What I Read Last Month :: October

In honor of the tradition started last month, today I am sharing the books that I have read throughout October. As I mentioned, my Happiness Project for the month was centered around money – I updated my budgets and kept up to date on my Mint app to monitor spending, I abstained from purchases aside from groceries and coffee for the whole month up until my planned exception in Milan. I tried to live generously each day and I worked on spending out, using up and clearing out anything which was broken, old or otherwise obsolete. Some days were better than others of course, but I enjoyed working on these resolutions and felt they were a good mix of concrete and tangible actions as well as some more aspirational ones. I also appreciated the opportunity to read a few books relate to the topic of money, but alas had to switch gears a bit as time went on, because I ran out of directly related material (and abstaining meant no new books…). So here is what I read in October:

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping
Paco Underhill

Based on the title and outstanding reviews, I was very excited for this book which I had picked up while in the States last month in preparation for my Money focused month. However, I must confess it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I was hoping that the book would illuminate some of the psychological drivers related to shopping – why we feel compelled to buy, what needs and desires it satisfies, different types of disordered thinking around shopping and consumption, etc. However, in truth I would entitled it The Science of Retailing; it was interesting and detailed in terms of the market research and recommendations that Paco Underhill’s company Envirosell provides which has been undeniably valuable to its clients.   The book discussed at length some the mechanics of shopping (store layouts, signage, positioning, product placement, packaging, etc.), factors to consider in light of gender and age differences and the benefits of appealing to all the customers senses and the end-to-end experience. If you are involved or interested in retailing, marketing, or merchandising, it is an excellent resource, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.

The $100 Startup
Chris Guillebeau

If you are looking for a wildly inspirational and yet extremely practical book to help you “reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love, and create a new future,” I cannot imagine a better resource than this outstanding book. I have become well-acquainted with Chris Guillebeau throughout the past year listening to his daily podcast entitled Side Hustle School and his objective is to inspire readers and listeners to take action in creating an alternative means of making a living which he refers to as a microbusiness (one which is typically run by only one or perhaps very few people). As opposed to general entrepreneurship, Guillebeau cites this approach as one which enables greater personal freedom by providing value to others, usually doing something you love to do anyway, like a hobby, skill or passion. The book cites countless real life case studies (including one about a girl that I actually went to high school with believe it or not!) illustrating the various ways that “people with no special skills discovered aspects of their personal passions that could be monetized and were able to restructure their lives in ways that gave them greater fulfillment and freedom.” However, the book provides more than just stories or anecdotal advice – it actually breaks down the process, helping you learn the ways to launch your own startup with limited resources in very specific and practical ways.

The Overspent American
Juliet B. Schor

Do you ever find it interesting how often we can forget things that we once knew? I (perhaps being affected by the cognitive bias of illusory superiority or more widely known as the “better than average” psychological phenomenon), believe that I have a pretty good memory, but I do find that there are times I need to remind myself of or relearn something I definitely understood at one point. Since buying new books was off limits for the month, I scoured my inventory for anything I already owned which might be a good fit for the Money month. Lo and behold, I found exactly what I was looking for; although only about two seconds prior to the discovery I had no recollection of ever owning Juliet B. Schor’s The Overspent American, let alone reading it as an undergrad. The book is described by critics as “a scornful indictment of consumerism” and takes a fascinating look at why we want and buy what we don’t need. She argues that although we think that we like buying things, we as a whole are becoming increasingly more dissatisfied as we accumulate and expand the litany of conveniences and luxuries that we consider to be essential.   Schor cites various shifts in culture which have led us to make comparisons with others (reference groups) of a wider range than in years past. This can mean that we are measuring our own standard of living with people whose incomes are 3 to 5 times higher than our own, which, either consciously or subconsciously, impacts us and often results in extreme upscale spending. She demonstrates how “spending can be addictive… absorb your consciousness, become a substitute for other activities, and start to take over your life,” concluding with some case studies and recommendations for stopping the never-ending upward spiral of desire and consumerism.

Talent is Overrated
Geoff Colvin

In this book, Colvin, a senior editor of Fortune, takes a deep dive and critical look into great performance across a variety of different areas and activities from chess to sports, from music to management and business. He highlights flaws and misconceptions in our ways of thinking about exceptional performance and refutes the argument that world class performance can be attributed to mere innate, natural talent or even sheer experience and hard work. Throughout the book, Colvin describes principles of what he refers to as “deliberate practice,” which is the defining variable for expert as opposed to normal performance and involves “a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain… characterized by several elements… it is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally….and it isn’t much fun.” He explores each of those facets in detail, outlines actionable ways to implement aspects of this deliberate practice into our own areas of interest and discusses (probably most important or interesting to me) motivation and passion. His conclusion is that “the price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily high… [but] by understanding how a few become great, anyone can become better… [and] great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and to everyone.”

I am also nearly finished with another exceptional book – Thinking, Fast and Slow by eminent psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, but will save my thoughts on that one for next month once I finish. After that I am going deep into food and nutrition, aiming to reread some of favorite resources along with several new ones. Again, I would always love to hear of any recommendations that you may have (I enjoy all types of books and genres) or your thoughts if you have read any of the above! Happy November!

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