five reads

Here's a little January confession: I am the reason you're reading this on January 19th rather than two weeks earlier. I am the weakest link, the flakiest pastry. I actually wrote a relatively punctual review for a book I love, my "go-to" guide for human relations. But then something happened and I never hit the send button. And it sat in my draft folder for days and days while I got swept up in moving and managing and life in general. This episode of absent-minded delay is not isolated, so perhaps it's a sign. I just ordered Procrastination: why you do it, what to do about it NOW. Someone wise once told me I would love it. But I never got around to reading the thing....

New years resolutions are often as much about picking yourself up when you fail as they are achieving goals. Someone who did this over and over again was Harry Truman. McCoullough's book on him is the definition of a seminal biography. I read this when I lived in Budapest. I found myself cheering for Harry in his success, rooting for him through his failures and agonizing with him through the challenges of life. It's an old fashioned rags to riches story that plays out over a lifetime of achievement. It's a biggie, but a goodie and worth every page of the read. BONUS: If you finish it by the end of 2013 and tweet it at us, I will mention your accomplishment in a post. 
While designing a course on practical ethics in medicine, Premal stumbled upon the work of Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University. We quickly became obsessed with the man's ingenious studies on human nature and the insight they offered into our own habits. Last year we read his book Predictably Irrational (and watched his TED talks, AND listened to segments on various NPR podcasts) which focuses on the way we think we make decisions and contrasts it with what's actually going on in thesr crazy ol' noggins of ours. This year I'm incredibly excited to read Ariely's latest book The Honest Truth about Dishonesty. This time he's back at it explaining the insidious ways dishonesty creeps into our daily interactions and effects our friendships, workplaces, politics and economy. If that's not some serious(ly interesting) food for thought in this new year, then I don't know what is!

I'm pretty good at making hyperbolic statements about other peoples' politics. Really, scary good. I can easily argue that my view is the right one and that anything different is, well...wrong. Last year I read Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind. It gave me some insight into why I argue so convincingly about things - sometimes things I haven't even thought about - and, more broadly, why people think the way they do. Haidt gives a compelling explanation for why political leaders fail to cooperate, why people quickly assume the worst about the motives of their fellow men, and why we believe the things we believe. I'm not sure I agree with all of Haidt's assertions, but a lot of them are compelling and he's a tremendously engaging writer. I hope that his insights will encourage me to be slightly more tolerant and understanding of other people's beliefs this year....Maybe.

Two words: Mind Palace. It's a crazy beautiful place where absurd things are always happening, and it helps you remember whatever you want. 'But Glorianna! A thing so fantastical must be restricted to only the very cognitively wealthy among us. I could never afford a Mind Palace of my own!' That's what I thought at first too, but Moonwalking with Einstein not only elaborates on how you invest in one (or a couple dozen) of these remarkable structures, but does so within a charming narrative that makes you believe you can do anything -- or at least, perfectly memorize two stacks of random playing cards in a very few minutes. With this book's help, I've resolved to stop being the schmoe who forgets everyone's name and pretty much everything else important I ever knew or needed to remember. Join me.