A Composer’s Guide to Game Music (Winifred Phillips)
This is one of those fantastic books where the author really knows their stuff and is also a great writer. It’s no easy feat to write about music (as they say, it’s like dancing about architecture), but I was able to understand most of what was explained and really enjoyed the depth of analysis on the subject of video game music (and just music composition in general). For me it was a wonderful trip into a world I don’t know much about, but it guided me to the fascinating details, language, and inner workings of the world. I loved reading about the unique challenges and solutions. That sort of book is my favorite kind of book. I am a musician, but I suspect any music lover will be able to follow along with most of this book.
Crucial Conversations (Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler)
This book helps you do your best in, uh, conversations that are critical. Both strategic and tactical to the point of giving you suggestions of exactly what to say, this book is awesome. I wish I had read it decades ago. Almost no fluff, just what you need and how to do it. For those looking for new ways to have a critical conversation you might respond to the advice here with a big “duh”. For me the value is not in new discoveries of humankind, in helping you focus on just those thing and not all the other stuff you might impulsively say or do. It provides a simple and memorable framework that probably works well in 99% of situations. I’ve read other books on the topic but this one resonated with the most clarity for me.
Tricks of the Mind (Derren Brown)
This book covers a lot of interesting mentalism-related ground: hypnotism, memorization, the power or suggestion, human psychology, body language, and NLP, are just a few of them. There is very little fluff unless you count the chapter-long diatribe on religion and psuedo science. There’s ways to improve your memory, trick your friends, and appreciate the art of mentalism.
The Inner Game of Tennis (timothy Gallwey)
This is a classic book that I first heard about on the podcast What You Will Learn. It reads like the meditation teachings of Buddhism translated for sports. Despite clearly being influences by Buddhism, the book doesn’t mention meditation or the Buddha even once. Though, in 1974 when this book was written, “hippie” stuff like the Buddha might have turned the country club set off from buying this book.
You could honestly not know a thing about tennis and get as much out of this book as a tennis pro. Some of the things I got out of it include:
The importance of getting a mental image in your head of what you want to do. When tennis players watch amazing players play tennis they get better themselves. I have experienced similar with sports and music. Somehow just watching intently makes you better at doing the thing yourself.
He talks a lot about Self 1 (the analyzing brain) and Self 2 (the feeling brain), in ways that mirror the way “System 1 and 2” are discussed in Daniel Kahneman’s seminal classic “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (which came out 25 years later). He talks about how they interact and how to manage them and their relationship with each other. I liked his response to those people who doubt there are two selves: when you talk to yourself or berate yourself, who are you talking to?
Typically when we think of judgment we think of negative judgments. But he points out that judging things as good doesn’t help either. Both of these makes things get emotional. And that makes it hard to focus and clearly evaluate the facts of what is happening and what needs to change.
This is a short book and there’s a lot in there. Definitely worth a read. And for me a re-read.
The First American (H.W. Brands)
I was a little unsure about taking on a 700+ page biography but I really enjoyed this book. Part of what helped make me through it was that it was divided into small stories that lasted 1-4 pages. It was still chronological but this structure kept it from feeling an endless slog. But the main thing that helped me finish the book was that Ben Franklin is just an amazing figure who did so many things. His life intersects with more famous people and events than Forrest Gump’s. And most of the time he has a key role in those events (pun intended). I know many of our politicians are criticized for being in their 80s now but Franklin was doing major things in his 80s at a time when most people wouldn’t even dream of living that long.
Since he was born in 1706, I got to learn a lot about the decades before the revoutionary war, which was also fascinating and gave the revolution more context. It was interesting that many of the problems between Britain and America were due to misinformation and lack of communication and interaction. Both the physical and social distance resulted in many negative and untrue assumptions about the “other”, which eventually became a self-fuilfilling prophecy.
Empire of the Summer Moon (S.C. Gwynne)
If you’re going to read just one book on Native Americans, I can’t imagine a better one than this. Be warned: it was a violent time and the author does not hide that from you. The main tribed discussed are the Comanches but many others intersect the story. I thought this was both a great and important book and an emotionally hard read. But it was very much worth it for the education. If all you know about the history of native americans in the united states was what you learned in school, movies, and tv, you’re going to learn a whole lot more from this book.
Honorable Mention: The Great Good Place (Ray Oldenburg)
This book discusses the “third place” – the walkable location where the community hangs out and sees one another on an unscheduled but regular basis: a pub, coffeeshop, bistro, park, etc
It reminded me of favorite social hangout locations in high school and college. And a few rare places as an adult. And that “rarer” is what makes this a sad read in many ways. If you’ve ever enjoyed a “third place” you’ll find yourself wondering over nad over again “why the hell can’t we have more of these places”. He describes their main characteristics (unfussy, free or low-cost, often run-down, open to all), why we have them, why they are dying out, and how we might get them back. It’s not just a U.S. issue, it’s a western issue (most likely linked to “prosperity”)
I have favorite memories in my life, but until I read this book I didn’t realize how many of those memories occurred in third places.
The concept is 5-stars, but for my needs the book was a bit more than I needed to make the point. I encourage anyone considering how to make a great place for people to be to at least skim through this one.
Honorable Mention: Impro (Keith Johnstone)
Years ago I tried this book and it just didn’t work at all for me so I quit a chapter or two in. I know its a classic, so I kept the book (usually I donate any books I don’t like) hoping I’d reread it later. I did and I’m glad I kept it. That said, this book is as bizarre as it is insightful. It covers varied ground including: status, human psychology, yes-and, acting and improvision, storytelling, and all that weird mask and trance state stuff at the end. If you’re the type of person that is turned off by reading ideas you find strange or downright disagreeable, this book will probably not be for you. But if you enjoy hearing insight mixed with craziness, this might be the book for you.