July Reading List 2020

This post is admittedly a few days overdue now that we are technically already a week into August. But… we’ll blame that on my end of internship work binge and a lovely hurricane induced multiple day power outage at my house. Lack of internet and power aside, let’s get to the books I read in the month of July.

As usual, below is the list of books that I’ve enjoyed this month for which I won’t really provide easily Google-able summaries for, but instead share some of my favorite thought provoking quotes.

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

The Coddling of the American Mind‘s provocative title caught my eye as I was browsing for new books to read and it 100% delivered in terms of its bold claims about how the dramatically increased focus on safe spaces in schools and college campuses may be causing students more harm than good. I’d actually highly recommend this book as it discusses an area I think is quite applicable to most college students. While I found that the author’s arguments weren’t always necessarily nuanced enough, they offered a unique perspective that I think isn’t discussed sufficiently in our current day news and media.

If you can’t be bothered to read the whole book, you might consider at least checking out the authors’ shorter form Atlantic article on the same topic here.

Long gone is the time when everybody watched one of three national television networks. By the 1990s, there was a cable news channel for most points on the political spectrum, and by the early 2000s there was a website or discussion group for every conceivable interest group and grievance. By the 2010s, most Americans were using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which make it easy to encase oneself within an echo chamber. And then there’s the “filter bubble,” in which search engines and YouTube algorithms are designed to give you more of what you seem to be interested in, leading conservatives and progressives into disconnected moral matrices backed up by mutually contradictory informational worlds. Both the physical and electronically isolation from people we disagree with allow the forces of confirmation bias, groupthink, and tribalism to push us still further apart.

The fundamental cause of campus intolerance, he suggests, isn’t students’ extreme leftism or any other political ideology, but a market-driven decision by universities, made decades ago, to treat students as consumers — who pay up to $60,000 per year for courses, excellent cuisine, comfortable accommodations and a lively campus life. On the subject of students preventing people from speaking on campus, he explains “Even at public universities, 18-year-olds are purchasing what is essentially a luxury product. Is it any wonder they feel entitled to control the experience? Students, accustomed to authoring every facet of their college experience, now want their institutions to mirror their views. If the customers can determine the curriculum and select all their desired amenities, it stands to reason that they should also determine which speakers ought to be invited to campus and what opinions can be articulated in their midst.

Should a student saying “I am offended” be sufficient reason to cancel a lecture? What if it’s many students? What if members of the faculty are offended, too? It depends on what you think is the purpose of education. Hannah Holborn Gray, the president of the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1993, once offered this principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

In the great irony that is my life, I was just about finishing this book, Digital Minimalism, as the power went out in my house 4 days ago. Almost like the book and the universe was telling me that I should start living my digital minimalist life right then and there.

I’ve started recently trying to be more conscious about my social media use and the content I consume in my free time despite how admittedly hard it is to want to stay connected on the internet with others, and especially more so during a pandemic, and overall this book felt like a nice form of validation of what I’ve already started trying to do.

Biggest takeaways from the book: Connection != Communication and we are living in solitude deprivation.

The philosophy of conversation-centric communication takes a harder stance. It argues that conversation is the only form of interaction that in some sense counts toward maintaining a relationship. This conversation can take the form of a face-to-face meeting, or it can be a video chat or a phone call—so long as it matches Sherry Turkle’s criteria of involving nuanced analog cues, such as the tone of your voice or facial expressions. Anything textual or non-interactive—basically, all social media, email, text, and instant messaging—doesn’t count as conversation and should instead be categorized as mere connection.

We had portable music before the iPod, most commonly in the form of the Sony Walkman and Discman (and their competitors), but these devices played only a restricted role in most people’s lives… By the early 2000s, however… white earbuds would be near ubiquitous. It became common, especially among younger generations, to allow your iPod to provide a musical backdrop to your entire day—putting the earbuds in as you walk out the door and taking them off only when you couldn’t avoid having to talk to another human… whereas the iPod provided for the first time the ability to be continuously distracted from your own mind. The smartphone provided a new technique to banish these remaining slivers of solitude: the quick glance. At the slightest hint of boredom, you can now surreptitiously glance at any number of apps or mobile-adapted websites that have been optimized to provide you an immediate and satisfying dose of input from other minds.

You can enjoy solitude in a crowded coffee shop, on a subway car, or, as President Lincoln discovered at his cottage, while sharing your lawn with two companies of Union soldiers, so long as your mind is left to grapple only with its own thoughts. On the other hand, solitude can be banished in even the quietest setting if you allow input from other minds to intrude. In addition to direct conversation with another person, these inputs can also take the form of reading a book, listening to a podcast, watching TV, or performing just about any activity that might draw your attention to a smartphone screen. Solitude requires you to move past reacting to information created by other people and focus instead on your own thoughts and experiences—wherever you happen to be.

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

The gWIC (Google Women Intern Community) team surprised us interns by organizing a book club for us this summer and one of the book selections was Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. Back in May, I read Daring Greatly by Brené on my own accord. To be completely honest, this book, Dare to Lead, did feel slightly repetitive after reading Daring Greatly with regards to her research into vulnerability. But, I still appreciated the increased attention she gives on leading with empathy that’s covered in this book.

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability.

Are there many observable, knowable, universal truths? Of course. Math and science have given us many examples. But when it comes to the swirl of human emotion, behavior, language, and cognition – there are many valid perspectives. One of the signature mistakes with empathy is that we believe we can take our lenses off and look through the lenses of someone else. We can’t. Our lenses are soldered to who we are. What we can do, however, is honor people’s perspectives as truth even when they’re different from ours.

There are two ways to predict when we are going to judge: We judge in areas where we’re most susceptible to shame, and we judge people who are doing worse than we are in those areas… It’s important to examine where we feel judgement because it can quickly become a vicious shame cycle. The judgement of others leaves us feeling shame, so we offload the hurt by judging others.

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

This is my fun non-fiction book pick of the month. An Anonymous Girl is a psychological suspense/thriller. I don’t think I even need to explain how I ended up picking this book to read. You can just read the following book blurb about the premise of the story and you’ll know why. What can I say, I’m just a sucker for stories about psychology studies. 😌

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave.

Question #1: Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?

But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding.

Question #2: Have you ever deeply hurt someone you care about?

As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Question #3: Should a punishment always fit the crime?