A1 Diner: Real Food, Recipes, and Recollections
by Sarah Rolph
- Recent Favorites
- Wilbur and Orville: A Biography of the Wright Brothers
by Fred Howard
- Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training
by Karen Pryor
- Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer
by Peter Turchi
- Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin
- More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin
- The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
- Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore
- Inside the Tornado by Geoffrey A. Moore
- Relationship Marketing by Regis McKenna
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
I absolutely love this book, and recommend it to everyone. It far exceeded
I expected a fascinating story about an important invention. And I expected to be impressed by the Wright Brothers, because of their immense achievement. I knew almost nothing about the history of flight before I read this, so I expected to be educated and illuminated. What I didn’t expect was how incredibly moving it would be to read about these two individuals.
Wilbur and Orville Wright were extraordinary people. They seem to have had a peculiar combination of curiosity, persistence, good sense, and intellectual honesty. Ideas were important to them, and they spent a lot of time debating every aspect of their work. Often they would debate a topic so hard for so long that in the end they would come around to each other’s positions, and still be arguing, for each now saw new merit in the previously unappreciated view. They once admonished a friend (to his surprise) for too quickly backing down from an argument. A position that has been held by someone they respected must have some merits, they felt, and it was a sort of intellectual waste not to wring all the useful ideas out of an argument before discarding it.
There are a great many reasons that the Wright Brothers were the ones who solved “the flying problem,” as they called it. One is that they did their own science, another is that they were better thinkers than most. But it seems that the main reason has to do with their individual characters. It’s exciting to read about people who acted according to principle, worked as hard as they could, and achieved something few thought possible at the time. Read this book to renew your sense of human possibility.
Review by Sarah Rolph
“Whatever the task, whether keeping a four-year-old quiet in public, housebreaking a puppy, coaching a team, or memorizing a poem, it will go faster, and better, and be more fun, if you know how to use reinforcement.” -- Karen Pryor.
Behavior science has gotten a bad name because of “behaviorism,” the view that human psychology can be understood using only observable behavior, and that human development can be successfully managed using only behavioral conditioning (such as positive and negative reinforcement).
I reject that view, and believe that depth psychology provides the most useful mental model for fully understanding the human mind. Yet despite the fact that we do indeed have inner worlds, complex psyches, and a number of hugely interesting and important things that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, most of our actual behavior is indeed shaped in the same way it is shaped in every other animal: through reinforcement.
In this interesting and useful book, Pryor explains how and why the principles of behavior science work—the same rules of reinforcement apply to every animal on the planet, it appears, from scallops to humans. She also shows why positive reinforcement is by far the most powerful form of learning, and explains how we can use this knowledge to make our lives easier and happier.
Her prose is wonderful. Clear, readable, exciting.
While the book discusses the training of dogs and other animals (Pryor has done a lot of work with dolphins), it focuses on providing an overview of the concepts of behavior science and how to use them in the realm of people.
The title comes from a discussion of the eight ways of shaping behavior. The easiest way to eliminate a behavior is to eliminate the animal, or “shoot the dog” (clearly, this is rarely the best solution). The hardest method to apply is the most useful and long-lasting: to change the underlying motivation. Pryor describes each of these methods in great detail, with a wonderful chart that shows how the eight ways of shaping behavior can be applied to the same few examples; her use of the same examples teaches us a lot about the available options.
Whether your problem most closely resembles her example of a barking dog or her example of a grouchy husband, I guarantee you will be better able to take action on it after reading this excellent book. Review by Sarah Rolphback to top
This wonderful book explores the relationships between map-making and writing. One of its central points is that for both efforts, there are two aspects -- with a huge difference between them. First one must explore the territory. Only then can one make a useful map. These two tasks form the basic structure of any endeavor, and there is generally a tension between them. And in writing (and perhaps many other activities), the two activities are somewhat difficult to separate.
Creating a structure by mapping or writing is fun, so we tend to want to jump right to it. Exploring can be tedious, dangerous, and doesn’t always succeed; yet it is a necessary first step. Just as a map must be based on a thorough exploration, so must the best writing. Turchi explores these ideas with grace and style.
The book is full of wonderful quotes, such as:
“These men are forced into their strange fancies by attempting to measure the whole universe by means of their tiny scale.” -- Galileo Galilei
“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
“What was infinitely more exhilarating, I had passed a landmark; I had finished a tale, and written “The End” upon my manuscript.” -- Robert Louis Stevenson
“A novel examines not reality but existence. And existence is not what has occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he’s capable of. Novelists draw up the map of existence by discovering this or that human possibility.” -- Milan Kundera, The Art of
The book is also chock full of strange and interesting maps of every kind. If you like maps, you will want to check out this book. Review by Sarah Rolphback to top
Lauri Colwin wrote some of the best essays about food in the English language. If you like food and you don’t know these books, you are in for a treat. Her home cooking column ran in Gourmet magazine for several years, and many of the essays in these books appeared there first. They stand up very well.
Colwin was also a novelist, and her essays on home cooking bring the same lovely voice to the page. Her voice is real, down-to-earth, amused, and amusing, but with a serious note as well. Reading Colwin, you can tell that she really cared about people. And food!
Even many of her chapter titles are amusing, for example: How to Disguise Vegetables and Stuffed Breast of Veal: A Bad Idea.
Here is Colwin on the subject of fried chicken:
As everyone knows, there is only one way to fry chicken correctly. Unfortunately, most people think their method is best, but most people are wrong. Mine is the only right way, and on the subject I feel almost evangelical. … The lady who taught my sister and me, a black woman who cooked for us in Philadelphia, was of course the apotheosis: no one will ever be fit to touch the top of her chicken fryer. … To fry chicken that makes people want to stand up and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the following facts of life must be taken seriously:
These books will be of interest to both beginning and experienced cooks. In addition to Colwin’s wonderful essays, they contain lots of nice recipes, most of which are creative and interesting, but all of which are relatively easy to prepare. Colwin’s work is the next best thing to having your grandmother standing next to you in the kitchen. Review by Sarah Rolphback to top
This book is general enough to be useful for anyone, not just artists; it’s meant to help people in any field make better use of their creativity.
Tharp shares her personal philosophy of creativity, which entails a focus on hard work and, as the title implies, the cultivation of good habits. Her suggestions are practical and inspiring. Along the way she provides lots of strange and interesting stories and tidbits. For example, did you know that Mozart and Beethoven were both ardent bird lovers, and took some of their musical inspiration from birdsong?
One of the things I most enjoyed is Tharp’s discussion of what she calls “creative DNA,” our natural creative tendencies. She describes her creative DNA and that of other artists, and presents a set of 33 questions for the reader to answer to learn more about our own tendencies. It’s a great exercise for getting to know oneself, and it’s fun to read Tharp’s answers, as well.
She also provides many interesting exercises. They’re interesting just to read about, and Tharp is an excellent writer. But I’m glad I picked up this book again to review it, because I think it would be really helpful to do some of these exercises. Like this one:
Go outside and observe a street scene. Pick out a man and woman together and write down everything they do until you get to twenty items. The man may touch the woman’s arm. Write it down. She may run her hand through her hair. Write it down. She may shake her head. He may lean in toward her. She may pull away or lean in toward him. She may put her hands in her pockets or search for something in her purse. He may turn his head to watch another woman walking by. Write it all down. It shouldn’t take you very long to acquire twenty items.
If you study the list, it shouldn’t be hard to apply your imagination to it and come up with a story about the couple. Are they friends, would-be lovers, brother and sister, work colleagues, adulterers, neighbors who run into each other on the street? Are they fighting or breaking up or falling in love or planning a weekend together or debating which movie they want to see? The details on your list provide plenty of material for a short story, but that’s not the goal of this exercise.
Now do it again. Pick out another couple. This time note only the things that happen between them that you find interesting, that please you aesthetically or emotionally. I guarantee that it will take you a lot longer to compile a list of twenty items this way. You might need all day. That’s what happens when you apply judgment to your powers of observation. You become selective. You edit. You filter the world through your particular prism.
Now study the two lists. What appealed to you in the second, more selective list? Was it the moments of friction between the couple or the moments of tenderness? Was it the physical gestures or their gazes away from each other? The varying distance between them? The way they shifted their feet, or leaned up against a wall, or took off their glasses, or scratched their chins?
What caught your fancy is not as important as the difference between the two lists. What you included and what you left out speaks volumes about how you see the world. If you do this exercise enough times, patterns will emerge. The world will not be revealed to you. You will be revealed. Review by Sarah Rolphback to top
“The Chasm is where many high-tech fortunes have been lost…the Tornado is where many have been made.” -- Steve Jobs
Chasm, Tornado, Bowling Alley, Gorilla, and many other terms are now part of our business lexicon because of the delightful literary voice and insightful marketing observations of Geoffrey Moore.
Crossing the Chasm, published in 1990, showed us how to understand the market failures that commonly beset innovative technology products. It points out that there is a huge difference between the early market, where the excitement starts, and the mainstream market, where the money is.
In the early market, visionaries adopt innovative products to achieve a strategic business breakthrough. In the mainstream market, the first buyers are pragmatists. They look for measurable, predictable results, and they want to do business with market leaders rather than upstarts.
Between these two markets lies the Chasm, a period characterized by a sudden lack of sales activity. This lull is all but inevitable, but it can be accounted for. Crossing the Chasm shows how to plan for this eventuality, and how to manage the transition between the two markets. Review by Sarah Rolphback to top
Inside the Tornado discusses the market dynamics that take place after the Chasm has been crossed. Published in 1995, it draws on Geoff’s consulting experience after Chasm was published.
The preferred strategy for Chasm crossing is to enter The Bowling Alley, a temporary niche for your product based on a compelling customer need. The niche must be small enough for your company to dominate, and it is defined in terms of the customer’s application—not your product. The game is to find an application that can be leveraged into another niche, thus using the first “bowling pin” to knock over a second pin, and so on.
Tornado is Geoff’s term for the mass-market adoption of a technology, which of course doesn’t always happen. When it does, it takes place with horrifying speed and a certain amount of destruction. The book explains when and why Tornados happen, what the consequences can be (in almost every case, it is during the Tornado phase that a market leader emerges, and stays—the proverbial Gorilla), and how we can effectively plan for and manage during this heady time.
The book also describes the market stage after the Tornado subsides, called Main Street, and how to plan for and manage during this period.
In each transition—Early Market to Bowling Alley, Bowling Alley to Tornado, Tornado to Main Street—the strategies, management priorities, and corporate cultures required for success are dramatically different. To traverse this terrain, a company must find a way—three times—to renounce the very behaviors that have been the source of its previous success. No wonder this business is so difficult! Review by Sarah Rolphback to top
When this book was published in 1993, the term relationship marketing was relatively new. Today it is everywhere, though it is not clear whether everyone who uses it means the same thing. Why is the term so popular? Because Regis McKenna was right! Customer relationships are indeed the key to success.
Most of the “new” things one reads on relationship marketing are easily derivable from McKenna’s classic. Guerilla marketing, permission marketing, viral marketing, and one-to-one marketing are all variations on his original theme.
The book explains that marketing is undergoing a shift in its fundamental role and purpose: from manipulation of the customer to genuine involvement of the customer, from telling and selling to sharing knowledge, from a last-in-line corporate function to a crucial champion of corporate credibility.
Credibility, McKenna argues, is the source of a company’s sustaining value, especially in markets characterized by rapid change and customer choice (and more markets than ever have these features). A company’s credibility is determined by the character of its management, the strength of its financials, the quality of its innovations, the congeniality of its customer references, and the capabilities of its alliance partners. These are the things to focus on, not your “positioning” or your “message.”
Marketing is no longer simply a function, McKenna says, but a way of doing business. It must be part of everyone’s job, from the reception desk to the board room. The appropriate goal of marketing is not to fool the customer or falsify or manufacture a company’s image, but to integrate the customer into the design of the product, and to design a systematic process for interaction that will create substance in the relationship. Review by Sarah Rolphback to top
Clear communication is important in every field.
This classic on good writing was first published in 1959—based on William Strunk’s original volume, which E.B. White discovered in 1919!—and it is still fresh today. Short and beautifully written, much of the book is a series of simple rules about usage and composition. Simple as they are, following the rules will go a long way toward making you a better writer. And they are wonderful to read.
Perhaps the most famous is this principle of composition:
“17. Omit needless words.
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
E.B. White, who was a student of Strunk, and updated Strunk’s original work, describes this passage in his introduction to the book as “a short, valuable essay on the nature and beauty of brevity—sixty-three words that could change the world.”
White was clearly no slouch himself when it comes to beautiful writing. His section at the end of the book, An Approach to Style (With a List of Reminders), is a brilliant essay on the very essence of writing.
I like to make people laugh by telling them that I cry at the end of this book. But it’s true. Buy this book, or find it on your bookshelf, and read An Approach to Style through to the end. If you love language or think that writing is important, I think you’ll see what I mean. Review by Sarah Rolphback to top