For this month’s reading wrap up, I’m sharing a book written by the guy who wrote the screenplay for Braveheart…
- A book by an actor who changed the world (for a few very important small people) via salad dressing. Yes. You read that right: Salad dressing…
- A book that you might find useful if you want to learn how to mimic the people you most admire in the world…
- And a bittersweet story about a man and his relationship with a quirky cast of childhood friends, told from the perspective of a cat, which is hands down the BEST cat book I’ve ever read. Ever.
What’s inside this TBR Wrap Up Article:
- List of books read this month
- Brief reviews of selected books
(To learn more about the Tic-Tac-TBR Game, join our Brilliant Writer Merry Band!)
February 2022 Book List & Prompts:
(F) = Fiction. (NF) = Nonfiction.
- Prompt: Penalty Book
Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull (NF): The story of Pixar, told by one of its founders.
How I did: Almost finished
- Prompt: Penalty Book + Includes an animal
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (F): A cat goes on a journey with his master who loves him but has to give him up for a mysterious reason, and so is trying to find a friend willing to take him.
- Prompt: Penalty Book
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (F): The story of an orphan girl living through WWII in Germany, told from the perspective of Death.
How I did: Didn’t finish. Read about 150 pages of it, then got super bored, skipped to the end, and never read the rest of the middle. Sad because I was hoping this would be a Guernsey or a The Help (one of those popular books you ignore for a long time because it’s popular, and then you pick it up and kick yourself for waiting so long because it’s actually good), but it wasn’t.
- Prompt: Book from my dreams (dreamed of food)
In Pursuit of the Common Good by Newman & Hotchner (NF): A famous actor and his writer friend create a salad dressing brand that changes childrens’ lives.
How I did: Finished in a couple sittings.
- Prompt: Pink on the cover
Living the Braveheart Life by Randall Wallace (NF): The screen writer for Braveheart tells his life story.
How I did: Finished.
- Prompt: Foreign site-recommended
Decoding Greatness by Ron Friedman (NF): How to become great at what you do by reverse engineering the success of others in your niche.
How I did: Finished.
Selected Book Reviews
Personal Ratings & Review
I use 2 criteria to rate every book on a scale of 1–5:
- Content: the ideas in this book are interesting, edifying, and worth learning. (Out of ★★★★★ stars)
- Craftsmanship: the work is polished, skillful, and well-written. (Out of ★★★★★ stars)
In Pursuit of the Common Good by Newman & Hotchner (NF)
“And that is how our baby got started — not in a manger, but in a tub — not a wise man in sight — a fading movie star and a cantankerous writer, but that was it.” — In Pursuit of the Common Good
In Pursuit of the Common Good is the funny, inspiring true story of how a couple of Hollywood stars (actor Paul Newman and his writing friend A.E. Hotchner) created the famous Newman’s Own salad dressing and condiments brand.
In case you don’t know, Newman’s Own started out in the dressing business, although it’s since expanded to drinks and other sauces, and another unique aspect of the company? It donates 100% of its profit to camps that serve extremely medically fragile children.
This is the story of how the brand started, why they decided on their unusual business model, and the camps they created/inspired and the children they helped. The book starts out hilarious as it recounts the origin of Newman’s Own, and then takes on a more serious tone as it goes into the second half, describing the effect Newman’s Own has had on children and families around the country and around the world.
If you’re interested in learning about how a couple kooky creatives created a salad dressing that changed the world (at least, the world for a few hundred…thousand…children and families) this is the book for you 🙂
Living the Braveheart Life by Randall Wallace (NF)
“I find there is no brave man or woman nor anyone who lives by faith and love who doesn’t long for a deeper experience with that kind of courageous life.” — Living the Braveheart Life
Living the Braveheart Life is an autobiography of sorts written by the man who penned the screenplay for the famous 1999 movie, Braveheart.
I wanted to read this book because I heard the author speaking about his life and the creation of the Braveheart screenplay and show on a podcast. But after reading the book I find it somewhat curious that the same man wrote the screenplay for a hit movie, and also this book. The book has several nascent jewels of ideas hidden in its depths, but to be perfectly blunt: they’re few, and buried.
It’s okay, I don’t blame the author, and I’m loathe to critique a writer who sounds promising in many ways, but I think there are two main issues with this book:
- It needed more time. Time to whittle away the filler, drill down to the jewels, and organize them in a powerful, clear way. As it is, he mish-mashes together autobiographical details, spiritual ideas, notes on the Braveheart creation process in a semi-chaotic, unsatisfying way.
- It needed more clarity. I have the sense throughout the book that Wallace isn’t being totally honest with his reader, mostly because some of the things he talks about (his parents, his divorce, his own struggles) are still hurting him, and he doesn’t want to dwell on them.
This is understandable, but in that case I would advise him NOT to write a book just yet, but to wait until he’s worked out a few more things in his life, and then write about those aspects of his life when he’s really gotten fully through them and can extract the valuable lessons from those experiences without continuing to suffer great pain.
Decoding Greatness by Ron Friedman (NF)
“Any metric that seizes your attention but doesn’t contribute to your health, well-being, or career is ultimately a distraction.” — Decoding Greatness
Decoding Greatness is a book about reverse engineering other people’s successes to learn how to build your own.
Decoding Greatness started out strong, but lost me about halfway through, which partly may be my fault, since I’m already familiar with many of the concepts it teaches. But partly I am not sure I totally agree with all of the topics and their arrangement in this book about, well, decoding greatness. (For example, at some points he slips into talking about deliberate practice techniques rather than reverse engineering someone else, it’s a related topic, but not the same).
Still, it can be very difficult to organize a topic like this, and the author mostly did a great job. But it was a bit more forgettable than a book like Ultralearning or Atomic Habits.
Still, the beginning of the book is certainly worth reading, and what I found most valuable was the list of questions the book presents if you ever have the opportunity to talk to someone who is a success in your field. I would definitely still recommend this book for anyone who is ambitious, longing to do better at their work.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (NF)
“Humans who think we don’t understand them are the stupid ones.” — The Travelling Cat Chronicles
I first heard about The Travelling Cat Chronicles from a booktuber (I think it was Merphy Napier), and even though we don’t have exactly the same taste, her description of the book intrigued me enough to remember this when playing the TBR game.
And boy am I glad I read this book! I finished the thing in one sitting, and although I’d been forewarned that it would be a bittersweet book and I kind of guessed what was going to happen, the journey to the end of the book was so…what is the word?…delightful, poignant, funny, full-of-heart that I enjoyed this book as I have rarely enjoyed a book in this season of life.
Anyway, what is the story about? In short, a man and his beloved adopted stray cat go on a long journey around Japan (yes, this was a translated book. The original was in Japanese) visiting the man’s friends from his childhood to his youth, trying to see if he can leave the cat with any of them. Because although the man loves his cat, he has a very good reason for needing to rehome the cat, which is revealed at the end of the book.
The whole story is told from the perspective of the cat, who has a dry wit and a hilarious sense of humor, which the English translator did a fantastic job of capturing. Of all the books I read this month, this one is clearly the most worthwhile. Whether you like talking cats or not, this one is highly recommended!
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