a quick overview of current issues, tactical discussions about short term issues or projects, and longer, strategic discussions where a single topic is dissected to uncover the details, coming at it from all angles.  We can’t expect to cover all of these in a single meeting.  Yet, most of corporate America does just that.

Second, he discusses the fact that meetings need to have conflict.  Without it, they are not interesting.  He isn’t saying that you have to have an argument to have a good meeting.  He is saying that everyone needs to be engaged in the discussion and it is important to get all of the different opinions out on the table.  Without doing this, people begin to abdicate their decision-making powers to the ‘person in charge’ and then the spiral begins.  If I don’t have any input into the decision, then why do I even need to be at this meeting?

I think everyone stands to learn something from this book.  It is a pretty quick read and the format keeps it interesting.

Book 15 – Its ok to quit

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Title: The Dip: The Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)

Date Completed: 12/13/09

Author(s): Seth Godin

Copyright: 2007, Penguin Group

# pages: 80

Genre: Self Improvement

This is one of those easy read, quick life-lesson books that you can pick up and finish in the time it takes to watch a movie.  The premise of the book is that it is ok to quit.  In order to be the best at something, you need to quit the things that you do that don’t contribute to your pursuit of being the best.  The easiest example of this is that when people are in law or medical school, they are generally focused on that, and absolutely nothing else.  There is no time for family, friends (that aren’t also in school), vacations, volunteering, or really anything that is not focused on school.

I guess the positive spin on the philosophy of quitting is to focus.  That is really what Godin is saying – to be the best, you have to be focused.  Which is a great segue to the second point that he makes – you’ve got to be in it for the long-haul.  The Dip is the point at which you have lost the initial excitement and enthusiasm you have when you start to pursue something new.  In order to be successful, you’ve got to make it through the dip and come out the other side.  If you quit somewhere in the dip, you’ve unnecessarily used a lot of resources (time, money, energy) for nothing.  You need to either quit before you get into the dip (if you determine you don’t have what it takes to get through the dip), or you have to know up front that it is going to take sacrifice, guts, and resources to get to the other side of the dip.  People who are successful ride through The Dip.

Book 14 – The woman behind Da Vinci

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Title: Signora da Vinci

Date Completed: 12/13/09

Author(s): Robin Maxwell

Copyright: 2009, Penguin Group

# pages: 422

Genre: Historical Fiction

 I only started to read historical fiction a few years ago.  It is a genre that I read with some caution because I find it very hard to separate fact from fiction.  But, I’m not worried enough to stop reading it!

 This is a book about Leonardo Da Vinci’s mom – a woman who in real life we known next to nothing about.  However, in Singora da Vinci, she comes alive and is every bit as interesting as her very famous son.  This is the kind of book that makes me want to call in sick to work so I can keep reading it. 

 The book picks up about two years before Leonardo is born.  I read a biography about Leonardo Da Vinci two or three years ago, so I am mildly familiar with the story of his life.  What I remember of the history blended very well with the fiction in this book.  Caterina, Leonardo’s mom, is a ‘gutsy broad’ for the 1400s.  After Leonardo moves to Florence, she disguises herself as a man and moves there to be close to him.  While there, she meets and becomes friends with Lorenzo DaMedici – one of the most powerful men in the world. 

 The book is a well put together story that has all of the things that make a book good – love, hate, underground societies, the fabulously rich who are also good people, religion, philosophy, and of course, art. 

 Robin Maxwell is the author of several other books, which will now be going on my book list.  I’m finding this to be an unintended consequence of starting Building a Bookshelf…I’m finding a lot of authors who are becoming my favorites.  Reading is a beautiful thing!

IRS Update

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We’ve submitted our application to the IRS and now how received notification from them that they have received our application.  Not sure how much longer it will take them to make a ruling, but at least we know it is in the review process!

Book 13 – Pugs and Murder!

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Title: A Catered Birthday Party – a Mystery with Recipes

Date Completed: 12/4/09

Author(s): Isis Crawford

Copyright: 2009, Kensington Publishing

# pages: 256

Genre: Fiction/Mystery

 Another book I picked up because it was free to download to my Sony Reader.  I’ve never read any of the ‘Catered’ series…but it is definitely on my list now!  This was a quick read…one of those fun books that you don’t have to think much about, but you also can’t put down.  And, because I love to cook, I found it very interesting that the end of the book includes recipes.  This is something that I actually started to do several years ago…I wrote the first five chapters of a book that took place in a restaurant, and I was planning to include a recipe with each new chapter.  Looks like someone beat me to the punch!

 Bernie and Libby are sisters who own a bakery/catering business in a small New York town.  And, just like Jessica Fletcher…they seem to always find themselves catering a party that ends in murder.

 In this particular story, the girls are catering a party for the town’s richest citizen, the owner of a line of stuffed toys that were modeled after her dog – a pug named Trudy.  The party is actually for Trudy, and the food that is being served is the same for both the humans and the dogs.

 When Trudy’s owner is killed at the party, everyone in attendance becomes a suspect.

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