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Books to Watch | March 10, 2020

March 10, 2020

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Each and every week, our marketing team—Marketing Director Blyth Meier (BRM), Digital Marketing Specialist Gabbi Cisneros (GMC), and Editorial Director Dylan Schleicher (DJJS)—highlights the five books being released that we are most excited about.

This week, our choices are:

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The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone's Mind by Jonah Berger, Simon & Schuster

A friend and I have a joke that the three most precious words in the English language are, “you are right.” At home and at work, I’m sure we all have a lot we’d like to convince others of in that regard. If only we could appeal to reason, we think, simply present the facts and information we think the other side is overlooking and in need of, surely we could convince them to see things as we do, get them to support our cause or buy our products. But convincing people to change—their minds or their behavior or purchasing behavior—is usually not a great strategy. What Jonah Berger teaches us in his new book is that there is a better one: rather than pushing people to change, it is much more effective to remove barriers to change. That approach requires less muscle, and more understanding and empathy. 

Berger borrows the idea of catalysts from chemistry, where they are used to speed up chemical reactions that lead to chemical change. They do so not by ramping up the amount of energy (heat and pressure) needed, but by increasing the success rate when molecules collide. We can do that in our lives, becoming a catalyst ourselves, by removing the barriers to change:

Whether it’s about changing minds, changing behavior, or inciting action, catalysts REDUCE roadblocks.

That is, they “reduce Reactance, ease Endowment, shrink Distance, alleviate Uncertainty, and find Corroborating Evidence.” There are many examples of individuals and organizations employing these principles in the book, but a particularly powerful one involves the leader of the Klu Klux Klan in Nebraska who was finally changed not by his repeated run-ins with the law, but by the kindness and friendship offered by a local Rabbi and his wife. He eventually converted to Judaiam and joined the synagogue he had once planned to blow up. 

Change may indeed be the only constant, but that does not mean it is easy—or always for the better. Jonah Berger’s new book, The Catalyst, offers a way to make it both easier and better. (DJJS)

 

Concentration: Staying Focused in Times of Distraction by Stefan Van der Stigchel, The MIT Press

Reading a book about concentration in our open office—with the music playing, constant foot traffic by my desk, never-ending emails arriving, and the siren song of Slack conversations and social media—is a meta activity. There isn’t a minute that goes by that any one of those things couldn’t pull me away from concentrating on Stefan Van der Stigchel’s Concentration. It’s not just here at work, though; the fact is that there are more distractions in modern life than ever before. 

The good news is that we also know more about how our brains work than ever before. Stefan Van der Stigchel uses that knowledge to dispel some of the myths about how the information age is affecting our capacity to pay attention, and how we can keep it focused on what is most important to us at any given moment. After all:

Everything we know is determined … by where we focus our attention.

He explains how to increase the capacity of our working memory by using the physical world around us, how taking breaks (especially in natural environments) and daydreaming can actually be good for our concentration, and why “Ultimately, concentration is like a muscle in that it requires training to stay strong.”  

The trick is to keep the muscles as strong as possible while at the same time keeping the amount of effort to a minimum.

What he ultimately reveals is that we are in control, “masters of our own attention, and can decide to opt out of the attention rat race if we wish.” Yes, Silicon Valley has a lot of sway. The devices we carry around in our pockets and purses have a powerful pull. But our attention, and the power it holds, is ours alone. We can decide to simply switch it all off to focus at any moment to focus on what really matters—the world and the people, or the book, right in front of us. (DJJS)

 

Data Feminism by Catherine D`ignazio & Lauren F. Klein, The MIT Press

Data, as Rana Foroohar wrote in Don’t Be Evil, is the oil of the new economy. It is big business. It is power. We have highlighted a steady stream of books examining that power and its effects over the past few years, but none are quite like Catherine D`ignazio and Lauren Klein’s Data Feminism, which applies intersectional feminist theory, study, and action to the issue. As they write:    

Intersectional feminism examines unequal power. And in our contemporary world, data is power too. Because the power of data is wielded unjustly, it must be challenged and changed. 

Far from the way we usually perceive data, as clear, concise, and uncontroversially authoritative, as cold and rational, they remind us that it is relational, human, and requires collaboration and community. 

The starting point for data feminism is something that goes mostly unacknowledged in data science: power is not distributed equally in the world. Those who wield power are disproportionately elite, straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender men from the Global North. The work of data feminism is first to tune into how standard practices in data science serve to reinforce these existing inequalities and second to use data science to challenge and change the distribution of power.

As such, the authors stress “the importance of listening to and learning from people whose lives and voices are behind the numbers.” They do so by widening the definition of data to include a broader array of starting points such as “the arts, activism, community organizing, and consciousness-raising.” They also do so by acknowledging their privilege as white, cisgendered women and the inherent limits that come with their own identities, perspectives, and experiences. 

At lunch last week, a coworker wondered aloud to me how I haven’t become cynical from reading so many books about the challenges we face. I guess I find it hopeful that there are so many of them out there, so many people thinking about and working on these issues, so many people who care, people not only concerned with their own wellbeing and fortune, but working toward understanding and addressing the past, present, and future of others—of us all. I find that in a world where hope can be hard to come by, Data Feminism offers a whole heap of it, even as (and especially because) it points out where there is so much work to be done. (DJJS)

 

Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France by Melissa Clark, Clarkson Potter

“First we get lost, then we have lunch.” This working title for New York Times writer Melissa Clark’s new cookbook was her reply to her kindergarten teacher when asked about her family’s summer visits to France. Year after year they returned, an “intense culinary curiosity” driving their journeys and forever imbuing the author’s Jewish Brooklyn kitchen with all things French. If you are a Francophile like me, Dinner in French hits all your weak spots: cats poking out of windows of ivy-covered buildings, window shopping at patisseries and boulangeries, walls covered with that particular French blue which seems simultaneously old and new, like the sky and the sea have merged into one. Dishes I’m itching to try include Cornmeal and Harissa Souffle, Lillet Fondue, and Delicate Pea and Lettuce Soup with Ricotta and Tarragon. But first on my list is the Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Tarragon Tart that adorns the cover, as we are finally entering spring here in Wisconsin and local asparagus is around the corner. Alongside the recipes, Clark shares photos of her family living their best lives in the French countryside, and it’s easy to imagine oneself as part of the adventure. I am strolling with Melissa through open-air produce markets, trying to decide between the yellow or red heirloom tomatoes, I am helping Melissa hang red-striped linen towels on the line as the warm summer breeze passes through the yard, we are discussing the films of Claire Denis, Mati Diop, and Céline Sciamma over Raspberry-Lavender Clafouti straight from the dish. Dinner in French Melissa is my kitchen’s new best friend. (BRM)

 

The Gift of Forgiveness: Inspiring Stories from Those Who Have Overcome the Unforgivable by Katherine Schwarzenegger, Pamela Dorman Books

As someone who wavers between letting rude comments roll off my back and holding a grudge against a kindergarten classmate for tripping me in the hallway, I'm very interested in the practice of forgiveness. It's especially interesting to me from the social media position at our company, where "blocking" someone, essentially muting their existence, is just two clicks away on any given website. And it's easy to advise people not to take the easy way out, to work for peace with yourself and with others, but when forgiving someone who may have done you irrevocable wrongs sounds so difficult, it's easy to mentally or physically click "BLOCK". Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt's The Gift of Forgiveness provides a variety of examples that will convince you that "forgiveness done right is a gift, and, done well, it can work miracles."

I was glad to find I wasn't alone in my negative grade school experiences when Schwarzeneggar Pratt shared her story of being lied to about a kindergarten playdate she wasn't invited to. The difference was that she and her friend hugged and made up, while I (and many others) just keep those feelings of betrayal and anger bottled up. And the examples in The Gift of Forgiveness span from this simple form of saying sorry to more complicated paths of forgiving among family, friendships, marriage, separation, divorce, or even in death. The book is made up of forgiveness stories of differing shades of difficulty, compiled by the author's interviews with twenty-two people in the hopes that at least one will give the reader something to connect to, make us feel less alone in our own internal and external struggles with forgiveness. (GMC)

 

What we're reading away from work:

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss “I'm reading The Wise Man's Fear, the 2nd of an unfinished trilogy by a Wisconsin author. An expertly wrought and beautifully framed twist on classic fantasy tropes. I almost never read works twice. Rothfuss is a clear exception to that rule." —Dan Brouchoud, Customer Service Specialist

 

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