Hello! Happy new year.
How are you? How have you been reading over your break? It’s been great to catch up with friends over the last few weeks about the books they’ve been getting into, and comparing notes on what’s good. Some hot reads at the moment seem to be Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown, and I Didn’t Do the Thing Today by Madeleine Dore (both of which will be on the podcast in the next few weeks).
I finished 2021 having read an unexpected but satisfying 52 books, after churning through 9 books in December. Just before Christmas, I hopped down the Mornington Peninsula for a few days of reading whilst looking out over this cute little courtyard in the Airbnb I stayed (plus a luxurious trip to the hot springs).
This year, my reading goal is 45 books, and I have a goal to read more books from broader genres. I’ve got a couple of history, outer space, and physics books earmarked to help towards this goal.
I’m also trying to get into audiobooks (again), but with more success this time as I’m focusing on autobiographies. I’m currently absolutely loving Storyteller by the incomparable Dave Grohl. The audiobook conversation on Instagram was full of great recommendations (and some strong views!) over the weekend. Looks like I’ll be keeping my Audible trial once it ends.
There have been so many great book releases recently, so I’ve got lots to share with you (including this week’s podcast episode about the excellent How to Begin by Michael Bungay Stanier). Another exceptional book I read was Johann Hari’s latest book, Stolen Focus, which I’m reviewing a little further down this dispatch 👇🏼.
Speaking of which, you’ll notice this email looks a little different as I’ve moved to hosting it on Substack. The cool thing is it means you can easily comment, reply, or hit the heart button if there’s a part of the conversation you want to join in on. Plus, previous editions are much easier (and nicer) to revisit.
So, what have you been reading? Do you have any reading goals for the year? Let me know by hitting reply, or adding a comment.
In reading resolutions and revolutions,
PS. To borrow from Austin Kleon (and everyone else who borrows this from Austin Kleon), this newsletter and the podcast are 'free but not cheap'. You can support their ongoing creation by becoming a member on Patreon, buying me a coffee as a one off 'thank you', purchasing a card from the Good Press card store, or leaving giving the podcast a (five) star rating on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Thanks!
*This month’s bonus member content*
This month, members of the bookmark membership have received their first of two bonus podcast episodes; the three big ideas from The Beatles Get Back documentary. I watched the ~8 hours of recording and practicing footage currently showing on Disney+, and summarised it into 15 minutes of big ideas, just for you!
Next week, the second bonus will go live, featuring a very special interview with one of the authors I’ve already mentioned in this newsletter… all about how they curate the best bits of the wide range of reading they do 👀. I can’t wait.
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Review: Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
The short version
Journalist Johann Hari explores why our attention and ability to focus continues to diminish, and the implications of this.
What I enjoyed
Going in, I was hoping that this wasn’t going to be yet another book telling us things we already know about our over-use of / addiction to technology.
Whilst the book starts with technology, Johann ends up discussing the fascinating and frightening systemic issues at play. Spoiler alert: the system is rigged against us. And it goes way beyond technology. The unbalanced systems that surround big-tech, food production, pollution/the environment, education, and mental health all play a role in disrupting our ability to focus. This isn’t tinfoil hat conspiracy stuff, the information supporting this is scarily open, particularly in how big-tech make money off of us.
The book is funny, anger-inducing, thought-provoking, and very well written. Another great example of a journalistic approach making for great non-fiction reading.
Johann also does a very intentional job in sharing both sides of the story where he can, particularly when he discusses the systemic vs personal responsibilities of appropriate tech use (including a heated debate with Indistractable author, Nir Eyal), and discussions around ADHD diagnosis and treatment approaches.
What I didn’t
Despite the huge systemic issues Johann highlights, I don’t feel like I went away with a clear idea on what I could do to address them, other than the tweaks and hacks that fall under ‘personal responsibility’, and weren’t anything new.
Yes, I went away and really challenged myself on how (and if) I want to use both Facebook owned social media, and Google products/services, given the rapid societal rot they’re playing an inextricable role in, but I would have appreciated a little bit more on how to play a role in really changing things. Especially given at several points he talks about how huge historic social changes have only come about because a group of citizens have pushed for them.
I thought this was an outstanding look at what’s going on in society, and how that impacts all of us - from our focus (at a time where we desperately need to focus on complex, generation-defining issues like climate change), to our health.
Meanwhile, on the bookshelf
How to Begin by Michael Bungay Stanier
Love the new format! You've saved me from diving into Johann's book then... think i'll dive into one of his long form podcasts about it.... and this is why i love your reviews :) I thought it would be a bit more action oriented. I have also been off Instagram since midDec and really not missed it at all (and its given me much more focus for reading books!).
BTW, my book reading goal for this year is 26 books, 1/2 fiction as goal is to increase leisure reading. And also why i have signed up to be a member to encourage more reading :)
Yes! Love this format, Steph and thanks for the tip to read Johann's new book.