Book Review: Men Without Women

Having just finished Murakami’s new short story collection, Men Without Women, I am not immediately sure what to say about it. This collection of short vignettes by Murakami does not contain the magical realist pyrotechnics of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle nor the deeply poetic sadness of Norwegian Wood nor the character-driven page-turning mystery of 1Q84. What it does contain are expertly-paced tales made up of quiet, small, moments in the lives of men who all seem to pursue self-abnegation in lieu of love or relationships.

Portrait of Murakami
Portrait of Haruki Murakami. (Image source)

Murakami always does depict alienation, solitariness and quiet moments so very well. In his stories, it seems that these are what he finds most interesting about the human condition. Indeed, in a New Yorker interview, he describes this as his central aim.

What I wish to convey in this collection is, in a word, isolation, and what it means emotionally.

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Review: Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values

A highly meditative take on how to conduct oneself in life and in business with others, Kofman’s book, Conscious Business, contains much to discuss and learn. I picked it up in response to reading an article by Matt MacInnis, the CEO of San Francisco tech firm Inkling, where the book is required reading for all employees. Having just wrapped up my first experience taking an early stage startup from 1 to 20 employees, and wishing to understand more about how leaders may intentionally create business culture where employees can not only create business value but thrive personally and emotionally as well, Conscious Business felt highly relevant.

Like many entries in the popular, introspective “how to succeed in business” genre, this book can be summed up quickly at a surface level with a few pieces of seemingly basic advice. Here they are, boiled down: First, take personal responsibility to the extreme, and approach problems from a place of curiosity about how you can take more responsibility. Second, practice extreme compassion in your dealings with others. Third, when you act in accordance with your values, you will succeed in life even when you appear to lose. I will address each of these main points and their implications.

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Review: Grit

Grit is considered a “must-read” by many in my professional circle. For good reason – it’s an engaging, thought-provoking book. It’s useful and satisfying for its clear explanation of the core concept of grit (which is essentially: passionate perseverance) and its many inspirational stories. It’s also frustrating as hell for the nuance it lacks.

On the surface, this book is about the power of effort, and how deeply, mistakenly, undervalued the power of personal will is in our society. Modern people tend to romanticize and over-value “natural talent” and under-value sustained effort – to the great disadvantage of many. It’s a wonderfully empowering idea, and one that Duckworth meticulously supports with research. Much of this book consists of stories supporting the simple truth that talent is an inferior predictor of success in one’s career, to the ability to continually try hard. Those of us who aren’t born with genius level IQs should take heart – the brain is plastic, we all have the power to increase our mental abilities, and the work of exercising our minds to achieve excellence is something anyone can do.

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