Category Archives: reading

Marking up books

I’ve been rereading Adler and van Doren’s “How to Read a Book”. I always get tripped up by the advice to mark up one’s books (p48-51). I’ve experimented with this on and off – wild sallies into the world of underlined passages and marks in the margins of books that I own — but I always recoil, returning to furtively dog-eared pages (and even this, when done to library books, earns me a teasing frown from W-). But Adler and van Doren spend two and a half pages arguing for the value of writing in one’s books and giving tips on how to do it effectively. Their reasons:

  • It keeps you awake and concentrating.
  • It makes your reading active.
  • It helps you remember the thoughts of the author.

Maybe I can get the same benefits by writing my thoughts down elsewhere, but not on the printed pages. Ratchet up my book-blogging, perhaps, as a life-long project to build a personal, digital syntopicon?

W- has started a fresh new professional notebook for 2011. In this, notebook he writes down ideas and lessons from his work and from the books he reads. He’s been taking notes on another book I’ve browsed and dogeared – Visual Meetings.

I sporadically keep paper notebooks. They can be much more convenient than typing on a laptop, especially when one is propping a book open to the right page. Perhaps the tablet will make it easier to keep my handwritten notes?

What would my ideal book notes system be like? Decades later, I’d like to be able to say – ah, if you’re interested in that, here are the books I’ve read about it, and this is how they’re connected to each other, and the arguments they made, and how my personal experiences have supported or contradicted them, and what I’ve done with what I learned from those books, and what else I could add…

Margin notes can’t contain these, but maybe I’ll figure out my own system over time – searchable, hyperlinked, backed-up, personal, and social. In the meantime, I keep my notes in an Org text file, organized in an outline, tagged with keywords, and (occasionally) published on my blog.

What’s your system for book notes?

How to Read a Book
Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

My reading round-up

  • Books

    The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work
    2010 Shawn Achor, 978-0-307-59154-8

    Are people happy because they’re successful, or successful because they’re happy? Achor summarizes a lot of research into positive psychology, sprinkling anecdotes from corporate consulting and day-to-day life in between easy-to-read findings. Achor also shares some useful tips for changing your behavior.

    If you like this, you might want to read Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life for another research-backed practical approach to happiness. If your taste runs towards life-as-experiment memoirs, check out The Happiness Project.

    Writing About Your Life
    2004 William K. Zinsser, 1-56924-468-5,

    In this memoir, William Zinsser not only shares tips on how to write about your life but also demonstrates those tips in action. He sometimes steps out of the narrative to point out how the memoir works. Definitely worth a read if you’re writing a personal blog, or any sort of nonfiction that could benefit from story.

    Well Connected: An Unconventional Approach to Building Genuine, Effective Business Relationships
    2010 Gordon S. Curtis and Greg Lewis, 978-0-470-57794-3,

    This is an intermediate/advanced book on targeted social networking. It’s a good book to turn to when you have clear goals and you need to figure out how to reach the specific people who can help you achieve them: the right person, the right approach. It builds on reciprocity and suggests several ways you can offer value.

    Life’s Too Short to Fold Fitted Sheets: Your Ultimate Guide to Domestic Liberation
    2010 Lisa Quinn, 978-0-8118-6993-5,

    This book boils down into: Don’t stress out so much, and here are some productivity, housekeeping, home decoration, and entertaining tips for making life easier. I’m particularly looking forward to trying the section called “17 meals made from a deli chicken.”

    The Age of Productivity: Transforming Economies from the Bottom Up
    210 Edited by Carmen Pages, 978-0-230-62352-1

    This turned out to be a deep research collection on the economics of Latin American companies. Interesting section on company tax evasion and the effects on productivity: tax-evading companies stay small to avoid attention, but that means they can’t enjoy economies of scale.

    The Heart of Simple Living
    2010 Wanda Urbanska, 978-1-4402-0451-7

    Typical tips on simplifying, decluttering, and developing the domestic arts. Good tip on reciprocal dining, which is more like a time/meal exchange among friends instead of a dinner party. More focus on environmental sustainability than most books I’ve read in this field.

    The Art of Barter: How to Trade for Almost Anything
    2010 Karen S. Hoffman and Shera D. Dalin, 978-1-60239-953-2

    This book covers why, how, and where to swap instead of sell. Might be handy for negotiation practice.

    Choose to be Happily Married: How Everyday Decisions Can Lead to Lasting Love
    2010 Bonnie Jacobson, PhD with Alexia Paul, 978-1-60550-625-8

    See my notes elsewhere.

    The Complete Works of Montaigne
    1943 Translated by Donald M. Frame, 0-8047-0484-8

    I’m not done with this one yet. There’s a lot to read and learn in this collection of essays, travel journals, and letters from the man who invented the essay. I’ve skimmed the Gutenberg Project’s version and the John Florio translation, but Donald Frame’s translation is the style I like the most. I look forward to learning more about philosophy, history, and assorted topics. Thanks to Ryan Holiday for the post about Montaigne’s work!

    Pretty good haul for one week.

  • Other blog posts I liked

    The other day, I heard a weather forecast use the word “flurries”. Winter’s coming! Fortunately, Lifehacker has tips on winterizing your body. Me, I’m renaming winter to “baking season.” Or soup season. Or hot chocolate season. It’s also a good time to do social experiments, like getting better at giving gifts and setting up time to hang out with friends.

    *British comedian Stephen Fry rants about language snobs and the evolution of English.* He convinces me to reconsider my gripes about people using “action” as a verb, as in: “Please action this survey.” I can see this will be a tough thing to get over. Fortunately, IBM gives me many opportunities to practice this new attitude.

    Want to know if it’ll be worth picking up that hammer? DIY or Not compares the average cost of professional labour or do-it-yourself resourcefulness. It also tells you what kinds of projects the site’s readers would prefer to DIY or hire. For example, installing kitchen wall cabinets yourself might save you ~$800, but most people would rather have someone else do it. This site would be even better with a social network makeover. Wouldn’t it be cool to share your experiences with DIY or hiring things out, and your actual costs?

    Ever been interested in doing something, only to be discouraged because you suck? The Montreal Improv blog shares a great tidbit from Ira Glass. You might have started cat painting because you like . In the beginning, your abilities can’t match up your taste. Practice is the only way to close that gap.

Book: Choose to be happily married: How everyday decisions can lead to lasting love

Bonnie Jacobson, PhD., with Alexia Paul
2010 Adams Media, Avon, Massachusetts
ISBN 13: 978-1-60550-625-8

The book consists of short chapters that explore common conflicts and positive approaches in committed relationships. Each chapter includes one or two case studies, ways to recognize the conflict, and tips for resolving the conflict. This book is a good read for couples who are beginning to find themselves ensnared in repeating conflict patterns because they can identify and get tips for their situation. Couples who are starting out may also find it useful as a way to recognize potential conflicts before they become established.

  • Flexibility

    Responsive Reactive
    Good judgment Critical judgment
    Expressing your true self Conforming to a role
    Autonomy Isolation
    Surrender Submission
    Establishing space Neglect
    Patience Passivity
    Benign boundaries Emotional tyranny
    Awareness of limits Emotional recklessness
    Embracing change Preserving the status quo
  • Communication

    Taking responsibility Blame
    Needs Wants
    Detach Withdraw
    Speaking up Silence
    Giving the benefit of the doubt Making assumptions
    Intimate listening Hearing
    Influence Control
    Constructive criticism Destructive criticism
  • Personal power

    Deciding Craving
    Fighting fair Fighting unfair
    Support Protection
    Forgiving Forgetting
    Good selfish Bad selfish
    Family loyalty Self-interest
    Joy Happiness

Book: Critical inquiry: the process of argument

Photo source: I Can Has Cheezburger

Critical Inquiry book

Critical Inquiry: The Process of Argument
Michael Boylan, 2009, Westview Press
ISBN: 9780813344522

I wish I had read Critical Inquiry (or a book like it) before going to school. It would’ve made my required courses in philosophy, theology, and literature much more engaging and more rewarding. The tips in the book are straightforward:

  1. Identify the conclusion and the premises,
  2. Organize them in a logical outline, and
  3. Develop arguments for or against premises that can be objected to, repairing minor flaws so that you’re fighting the strongest version of the argument.

This make sense. But for some reason, I didn’t have that framework before. If I had thought of those classes as partly about debugging arguments, applying the same decomposition skills I loved to use in computer science, I would’ve enjoyed the courses a lot more and gotten a lot more out of them. Better late than never!

The book also shares classic structures for developing a response in support of or against someone’s position. You outline the original position, develop the pros and cons, choose a position, state the strongest arguments of the opposing side, and refute those arguments with your own. Although this might feel a little formulaic–or too stifling for casual blog posts that start with captioned animals!–it’s a good way to make sure you thoroughly examine different sides.

I’m going to experiment with using these ideas when writing blog posts. I think the bigger challenge for me is taking a position. I’ve discovered there are a number of things I can’t help but get on my soapbox about, so there’s a start. Essays can lead me to more questions and arguments. It’ll be a fun way to discover what I think.

Book: Fast Track Networking: Turning Conversations into Contacts

Lucy Rosen with Claudia Gryvatz Copquin
Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press 2010
ISBN 978-1-60163-121-3

In Fast Track Networking, Lucy Rosen shares networking tips from more than two decades of organizing networking events. Many of these tips can be found in other books and blogs: wear your nametag on your right side, act as a host, and follow up. Where Fast Track Networking goes into more depth than other books I’ve read, however, is how to set up and run a networking group (also known as a mastermind group). Rosen includes step-by-step planning, sample forms, and a plan for following up.

In addition, she also provides several examples of referral sheets, which are short descriptions of how you help other people and what an ideal client looks like. I’ve come across that advice before, but printed referral sheets (as she suggests in her book) can be much more effective than the verbal descriptions I’ve seen encouraged in other books.

If you’re tired of going to yet another networking event with too many people, you may want to read this book for tips on smaller-scale, more intimate networking.

Plans: After the wedding, I’d like to experiment with one of the techniques she describes: inviting up to a dozen people out to have dinner at a restaurant. People pay for their own meals, but they come for the conversation and the potential connections. I’ve thought about doing that in the past, but I decided to host people instead because I could bring people together for more relaxed conversation (and for less money!) than we could in a restaurant or cafe. I find that I host these get-togethers infrequently, though, and perhaps alternating with eating out might be good for convenience as well as for expanding the circle of conversation.

Book: How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic

Photo (c) 2008 Simon Peckhan – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

Madsen Pirie (2006) London: Continuum International
ISBN: 0826490069

How to Win Every Argument is a tour of 79 logical fallacies. Pirie’s clever examples help you recognize past fallacies that have tricked you, refute fallacies that come up, and perhaps even perpetrate them on others.

In fact, it might be fun to play fallacy scavenger hunt: pick a set of fallacies (or the entire thing!), and keep your eyes and ears open for occurrences. It might be easier to memorize a small set of definitions and rebuttal techniques than to try to identify all of the fallacies you come across. Just listening to a CBC Radio call-in section, I’ve come across argumentum ad misericordiam (#49), post hoc ergo propter hoc (#59), loaded words (#48), argumentum ad populum (#57), argumentum ad nauseum (#50), and unaccepted enthymemes (#75). This armchair quarterbacking doesn’t mean I do any better myself in my conversations, though – but it does mean I see room for personal improvement. Might be fun to fold into our weekly routine, as we’ve started picking up Saturday papers so that J- has materials for her current news homework.

I’m looking forward to regularly learning from “How to Win Every Argument”, and getting better at recognizing and refuting (or using!) logical fallacies.


  1. Abusive analogy
  2. Accent
  3. Accident
  4. Affirming the consequent
  5. Amphiboly
  6. Analogical fallacy
  7. Antiquitam, argumentum ad
  8. Apriorism
  9. Baculum, argumentum ad
  10. Bifurcation
  11. Blinding with science
  12. The bogus dilemma
  13. Circulus in probando
  14. The complex question (plurium interrogationum)
  15. Composition
  16. Concealed qualification
  17. Conclusion which denies premises
  18. Contradictory premises
  19. Crumenam, argumentum ad
  20. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc
  21. Damning the alternatives
  22. Definitional retreat
  23. Denying the antecedent
  24. Dicto simpliciter
  25. Division
  26. Emotional appeals
  27. Equivocation
  28. Every schoolboy knows
  29. The exception that proves the rule
  30. Exclusive premises
  31. The existential fallacy
  32. Ex-post-facto statistics
  33. Extensional pruning
  34. False conversion
  35. False precision
  36. The gambler’s fallacy
  37. The genetic fallacy
  38. Half-concealed qualification
  39. Hedging
  40. Hominem (abusive), argumentum ad
  41. Hominem (circumstantial), argumentum ad
  42. Ignoratiam, argumentum ad
  43. Ignoratio elenchi
  44. Illicit process
  45. Irrelevant humour
  46. Lapidem, argumentum ad
  47. Lazarum, argumentum ad
  48. Loaded words
  49. Misericordiam, argumentum ad
  50. Nauseum, argumentum ad
  51. Non-anticipation
  52. Novitam, argumentum ad
  53. Numeram, argumentum ad
  54. One-sided assessment
  55. Petitio principii
  56. Poisoning the well
  57. Populum, argumentum ad
  58. Positive conclusion from negative premise
  59. Post hoc ergo propter hoc
  60. Quaternio terminorum
  61. The red herring
  62. Refuting the example
  63. Reification
  64. The runaway train
  65. Secundum quid
  66. Shifting ground
  67. Shifing the burden of proof
  68. The slippery slope
  69. Special pleading
  70. The straw man
  71. Temperantiam, argumentum ad
  72. Thatcher’s blame
  73. Trivial objections
  74. Tu quoque
  75. Unaccepted enthymemes
  76. The undistributed middle
  77. Unobtainable perfection
  78. Verecundiam, argumentum ad
  79. Wishful thinking