Welcome to the very first Reading Things, a quarterly newsletter from the Thingelstad Family, all about books! Thank you for reading with us! 📚
In this issue: The Book Thief, Atomic Habits, Treasure Hunters, The WEIRDest People in the World, The Second Mountain, and Tammy's Corner with a prize drawing! 🎟
So here we are at the precipice of a new newsletter; this time from family Thingelstad. What is this thing you may ask? Well, not really sure. Jamie came to the family and told us of a dream he had. A dream for a new newsletter that would involve us all. A newsletter that would share our love of reading with others and get foot draggers like me to produce some content. A newsletter that would only happen four times a year so as to not burden reader or writer. A newsletter by a family, his family. A newsletter that people might like and enjoy. A newsletter where "Things" read things and share about those things that we read. And here we are. It’s happening. To say that the rest of us were on board would be a lie, but we didn’t really have a choice. He had a dream, a vision, and he just kept moving it forward until we either had to produce content or make the man look a fool. And while we can be a cruel bunch sometimes, we aren’t that cruel. We would not leave our fearless leader out on the prairie lonesome for his co-creators, so create we have. It might not be the exact vision that he had in the beginning, but I guess that’s the point. He wanted all of us to have a newsletter and now we do. Welcome to the first issue of Reading Things! — Tammy
Markus Zusak (2007), 608 pages.
Never before have I read a story narrated by death, and I can’t say it's a pleasant viewpoint, but it's a gripping one. That goes for the whole book - not at all pleasant, but gripping. This is understandable considering The Book Thief is set in World War II Nazi Germany. It follows 9 year old Leisel Meminger as she grows up during the war, in which she begrudgingly moves in with a foster family who ends up hiding a Jew in their basement, and begins to defy the ways of Hitler, the Führer, herself. She and her family face their own encounters with death as times become tougher financially, but more important, socially. You will get to know and respect Leisel, Rudy, Rosa, Hans, and Max through the good times and the bad, through their enemies and through their friends as they show readers how tough it is for your own country to openly persecute someone you love and demand so much of your other loved ones and yourself.
I am not in any way interested in a gross or scary book and that is not what this is. This book tells a unique and sad story unlike anything I've ever read before. Our narrator, death itself, offers an unbiased and true exploration of every group during this unthinkable time we call World War II and the Holocaust - from the persecutors to the bystanders and the victims. The story is simple yet complex and deep; horrific but beautifully told. Markus Zuzak's words are packed full of figurative language, comparisons, and descriptions. Nothing is simply said: it’s described, imagined, painted into your brain.
You'll learn something and you'll lose something in reading the Book Thief - maybe a tear, or maybe a little piece of your heart left behind for your favorite character. — Mazie
James Clear (2018), 320 pages.
Atomic Habits has quickly found its place as one of my most recommended books. Why is that?
First, I found the framework that Clear presents around habit change to resonate strongly with my personal experience. Clearly distinguishing between Outcomes, Processes, and Identity and understanding the internal push and pulls associated with each of those layers has been important for me when I want to make changes.
The book gives some attention to the identity aspect as well, with references to "I am …" statements. I ended up highlighting a lot of sections in this book, but one that resonated strongly with me and I've found myself returning to many times.
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
That is powerful.
The second reason I liked this is how the author took abstract psychological constructs and turned them into memorable and actionable processes. Priming your environment for action, and habit stacks are big ideas here. The habit stack has been a powerful one for me. I already have a habit of drinking coffee first thing in the morning. I've successfully added a handful of good habits to that stack using the cup of coffee as a base.
The third reason this I've been recommending this book is that it created value for me. I found Clear's approach effective and I've successfully adopted the processes in a handful of areas. I'm also continuing to push new habits.
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
I've used the techniques in this book to create a strong morning routine that sets me up for success. I’m now working on figuring out how to apply habit techniques to other activities, notably meal habits. — Jamie
James Patterson (2020), 336 pages.
I think this book is good for kids about 8 - 14.
Treasure hunters is the story of Bick, Beck, Storm, & Tommy. They go on adventures trying to find treasure. But another side is trying to stop them. Nathan Collier is a treasure hunter too but doesn’t find the treasure. He follows them hoping to get their treasure.
Now let’s get to know the characters. There is Bick short for Bickford. Bick and Beck are twins. One writes the book and one draws it. They get into big fights sometimes. Storm is the second oldest. Her real name is Stephanie, but they call her Storm cause when you say her real name her eyes look like a storm. Then there is Tommy. He is the oldest and is the pilot and loves every girl he see’s.
There are 7 books in the series and there is more bad guys and more action to come. — Tyler
Joseph Henrich (2020), 704 pages.
This book worried me when I started reading it. Once I got going with it I found myself intrigued by the topic. The premise of the book is that Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, or WEIRD, operate in a way that is notably different from other societies, and then attempts to address why.
There are many aspects to the thesis that Henrich puts forward but there were a handful that I really interesting.
First was the examples he showed of what I would call multi-dimensional societies. He references the Ilahita. This was one of the earliest societies to show an ability to scale beyond roughly 300 or so individuals, to 10x that size. A key factor of this ability to scale was moving beyond just familial structures and creating multiple dimensions of connection and dependency between people. You still see this today. The various groups that people are members of (churches, clubs, hobbies, societies) all act as additional dimensions of connectedness in society. Family is always present, but moving beyond clans and scaling societies involves expanding those dimensions.
The introduction of markets was also interesting, and notably to me was the data showing that societies with open markets tend to trust strangers more. More trust of strangers allows societies to scale up faster. The data makes sense right? When you have fair and positive experiences with strangers via a market you tend to develop less concern of other strangers.
The biggest lever in the book though is the Roman Catholic Church and its Marriage and Family Program. Henrich shows extensive data about the societal impact of prohibitions on cousin marriage and other practices that the Church introduced to Western societies. It is a persuasive argument. You can see an interesting interplay develop in Western societies between the nobility and the Church. The nobility relied on cousin marriage to maintain their claims. This was in direct violation fo the Church's proclamations. The other aspect of disallowing cousin marriage was the forced migration of young people to different villages. If you couldn't marry anyone that was up to a 6th cousin away you almost certainly had to move to find a partner. Moving forced the young person to then develop a reputation, and create value, so that they could establish themselves for marriage. Such a different environment versus getting married because your Uncle's are connecting two families together, which requires no merit from the individuals involved outside of their bloodline.
As I finished the book I was nearly awe struck by the amazing impact that these changes had on society over hundreds of years. It made me wonder, is there a major force affecting society in the same way today? Could there be something that is fundamentally changing how society will work as much as the Marriage and Family Program did then? I think there may be, and I think that is possibly the Internet. — Jamie
David Brooks (2019), 384 pages.
This book found its way to us via my brother-in-law Hector. Tammy and I both read it and found myself underlining and adding dog ears all over the place. This was the first I've read of Brooks and I enjoyed his writing. I suspect that a man in his late 40's is nearly the exact bullseye for this book.
Brooks call to action in this book is all about finding true meaning in your life. He positions this as a Second Mountain after you have climbed your first mountain of material pursuits. The book is framed in Vocation, Marriage, Philosophy and Faith, and Community. I found it all thought provoking and motivational. He makes the point that depending and connecting with other people, in all aspects of your life, is the key to long-term happiness. He also highlights the opposite, that the lack of that connection is potentially, or probably, driving significant tribalism, sadness, and even depression in society.
That is the thing you notice about second-mountain people. There's been a motivational shift. Their desires have been transformed. If you wanted to generalize a bit, you could say there are size layers of desire:
- Material pleasure. Having nice food, a nice car, a nice house.
- Ego pleasure. Becoming well-known or rich and successful. Winning victories and recognition.
- Intellectual pleasure. Learning about things. Understanding the world around us.
- Generativity. The pleasure we get in giving back to others and serving our communities.
- Fulfilled love. Receiving and giving love. The rapturous union of souls.
- Transcendence. The feeling we get when living in accordance with some ideal.
This book gave me a lot to think about, and think bigger than myself. — Jamie
One of the best things about reading is wandering into a book store and perusing the shelves to find a book or two to bring home. I can easily spend multiple hours in a bookstore and am usually dragged out by whomever entered the store with me. While a Barnes & Noble is a fine place to do this, it’s nothing like finding a local bookstore and browsing their shelves.
On vacation it’s something I try and do in whatever town we end up. Find a local bookstore, dive in, soak it up, leave with books I wouldn’t have otherwise read. Unlike a Barnes & Noble, these local bookstores are mostly pretty small and have limited shelf space. It’s like an already curated list from which to begin; I love that! It’s one of our vacation rituals that I very much enjoy.
My favorite book store is located in Northfield, MN, just a quick 45 minute drive from the Twin Cities. Northfield is a cute college town worth a visit in its own right, but for me Content Books is the cherry on the sundae of this charming town. It’s just the right size, has a room in the back for kid’s toys and books (i.e. your kids will be occupied), has a pleasant decor, a relaxed vibe, and a good selection of books. I like to read the recommendations from the people who work there and try to pick a book from that, along with another book that I just happen upon. Today’s visit The Adventure’s Son, by Roman Dial (my own pick) and High Dive, by Jonathan Lee (employee pick) were the books that made it out of the bookstore and into my welcoming arms.
I’ve hung out in some great bookstores over the years, but it’s always fun to find a new one. Do you have a favorite bookstore? Reply to our newsletter and let me know about it, where it is and why you love it. My hope is that I’ll be able to visit some of these bookstores and feel the love that you feel. Any replies we receive will be put into a drawing to win your very own $50 gift card to my favorite bookstore Content Books… then you could feel the love I feel… it’s a virtuous circle! — Tammy
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