Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Motherby Amy Chua is probably the most entertaining book I’ve read this year. I give this book a A+. It’s a very fast and easy read (I read it in one sitting). Perhaps it’s because I can empathize with both Chua and her older daughter. There were certainly a huge amount of criticism for her book when you took quotes out of context:

“… I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have ‘The Little White Donkey’ perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, ‘I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?’ I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”

The fact is, anyone who reads the book will realize the book is a self-deprecating memoir. Much of the time, Chua is making fun of herself and I’m laughing along with her. Many of the Chinese mother traits and habits she addressed were spot on:

  • The immigrant mentality: My parents, like Chua’s, came here as immigrants. It was hammered into my head from a young age that my parents came to the US so I could have a better future. Aka, I better not let them down after their years of hard work. For the better part of my childhood, my parents and I lived in a tiny apartment, surviving off of their $1,000/month income. I loved the smell of stale Chinese food because around 10pm every night, my mom would come home after waitressing at a local Chinese restaurant and give me a kiss goodnight. Caught on her outfit would be a hint of hot-and-sour soup. My mom had a master’s degree in systems engineering, but when she came to the US, she had to start over. From the age of 6, my parents constantly reminded me that they placed the stepping stones and now I had to make use of it to get to pot of gold.
  • The “you owe me” mentality: I completely agree with Chua’s statement about how Chinese parents feel like their kids owe them everything. It was absolutely expected from me from a young age that I would work hard so that I could one day provide for my parents. My parents laughed at the thought of allowances when I suggested it to them because my friends from school received them from their parents for doing chores. “We make you food, put a roof over your head, and provide you with clothing. You should be paying us!”
  • The daily comparisons: Almost every day, my mom would show me an article from a Chinese newspaper talking about an 10-year old piano prodigy. “She’s already playing Beethoven Concertos! Why aren’t you playing that yet?” Like Chua notes, Chinese mothers don’t say this to make their child feel incompetent. Rather, they say this because they believe their kids can be the best. Of course, as a 10 year old, I was furious and sometimes would even cry when my parents compared me to someone who seemed more talented. I look back and I’m actually thankful my parents would tell me about kids my age that were doing incredible things. It expanded my idea of what was possible. I learned to play a Beethoven Concerto two years later at 12.

While I can relate to her daughters in how we were brought up, I also see myself in Chua. I have a 10 year old sister and I treat her like a “tiger mother.” When I visit home in Colorado, my first words are, “Jamie, did you practice piano today? You only practiced 30 minutes?! If you want to get anywhere in piano, you need to practice at least 1 hour. How do you think you’ll pay for college? You need scholarships and if you can’t even get a music scholarship after learning piano all your life, how can you get any other scholarship? Do you know how lucky you are to be playing on the piano you have right now? I learned on an old broken piano and you have a beautiful, new piano. Go practice piano right now.” Yes, in a Chinese family, drilling college plans into a 10 year old is not a moment too soon.

Anyway, Battle Hymn is a delightful read. Even if you don’t believe in the methodology of Chinese parenting, it doesn’t hurt to have some extra ideas on hand for disciplining your kid.

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

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I had to experience what all the hype was about for myself so I bought it. The summary of the story is basically this: an average, innocent (aka virgin), college student named Ana meets a billionaire hottie named Christian. They fall for each other. Then, Ana discovers that Christian has a fetish for S&M. He also doesn’t want to have a girlfriend so she is torn on whether she is ok with being one of his playthings. Christian showers Ana with gifts like a new car and takes her on private jet rides. Suddenly, he realizes that he is actually starting to be emotionally into her, unlike how he felt about his previous friends-with-benefit girls (like we didn’t see that one coming). The rest of the book goes into explicit detail of their behind-closed-doors rendezvous. The author spares us no minute literally illustrations of the taboo sex scenes so much so that this novel can be easily categorized in the “erotic literature” genre.

I imagine the book is appealing to many woman because we want to live vicariously through a young woman who is the love interest of a billionaire hottie who has “problems.” We think we can be the one to fix him. The author smartly fulfills our desire for helping Christian by indulging us details on how Ana is changing Christian’s perspective on relationships.

Be prepared for a cliff-hanger ending that encourages you to read the next book in the series, Fifty Shades Darker: Book Two of the Fifty Shades Trilogy

I read the book on my flight from London to Washington DC. It certainly kept my attention and made the time go by. Would I read it again? No. Am I glad I read it? Yes, because I feel a little more in tune with today’s pop culture now.

Pros: Fast read. Entertaining. Makes for a great bathroom book. You corrupt your mind with kinky fetishes that people have in this world.
Cons: There’s no substance.

Book Review: God Never Blinks

God Never Blinks

Over the Christmas holiday, I went with my sister and dad on a cruise to Mexico. For anyone who has been on a cruise, you will know that there is a lot of downtime. Because I spent about 5 minutes packing, I forgot to bring a book. As a result, I spent my downtime on the cruise reading the Bible since there was one in each cruise cabin. (My goal for 2011 and 2012 was to finish reading the Old and New Testament. I’m still working on it.) On the second day, I noticed that my dad had a book sitting on his bed. Elated, I asked him where he got the book. He told me his boss, Tim, gave him the book as a Christmas gift.

Tim asked my dad what kind of book my dad likes. My dad responded, “Books about life. Books for middle-aged people.” I chuckled when my dad told me his response. I told my dad that I’ve actually heard of God Never Blinks. To confirm my suspicion, the book cover states that it is a New York Times Bestseller. I started reading the book at about 4pm. I spent the next 4 straight hours reading the entire book, cover to cover.

The book is a collection of 50 lessons that the author, Regina Brett, shares from her experiences in life. Each chapter is a life lesson. These lessons include “When in doubt, just take the next right step” (Lesson 2/Chapter 2), “Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple” (Lesson 23), and “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” (Lesson 48).

Regina wrote many of these lessons as part of a newspaper column. She then saw how popular they became for the readers to share with friends. So, she decided to compile all of them, add a few new lessons in, and create the lessons into a book.

God Never Blinks is a book I’d recommend to anyone, young or old. It’s an easy read-you’ll be flipping through the pages quickly. The title is slightly misleading-it’s not a religious book although the author does include many words about faith in the book. It’s simply a book of little lessons of life that the author had learned in her 50+ years.

What I love about Regina is that she’s not someone with a PhD in psychology from Harvard telling us how best to approach life in order to be happy because she’s done 10 years of research on the topic. She’s not someone who became a millionaire at 23 and is telling us how to lead a successful life. She is a woman who was 1 of 11 kids in her family, who became pregnant at 21, who got married at 40, who got cancer at 41, and who survived to be 50+ years old to publish her first book.

Her stories talk about how she struggled to be a single mother at 21 and making only $7,500 per year. She’s honest with the reader and exposes us to the wounds she has from broken relationships, deaths, and failures. Regina shares the intimate details of her life from celebrating her mothers’ 75th birthday to her first dates with her husband, Bruce.

Several of the chapters are repetitive in what they are trying to teach us, but the anecdotes are unique and keep us interested. The resounding theme of the book is to appreciate what life gives you, even if it is very little. It made me reflect on many of my attitudes towards certain aspects of life including friendships and work. There is one chapter where the author asks us to write out the 20 things in life that we’re most appreciative of. I actually stopped reading, got out my laptop, and jotted down things I am thankful for. Maybe I’ll share them in a future blogpost.

My dad told me that he actually read the book out of order. He browsed through the Table of Contents and picked out the chapters/lessons he wanted to read about. I thought that was really cool since I have a very “must get things done” mentality. If I start something, I have to finish it. There are many pros and cons to that habit.

The book was a great way for me to pause and reflect. That sounds cheesy, but now that I am at the wrinkly old age of 22, it’s time for me to add some wisdom. So, here are some things I am going to change/add in my life because of the book:

  1. Meditate. In Lesson 47, the author talks about a group of women in a Harvard Medical School professor’s research group who thought they were infertile. After several months of meditating daily, these women were able to get pregnant. I’m not planning to have any kids anytime soon, but I realize that the author is telling us that the mind and our mental state have a large impact on our physical wellbeing.
  2. Spend more time with friends. I’ll be sending out Skype invites!
  3. Do the best-today. One of the lessons in the book talks about how writers sometimes save their “good stuff” for another article or work. Instead, the author asks us to use our best material today because it will force you to come up with even better stuff tomorrow. I love that!

Book Review: Private Empire by Steve Coll

Before I give a few thoughts on Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, I want to share the merits of the investigative book’s author, Steve Coll. Mr. Coll is a two time Pulitzer-Prize winning author so I had high expectations for his writing. Private Empire certainly fulfilled my initial bias. With experience writing and leading The Washington Post and the New Yorker, Coll’s narrative about ExxonMobil’s obscene power is both entertaining and informative.

The book is coincidentally released in conjunction with Fortune 500′s 2012 list of largest corporations in America. And who was #1? You guessed it: ExxonMobil. It beat out Wal-Mart. The oil giant achieved $452 billion dollars in revenue in 2011, which is a 27.7% increase from 2010. Part of their surging revenue is due to the company’s increase in fracking, the other is contributed by the rising oil prices.

The first chapter opens with a climactic illustration of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. Coll sews Exxon’s corporate expansion into the storyline, which follows the ill-fated oil tanker’s captain. When the captain, Joseph Hazelwood, found oil spilling from the tanker that he had left to his third mate, “he knew that ‘the world as i’d known it had come to an end.’” That was certainly an exciting opening to the book.

I love that the author has extensive quotes from people involved in Exxon. It makes the book read much more like a story than an informational piece. Coll’s language helps put you in the position both as an insider of ExxonMobil, which wants you to sympathize with its corporate agenda, and as an outsider who despises the unfair influence the company has on America and the rest of the word. Throughout reading the book, I found myself Googling images and searching for additional details of some of the unbelievable injustices Coll accuses ExxonMobil of conducting.

In a latter chapter, Coll connects the role ExxonMobil played in the 2008 presidential campaign. Coll claims that Obama criticized ExxonMobil in order to appeal to the average American, who looked down upon the money-hoarding company. However, while Obama spoke about American energy independence, Coll notes that Obama didn’t think it was actually possible nor to the best interest of the country. It will be interesting to see how oil plays into the 2012 elections.

Private Empire is a relevant read. It’s dense, but has enough controversy and shocking facts to be keep you turning the pages.

Book Review: The Art of the Sale

Thank you TLC for inviting me to be a book reviewer and sending me books to read before they’re published :)

The Art of the Sale by Philip Delves Broughton is a fantastic, fun, and easy read. For anyone that is involved in sales or interested in selling, this is a great book. The structure of the book consists mainly of anecdotes from famous and successful salesmen. The book is motivation even for those not in sales who would like to develop salesmanship and confidence in presentation.

One of the first sales stories that Broughton shares is a man from Morocco named Majid. Majod reveals his secrets to luring Moroccan tourists to buy his rugs and other goods. The author also interviews infomercial legends like Tony Sullivan and Japanese insurance sales queen Mrs. Shibata. Broughton recounts their upbringing and how they started in a sales role. We learn that those in sales must be resilient because rejection is inevitable. We learn that another one of the author’s case studies encourages self-reliance.

A favorite stories were about women entrepreneurs that have become household names today. One is about a woman named Sarah Breedlove, a black woman born on a Mississippi delta plantation in the 1860s. She went from cotton picker, cook, and washerwoman to owning her own factory and salon in Indianapolis. Ms. Breedlove used her eventual wealth to campaign against injustices done to African Americans and to promote jobs for woman. Broughton then proceeds to share a story about Estee Lauder who pioneered the “gifts with purchase” concept. Estee teaches readers to be have physical contact with women when selling beauty products by dabbing cream on their cheek or spritzing perfume on a customer’s wrist.

Reading The Art of the Sale is like getting a glimpse into the successes and main lessons taught by history’s most famous entrepreneurs and salespeople. It is almost like a collection of short stories that keeps you flipping the pages. It’s a book that is great to pick up whenever you have a free moment or need a distraction because each anecdote is short and easy to read. I actually annotated the book with stickers to remind me of quotes that I liked! I haven’t done that since I was required to do that for my English class in high school. Hope you enjoy the book as much as did!

Here are some great quotes from the book that I liked:

The best salespeople…are seductive in different ways with different clients, tapping a range of dramatic story lines in their pitch, eliciting one emotional response after another, much like an actor with an audience. -Page 63

Businesspeople often talk of the importance of humility, of serving your customers and acknowledging the fickleness of the markets. For salespeople, humility is not an option. but it is something can be turned to their advantage. -Page 25

The salesman envisions and creates value where previously there was none. because he is by nature an optimist, he can make the best of everything. -Page 253

Book Review: The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner

When I first received The Idea Factory in the mail as part of a group of book reviewers who were invited to write about the then not-yet-published non-fiction book, I had no idea what to expect. So, after reading, here’s what I think you can expect:

1. You will be a telephone history expert by the end. Author Jon Gertner certainly has done diligent research in the meticulous development of telephones. I found myself spewing random trivia to my friends about telephones. For example, did you know that in 1915, a three-minute call from New York to California cost the equivalent of $440 dollars today?

2. It’s not easy to read. The author has a background in journalism. Gertner is a contributing author to The New York Times in technology and business. His journalistic style is reflected in The Idea Factory. Each chapter could probably have fit snugly in an informational news article piece found in a section of a business magazine. Because the book is an informational illustration of the development of telephones, there are no suspenseful sequences that one would find in thrillers or even biographies. Therefore, as a reader, you have to push yourself a bit at times turn the page. There are also many esoteric language in the book that are used to describe the intricate technologies that contributed to the evolution of the telecom industry. Wikipedia is your friend when reading this book. The book is also saturated with characters that played a role in the telephone development. At some points, I was confused as to who was who. With that said, you will feel loads smarter after reading the book.

3. This book teaches valuable lessons to aspiring entrepreneurs. The book accounts the endless days of trial and error by thousands of scientists at Bell Labs. Building a successful product at AT&T meant the collision of smart people, timing, hard work, perseverance, and luck. The personal stories of each of the major characters that shaped telephones were some of the most poignant. For example, Mervin Kelly, physicist turned President of Bell Labs, grew up in a small-town that resembled the Wild West.

 

Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I recommend Outliers particularly for parents or soon-to-be parents. It describes the combination of opportunities, timing, hard work, and background that forms an extraordinarily successful person, an outlier. What made Bill Gates the tech tycoon he is today? Was it his genius mind or upbringing? Gladwell uses interesting anecdotes and research to prove his point. The book is incredibly easy to read (can be read in one day) and you will be quickly flipping through the pages. There are flaws in the author’s grand generalizations, and he notes this, but the overall concepts are definitely thought provoking. A few of my key takeaways from the book:

Birth Date Matters In sports such as hockey, the date of your birth plays a huge part in determining your ability to become a successful athlete. The idea goes something like this: A few months’ difference in age between children can demonstrate huge variances in knowledge and abilities. Let’s say the cutoff date for first grade is October 1st. Jill was born on October 2nd and enrolls as the youngest kid in her grade. Jack was born on January 2nd, 9 months before Jill. 9 months of additional “life” for a 6 year old is enough to make Jack slightly better at reading or other academic subjects than Jill. Because Jack is ahead of many of his classmates, he is placed in a program for gifted students. The additional attention he receives helps him learn even faster. This creates a snowball effect, a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you deem a kid “talented” at a young age, they are more likely to receive additional attention that will help them become even more “talented.” After reading this, I would rather enroll my child in a lower grade level than a higher grade level if the child was on the cutoff date.

Practice Matters Gladwell proposes a 10,000 hours rule: Do anything for 10,000 hours and you will be an expert. Bill Gates received access to a computer years before most people. He became interested in programming at a young age so that by the time he got to college, he was far ahead of anyone else. For musicians and athletes alike, 10,000 hours of practice will set you apart from others in the field.

Cultural Background Matters In one of the most intriguing chapters in the book, Gladwell explains the reason behind the series of Korean Air airplane crashes in the 1990s. The airline became so infamous during that time because of its continuous run of tragedies that some airports wanted to ban them. It wasn’t after they hired an American to run their flight training programs that the airline took a turn for the better. During this section, Gladwell references Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory. This theory is often taught in organizational behavioral courses and highlights cultural background as the guide for a person’s decision making. Korea has a high power distance. This means that society is very hierarchical. Subordinates are expected to clearly show respect for superiors. Planes are flown with a captain, second officer, and flight engineer. In the Korean Air plane crashes, the black box recorded conversations where the second officer and flight engineer expressed something was wrong to the captain. However, because of the culture’s emphasis on respecting superiors, they hinted to the captain that something might be wrong rather than directly telling the captain “hey…the runway is in the opposite direction.”

Book Review: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

I received The Fountainhead as a Christmas gift several years ago from a close friend who thought I would enjoy the philosophical analyses of life illustrated by Ayn Rand. The book is written in 1943 and is 752 pages. As a disclaimer, I had some serious initial negative biases towards the book. I typically do not like books that are not set in the present or future. I attempted to read the book when I first received it two years ago and quickly gave up after one chapter of dense descriptions and a slow-paced plot. With that said, The Fountainhead became one of my favorite novels after I finished.

The story revolves around Howard Roark, a rebellious, but visionary architect who is ahead of his time in architectural ingenuity. He doesn’t care about school or prestige. He doesn’t care about money or status. All that he cares about is building his designs. Even when he is living in near poverty, Howard refuses to build a house that even slightly deviated from his original blueprints. Howard may have been spit out and dismissed by society, but he probably was the happiest character in the novel. Nothing could tear him down because he lived for himself, for his work. The story motivates readers to obliterate our material desires. We want to frame our approach to life like Howard and extinguish our infinite cravings for social acceptance.

The Fountainhead ignited a number of my emotions as I followed Howard through his accomplishments and conflicts. I was outraged every time Howard’s antagonist, a fame-seeking former classmate named Peter Keating, claimed Howard’s designs as his own. However, my anger subsided when I realized that Howard couldn’t have cared less whether someone stole his designs or not, as long as the buildings were constructed with his intended elegance. Howard might be initially characterized as stubborn, but his true nature is one of self-confidence. He knows exactly what he wants and doesn’t ever question it or let others manipulate his creativity.

The romantic sub-plot embedded in the novel is one of the most animated and at the same time, most excruciatingly annoying story lines. Dominique, an independent and spontaneous woman, is Howard’s love interest. I’m so used to today’s audience-pleasing plots that author Ayn Rand’s continuous denial for Dominique and Howard to have a “happy ending” led me in aggravated anticipation all the way to the very last page.

I wanted to study architecture after reading the novel. I was obsessed with designs of anything from clothing to buildings that amplified the beauty of efficient simplicity. I felt that the book was teaching us that life is more beautiful when we simplify it down to two things: doing what we love and being with the person we love. For Howard, that was designing buildings and being with Dominique. Nothing else like fame or money smeared the picture of his life.

When you read this novel, take your time. Indulge in Rand’s abundant details. Figure out which character you are most like and decide which character you’d rather be.