Category Archives: Non-Fiction

‘Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration’ by Ed Catmull

Need a Christmas gift for the ‘business/leadership’ person in your life? I really enjoyed this memoir by the head of Pixar Animation Studios. Catmull’s personal story is engaging and well written. It is full of great advice about how creativity and excellence can be fostered in the workplace. As head of Pixar (later bought out by Disney Studios), Catmull was a good friend and partner of Steve Jobs and other great talents in computer technology. He had an intuitive sense about how to give storytellers and filmmakers the freedom to develop ideas and make mistakes, and how to get these diverse people to work together, thereby arriving at the creative culture that brought us great films like Ratatouille, Up, Toy StoryFinding Nemo, and many more.

Even though there are lots of background reveals about the makings of these much admired animated films in the book, the focus is primarily on how the business evolved. There are amazing insights and sound advice along the way for leaders in any business or industry, who are interested in being intentional about managing innovation.

‘Undone’ by Michele Cushatt

“Maybe you’re not supposed to manage all this. Maybe, instead, you’re supposed to experience it. Walk through it. Do the best you can.”

To be honest, what drew me to this Christian memoir was the cover art…I loved the upside down-ness of the idyllic pastoral scene which seemed to speak of what the title was already hinting at…making peace with an unexpected and imperfect life. With real vulnerability and honest fear, Cushatt talks about her life which has included its fair share of messiness: divorce, remarriage, blended family, fostering children, and recurring cancer. What seemed to add insult to injury was Cushatt’s cancer–she is a public speaker and she had to part with her tongue. Doesn’t seem fair at all! Of course life isn’t fair, and this memoir is hopeful and inspirational about how to find strength and grace in even the worst moments. Sometimes life’s greatest beauty shows up in life’s greatest chaos. She doesn’t have all the answers, but her grappling with the questions is reassuring and real.

 

 

 

This trailer for her next book I Am gives a good introduction of the author.

‘The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future’ by Kevin Kelly

I’m giving full marks to this mind-blowing, highly readable forecast of inevitable technological trends, already in motion, that will be transforming our lives in the next 30 years. It’s a prediction of a much larger scope than what features the next generation of iPhone might have. Its a visionary exploration of the emerging connectivity of our world, enabled by the internet. Twelve trends are identified and explained by the author that could revolutionize the way we work, play, learn, buy, and communicate with one another. Kelly claims that even though we think technology may have already reached a pinnacle, actually it is just in its infancy.

This is a brilliant and provocative choice of Christmas gift for the techie/business person in your life. Actually, I am neither of those and I loved it. I liked how the author is prophetic, but doesn’t preach doom and gloom… yes, the future will be very different, but let’s be optimistic and embrace change rather than shy away from it. Let’s be aware of what the future may bring and be part of steering and shaping it. Let’s realize that robots and artificial intelligence are inevitable and figure out how to best work with them. This is not just a cinematic brave new world, this is a possible reality for our grandchildren. How can we best prepare them?

If you’d rather listen than read, this is an excellent overview on youtube:

‘They Left Us EVERYTHING’, by Plum Johnson

“…thinking about all the things we’ve inherited, all the carefully saved fragments from another time…each generation preserving them in turn, wanting future generations to know of this long, braided chain of genes, habits, and attitudes that binds us together as a family: our history and stories.” 

This is a memoir about a woman who takes on the task of clearing out her parents’ house after they have passed on. When we die we don’t take anything with us, and everyone else gets to go through what we have left behind! Johnson grew up in this house in Oakville, Ontario, and as she handles objects from the past, she reflects on her life, her relationship with her parents and siblings, and the life her parents had before they moved into this house. She had a disciplined British father, an exuberant Southern mother, and four siblings, all living together in this 23-room house. Johnson has a warmly candid writing style that is at once funny and poignant, but also delves into serious issues of managing loss and grief.

What I didn’t notice about the title when I first came into contact with this book was that the word EVERYTHING in the title is capitalized. Yes, the house was FULL of STUFF and for anyone who has done it, removing it all and making decisions about what to throw and what to keep, is a colossal task that does take one on an emotional journey. I’m glad Johnson shares hers. She also raises some interesting questions about whether it’s better to clear out your own mess before you die, if possible, or if it’s somehow therapeutic for your children to do it. Despite the fact that it can be frustrating if story-less objects are left without the ability to ask questions about them, there is value in reliving the memories and there may even be some surprises!

‘Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End’ by Atul Gawande

The old saying goes that once you have faced death, you can truly live. Trite but true. Of course we spend much of our lives taking very good care to see that we remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible, but the reality is still that we are going to die.

Atul Gawande, a medical doctor himself,  wrestles profoundly but personally with the dilemma of submitting ourselves to medical systems and mindsets that have been geared to prolonging life at all costs (a great strategy that has us living longer than ever before) but also coming to grips with the fact that at some point the inventions and interventions will no longer work and may actually increase suffering. In this pivotal moment, the important thing to remember is that we are mortal and the choices we make at the end of life need to be more around the quality of life remaining, even if those choices shorten life and involve refusing treatments that are available. The goal should not be a good death, but a good life to the very end. And that will look very different in each unique person, family, and situation. Gawande doesn’t offer solutions, just discusses the issues in a very accessible format.

Gawande talks about nursing homes where the focus on safety can prevent a full and dignified assistance of individual needs. He points out the high value in hospice care as an alternative to further treatment, if that is available and appropriate. Unfortunately hospice is sometimes seen as a giving up or as a failure or weakness once everything else has been tried, rather than a positive alternative to being cared for in the final chapter that leads to fullness of life till the end. Useful and engaging, the stories he tells in the book give a dignified view of those who are in the process of giving up their independence to old age or illness. His models of care focus on living a meaningful life.

Through gently storytelling, the book is also very useful in walking the reader through difficult conversations, accepting hard truths, whether patient or carer.  The final chapter of our lives may have a fullness and a richness we could never have imagined, if the right choices are made. That chapter might include sharing memories, passing on wisdom and keepsakes, settling relationships, establishing legacies, making peace with God, and ensuring that those left behind will be ok. “As people become aware of the finitude of their life, they do not ask for much. They do not seek more riches. They do not seek more power. They ask only to be permitted, insofar as possible, to keep shaping the story of their life in the world–to make choices and sustain connection to others according to their own priorities.”

 

‘Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT?: A Memoir’ by Roz Chast

Roz Chast squeezes more existential pain out of baffled people in cheap clothing sitting around on living-room sofas with antimacassar doilies in crummy apartments than Dostoevsky got out of all of Russia’s dark despair. This is a great book in the annals of human suffering, cleverly disguised as fun. Bruce McCall

Absolutely brilliant. Just loved this memoir by American cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s an honest heartfelt account of her parents’ final journey into old age, disability, and death. The slow decline of her meek father and overbearing mother is described in all of the detail that anyone dealing with elderly parents will be able to relate to–bedsores, assisted living, dementia, guilt, love, memories, worry, decisions, etc.–Chast holds nothing back. As she tells her story using cartoons and family photographs, Chaz strikes the right balance between humour and pathos. It would be so helpful to anyone going through the same experience.  If you’ve read this book, be sure to see the epilogue which appeared in The New Yorker in 2016.

Epilogue in The New Yorker

Note: According to the reviews I read, the graphics of this book are not well represented in the e-book format (Kindle). Hard cover is best. I borrowed a copy from the public library.

‘The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism’ by Naoki Higashida, K.A Yoshida, David Mitchell

When The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon was published, it was an immediate sensation because it gave such a sensitive inside look into the mind of a boy with autism. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer did the same. Both of these, though wonderful novels, are fiction. The Reason I Jump is written by a thirteen year old Japanese boy himself, using an alphabet grid. Painstakingly Naoki constructed words and sentences that resulted in a one-of-a-kind memoir, giving a rare view into how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives and responds.

David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, (whose Japanese wife did the translation) writes a foreword and a postscript to the book and since he is an accomplished author, probably assisted in putting it onto bestsellers lists. His commitment and passion for this topic are clearly evident and come from a heart that knows the struggle of communication. Mitchell himself suffers from the speech disorder of stammering and his son has autism.

One of the difficult things is that the actions and interactions of people with autism are so often misunderstood. And there is nothing more frustrating than being misunderstood. That is what makes this such an important and revolutionary book for anyone who wants to better understand the effort it takes for someone with autism to navigate the world.

It’s a short book, mostly in Q & A format, with questions like “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why do you memorize train timetables and calendars?”“Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?””Do you prefer to be alone?””Is it true that you hate being touched?””What’s the worst thing about having autism?” The book also contains some beautiful stories written by Naoki which reveal his acute intellect and imagination. Most notable is that Naoki loves nature and being outside in green just makes his heart sing. Like the friend who recommended this book to me mentioned, “Is that really so surprising? Isn’t that how God made us?”