Great Webinars by Cynthia Clay – A Book Review

When I saw the 2012 publication date in the small print of Great Webinars, I frankly thought it may be outdated. I could not have been more wrong. During the last year and a half, I’ve attending more online calls, e-conferences, and virtual trainings then ever before in my life, and let me tell you, this book proved prophetic. It still very much applies to today’s world.

Cynthia Clay takes a pragmatic approach with Great Webinars. She first addresses everything that can go wrong with online facilitation. She then provides solutions to those mishaps. She delves into audience, objectives, and interactions as well. She also lends advice concerning PowerPoints, discusses learning transfer, and offers ways to overcome technology trauma. Does any of this sound applicable to your current state?

Honestly, I didn’t even know this level of online training occurred in 2012. If you play any role at all in any method of online education, you will not be disappointed with Great Webinars.

The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams – A Book Review

I came across this oldie-but-goodie while searching for books related to instructional design. In fact, I had to place it on hold through my local library’s inter-loan system. When it arrived, I nearly returned it right away. It looked so old, thin, and out-of-date that I didn’t figure it could possibly apply to today’s world.

I’m pleased to announce that I could not have been more mistaken.

Though nearly twenty-five years old, The Non-Designer’s Design Book delves into such fundamental design concepts that, no matter how much technology changes, the book’s principles will always apply.

For example, the author, Robin Williams, explores CARP (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, Proximity) and explains why keeping those four aspects in mind is crucial. Williams also offers insight into the different kinds of fonts and why some work better with others.

For some, elements of this book will seem common sense. But even if that is the case, the “why” validating those instincts is integral. Being able to defend your design intelligently beyond “it just looks right to me” will prove beneficial no matter what your industry.

Though slim, I learned a great deal from The Non-Designer’s Design Book. The book is concise, potent, and informative–just like a good design.

Business Made Simple by Donald Miller – A Book Review

A good friend recommended Business Made Simple in order to bolster my business acumen as I continue navigating the corporate waters. There are several elements I appreciated about the book.

First of all, it’s very well organized. Miller broke the book down day-by-day, and even provided supplemental material if you’d like to take it a step further. The sections are short, clearly stated, and easy to comprehend.

Furthermore, Business Made Simple is quickly paced. Miller wasted no time, which is consistent with his theme throughout the book. Miller recognized that busy people often struggle finding the time to read, so he made Business Made Simple as appealing as possible–he made it easy to pick it up when there’s a few extra minutes to spare. And once started, it’s hard to stop.

The first half of the book contained solid information and potent reminders, but Business Made Simple truly shined in the latter half. I particularly found the chapters dealing with negotiations, management, and execution incredibly insightful.

Though new to the corporate world, I believe Business Made Simple will prove beneficial to even the most savvy of business people. I highly recommend you give it a read.

Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath – A Book Review

I recently heard about Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard during a WorkLife With Adam Grant podcast. It immediately grabbed my attention because, during the podcast, they addressed that major changes often have to start off with very small, focused steps. I wanted to know more.

I put the book on hold at my favorite library, Normal Public Library, and dug in the minute it arrived.

Nonfiction can always be a little laborious for me. In the past, I’ve found that many nonfiction books tend to deliver the crux of the topic upfront and then provide anecdote after anecdote after anecdote illustrating that main argument without really saying anything new.

Switch is not the typical nonfiction book. It breaks the main topic into three key components evenly distributed throughout the book, and each component builds upon the previous. This creates a pleasant pace that entices the audience to keep reading. Furthermore, while the book is full of illustrative examples, they are all radically different from one another. The Heath brothers deliver stories concerning changes needed in big government, small villages in Vietnam, hospitals, St. Lucia wildlife, department stores, rural American towns, breast cancer centers, a railroad company in Brazil, and much, much more. Best of all? Each change succeeded, and they explain how.

In fact, the Heaths provide three overarching steps required to enact any kind of change, no matter how big or small. What are those steps? You’ll have to read the book.

Quite honestly, out of all the nonfiction I’ve read, this is among my favorites. It’s well written, superbly paced, captivating, and actually applicable to all avenues of life. If you’re seeking change, I highly recommend you read Switch.

All Of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk – A Book Review

As I strolled through the Normal Public Library, the above cover caught my eye primarily because of the little box in the corner depicting two heroic people, just like the comic books I enjoyed as a kid.

I picked it up, read the inside jacket, and–yep!–this book was written specifically for me.

With All Of the Marvels, Douglas Wolk, the author, took it upon himself to read every super hero comic book published by Marvel Comics. Every. Last. One.

We won’t get into the semantics as to how he did this, just accept the fact that he did. From there, Wolk breaks the book into categories dealing with prevalent themes. Some chapter titles include: “The Junction To Everywhere,” “The Mutant Metaphor,” and “The Iron Patriot Acts.” He also provides interesting interludes between chapters like “Diamonds Made of Sound,” “March, 1965,” and “Linda Carter.” Finally, the book finishes with an appendix zipping through Marvel’s overarching eras.

The truth is, the book gets off to a slow start because Wolk spends a lot of time setting the table, so to speak. About three chapters, if I’m not mistaken. However, once he actually dives into the comics and characters, the book flies. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Does Wolk address every single character and event that ever took place in Marvel Comics? No, that would be impossible to do in a work that you actually want people to read. But he finds captivating through lines, amazing coincidences, unintentional connections, and life-imitates-art moments. He also delves into the creators themselves with names such as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Chris Claremont, and Walter Simonson.

In a book around 350 pages, Wolk successfully provides a substantive, thorough, analytical overview of Marvel Comics history, and he does so in an engaging, informal way. For die-hard Marvel fans, this is a must-read. For those casually interested in Marvel, the comics medium, or expansive storytelling, you will also be greatly rewarded for your time. Needless to say, I highly recommend All Of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk.

Grit by Angela Duckworth – A Book Review

I first discovered research psychologist Angela Duckworth on a podcast called No Stupid Questions. During this podcast, Duckworth’s book, Grit, is often mentioned. I happen to thoroughly enjoy Duckworth’s personality and expertise, and so I finally got the book through my local library.

Grit explores, as the subtitle would suggest, the power of passion and perseverance. It dives into why some people simply have no quit in them. It spends time defining the quality, advising how to grow it from the inside out, and describing how some people grew it from the outside in.

It relies heavily on anecdotes with example after example after example. Like a lot of similar nonfiction, it perhaps overindulges in these narratives. For me, there always comes a point with these kinds of books where I say, “All right, already–I get it!” Of course, quitting a book called Grit would be embarrassing.

The best moments, as one would expect, arrive when Duckworth refers to research, data, and other psychologists. Furthermore, Duckworth also reveals quite a bit about her own story and the story of her family in relation to grit. I knew much of it already from the podcast, but I nonetheless found her candor refreshing. If anything, this aspect set her apart from other authors.

I absolutely found Grit inspiring. I also found it insightful in how to instill grit in one’s own children. While the page count was a bit too robust, the core of it proved fascinating. If this is a topic you find interesting, I highly recommend you give it a try.

Star Wars | The High Republic: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

This is the third novel I’ve read in The High Republic Star Wars series. The High Republic is set about 200 years before Star Wars: A New Hope. It may be important to note that these novels are just a small facet of the overall The High Republic campaign. There are also comic books, YA novels, children’s books, and soon-to-be-released streaming shows and video games. I only call that fact out because this book marked the first time I honestly felt like I wasn’t getting the whole story. Perhaps this is how casual MCU moviegoers feel as they sporadically bounce in and out?

I’d also like to make it very clear that I generally enjoy Claudia Gray’s writing. Star Wars: Lost Stars proved my first encounter with her and it is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars stories. Keep in mind that she was the sole author on that endeavor and that it only tangentially connected to A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return Of the Jedi. Otherwise it focused on two original characters.

This is important because The High Republic is a story by committee. There are a lot of different authors helping to deliver the installments and, in fact, each of the three The High Republic novels have been written by different people. For me, this results in a total lack of voice. Gray has a writing voice, I know this to be true, but it was muffled in The Fallen Star.

Furthermore, I simply can’t connect to The High Republic characters. I’m having trouble envisioning them, hearing them in my head, and separating them out as individuals. Is this because there are just so many of them, especially in regards to the Jedi?

Plus, to be blunt, this particular book’s entire plot is revealed in the title. The Jedi space station falls. The majority of the book leads up to that point, and then the last quarter of it deals with the ramifications of it falling. Getting to that last quarter was a long, long slog and I actually resorted to skimming.

However, I will give The Fallen Star respect in this regard: things definitely happen in that last quarter of the story. Characters are killed off, significant changes in other characters occur, and the Jedi are certainly challenged.

Which leads me to my final note: the Jedi simply don’t look good in this series. The same antagonist has outsmarted them three books in a row now. He’s inflicted major damage over the course of saga thus far. They thought they beat him the first two books, but they obviously did not. The High Republic Jedi come off as naïve, ill-prepared, and unimaginative. If I remember correctly, this was a complaint about the prequel Jedi as well.

I’m afraid I may be out on this series. After three books, the Jedi have failed to capture my attention, the stories seem strangely repetitive, each book lacks a unique voice, and the stakes seem both monumental and inconsequential at the same time. I love the concept and the major effort put into this gigantic enterprise, but it’s simply no longer for me.

Assembly by Natasha Brown – A Book Review

I often pick up thin books in the “new” section at my library simply to try out authors I haven’t read before or for the experience of a quick read. I knew nothing about Assembly other than that I liked its cover and it only had about 100 pages.

Within the first ten pages of Assembly, author Natasha Brown captured my attention and never let it go.

Assembly is told from the perspective of a Black woman living in England. She’s successful in the corporate world of finance, yet that success comes with a price. No, this is not the stuff of fantasy or thrillers. This is the stuff of stifling your personality, putting up with loads of reprehensible behavior, ignoring your own desires to honor the sacrifices made on your behalf, and grinding day in and day out to finally achieve what you long ago earned.

And yet …

Our narrator can’t help but acknowledge the ridiculousness of it all, especially as she visits her “old money” boyfriend’s mansion. His ancestors’ wealth was predicated upon her ancestors’ suffering, and even if a direct line of connection cannot be made, that connection remains even if tangentially so. He does nothing as his wealth grows day by day; she must make her wealth grow day by day.

There’s also the issue of her health. She’s young, ascending, and destined for great things as long as she keeps grinding, so of course she has every reason in the world to preserve her health.

Or so you would assume.

Short, potent, and brutally blunt, Assembly is a little bit novella, a little bit poem, a little bit indescribable, but very well written with a powerful voice.

If you’re looking for a book that actually says something, try Assembly by Natasha Brown.

All the Horses Of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie – A Book Review

I chose this book at my local library because it was so slim. I wasn’t familiar with the author, Sarah Tolmie, at all, nor did I have a particular interest in the horses of Iceland. However, it was touted as fantasy and published in association with Tor, so I figured it was worth a shot.

In the end, I didn’t love All the Horses Of Iceland, but I didn’t dislike it either. The premise of the novella seeks to explain how Iceland gained its horses. Great travels ensue, as does magic, ghosts, trading, and tribal warfare. Yet, even with that being said, All the Horses Of Iceland is an intimate book that doesn’t delve too deeply into any of those things. It touches the surface, offers just enough to propel the story forward, and then keeps racing to the end.

I’m not sorry I read All the Horses Of Iceland. I’m always excited to experience a new (to me) author, but I can’t necessarily say I’d recommend it, either. I believe there is an audience for this book, it’s simply not me.

News Of the World by Paulette Jiles – A Book Review

I’ll be honest, I grabbed this book from my local library’s shelf because I recognized the cover from HBO Max and it looked like a fast read. I have not seen the movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks, nor did I particularly want to. You see, from the trailers I watched, the story did not seem all that appealing. A man riding from town to town reading newspapers? No thanks.

Little did I know, however, that News Of the World is actually about so much more.

The novel begins around 1870 as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a man in his early seventies and veteran of multiple wars, is hired to return a ten-year-old girl to her relatives near San Antonio. This isn’t just any girl, however. This is a girl who has lived with the Kiowa for four years after they killed her family and took her captive. She has fully immersed herself in the Kiowa ways–she seems to have no recollection at all of her previous life. Kidd is headed towards San Antonio anyway, and so he agrees to take her with him.

Though Kidd does indeed read the news of the world to those isolated in Texas, the story is really about the bond he forms with the girl–Johanna–as they must evade danger at every turn and even, at times, face it head on. A patient–though very tough–man with children and grandchildren of his own, Johanna is more than just a passenger to Captain Kidd–she’s perhaps his last chance to do something meaningful in this world.

Paulette Jiles has written a story that is genius in its apparent simplicity. I could easily recount to you the major beats of the entire book. Make no mistake, though, Jiles sprinkles in such nuanced detail that you feel as though you are riding right along with Captain Kidd and Johanna in that covered wagon of theirs. The landscape, the clothing, the politics–Jiles deftly describes all of it with brief, potent, easy to envision passages.

Best of all? The book ended exactly how I wanted it to. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but Jiles’ writing style reminds me quite a bit of Proulx and McCarthy, and so I naturally had great concern for Kidd and Johanna. In this case, at least, Jiles decided both had already been through enough trauma, which I greatly appreciated. I am definitely excited to read more by Jiles. Plus, you know what? I think I will indeed watch the film adaptation now.