Tuesday 21 July 2015

Discussion Links for The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande speaking about the power of Checklists

The official site, with lots of links to reviews
Inc this from The Freakonomics Blog
"If there is one topic that I have no natural affinity for, it is checklists. I don’t use checklists. I’m not interested in checklists.
Yet, against all odds, I read Atul Gawande’s new book about checklists, The Checklist Manifesto in one sitting yesterday, which is an amazing tribute to the book that Gawande has crafted. Not only is the book loaded with fascinating stories, but it honestly changed the way I think about the world. It is the best book I’ve read in ages.
The book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed check lists can improve outcomes (even for Gawande’s own surgical team). The best-known use of checklists is by airplane pilots. Among the many interesting stories in the book is how this dedication to checklists arose among pilots.
Even more interesting are the stories about Walmart’s response to Hurricane Katrina, and the real reason why David Lee Roth used to demand that there be a bowl of M&M’s with all the brown ones removed in his dressing room backstage.

A review in the New York Times
"Despite its evangelical tone, “The Checklist Manifesto” is an essential primer on complexity in medicine. Doctors resist checklists because we want to believe our profession is as much an art as a science. When Gawande surveyed members of the staff at eight hospitals about a checklist developed by his research team that nearly halved the number of surgical deaths, 20 percent said they thought it wasn’t easy to use and did not improve safety. But when asked whether they would want the checklist used if they were having an operation, 93 percent said yes."

& in the Wall Street Journal
"Dr. Gawande wants to make a bigger point: that formal checklists, if not exactly holding the secret to human success, will make a major difference in many other aspects of life, such as business and law: "Checklists seem able to defend everyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws.""

Discussion Links for Gretel in the Dark by Eliza Granville

Coming Soon...

Discussion Links for The Martian by Andy Weir

Coming Soon...

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Links for the next meeting - Quiet by Susan Cain


Susan Cain's original TED Talk from 2012, the year Quiet was published

Susan Cain's later talk, about the consultancy she has set up on the back of the ideas in the book

(This is her company - The Quiet Revolution)

A 4* review from Amazon
"What I liked about 'Quiet' was:
- it's not a psychology text book and is more deeply personal, sharing people's experiences
- for those who are unfamiliar with what introversion is and the reality of the 'inner world' experience, it serves as a great introduction, whether you are an introvert or work with or live with one or more
- there's plenty of good research quoted to back up the author's reflections, ideas and recommendations
- it's written in an engaging and approachable style with no hyperbole or self-aggrandisement, unlike some self-help literature
- although she could rage against the glorification of the extrovert ideal, she doesn't"

Jon Ronson's review in The Guardian
""What I liked about 'Quiet' was:
- it's not a psychology text book and is more deeply personal, sharing people's experiences
- for those who are unfamiliar with what introversion is and the reality of the 'inner world' experience, it serves as a great introduction, whether you are an introvert or work with or live with one or more
- there's plenty of good research quoted to back up the author's reflections, ideas and recommendations
- it's written in an engaging and approachable style with no hyperbole or self-aggrandisement, unlike some self-help literature
- although she could rage against the glorification of the extrovert ideal, she doesn't"

"I wish she'd spent a bit more time adventuring and a bit less time analysing and philosophising and citing vast armies of psychologists. I love feeling her pain when she journeys out of her comfort zone to "life coaching" conventions. But those adventures vanish as the book wears on, and it starts to drag a little, especially during the many chapters about how brain scans seem to demonstrate neurological differences between extroverts and introverts. I don't know why popular psychology books feel so compelled these days to cite endless fMRI studies. As any neurologist will tell you, we still have very little idea about why certain bits of our brains light up under various circumstances."

& Also - later in the Jon Ronson review
"I do the test. I answer "true" to exactly half the questions. Even though I'm in many ways a textbook introvert (my crushing need for "restorative niches" such as toilet cubicles is eerie) I'm actually an ambivert. I do the test on my wife. She answers true to exactly half the questions too. We're both ambiverts. Then I do the test on my son. I don't get to the end because to every question – "I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities. I enjoy solitude …" – he replies: "Sometimes. It depends." So he's also an ambivert.
In the Ronson household we're 100% ambivert. We ambiverts don't get another mention in the book. Even for a writer like Cain, who is mostly admirably unafraid of grey areas, we ambiverts are too grey. Her thesis – built on the assumption that almost everyone in the world can be squeezed into one of two boxes – may topple if it turns out that loads of us are essentially ambiverts. I suspect there are a lot of ambiverts out there."

Monday 23 March 2015

Links for the next meeting - Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

Hannah says:

Inevitably, some bad reviews for what is seen as a lazy, pointless project!  But, we were talking about a teenage narrative written by an adult, and how successful this was during the last meeting. This, together with a modern interpretation of what was originally a satire at the time, makes Mcdermid's attempt an interesting critical read...!

I though it was quite fun, not a piece of writing to take seriously, yet still depicting the difficulties of a naive teenager trying to find her feet, albeit in a very different era!  And the Gothic element is fun too...is this true Gothic, can the genre flex and alter without becoming unrecognisable?...a neo-Gothic, if you like...!

John Mullan, Jane Austin expert, in The New Statesman

Robert McCrum in The Guardian

Barry Forshaw, Gothic expert, in The Independent

A mostly positive review on a Jane Austin blog

A very positive blog review

Monday 2 March 2015

Links for the Next Meeting - How The Light Gets In by MJ Hyland

An article in the Financial Times about the 'Cat Bin Woman' written by MJ Hyland - it's interesting that The FT used Hyland to write about someone's life spinning out of control

Some (obvously positive) reviews on MJ Hyland's own site
"A female Holden, just as cynical and sensitive, but with less self-conscious verbiage"

& a negative review on Amazon
"I could not engage with this character at all and found the book uninteresting. It might appeal to a similarly disaffected adolescent, but it seems a rather dull account of teenage angst. Isn't life so unfair!"

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Links for the next meeting - 3 Horror Books

As we meet on the last Wednesday of the month, and people aren't around on the last Wednesday of December, we choose 3 books on a theme to read.  This year the theme was Horror...

Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Wikipedia on the background to the book
"While teaching a high school Fantasy and Science Fiction course at Hampden Academy, King was inspired by Dracula, one of the books covered in the class. "One night over supper I wondered aloud what would happen if Dracula came back in the twentieth century, to America. 'He'd probably be run over by a Yellow Cab on Park Avenue and killed,' my wife said. (In the Introduction to the 2004 audiobook recording that Stephen King read himself, he says it was he who said "Probably he'd land in New York and be killed by a Taxi Cab, like Margaret Mitchell in Atlanta", and it was his wife who suggested a rural setting for the book.  That closed the discussion, but in the following days, my mind kept returning to the idea. It occurred to me that my wife was probably right — if the legendary Count came to New York, that is. But if he were to show up in a sleepy little country town, what then? I decided I wanted to find out, so I wrote 'Salem's Lot, which was originally titled Second Coming""

A 5 Star Review
"Other than the excellent writing and careful respect of "classical" vampire mythology, the interest of this book resides also in the importance of one of the characters in later King's books in "The Dark Tower" series. The main vampire is also a very, very impressive creature, one nobody would EVER want to meet... Frankly, the Master from "Salem's Lot" is as fascinating, maleficent and scary as Dracula himself.
And then, there is also a very skillfull treatment of Christianity, when it comes in contact with vampire lore. Unlike in so many other modern vampire books or movies, here the importance of REAL faith is crucial (pun very much intentional). Crosses, holy water and prayers are described as being much, much more than just some "magic talismans". The questions of faith, sin, innocence and impurity are also raised - a lot. And as the result of this the character of local Catholic priest, Father Callahan, is not only one of the most important but also in the same time one of the most complex, touching and tragic in all King's books."

Horns by Joe Hill

Wikipedia on the background
"Approximately a decade ago, Hill wrote an epic fantasy novel entitled The Fear Tree... that involved a character with the ability to divine people's most closely guarded secrets. This concept was reworked for a novel Hill wrote entitled The Surrealist's Glass, wherein the protagonist acquired a magical lens which allowed him to see people's secrets. Hill describes The Surrealist's Glass "as a confused, corrupt, first draft of Horns" to the degree that "several scenes in Horns appeared in a cruder earlier form in [The Surrealist's] Glass." According to Hill, "writers tend to revisit the same themes, tropes, places, and concerns, again and again, until they figure out how to use them in a satisfying way," which is what he did with this premise until he "finally got it right with Horns."" 

A 4 star review
"First off this is a brilliant story, powerful and thought-provoking. It’s the kind of book that affects your mood and leaves you thinking about it for days after reading. There’s a lot of symbolism, unexpected twists, horrifying shocks, and even a dash of humour. I thought the way the plot unfolded was unusual. The story jumped around a bit, starting in the present and moving to the past to reveal the relationship dynamics of several characters before jumping back to the present again. This made the pacing faster at the beginning and end, with a slower paced middle that added layers to the story which then paid off later on."
A 2 star review 'The son still has to learn from his father'
"Clunky writing at its best. I had high expectation, still that does not explain the terrible disappointment with this book. It is all over the place, hard to get a real sense of the main `s character emotions, felt unable to connect with his issues, did not care much whether he killed his girlfriend or not, for it was so detached and clinical. It was a bit like reading news in the paper, a feeling of distaste at what is happening, but overall indifference at who is involve. I have no idea why on earth they give such high reviews, then again, I never understood the fascination with twilight, so maybe I am just not mainstream enough to appreciate this book. Though I loved his dad`s works, King is a masterpiece at development, the son definitely has more to learn from his father."

All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld

Wikipedia on Evie Wyld - she grew up on a sugar cane farm in Australia

A 4 Star review
"Moving backwards and forwards in time, Evie Wyld's novel is an unsettling and very intriguing read that, if possible, is better read in one or two sittings. The sections set in Australia are cleverly executed, and it is in these chapters that the reader gradually learns of the unpleasant events which led up to Jakes's present predicament, and these make for very engrossing, if rather disturbing reading. With themes of mental and sexual manipulation and abuse, this novel is obviously not one to choose for cosy, bedtime or relaxed holiday reading; it's an unusual and gritty story of suffering and survival and it doesn't come with a neat, entirely resolved ending - but some of us don't necessarily always want nice, cosy stories, and if you don't, then this might be what you are looking for."

A 2 star review (with comments)
"A dislocated novel with little narrative drive and superficial characterization. Willfully confusing and self-consciously clever, it seems more interested in provoking opinion than stimulating thought. More a collection of unpleasant vignettes, than a fully formed novel."Comment:
"I am not Evie Wylde's mother or anything but I think it is better than you say; not as great as other reviewers on here are suggesting but a lot better than you indicate. Otto is a fabulous character. Really well drawn. Jake is a pretty good character too, it isn't easy to write an unsympathetic heroine. Structurally, it is interesting and in my view she keeps control of her narrative. I agree with others that she lets herself down with the present-tense shepherd story, there just isn't enough going on and there isn't enough to say. Lloyd is poorly introduced and handled and feels like a device quite quickly. The other present-day characters are all ciphers, really. I still have no idea why she keeps a hammer under her pillow but the author maintains a strong sense of dread for most of the time and that is probably good enough for me.
I like dark, `girl in jeopardy' novels so I was already biased towards it but I can tell good from bad and for me at least, it more or less worked."