Tag Archives: penguin books

Book Report: ‘The Productivity Project’ by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey turned down lucrative job offers to pursue a lifelong dream—to spend a year performing a deep dive experiment into the pursuit of productivity, a subject he had been enamored with since he was a teenager. After obtaining his business degree, he created a blog to chronicle a year-long series of productivity experiments he conducted on himself, where he also continued his research and interviews with some of the world’s foremost experts, from Charles Duhigg to David Allen. Among the experiments that he tackled: Bailey went several weeks with getting by on little to no sleep; he cut out caffeine and sugar; he lived in total isolation for 10 days; he used his smartphone for just an hour a day for three months; he gained ten pounds of muscle mass; he stretched his work week to 90 hours; a late riser, he got up at 5:30 every morning for three months—all the while monitoring the impact of his experiments on the quality and quantity of his work.

The Productivity Project—and the lessons Chris learned—are the result of that year-long journey. Among the counterintuitive insights Chris Bailey will teach you:

  • slowing down to work more deliberately;
  • shrinking or eliminating the unimportant;
  • the rule of three;
  • striving for imperfection;
  • scheduling less time for important tasks;
  • the 20 second rule to distract yourself from the inevitable distractions;
  • and the concept of productive procrastination.

In an eye-opening and thoroughly engaging read, Bailey offers a treasure trove of insights and over 25 best practices that will help you accomplish more.


Reading a book that challenges some, ahem, bad habits can hit a little too close to home. No one wants to face those hard truths.  Not with ‘The Productivity Project’ By Chris Bailey!  It is a gentle read but will encourage you in the moment to make some changes that are long overdue.

Right from the beginning, Bailey, set’s out a time table for an estimated reading time at the beginning of each chapter. What book have you ever read that practices what it preaches right in the outset?  As the reader you have a regimented amount of time to read and even try out some of Bailey’s gentle ‘Challenges’ towards change.  No pressure, bien sur.

‘The Productivity Project’ is not only a wonderful work book to bring subtle nuances into your daily routine but will also create a foundation that you can build further upon as you move through the stages of change.

‘Structuring downtime and weekends. It might sound counterintuitive (and not very fun) to structure your time away from work, but research says that doing so makes you more focused, creative, active, motivated, happy, involved in what you’re doing, and a lot more likely to achieve ‘flow’, that magical state where time seems to pass so quickly it’s as if it doesn’t exist at  all.  I don’t believe in strictly structuring work or free time (where’s the fun in that?), but some structure is helpful.  For example, during my project I discovered that I always had more energy when I sat down and created a rough schedule of how I was going to spend my time over the weekend, even if that included scheduling time for putting my feet up and doing nothing at all.’

For years, I have been building a schedule around my vacation and weekends. To some people in my life – I’ve been told that I am ‘nuts’.  But for me, I feel more accountable to myself to use the time I have worked so hard for is filled with a mix of relaxation, long overdue projects and time with family and friends.  [As I write this, I’m making a list for next week when I have vacation time coming my way. ]

‘My Maintenance Day ritual is incredibly simple, and incredibly powerful: throughout the week, I simply collect all of my low-return maintenance tasks on a list – everything from going grocery shopping to cutting my nails – and instead of doing them throughout the week, I do them all at once.’

I have been melding a ‘Maintenance Day ritual’ into my weekly schedule in the last few months. I usually attack emails, laundry, food prep for my work week, a workout plan, review goals for my week ahead, clean my house and do a grocery shop on my ‘Maintenance Day’s’.  it sounds like a lot but I feel fantastic when I get to all of my goals.  During my work week, my arms are free, I can have fun, I can get my work done and have a life without loose strings dangling that deplete my energy and make me feel bad about myself.

‘The Productivity Project’ By Chris Bailey is a must read book for 2016. It provides a wonderful framework to slowly build into your lifestyle while also bringing some much needed optimism into your daily rituals.


Stocking Stuffer:  ‘Mãn’ by Kim Thuy  

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband–a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal. Thrown into a new world, Mãn discovers her natural talent as a chef. Gracefully she practices her art, with food as her medium. She creates dishes that are much more than sustenance for the body: they evoke memory and emotion, time and place, and even bring her customers to tears. Mãn is a mystery–her name means “perfect fulfillment,” yet she and her husband seem to drift along, respectfully and dutifully. But when she encounters a married chef in Paris, everything changes in the instant of a fleeting touch, and Mãn discovers the all-encompassing obsession and ever-present dangers of a love affair. Full of indelible images of beauty, delicacy and quiet power, Mãn is a novel that begs to be savoured for its language, its sensuousness and its love of life.


“Before her mother died, though she’d had time to learn how to extract the milk from a coconut by squeezing chunks of crumbled flesh saturated with hot water.  When mothers taught their daughters how to cook, they spoke in hushed tones, whispering so that their neighbours couldn’t steal recipes and possibly seduce their husbands with the same dishes.  Culinary traditions are passed on secretly, like magic tricks between master and apprentice, one movement at a time, following the rhythms of each day.  In the natural order, then, girls learned to measure the amount of water for cooking rice with the first joint of the index finger, to cut “vicious peppers” with the point of the knife to transform them into harmless flowers, to peel mangoes from base to stem so they won’t go against the direction of the fibres…”

It is very rare that you can find a book that reads like poetry.  ‘Mãn’ by Kim Thuy is silky smooth and still fraught with a cultural thread that will leave you feeling enriched and wondering what you have been wasting your time reading all this time.

‘Mãn’ by Kim Thuy  is translated from Vietnamese into English.  To keep you on your toes, Thuy inscribes Vietnamese words in the corners of each page along with its English definition.  She ensures the reader is immersed into Vietnamese culture while also providing a gentle framework to do your own work once her book has been read.

‘Mãn’ is a slow reveal and is keen to take you the long way around.  Like small appetizers served on palate cleansing spoons, Thuy gives us snapshots into Mãn’s lifetime and leaves it to the reader to string together her fragile as rice paper motifs.  Mãn is hardly a perfect heroine but rather a woman with insecurities, sadness and a need to keep her cultural roots well manicured.

“During the three days of my husband’s fever, I fed him, a mouthful at a time.  In Vietnam, when we don’t know what has caused a death, we blame the wind, as if catching an impure wind could kill us.  That’s why I asked him to take off his shirt so I could chase away the bad wind by scratching his back with a porcelain spoon moistened with a few drops of tiger balm.  I had never looked at a man’s skin so close up.  I drew his skeleton on it by rubbing between the bones and the length of his spine.  Dark red blotches emerged on the surface, eliminating the heat and perhaps all the pains that had never been felt.  I repeated those ancient movements to care for a stranger who had become my only anchoring point.  I would have liked to know how to comfort him, run my hand over his skin.  All I could do was warm him with the blanket that still smelled of the long journey from the Chinese factory to our apartment.”

‘Mãn’ is a perfect read for that hard to gift friend or family member.  If they are a creative soul who likes to savour their reads and have debriefs on the writer’s process and deep characterization – ‘Mãn’ by Kim Thuy  is for them.

If you need a challenge and want to start the New Year with a book that will inspire you, shake you at your knees and leave you in a state of wonderment, pick up ‘Mãn’ by Kim Thuy.  It’s a must read.


Stocking Stuffer: Carrie Brownstein ‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl’

From the guitarist of the pioneering band Sleater-Kinney, the book Kim Gordon says “everyone has been waiting for” and a New York Times Notable Book of 2015– a candid, funny, and deeply personal look at making a life–and finding yourself–in music.

Before Carrie Brownstein became a music icon, she was a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest just as it was becoming the setting for one the most important movements in rock history. Seeking a sense of home and identity, she would discover both while moving from spectator to creator in experiencing the power and mystery of a live performance. With Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her bandmates rose to prominence in the burgeoning underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s. They would be cited as “America’s best rock band” by legendary music critic Greil Marcus for their defiant, exuberant brand of punk that resisted labels and limitations, and redefined notions of gender in rock.

HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL is an intimate and revealing narrative of her escape from a turbulent family life into a world where music was the means toward self-invention, community, and rescue. Along the way, Brownstein chronicles the excitement and contradictions within the era’s flourishing and fiercely independent music subculture, including experiences that sowed the seeds for the observational satire of the popular television series Portlandia years later.

With deft, lucid prose Brownstein proves herself as formidable on the page as on the stage. Accessibly raw, honest and heartfelt, this book captures the experience of being a young woman, a born performer and an outsider, and ultimately finding one’s true calling through hard work, courage and the intoxicating power of rock and roll.


‘If nothing else, I was living in a town that had once been home to Kurt Cobain. The simplify version of his story could be reduced to a guy who signed to a major label, got so famous that he felt alienated from his audience, and then killed himself.  And Nirvana had done it right – they had changed the weather, they had rewritten the rules, their music had mattered.  And then:  death.  This tragedy was now in the figurative guidebook – it functioned as a cautionary tale.  To wish for more was to wish for something potentially, crushingly horrible.  So if you did wish for more, you had to keep it a secret.

We chose Kill Rock Stars. We stayed close to home.

The thing is, Sleater-Kinney was ambitious. We didn’t only want to preach to the choir, to the already-converted.  We knew there was a potential audience in parts of the country that didn’t have a ‘scene’, an infrastructure.  That there were people who wouldn’t hear about us via word of mouth or fanzines or independent records stores.  Some people might only be exposed to our band if we were featured in larger magazines or sold our albums in big-boxes stores.  Eventually, I started to cringe at the elitism that was often paired with punk and the like.  A movement that professed inclusiveness seemed to actually be highly exclusive, as alienating and ungraspable as many of the clubs and institutions that drove us to the fringes in the first place.  One set of rules had simply been replaced by new ones, and they were just as difficult to follow.’

I was never a huge fan of Sleater-Kinney in my grunge years. Only recently did I fully acquaint myself with SK after getting overly giddy with Carrie Brownstein in her co-written series (with Fred Armisen) Portlandia.   If a band at 42 can still make me bust it in my kitchen on a Sunday a.m., it’s SK. Better late than never.

‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl’ is a fanatic ode to a time where Brownstein and her and mates were trail blazing punk rock with a west coast tinge. In SK’s case their music is and was politically charged, filled with lyrics of verbose intent and knocking on doors with their knuckles that were refusing to budge.  ‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl’ speaks of turbulent on the road journeys, romantic explosions, conundrums with their record company and how Sleater-Kinney, Washington made them and broke them.

‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl’ gives the reader an excellent snapshot into Brownstein’s childhood in Washington and how it shaped her into a rocker with a sensitive side and a comedy writer with a field of depth we would have never have guessed was a part of her deep personal fabric.

‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl’ is a perfect stocking stuffer book for the music geek in your family. It is also a neat book to pick up for that loved one who is avid punk rock fan.  ‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl’ is a wonderful encyclopedia on the behind the scenes of the riot girl movement, the historical fine details of the Seattle scene and highlighting those players who carved out a time that brought us more than plaid and Doc Marten’s.

Brownstein’s written voice is profound, well read and introspective. ‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl’ is brimming with sage reflection and moments that are still raw to the touch.

Catch Carrie Brownstein at Toronto Reference Library Bram & Bluma Appel Salon on Thursday Dec 17, 2015 from 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.. This event has been rescheduled for December 17. All customers with November 17 tickets have been given priority and offered tickets for this new date. If you are interested in attending please add your name to the waitlist HERE http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?R=EVT206528.


Book Report:  ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ By James Rebanks

A major new talent redefines the literature of rural life.

Old world met new when a shepherd in the English Lake District impulsively started a Twitter account. A routine cell phone upgrade left author James Rebanks with a pretty decent camera and a pre-loaded Twitter app–the tools to share his way of life with the world. And what began as a tentative experiment became an international phenomenon.

James has worked the land for years, as did his father, and his father before him. His family has lived and farmed in the Lake District of Northern England as long as there have been written records (since 1420) and possibly much longer. And while the land itself has inspired great poets and authors we have rarely heard from the people who tend it. One Twitter account has changed all that, and now James Rebanks has broken free of the 140-character limit and produced “the book I have wanted to write my whole life.” The Shepherd’s Life is a memoir about growing up amidst a magical, storied landscape, of coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s among hills that seem timeless, and yet suffused with history. Broken into the four seasons, the book chronicles the author’s daily experiences at work with his flock and brings alive his family and their ancient way of life, which at times can seem irreconcilable with the modern world.

An astonishing original work, The Shepherd’s Life is an intimate look from inside a seemingly ordinary life, one that celebrates the meaning of place, the ties of family to the land around them, and the beauty of the past. It is the untold story of the Lake District, of a people who exist and endure out of sight in the midst of the most iconic literary landscape in the world.


There is the odd time that you read a book and feel transformed – it’s rare.  A book on shepherding in the wilds of the Lake District you say? ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ left me inspired and ready to learn about a lifestyle far from the streetcar lulls, honking horns and pollution of downtown Toronto.  Who knew such a calm, simple read could open my mind far from any yoga class has done in weeks.

‘The Shepherd’s Life’ by James Rebanks is a rich and decadent read.  Full of sink into your bed moments and aching of picturesque Lake District painted moments.

“When my grandfather bought our farm in the fells, he took us into the landscape of another breed of sheep, the Herdwick,  Herdwicks are born black with white ear tips, but change colour as they age, until they have a white, hoar-frosted head and legs, and a blue-grey fleece.  They are arguably the toughest mountain sheep in Britain.  Snow.  Rain.  Hail.  Sleet.  Wind.  Weeks of dour wet weather – no problem.  At one day old, with a good mother, they are almost indestructible, regardless of the weather, with a thick leathery skin and a carpet-like black fleece that keeps them fry and warm.  The ewes can live on less than any other sheep in these conditions and come off the fells with a lamb of value in the autumn.  Recent scientific research has shown that Herdwicks are genetically rather special; they have in them a primitive genome that few other British sheep carry.  Their nearest relatives are in Sweden, Finland, Iceland and the northern island of Orkney.  It is believed that the Herdwicks’ ancestors lived on the islands of the Wadden Sea, near the Frisian Islands, or further north in Scandinavia.  Local myth has it that they came with the Vikings on their boats, and the science now suggests this is true.  Since they arrived they have been selectively bred for more than a thousand years to suit this landscape.”

An ex-boyfriend took me to the Lake District for my 29th birthday when I lived in the UK.  I remember it being such a magical place, full of damp rolling hills, wandering sheep and an esthetic that you can’t caption fully in a picture.  Rebanks does a tremendous job in engaging the reader into his shepherding life that somehow parallels our own lives in countries far away with dashes of a work ethic, history and a beautiful fabric of stories that instantly take our minds and body on a break from our on reality.

“My job is simple:  get around the fields and feed and shepherd the different flocks of ewes – dealing with any issues that arise.  First rule of shepherding: it’s not about you; it’s about the sheep and the land.  Second rule:  sometimes you can’t win.  Third rule:  shut up, and go and do the work.”

If you are a fan of Twitter, Rebanks delivers daily tweets almost like they were lifted off the pages of his book with photo evidence of his hill ramblings.  They are poetic and yet full of perfectly British sarcastic giggles which brim of sheep dogs, a variety of sheep, familial nods and Herdwick shepherding gems.

Catch James Rebanks tomorrow at Globe & Mail Ben McNally Books for Brunch (May 31, 2015).

Here are all the details:


Sunday, May 31, 2015 – 10:00am


King Edward Hotel

37 King St. East

Toronto, ON  M5C 1E9

Brunch is served in the Vanity Fair Ballroom on the 2nd floor of the King Edward Hotel. Tickets are $50.00 each (taxes included).

Please call (416) 361-0032 with your credit card information to reserve a ticket.