How audiobooks make me smarter

Last year I listened to all the Harry Potter books on audiobook for the first time (the narrator, Jim Dale, is totally awesome). I was amazed by how many little things I picked up on, and my Harry Potter trivia skills really took off. I am a fast reader and that means I lose a lot of information. I still know what I’m reading and plot points and subject matter, but I rarely do a true deep dive into a book anymore. What I discovered with the Harry Potter audiobooks is that audiobooks force me to stay at one speed and not rush, and in that slowing down I can absorb a lot more information.

Last year I also listened to some Great Courses and learned a lot about religion (The Meaning of Life:Perspectives from the World’s Great Intellectual Traditions and Cultural Literacy For Religion: Everything the Well-Educated Person Should Know).  Again, the steady pace forced me to slow down and I got a lot out of it. And now I am benefiting from this strategy again with a Coursera course called Buddhism and Modern Psychology. In that class I’m learning how ancient Buddhist belief and practice relate to the modern field of Evolutionary Psychology and it’s changing everything for me. I can’t help but wonder if I would have been as impacted by what I am learning if I was reading the recommended reading for this class by itself (Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite) rather than in conjunction with the audio/video course. I don’t know this topic well enough to connect the dots myself. Having the dots connected for me in this class has been one of the most enjoyable moments of learning I’ve had in years. It’s completely energized me.

The reason I read is to learn. I enjoy it and it’s fun but the reason I read is to learn. Taking this class has taught me the value of the classroom again and how truly educational it can be to read books under the guidance of a teacher who understands the context of what is being read. If my goal is to learn, then I need to keep this in mind and make more time for things like Coursera classes and maybe a little less time for just reading whatever strikes my fancy.

January Books

Now that I am reading more fiction I find that I am reading WAY more. It’s so easy to breeze through a fiction book. Nonfiction, unless it’s a memoir, just takes more time and isn’t something I’m ever going to find myself reading when I should be doing other things like eating and sleeping.

So January – I read 15 books! That is a lot for me. A lot of it was YA fiction, but I did read (and also started and am still working on) some good non-fiction, too. I don’t feel like putting them all in the post. You can see them all here. For today, here are the very best three books I read in January:

Best Young Adult Fiction: The Royal We. Yes, I read The Sun Is Also A Star this month, which EVERYONE seems to think is just amazing, but I thought The Royal We was way more fun. Yes, it was longer than it should have been. But it was nothing but sweet and escapist and a FUN to read. Other YA books I read in January that are worth recommending: Mosquitoland, Tell Me Three Things, and The Geography of You and Me. 

Best Nonfiction. You even have to ask? The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Read my thoughts about it here and here. Other good non-fiction I read in January include Love Hurts, Lab Girl, and The Case Against Sugar.




The Theme of Outsiders in The Undoing Project and The Case Against Sugar

I hope this is the first of many posts I do where I talk about themes that emerge between various books I am reading. Today I want to talk about being an outsider and how it relates to higher education.

One strong theme in The Undoing Project, the Michael Lewis book about the pioneers of the filed of Behavioral Economics Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, is that their ability to disrupt an entire field of academia (economics) came out of their non-traditional education at Hebrew University. At a time before the university even had a psychology department, these two were cobbling together their own degree programs. It was perhaps this lack of traditional education and not learning the “standard” way of seeing things that they were able to see obvious flaws in economics that those who had a more traditional education could not.

The same is certainly true in the history of nutrition science. In Gary Taubes’ latest book, The Case Against Sugar, he again finds himself at odds with the nutrition science world in his insistence that it is sugar and excessive carbohydrates in the diet than have caused the explosion in Western diseases like metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and even cancer. Many people criticize Taubes’ position on carbohydrate and the role of insulin because he is NOT an academic. I think it is because he is a science writer that he can see what academics cannot see. It’s got to be very difficult to go through many years of schooling and working in your field under one set of rules and assumptions and have someone from outside come in and challenge everything you’ve done. The easiest way to dismiss them is to point out their lack of credentials.

Imagine an academic world in which there was a recognized benefit from having outsiders or non-traditionally educated experts involved in the field. Their role would be not just generating new ideas and ways of thinking about things, but to be a BS filter and prevent group think among people with shared assumptions and frameworks.

As I was writing this I realize that this happens all the time in blended families and I can tell you from experience that it sucks. Step-parents can see things that mom and dad and the kids can’t. That outside perspective can be very useful but it’s so damn hard to hear it because: they just don’t get it, they don’t have the right motivations, they think they have a better understanding than the people who have been living it for years. Those criticisms are sometimes true, but that does not make their observations false. It’s the same for outsiders everywhere and they play a vital role in the health of all systems, from a family unit to an academic area of study to government.



What I can’t stop thinking about – The Undoing Project

I read a wonderful book last week, one of those rare books that you are completely excited about and that actually lives up to your expectations: The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. In the reliably engaging and entertaining style of Lewis, he told the story behind the creative collaboration of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversy that changed the world of economics and psychology.

Now, let me say that there are only 3 books (so far) in my life that I think are important enough that I wish everyone would read them and Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is one of them. I was very excited to learn that Lewis had written a book about him and the subject of behavioral economics. I knew that Kahneman and Tversky had worked together for many years but I really didn’t know that much about their collaboration. I’m really glad for having learned more about Tversky and Kahneman as people and how the two of them together became such an intellectual force. Read the book, please. If Thinking, Fast and Slow is too technical or boring for you, you might get interested in the topic of decision making by reading this book instead, especially since it’s people-centered instead of idea-centered. And come on, Michael Lewis could write about carpet and I would read it.

But what I really want to talk about today is just one tiny aspect of the book that I have been thinking about since I read it. And of course it’s about the Enneagram. I really got the feeling through the book that Tversky was an 8 and Kahneman was a 4. I could see it both in how their relationship was described and how their individual personalities were described. Kahneman was described as introverted, easily hurt, prone to depression, with only a very few close relationships, very creative, and not the type to prepare (he gave his lectures as a professor off the cuff without notes). Tversky was brash, loud, extraverted, opinionated, and marched to the beat of his own drummer. He was motivated by revenge and a desire to prove himself. He was also well-loved by everyone, except his intellectual enemies.

Being a 4 myself, I was struck by something Kahneman said about fantasy and daydreaming that really sounded 4-ish to me. He mentioned that fantasizing and daydreaming about things could be just as satisfying to him as actually doing those things. Because of this, he learned early on to never allow himself to fantasize about things that could actually happen, because otherwise he might not feel any motivation to achieve them. I can’t help but be struck with the incredible value of that idea as a path of growth for a Type 4.

Type 4s, myself included, spend loads of time in the world of fantasy and daydream. We have a tendency to magnify the intensity of emotional experience and this occurs mostly in our heads as we imagine things that might happen or things that have already happened that made us upset. I’ve noticed this in myself first thing in the morning. If I do not get up right when my alarm goes off, I start daydreaming and thinking about stuff as I lie there in bed and it inevitably turns negative, which means I’m starting the day feeling badly about someone else or myself. Kahneman’s daydreaming rule has been popping into my head at these moments and helping me not only increase my conscious awareness of when I do this but also reminding me that thinking is not a substitute for doing and you can’t always believe what you think and feel.

It’s obviously not just Type 4s that could stand to adopt the rule to never daydream about stuff that could actually happen. Kahneman might not be a 4 and it doesn’t matter. It’s still a great piece of advice from an amazing man who continues to influence my life for the better.


Why We Are Moving

We are moving into our new house some time in March. It’s just a tad bigger than our current house and has 4-5 bedrooms, just like our current house  The biggest differences between our current house and our new house are:

  • New house has NO yard. Current house has 3 acres
  • New house is walkable to library, grocery store, restaurants. Current house is not walkable to anything – not even to just GO for a walk
  • New house is way more expensive than what we paid for current house

When we moved here 5 years ago, it was because I wanted to have land and chickens and maybe some larger animals. Andrew was worried that the upkeep would be too much and that most of it would fall to him, to which I objected. We fought. We bought the house. The upkeep fell to Andrew. And while I liked having chickens, I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. As much as I wanted to like homesteading, I just didn’t. I realized that wanting to like something is VERY different from actually liking something.

I also wanted a smaller, cheaper house. This is the smallest, cheapest house I have ever owned. I am glad for this experience as it did force me to embrace a more minimal lifestyle. I had to get rid of half my kitchen stuff, for example. I have made my tiny kitchen work and I like it. I like not having as much stuff. But our house needs some remodeling, and over the past 5 years we haven’t made it a commitment to figure out how to pay for them and it’s made us tired of living here.

We aren’t the right owners for a property like this. Again with the wanting to like something instead of actually liking it. We wanted to like fixing something up but since we didn’t actually like it, we never did it. We updated the house on the cheap (paint and stuff like that) and I think we did a good job but we didn’t do the major things that we envisioned like a master bath remodel or an exterior re-do.

So I have learned some lessons:

  1. I am better suited to new houses that don’t require updating.
  2. I am better suited to houses with minimal outside upkeep (did I mention that I didn’t learn to use a lawnmower until about 2009?)
  3. Aesthetics matter a LOT to me. I think our current house is ugly on the outside and it’s always bothered me. I compromised on this when we bought the house because I thought we would fix it one day. But instead I’ve lived in a house for 5 years that I think it ugly.

Our new house is in a neo-traditional neighborhood with front porches and rear alleyways, within walking distance of the LIBRARY, movie theater, and main shopping district in our town. I have loved neighborhoods like this for a at least 15 years. But it seemed it just wasn’t the right choice for us financially and I tried to listen to Andrew this time and not make a decision I would later regret. He wasn’t nearly as interested as I was in the dream (I always have a dream) and he is way more practical. But he is also not one to stay in one place for long, and we have that in common.

Fast forward another month or two and Andrew had slowly been talking himself into the new house. On my birthday he took me to the neighborhood and we paid the deposit. And I think we have a book to thank for pushing us to take action. We both read Walkable City by Jeff Speck right around the time we were debating moving and it certainly influenced us to want to try living in a walkable area. Only time will tell if we have made the right choice but I wouldn’t be moving if I didn’t feel that this move would make it easier for me to live the life best suited to me.



Notable Books of 2016

Well, my reading goal for 2016 was to read less but more difficult material. I didn’t do that. I read my normal amount and continued to simply read what I felt like reading and what was available.

Some overall highlights of the year:
1.  I have started reading fiction again and have discovered a love of YA (young adult) fiction. In my 20s and early 30s I read almost exclusively fiction and then for some reason completely switched to almost all non-fiction. It’s been a joy to rediscover the joy of reading just for fun.

2. I read a lot of books on the Enneagram and will continue diving deeper into that subject. I recommended one at the end of this post.

3. I will be at roughly 110 books by the end of the year next week, which is on par for the last few years.

Now let’s get to my favorites:


All Things Cease To Appear, Elizabeth Brundage. This was the best literary fiction I read this year. Actually, it might be the only literary fiction I read this year but still. It was beautiful and reminded me why I used to love literary fiction. Good fiction is more true than real life, more illuminating than reality, and just plain magical in the way it can connect us to our humanity.

The Course of Love, Alain de Botton. A fiction book that describes married life better than a non-fiction book on marriage ever could. I wrote about this one here.

Carry On and Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell. The books that introduced me to the wonderful world of YA fiction. I read Carry On first, which I recommend for the sheer joy and surprise that comes from not knowing anything about Fangirl. Fangirl was written first and Carry On is a spin-off but trust me, read Carry On first (but only if you know nothing about either of them). I’m smiling just writing about them because they are so delightful.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline. This was so much fun to read! I loved it so much and can’t wait to see it as a movie. I immediately passed this on to my 15 year old son and he loved it, too. If you want to have fun with a book, this is for you, especially if you like science fiction or grew up in the 80s.

The Sea of Tranquility, Katja Millay. Another YA novel, but this one is much richer; it’s not just a fun read. It’s a page turner and so engaging and big and just plain good. The characters are all well developed and the story is funny, heartfelt, serious, and real. Plus, love story. Yay!


The Big Picture, Sean Carroll. I think this is my favorite non-fiction book of the year. It’s one of those books that makes you feel it was written just for you. The meaning of life from a scientific point of view? A way to think about meaning and purpose without religion? YES, I’ll take it! It’s a beautiful book and made me feel so happy. I felt like my way of seeing the world was articulated perfectly here.

Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari. A must-read for those who like to keep up on the non-fiction that change the way you think about BIG IDEAS. This book changed the way I think about some big ideas like humanism and the idea of natural vs. unnatural.

Women, Food, and God, Geneen Roth. I didn’t even give this book a star rating on Goodreads yet it is showing up on this list. It’s here because this is the book I can’t stop thinking about even if I don’t want to. I wrote about the book here. I tried to follow her food rules and completely failed and since then I’ve been really deeply thinking about my relationship with food, how it needs to change, and why.

Yoga and the Quest For the True Self.  I really loved this book. I read it after diving into yoga for the first time in my life. I was eager to explore the philosophy of yoga and this was a great introduction to the topic of yoga as a catalyst for change and personal growth. I loved it enough to buy a copy, which only happens once or twice a year.

But What If We’re Wrong?, Chuck Klosterman. I found this on the new non-ficiton shelf at the library and picked it up. The first two essays didn’t do it for me and I almost gave up on the book but I kept going and I am SO glad I did. There is nothing I believe in more than challenging what I believe in, and that is what this book does. It’s a collection of essays that attempt to cast doubt on things we think we know to be true, and it does a great job of reminding us how stupid we all are.

The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones.  An amazing look at the rise and fall of the Religious Right and the end of the era of White Christians as a voting block than can win elections. I read this before Trump was elected and I’ve been thinking about whether the entire book is now not as right on as I thought it was or what. But it is still amazing and still discusses religion and politics in a way that is important, neutral, and fascinating.


One sentence recaps:

An Abbreviated Life. Toxic, narcissist mom ruins everything and blames it on daughter.

Love Warrior: Finding yourself and embracing the deep vulnerability of love.

A Mother’s Reckoning. Depression and suicide can happen in any family and be completely invisible to you.

Switched On. A man with Asperger’s briefly experiences the lifetime of emotions he never felt.

Poser, My Life In Twenty-Three Yoga Poses. Yoga can help you deal with you dysfunction hippie parents.

Finding God In the Waves. Southern Baptist to Atheist to Mystic conversion story.

An Altar In the World. God is out there in nature.

You can see all the books I read this year on GoodReads. For next year, I will probably aim for 100 books again as that seems about the right amount for me. I’m considering spending the money to join the metro Nashville library system so I have more options. $50.00 a year is worth it if it saves me from buying stuff.

I will continue to read Enneagram books as I am able to buy them. I buy physical copies of all of those because I reference them ALL THE TIME. In fact, we are moving in a couple of months, so about 2 months ago I packed away most of our books. But I had to go back into the boxes and dig out my Enneagram books because I use them so much! The newest book on the Enneagram came out a few months ago and is a great introduction. Here it is:

Happy New Year and happy reading! 

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4 books that flip everything upside down

Here is a short list of books I’ve read that have challenged the majority thinking in a variety of different topics:

Acid Test by Tom Shroder. I learned from this book how ecstasy and other psychedelics are being used to treat soldiers with PTSD and how politics has prevented these therapies from being more widely used. I’m now much more libertarian in my views of drug laws as a result of reading this book.

Magicians of the Gods by Graham Hancock This is a fun romp through ancient history. What if there was a comet event at the beginning of the end of the ice age (10,000 years ago) that wiped out entire cultures as advanced as those that came much later (ancient Egypt and Incan culture). And what if there was evidence for this comet in the physical Earth (its primary impact zone being North America) and also in the similar oral traditions and myths passed on over many millennia? How cool would that be?

Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary TaubesI read Good Calories, Bad Calories back in 2010 on a trip to Florida. and it was life changing. I’d always been interested in healthy eating and read a ton on the subject but this book turned it ALL upside down and permanently changed the way I thought about food and healthy eating.

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb. This is one of the only books I aim to re-read on purpose once a year. The ideas in this book are so simply counter to the assumptions we all live under that it makes it hard to take anything at face value. I trust the intellectual integrity of Taleb so much that he influenced who I voted for this year. I had already made up my mind but when I read what Taleb and some others were saying on the subject it didn’t just change my choice, it completely changed how I framed the question of who to vote for. And that’s what this book is all about.

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Book and Podcast Round-Up

Here are some good things I’ve read and listened to in the last month or so:


Ask Science Mike, Episode 86, Live in Nashville. This was so much fun to listen to and laugh out loud funny at times. I’m a new listener to this podcast and came to it from The Liturgists.

Joe Rogan Experience, Episode 53, Stefan Molyneux. This episode introduced me to someone who I do not agree with on most points but who was fascinating to listen to and challenged me to think about things in a new way. I love that! I don’t know where I first heard of Stefan but I saw mention of him being on this podcast so I downloaded this episode from August 2014 to hear more about his ideas (he’s an anarchist, btw, but also has really great ideas about non-violent parenting).

Fresh Air, How Trump’s Candidacy Has Divided Right-Wing Media. I am particularly interested in how Republicans have responded to Trump’s run for president. I have great admiration for those on the right who do not support him from a moral and ethical standpoint. I find their position to demonstrate great courage and a true commitment to their conservative beliefs and values in a time when that kind of position can get you ostracized by your closest friends and colleagues. I think we should all take their example and examine whether we are more invested in our institutions or our values. It can be surprisingly easy to confuse the two.

The RobCast: Pete Rollins on God. This was a multipart series that was just fascinating to listen to! There are so many amazing and intelligent and wise people out there thinking and talking about big picture religion and theology and I love listening to them even as a non-religious person!

I’ve listened to every episode of these podcasts in the last few months:

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

The Girl Next Door

The Popcast


You can see the books I’ve read recently and what I thought of them on Goodreads. If I had to pick a top three from the last three months they would be:

The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones

The Course of Love, Alain de Botton

All Things Cease To Appear, Elizabeth Brundage

What Harry Potter and Donald Trump Have In Common

Watching the second presidential debate this past week, I found myself thinking about Donald Trump’s worldview, which apparently is shared by about 40% of my fellow Americans. In a nutshell: might makes right. The ends justify the means, and we will destroy anyone who gets in the way of our pleasant life. Doesn’t matter who gets hurt, what tactics are used, or what others think. With strength and power and bluster we can make America Great Again.


So then yesterday I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There is a point when Harry as a parent makes a choice to punish his son in a overly harsh way to “protect” him. He is impulsive and angry, a frequent fault of Harry’s (and Trump’s). We can see that it is fear and a feeling of powerlessness that makes Harry act in this way. In a moment of great stress he reverts to a less developed level and acts impulsively in an attempt to feel in control. His approach actually weakens his influence and control, alienating his child even more and making himself look foolish. Harry can’t help himself at the moment because he feels so out of control and has such trouble relating to his child. I think every parent can secretly relate to this, as we all can probably think of at least one time we overreacted to something because we ourselves felt shame or guilt and used anger to cover it up.

What Harry loses in his anger, fear and reactivity is wisdom, the trait that was always so visible in the calm and detached style of Dumbledore. Dumbledore managed to rarely react with emotion or take things personally. Everyone always respected him for that and listened to him. He never made it about him. He continually influenced Harry in this way, helping Harry to learn how to control his anger and to think before acting.

Apparently wisdom, prudence, self-control, and respect for self and others are no longer things we as a country value in ourselves or in our politicians. I can’t think of a good reason why this is so. I still want a careful, thoughtful, calm leader. I want a leader who isn’t overly confident and brash, who is mindful and rational, who treats all people with respect, who is fully aware of his or her weaknesses and strives to overcome them. I know I am not alone in this, but it really is terribly dismaying that so many of my fellow citizens no longer wish for these qualities in a leader.

So what do Harry and Trump have in common?  They are both Enneagram Eights. If you read about the levels of development with Eights you can see how Harry matured into his personalty type while Trump didn’t. Here is a description of a relatively healthy Eight, which sounds a lot like Harry Potter in the later books:

Level 3: Decisive, authoritative, and commanding: the natural leader others look up to. Take initiative, make things happen: champion people, provider, protective, and honorable, carrying others with their strength.

And here is a description of a relatively unhealthy 8, which sounds a lot like Donald Trump:

Level 6: Become highly combative and intimidating to get their way: confrontational, belligerent, creating adversarial relationships. Everything a test of wills, and they will not back down. Use threats and reprisals to get obedience from others, to keep others off balance and insecure. However, unjust treatment makes others fear and resent them, possibly also band together against them.

Harry Potter and Donald Trump both have fiery dispositions and get in trouble when they don’t think before acting. Over time Harry matures into a person who uses his anger as a way to protect the innocent while always being willing to put himself in danger or sacrifice his own happiness to protect others. Donald Trump has learned to use his anger, too, but for the opposite goal of meeting his own needs and putting himself first at the expense of the happiness of others. His anger still controls him. You never get the sense that he has any kind of self awareness or ability to manage his emotional states. And for some reason many people find this appealing.

I never could figure out why anyone would want to be on Voldemort’s side. There seemed to be no upside to aligning yourself with someone who so obviously didn’t care for anyone but himself. But now I see in real life how someone who desperately longs for power over people and is so obviously without any kind of wisdom or self knowledge can seem attractive to people. if they seem convinced enough of their own power. I don’t understand it, but I see it and can’t deny it. It seems that my fellow Harry Potter fans might be more immune to Trump, as a study found that HP fans are less likely to support him.  While Trump is more like Harry Potter than Voldemort in his basic personality type, I think us HP fans are inclined to see the exclusionary world vision of Trump as very Death Eater. And we just aren’t into that.


Unstoppable and Unmovable

gift-voucherJust a couple of months ago I was in a decent routine with hot yoga, blogging, working on a side project, getting out for playdates, etc. But then suddenly it all fell apart, for no good reason other than it just did. I decided I needed to cut back on our budget so I stopped paying for the yoga studio and things cascaded from there. I went from a consistent and reliable schedule to no schedule, from 4 yoga classes per week at regular times to none, from blogging weekly to never, and from one side project to none but now with 3 different part time jobs AND a new side project AND a husband who is now out of the house instead of working from home! And all of this in about 2 months. My head is still spinning.

I’m learning just how critical good routines and habits are to happiness. As someone who has always been more of a spontaneous person, it’s very hard to maintain things like planners, to-do lists, and weekly routines. Not that they aren’t the best way to make sure I make time for the things that matter, but it just doesn’t come easily to me. So I find myself trying to re-establish some consistency but with a lot more moving parts now.

I read something about Enneagram 9s the other day that described how we are both unstoppable and unmovable. It’s very hard to get us started on something but once we get going we have to keep going and going and going. I totally get this and it’s why I can understand how I could go for quite a long time with a regular and consistent routine and then get derailed and find it close to impossible to get going again. Just two months ago I felt fine going to yoga 4 times per week even though it was a 2 hour commitment each time yet now that I stopped I have to convince myself again that I deserve that time for myself! It makes NO logical sense.

Slowly I am beginning to carve out a new schedule but it’s taking a long time since things keep getting added to the mix. But as of this week I at least know what my work commitments will be for the next few months and can try to start fitting in the healthy routines I need to feel like a person again, like I am thriving instead of surviving. Today was a good indication that I am making slow progress. I managed to do nothing while Jack napped besides write this blog and that felt pretty good.

My goal in the next two months is to find that sweet spot between work, family, and self and not feel as if any of them is suffering for lack of time or intention. I know I can get back there again. It just requires a little bit of giving grace to myself and not denying my own needs and wants for the sake of everything else, as I am always prone to do as a 9. A trip to the yoga studio is definitely overdue.