Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quirkology - Review

I liked this book, but not as much as I thought I would. A lot of the material has been given full length treatments now in similar books. For example, if you want to learn more about the affects of birth order, Malcom Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success is a more comprehensive take on it. However, Quirkology does serve as a great introduction to the subject. 

I love books that deal with this type of behavioral economics or odd psychological principles, but can't seem to get very many others interested in them. If someone asked me for a recommendation on the subject now, this would be one of the top two I would suggest to them. It's fast paced, packed with information, and can easily lead to more reading. There was definitely some new information here, but not as much as I expected.

Some of things I learned include what drawing a Q on your forehead means about your lying ability, whether people would wear a sweater once owned by a mass murderer, and how to double your panhandling intake with one phrase. There is a ton of information here, and its really great stuff. Well worth your time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Do The Work - Review

This is the follow up work to Pressfield's championed book on creativity, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. The purpose for Do The Work is to be a more practical guide to creativity, but it just doesn't work. The best parts of Do The Work are simply rehashed bits from The War of Art. There is value in Do The Work; much value in fact. But, The War of Art is the better book and has 95% of Do the Work's best information in it already, plus much more. Do yourself a favor and pick up The War of Art instead. 

For a book on the practical aspects of creativity Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition) is still far and away the best out there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl - Review

This is a splash of ice-cold water on your face in the morning, a celebration of all that this life is meant to be. N.D. Wilson has written a wonderful book that shines a light on what true Christianity should be. It's an apologetic for living life to the fullest, and it succeeds wildly. 

Read it and you will be refreshed. You will be reminded of true, Biblical beauty that is always there. Huge questions are tackled - the problem of evil, does Hell exist, are we just puppets? Every answer that the author gives is drenched in both Scripture and laughter.

This is one of the few books that I will read more than once. It will go up on my shelf for now, but the next time the Christian life veers towards the mundane, I'll pick it up again to be reminded of the beauty of the Creator and the Creation. I have been a fan of the author's father for a long time, and now I look forward to N.D. Wilson's next book as much as Douglas Wilson's next. Don't just read this book, savor it, enjoy it, devour it. Highly Recommended.

What is your favorite book about Creation? What books do you go back to more than once? What book would you recommend first to a someone who is "stuck"?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The 33 Ruthless Rules of Local Advertising - Review

I have read a lot of marketing and advertising books, and this is the best I have found for small business owners. The information is simple, easy to implement, and extremely practical. Read it if you want tips that you can implement today. Some reviewers have complained that the information is outdated and doesn't include new information. To me, that is one of its strongest points. If I want to learn more about social media and blogging, there are hundreds of books to choose from. This book will give you principles and formulas that are timeless, remind you that there is a difference between response and results, and serve as an excellent foundation for other marketing books. 

Read it if you want to learn:

* How to set growth objectives

* Formula to calculate your average cost per new customer

* Marketing tools for getting referrals

* When/How/Where should you advertise?

* How do you know if your advertising is working? Should you ask your new prospects?

* What are the 10 Critical Components of Copy?

* How is your advertising held accountable?

* What percentage of your sales should be redirected to advertising?

In short, this is a great book. I have a business degree from Texas A&M, have taken multiple college level marketing classes, and read more than a few dozen books on marketing. If any small business owner asks me for the book they should read first, this will be my recommendation to them. Highly Recommended.

Monday, May 23, 2011

System Busters - Review

This is a great book that emphasizes the importance of systems. It is a good companion to The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It. In fact, the author of this book was inspired by Gerber to systematize his business. While I really liked the book, it's not quite what I was expecting. It really serves as a motivational book more than anything, and I was expecting something more hands on. Some sample "system sheets" would have really made the book great. As it is, it is a good read that will motivate you to implement systems, but it could have been an excellent book. 

* Motivational
* Practical - you will learn things you can use right away
* Comprehensive - you will create systems in your business for everything (literally)

* No full sample systems - big missing piece here
* Advertises author's systems software, an expensive investment
* Part of it are repetitive. It's already a short book at less than 150 pages, but it probably should clock in at less than 100.

I always tell our authors that when their book has published, they have just started a business. Your book is your business, and this book can help you figure out exactly what works for your work. Some of the systems you could create as an author would be:

Book Signing Strategy

Marketing Checklist

Securing Positive Reviews System

Ordering Books for Speaking Engagements

System for Writing Daily

System for Discovering New Subjects

The list could go on forever. This book will help you think about ways you can transform your book and really turn it into the business that it is meant to be.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Psychopath Test - Review

First of all, this is a really cool book design. The cover is one of the best that I have come across in a long time. I looked up the book after I saw Jon Ronson being interviewed, but the cover definitely sold me. Buy the hardcover, not the Kindle version, it's worth the extra couple of bucks. 

About halfway through this book, I was disappointed by the conclusions drawn on the cause of psychopathy. Essentially, it came down to a part of the brain not functioning in a normal manner. For my money, that was already self-evident. I may not have known exactly what that section of the brain was called (amygdala), but I knew psychopaths operating systems were different on a fundamental level. The more interesting questions aren't really addressed: Why does that piece not function correctly? Nature or nurture? Is it hereditary? What age does it show up? Is there any evidence that psychopaths have experienced similar trauma in their youth? How did they determine about 1% of the human population are psychopaths? And so on. These are the questions that were hiding just under the text, but were never addressed. The author backs aways from his blanket assessment by the end of the book, but the questions still remain unanswered.

Aside from that minor complaint, the book was absolutely excellent. Its the first I've read by Jon Ronson and I have already put his other two on my wish list (Them: Adventures with Extremists and The Men Who Stare at Goats). It covers a wide variety of subjects: psychopaths, scientology and the validity of psychiatry, bi-polar diagnoses in children, the nature of the madness industry, the pharmaceutical companies hand in disease proliferation, and much more. It's a great read and you could not ask for a better introduction to the subject. It reminds me of another one of my favorite books this year, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Who wants to read about the causes of psychopathy? Or how to memorize lists? Both of these authors have succeeded in writing books that transform the boring to the exceptional, mostly through the power of narrative.

The power of story can transform an ordinary subject and really give it life. For the non-fiction author, this is the goal. Conveying real information in a way that is memorable and entertaining is no easy feat, but it should be the goal. How can you transform you book into a story? What do you really want people to remember? If you had to cut 90% of your book, what 10% would remain? Can you expand on the 10%?

Recommended for anyone interested in the madness industry or as an example of non-fiction written in an engaging manner.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

5 Ways to Write Compelling Non-Fiction

Writing non-fiction is not an easy task. When the truth limits content, we are forced to create drama, intrigue, and interest within very tight parameters. As authors, there are a few simple tips you can follow to help your non-fiction leap off the page.

1. Consider the Reader. More than your source, more than yourself, more than your research - think about what the reader will get out of this work.

2. Engage in a Conversation. Pretend that you are in a conversation with friends who love the subject you are talking about. What interests them? What do they already know about it? What will surprise them? 

3. Read Mystery Novels. One of the hardest things to do as a non-fiction writer is to keep the reader "hooked." You want to give them enough to compel them to read the next chapter, but not so much that they figure it all out too early. Mystery writers are masters at this and there is a lot to be learned from their work. Read the great mystery novels and the modern ones and your non-fiction writing should improve.

4. Know Your Material. This one is simple, but often overlooked. You should know your material very well. A good rule of thumb is the 90/10 Rule for Authors. You should know more about the subject that 90% of your target audience. The 10% who know more than you probably won't read your book anyways, do don't overdo it.

5. Simplify. It is rare that a non-fiction book conveys too little information about a subject for the reader. On the other hand, including way too much information in a book is a common mistake. Simplify your work, simplify your prose. Always ask yourself two questions from the beginning to the publication date. One, what's the point? Two, why does it matter? Stick to it, and your work will be crisper, cleaner, and more engaging.

What other methods have you found helpful for engaging the readers? What is your favorite way to "hook" the reader at the beginning? Which one of the above tips best suits your writing style? 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Demon Fish - Review

This book is an interesting account of sharks and how they interact with humans. I knew very little about sharks before reading this book, but the author does a great job of educating the average reader quickly. If you have any interest in sharks at all, you will enjoy this book. I don't know if any dedicated Shark Week viewer will learn anything new, but it serves as a good introduction. 

Some things I learned about sharks:

I learned what shark calling is, and which cultures still practice it. Really interesting read, one of the best chapters in the book.

I learned about Shark Fin Soup and why people really order it.

I learned about the shark fin auctions and the commodifying of sharks.

I learned about shark hunters, poachers, and owners and why they are hurting the shark population.

I learned that the shark population is decreasing rapidly, and sharks often aren't as fierce as they are made out to be.

I learned that shark fetuses will attack and eat each other in utero.

I learned why sharks swim around with their jaws wide and teeth bared.

This is a hard subject to write about because sharks are such visually fascinating creatures, and because of that I'm not sure that a book was the best medium for the material. While its above average material, the same information conveyed via a documentary could have been outstanding.

All in all, this is a solid book. The author fails to make her case that sharks are on the verge of extinction and we have to treat them as a protected species, but its a good read nonetheless. Recommended if you want to be a shark fanatic and just need a little introduction.

Where Do Christians Buy Books?

Great post from Tim Challies on where we buy books, what kind of books we buy, and what we read. Ebooks keep taking a larger piece of the pie, and there are a lot of ways to optimize your book to take advantage of the e-revolution. Be sure and check out Challies post, and if you are interested in how our company maximizes an authors work in the ebook arena, drop us an email.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Celebrations of Curious Characters Review & Thoughts on Book Design

I have been a fan of Ricky Jay's work for a long time. He is the most talented close-up magician still performing, but he is also the preeminent collector of all things odd and unusual.

There are few authors who care about their work as much as Jay. Every word is carefully selected, each picture is one of a kind, and even the design of the book is top notch. It's the type of book that you will want to display on a table rather than hide on a shelf. It's the perfect size for the subject matter and, thankfully, this is the kind of book that is so well suited for a full color, hard cover, oversized book that it will never work as an ebook.

Each chapter consists of one page of text and one full page print. Each picture is both interesting and beautiful. In fact, you may want to get two copies just so you can frame a few of the pictures from the book. Some of my favorite chapters include:

Tossing The Broads - Jay's thoughts on the 3 card monte

Twins - A Celebration of Siamese Twins (the print accompanying this chapter is one of the very best - twins sharing a mustache)

Coffee - A History of the first Coffee Shops/Museums of the Unusual

Taking It on The Chin - The Story of the best "musical face player"

Misconception - Women who have given birth to animals

Shot From A Cannon - The first woman to be shot from a cannon (one of my favorite prints)

Death By Misadventure - The story of Chung Ling Soo

There is not a clunker in the entire book. Each short essay and every picture are nearly perfect; in short, this is a collection not to be missed. Whether you are fascinated with the unusual, curious about the odd, or just a lover of books, this is a must.

Now more than ever, the style and design of a book can make or break it. For instance, I found a book today that is contained in a prescription bottle. Interesting . . . but I thought someone had accidentally left their prescription on a shelf. Bottom line is that I think it will hurt sales more than help them.

What books do you know of that are perfectly designed for the subject matter? Does it make a difference when reading those books? What books do you have that absolutely would not work as an ebook, and why?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Naked Presenter - Review

This a great book, the first I have read by Garr Reynolds. It cuts right to the chase and has some great advice throughout the book. You can probably find 90% of the advice in this book in other works, but this book is laid out so well that it really stands out from the rest. It is a beautiful full color book that really practices what it preaches. By the end, you feel like you just sat through an engaging, creative presentation on how to present well.

Some of the things that really helped me include:

Simplify. Your presentations are too long, cut them down.

Use graphics for your visuals as much as possible, not text. Never just read a slide.

Two things to start with: 1. What's your point? 2. Why does it matter?

Connect emotionally, don't perform a data dump.

One of things I really liked about this book were the two page interviews throughout with other great presenters. Very helpful advice.

Other people who have reviewed this work say that this book is more for the advanced presenters, but I disagree. As someone who rarely speaks in front of people in a formal setting, I found a ton of useful information. I would not make it my only recommendation for a new presenter, but its certainly on the list. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned presenter, get this book.

If you are a beginner, I also recommend: The Exceptional Presenter: A Proven Formula to Open Up and Own the Room

Monday, May 9, 2011

And The Winners Are . . .

And the winners are . . .

Pamela Mattox & Debbie Hyde!

Congratulations, and Cinco de Mayo! Email me your address, or your email address, and we will get your cards to you soon. You can email me at brad@lucidbooks.net. Thanks to all who participated.

We had a lot of fun with this and plan to do more giveaways soon. Stay tuned.

Note: If anyone is interested in how we selected the winner, we assigned each contestant a number based on the order of entry, then used www.random.org to generate the two winning numbers.

P.S. - Posted this a few days ago under the comments section on the original post, but some people missed it. My apologies. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Drucker's Lost Art of Management - Review

The authors, both long-time followers of Peter Drucker, have written a book that does Drucker's work justice. The care and scholarship that went into this work are evident from the introduction on, and the vision the author's present is, as they say, timeless. While I don't agree with all of Drucker's conclusions, one has to admire how he sought to elevate management to a liberal art. 

Chapter One starts off with a great quote from Drucker that explains the book's purpose:

"Management is thus what tradition used to call a liberal art-"liberal" because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; "art" because it is practice and application. Managers draw on all the knowledges and insights of the humanities and the social sciences-on psychology and philosophy, on economics and history, on the physical sciences and ethics. But they have to focus this knowledge on effectiveness and results-on healing a sick patient, teaching a student, building a bridge, designing and selling a "user-friendly" software program"

According to Drucker, management goes way beyond the business world. Everyone practices management skills daily, and Drucker tried to elevate the moral, spiritual, and philosophical elements of management in every day life. His work is heavily influenced by his Christian background and his worldview is reflected in all of his works.

One of the most helpful part of this book was the discussion on leadership. "Effective leadership is assuming responsibility for getting the right things done" (246). This is the best chapter in the book and has some great advice for leaders.

This is a heavily researched, well-organized, well written work. I can't see many people reading it who aren't familiar with Drucker already, unless they have a specific interest in management as a liberal art. It's written for business people, but the lessons contained in the book are useful for many. Management of people as a force for good is an idea that is hard to reconcile in the modern business world, but this book points us towards principles and a leader who shows us the way. Recommended.

The Exceptional Presenter - Review

Great book for authors. Will immediately improve your presentations and book signings.

The Exceptional Presenter is a complete book that offers a lot of helpful tips for just about every facet of public speaking. It is written for business presenters primarily, but is equally valuable for teachers, preachers, or first time public speakers. The chapters are laid out well, the formulas are simple enough to implement immediately, and you will find at least one tip that will improve your speaking abilities.

Chapter 4 has some great tips on organizing your speech. The author will show you how to craft a 60 second introduction that helps you focus the entire presentation. This chapter includes a worksheet to guide the speaker and help them create a great presentation. Be sure and check out the 60/20 Rule here as well.

Chapter 5 is entitled Passionate, and it is one of my favorites. I have been guilty of speaking with the "T-Rex Posture" that the author warns against, and there are plenty of practical tips to improve your posture, inflection, and pacing in this chapter. Just following the advice in this chapter would help speakers that I hear each week improve 100%.

The following chapter discusses engagement, and the author gives 11 helpful tips on engaging the audience. Again, rather than just tell you what to do, the author instructs readers on easy ways to practice these skills throughout their day.

There really isn't much not to like about this book. It's easy to read and gets right to the point. The only thing I wish had been fleshed out more was the organization of content, but that is small complaint. Once you factor in the helpful advice on how to practice multiple times a day and the presentation sheets provided at the end of the book, this is an outstanding work that will improve your speaking abilities. Highly recommended for anyone who speaks publicly, especially those who are just starting out.