Minimal | The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Magic Cleaning #1), by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
(Magic Cleaning #1),
by Marie Kondo, translated by Cathy Hirano,
Published by Ten Speed Press (2014)
Rating: 
*****

Introduction

At University, the last evening before it was certain that we would be packing up and returning to our respective homes, one thought stood above all else in my head. Over the past five years, try as I might, I had accumulated a fair number of possessions. What was I going to prioritize carrying back? It was pretty straightforward that evening. I ran through everything I had, thought about what I had left at home, and prioritized accordingly. My approach to it was simple: if I never was able to return to University, what would I be alright letting go of?

I returned home to a house that stood suspended in time, to a room that looked exactly as I had left it in June, 2015, right after my Grade 12 board examinations. I’ve returned here several times on short stints, but never been invested enough in making my room look like I had evolved from the state I was in during that time. So answer papers from past exams were strewn around, a few revision guides were in my shelves, and my exam stationery kit remained exactly as is.

Considering I had time on my hands, I figured I ought to reorganize everything. I wanted to be methodical in the manner I did things, which is why I picked up this book. It did not disappoint.

Structure

Kondo is right about one thing. Nobody really teaches us how to tidy up. I certainly wasn’t taught, or “explained” why things went in particular places. My parents decided where things best fit – and we sort of stuck to those principles, even if (and I never did) come up with better ways to store things. Kondo treats this book as an opportunity to teach. Hence, there’s a lot of structure in the manner she writes, and that’s one of the things I appreciated most about the book. It lays down the premise of why there’s a high likelihood we know very little about what tidying up and decluttering truly means at it’s essence, and builds from there into the philosophy and evidence of how tidying up has assisted her and her clients. It is only after that she goes on to explain and illustrate how to apply these principles, along with additional principles per category of tidying up.

There’s a reasoning to her beliefs about cleaning up that I found extremely helpful, because they allowed you to opt-out and drop out of reading the book, or buying into her system – the one she’s popularized, rather, at any point. That reasoning is at the core of the book, and explains why she remains so passionate about the subject: something that comes to the fore when you watch her TV show.

The Language

Translating this would not have been easy. This is true of all translations: they require a lot of patience and a degree of meticulousness that aids in conveying precise, technical information to a wider audience in a language distinct from the source. The translator has done a fabulous job, not in the least because I smiled throughout my reading of this book. I couldn’t stop smiling because there was a simplicity and joy in the language that communicated the joy of cleaning up so well.

Conclusions

The book works if you buy into it, or go into an open mind and consider implementing any of the things she talks about. Even if you don’t, it’s an excellent theoretical read. For me, though, results were instantaneous. My room, today, is everything I am, personified. Less clutter and all, and that’s definitely helped my headspace.

64 Squares and Technology | Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins, by Garry Kasparov

Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins,
by Garry Kasparov,
Published by PublicAffairs (2017)
Rating:
 *** 

This book was recommended to me at University by a guest lecturer who was taking sessions for us in Information Technology Law. I’ve been playing chess against the computer every day since the start of the year (my record is dismal, and improvements, if any, are not noticeable yet), so this book caught my fancy instantly. Deep Blue, in general, is well-documented, but I hadn’t read Kasparov’s thoughts on the game, or on machines generally. Plus, having read Andrew Yang’s bleak painting of what technology was doing to us, I figured it was time for a bit of a more uplifting take on things. One that inspired, and catered to the boundless possibilities that advancements in technology unlocked.

Kasparov takes a fundamentally simple approach the book. He traces through the history of artificial intelligence and machine learning, particularly in the context of chess, and paints how his matchup with Deep Blue came to be – and where the algorithms will take us next, with AlphaGo and everything.

This was a useful exposition of that history. However, my issue with the book is that the blurb made is sound like it would discuss the interaction between humans and artificial intelligence. I was curious, in particular, about Kasparov’s own work with artificial intelligence, and the manner in which he has contributed to chess algorithms and chess database systems, or studied them. That constituted less than one-third of the book, which is the reason for my rating.

Standard of Living | The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future, by Andrew Yang

The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future
by Andrew Yang
Published by Hachette Books (2018)
Rating: ****

Introduction

A while ago, I wrote about my journey reading about the White House. Since then, I shifted my attention to reading about, and books by candidates running for the Presidency this year. It seemed like a useful way to gain contextual information about some of their policy goals, but also understand who they were as people, in their own eyes. Autobiographies and personal narratives written by the people going through them provide the perspective (and opportunity) for people to articulate their ideas without too much restriction or restraint. I began this journey by reading about Andrew Yang, whose #YangGang trend on twitter blew up in and around the Democratic primary debates when he wasn’t on stage.

Summary 

The title is a mouthful but is a summary of the core argument this book makes: people in America need a Universal Basic Income. This is premised on the changing dynamic of the economy, one that is more technology-focused and technology-driven, which has far-reaching consequences on communities across the economic spectrum. Yang, however, centers his consequential analysis on marginalized communities to showcase how a Universal Basic Income could alleviate additional societal stresses such as drug use and crime that pervade American society.

The Narrative

I enjoyed Economics as a subject throughout high school and University. However, reading non-fiction Economics for me is quite a challenge. Generally, non-fiction – especially those pieces of work that seek to argue a point of view, for me, are easier to follow along if there is a narrative to follow along too. Freakonomics and Outliers, for example, both take case-studies on a chapter-by-chapter basis. That seems like a simple enough way to present argumentative information.

Yang, however, splits up the book, in tone, into two distinct parts. There’s the premise, and the argument. His narrative is built up through the premise itself, drawing on from his own life – hailing from an immigrant family, and talking us through the history (recent past) of America’s economy, to understand the seismic shift that the economy has grappled with in recent years. He moves this narrative forward by talking us through the venture-focused economy America has become, of which, mind you, he is both a contributing cause – and effect. That enables him to portray a bleak picture of what the human has to endure. Additionally, America is a fractured country. Despite being the wealthiest nation on Earth, it has a significant wage inequality. The median, therefore, is not representative. Nonetheless, it is most significant to his argument – and so, he defines his “normal people” – the median in America.

The Argument

This brief history contextualizes most of the analysis that Yang provides. He puts forth, in plain terms, his belief that a Universal Basic Income would help address these issues of wage disparity, and help with the transition that has already begun.

However, Yang’s analysis goes deeper, looking at social dysfunction. He looks at gender imbalances in society, and how income would empower to help further the cause of equality. More importantly, any further stresses on people’s personal and social lives as a result of job disruptances (which Yang links back to the health of the economy) could be contained through the UBI mechanism.

The Humour

There are references to Civilization VI and computer games, which are always worth enjoying.

Conclusion

My only issue with the argument is that I needed more evidence – particularly in the second half. There was a point at which it delved into proselytizing people on the basis of faith and trust, which seemed like it made sense for a Presidential candidate to do, but not as much as an academic endeavour. Some of his statements felt suspect – and the case for the UBI could be made with evidence in a better manner. The tone of the book in these parts was misplaced.

Nonetheless, worth reading – particularly as a thesis on a strategy to cure economic inequality.

Did Not Hurt |This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor
by Adam Kay
Published by Picador (2017)
Rating: *****

Introduction 

The NHS has fascinated me for a long time. As a non-British person, I’m truly in awe of the fact that healthcare, on a grand and very visible scale is affordable to everybody across the nation, and is chosen by people across economic classes. I understand that national healthcare models exist around the world, and in no means am I proclaiming the NHS to be the best – I am not an expert on the matter and have read limited literature around it. It just fascinates me that the system can exist with public backing.

I know one doctor who works within the NHS. I’ve never discussed the system with him. I know a few doctors – several of them in my own family. I’ve never discussed their cases or any funny stories they may have to share. However, I have imagined, as I do think everyone in the service sector does, that they would have seen some characters in their lifetime. I’ve always wondered what that journey was like. Adam Kay peeled back the curtain in his memoir, and I was enriched for it. Through his book, he takes us through his time as a junior doctor in the UK.

Entertainment

This was a stunningly entertaining book. It’s taken from Kay’s diary, and has retained it’s original format for the most part, with short entries interspersed with longer ones. While the format does take some time to get accustomed to, Kay writes in a manner that is unfiltered and accessible, giving you an insight into how he thinks really quickly – and boy, is his brain hilarious. There are jokes aplenty, and succinct, witty, two-line observations that’ll make you chuckle. The humour cuts across Kay’s treatment of more serious, current-day issues that the NHS has to tackle, including doctor allocation, understaffing, as well as a host of personal issues that professionals in the medical field go through that we, as patients sometimes take for granted.

All-in-all, it makes something very scary (medicine and people’s lives on the line) seem less scary, and I’m grateful for it.

Emotion

There are some very, very touching tales throughout. Doctors have a lot of empathy, and Kay certainly knows when to flick this switch on. The book ends hurriedly and abruptly, and you understand – especially around the final few pages, the kind of emotional toll and rollercoaster doctors must go through on a daily basis. I found myself thinking about surgeons most frequently, or diagnosticians, who rapidly must move from patient to patient, putting negatives behind them as quickly as possible.

Footnoting

Particular mention has to be made of Kay’s footnoting. The first thing I laughed about in the book was a note about footnotes that directed me to read the footnotes. At first, I didn’t understand why. Generally, especially when I’m reading e-books, I tend not to read footnotes. This practice is largely owing to the cumbersome nature of navigating to the footnote and navigating back. However, Kay uses a fair amount of medical terminology – and supplies helpful, contextual information in laypeople-English in his footnotes. Quite often, these are supplemented with humorous anecdotes, that made the footnotes a delight.

The other option would have been to omit medical jargon that was beyond the grasp of reasonably informed individuals – but that would have been inauthentic and a disservice to the craft he performed. I’m pleased that was not the route chosen.

Conclusion

Excellent, sit-down and laugh your heart out read. Worth a Sunday afternoon.