What I read last week
Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain)
True to its title, Kitchen Confidential is an unvarnished take on the workings of the restaurant subculture. Bourdain provides a passionate narrative on his love for making great food. Perhaps required for a book providing a raw glimpse of his career, Bourdain also freely admits his shortcomings and blunders as he learned his way through, ultimately making for an incredibly genuine story. The writing style is high-energy, reflecting the fast pace of the job and its demands. Aside from his colorful stories, Bourdain also offers noteworthy pieces of advice on cooking and the kinds of food to avoid at restaurants. Overall, it’s a great read if you’ve enjoyed his shows or have a general interest in how food is made.
A Still Forest Pool (Ajahn Chah, compiled by Jack Kornfield and Paul Breiter)
I’ve been interested in building mindfulness lately, and Chah’s book offered some valuable advice on the subject. Although the terminology was a slight impediment, I ended up gaining valuable insights into Theravadan philosophy and meditation. I didn’t connect with the supernatural aspects that much, but there’s still a ton of practical advice on mitigating attachment and doubt. I particularly liked the Q&A section towards the end, which was a nice way to rephrase and clarify a lot of the more abstract concepts. Highly recommended if you’re looking for some advice on meditation and being more aware.
Unconventional Success (David F. Swensen)
This was a pretty informative read on how individual investors should evaluate assets and assess the market. The first sections on allocation give great tips on the tradeoffs between risk and return for a variety of common securities while taking into account factors such as volatility and inflation sensitivity. A core theme in Swensen’s assessments is the alignment of interests between agents and principals, which he argues is integral for trusting others with your money. Embedded along the narrative are intriguing stories on examples of each asset, with the author’s observations on the rise and fall of the dot-com bubble serving as a backdrop in many cases. The latter section on security selection, however, is largely a drawn-out critique of conventional mutual funds, which are presented as fraught with interest misalignment. The overall message is to be objectively wary of popular advice, disregard actively managed funds, and learn to accept volatility. Although the writing style is less accessible than most investing guides, this is a good read for those interested in a solid overview of where their money can and should be invested.
How to Read a Book (Mortimer J. Adler)
How to Read a Book presents a strongly opinionated take on how one should gain understanding on an abstract level. Adler, a philosopher, delineates four increasingly deep levels of reading: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and syntopical. Though the first three levels slot in nicely with one’s intuitions, syntopical reading encapsulates Adler’s framework for reading not a single book, but a collection of books when one is particularly interested in an area. Along these same lines, Adler introduces his own Syntopicon, a large compendium of the Western canon indexed by a hundred or so underlying ideas. Apart from this exposition, much of the book discusses the specifics of digesting a single book. The book devotes a section to explain the specifics for genres such as theatre, history, and social science as well as sections for how one should fairly critique an author. Overall, the core concepts are well-argued but the flowery and condescending writing style – perhaps an artifact of the book’s time – made this a difficult read.
What I’m reading this week
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (Ken Liu)
Ken Liu wrote the English translation of Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, one of my favorite sci-fi series. A compelling author himself, this book contains a collection of his most noted sci-fi and fantasy short stories.
Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal (Joel Salatin)
United States legislation is notorious across industries for complex regulations that disadvantage consumers rather than protecting them. In this book, Salatin provides a passionate and personal case for how bureaucracy has constrained agriculture to the detriment of local farms and diverse food sources.