Books read in 2020 Q2

Another quarter flew by. At the time of my last book report on April 1st, I mentioned that COVID-19 had killed 46,438 and infected 926,625 in the world (Worldometer). Well, there are 10+ times more cases and deaths globally now, and the US reached its record high of 50,000+ cases in one day. Watching the news or analyzing the numbers is too depressing, so everyone should just read some good books instead.

Here are the ten books I finished in Q2:

  1. The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz
  2. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
  3. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown
  4. Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
  5. The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth
  6. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
  7. Genghis Khan and the Quest for God: How the World’s Greatest Conqueror Gave Us Religious Freedom by Jack Weatherford
  8. The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
  9. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
  10. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

An eclectic collection of fictions and non-fictions. I read #8 twice and got more out of it the second time. I learned quite a lot of history from #7 and #9. I probably wouldn’t “highly-recommend” any of the books on this list, but I didn’t regret reading them either. Overall they brought me good stories and knowledge, as well as quiet and peace.

Once again, I am wondering what the world would be like when I write my next report in October. My imagination is rather limited, so I will just wait and see.

Books 2020 Q2

 

Travel Article Published

248858032Yesterday a Chinese online platform published my first travel article. You can probably guess from the picture that it was about Uluru (Ayers Rock). The title can be translated as “The Red Heart of Australia”.

This literary platform is awesome. It was founded a year ago by a few people who were really passionate about literature. They only accept original writings that meet their quality standards, and publish one article per day. Close to 200 authors are associated with it so far – some are professionals, some are amateurs like myself. The best thing is, authors and subscribers formed groups, and they usually discuss and provide feedback after each article goes online.

I have read a few previous articles and most are way superior than mine. If not being prodded by a friend, who is an accomplished author herself, I wouldn’t even dare to submit anything. Sure, my family and friends were all singing praises after I shared the link, but what would strangers and professional writers think? Would they even take the time to read something from a first-timer? I didn’t know what to expect.

This morning, I was glad to see more than a dozen comments, all positive and encouraging. A few of them were quite long and better written than my article. To summarize,

  • They appreciated the information about the aboriginal people and culture, as well as my reflections. These added depth and differentiated my article from other travel essays.
  • They enjoyed reading it – the language was smooth and succinct, written in a good rhythm.
  • They felt like they were traveling with me, being guided to see what I was seeing and feel what I was feeling. They thanked me for taking them to experience a place that they probably would never be able to visit.

I was especially touched by comments regarding the third point. Suddenly my writing and sharing becomes a lot more meaningful. If my article could bring happiness to peoples’ lives, like a comment said “my mind is soaring in Australia even though I’m physically quarantined”, then I am willing to put in the hard work of writing. 1031366731And now would be a good time to do it since I won’t be able to travel for quite a while.

At the end of the article is a brief author introduction that I provided. Here I mentioned that I am a data scientist with Ph.D. in Statistics, that I read 50 books a year and have traveled to 46 countries. These resulted in some admiration of my life style, and amazement that a math person could write so well. Needless to say, I was very proud of myself after being so praised. 🙂

I am truly grateful to these nice authors and readers, who took the time to read my article and provide feedback. Their encouragement motivates me to write better. I need to read more in Chinese to learn skills from the professionals, so I can more effectively transform my travel photos and experiences into something that benefits the readers.

 

Books read in 2020 Q1 – M23

The first quarter of 2020 has passed, whether we liked it or not. I already posted a January book report, which included 9 books. My life style hasn’t changed dramatically since January, but I read far fewer books in February and March – only 5 altogether. This reduced productivity was largely due to the time spent on watching news, reading articles, analyzing numbers, discussing with family and friends, and reflections.

My last post was on February 1st, exactly two months ago. On that day CNN reported “The coronavirus outbreak has killed at least 294 people and infected close to 14,000 people globally”. At the time of this writing, it has killed 46,438 and infected 926,625 in the world (Worldometer). Many people have a better understanding of “exponential growth” now.

Well, here are the five books I managed to finish in these past two months.

  1. Beach Music by Pat Conroy
  2. Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean
  3. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
  4. The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World by Paul Robert Walker
  5. Book of Psalms (NIV) by God

I just realized that four out of the five books are non-fiction, maybe this is another reason why I didn’t finish as many books. The only one I didn’t enjoy much was #4, which I struggled to make progress at times.

Hard to predict what life looks like when I post my next report on July 1st. Hope it is more or less back to normal (the new “normal”, I am sure). We will appreciate more about the people and things that we have taken for granted for so long. Fingers crossed.

 

Books 2020 Q2-M23

 

Books read in 2020 Q1 – M1

I know, with only one month into 2020, it is not yet time to write my quarterly book report. Somehow I read 9 books already and I can’t wait to share this amazing list.

Here are the books I finished in Q1 – Month 1:

  1. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
  2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  3. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
  4. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
  5. Unstoppable: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action by Nick Vujicic
  6. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
  7. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
  8. The Institute by Stephen King
  9. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I can’t recall ever having a quarterly reading list where every book was outstanding. All the books on this list are, eclectic as they may be. They are either very informative (#1, #6), or bring out strong emotions (inspiration, sadness, heart-warming, sympathy, anger). Except for #6, all books made me feel like crying at some point. And I did cry after finishing #9, which is one of the best books I have ever read.

Even with all the depressing news in the world lately, good books continue to sooth my soul…

Books 2020 Q1-M1

Revolution

It seems I read about quite a few revolutions lately. From the American Revolutionary War in Alexander Hamilton, to Iran’s Islamic Revolution in Persepolis, to the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. Together with what I know about China’s past revolutions, it is quite interesting to reflect on how similar people are, all over the world and all through history.

Revolution: a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.

Revolution happened when part of the population demanded change. They were poor people at the bottom of the society that were suppressed and exploited for a long time. Life was so miserable that they decided to take action to rebel against the emperors, aristocrats, dictators, or government. Inspiring leaders and a catalyst then set it in motion.

But once the revolutionists succeeded and ascended into the “ruling class”, they might become crueler and more oppressive than those they denounced and defeated not very long ago. Lots of purging and killing of perceived enemies and spies, innocent people who were associated with the ‘old system’ one way or the other. Gradually, leaders benefited from the newly gained rich and power, while common people’s lives ended up being more miserable than before. (The revolution in America which overthrew the British colonization and set up democracy was certainly an exception.)

Due to the sinful human nature, political power is always the same, whoever has it and whatever ideology is used to justify it. Animal Farm’s last sentence says it perfectly: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.” Therefore, a good system does require separation of powers with checks and balances.

I thought it would be fun to end this post with the following photos.

The Plaza de la Revolución in Havana, Cuba

Our ‘Revolution’ bus in St. Petersburg, Russia

DSC04763

A Good 2019, A Better 2020

Books year 2019

Year 2020! I still remember the days when I thought year 2000 was far into the future; then many years later, my team at work developed a “Vision 2020” for the firm with still quite a long time to accomplish it. Really hard to believe it is already here! Year 2020 – it surely has the sound and feel of excitement and hope.

Every year I look forward to this reflection time and writing my annual “good-better” post. I didn’t set any goals at the beginning of 2019 (except the 50-book reading challenge), so I will just summarize my activities and set goals for the new year.

  • I finished 50 books in 2019 and here are the book reports: Q1; Q2; Q3; Q4. The average length of 386 pages was impressive – way above the rather stable 340-350 range in the past few years.
    [2020 Goal: Read 50 books, average 350+ pages]
  • I visited 2 new countries – Costa Rica and Cuba. This year’s theme was places beginning with ‘C’. In addition to Costa Rica and Cuba, I also went to China (3 times), Coatesville (PA), Charleston (SC), and Chicago (IL). Not to mention the cancelled Caribbean Cruise that would have included Curacao, Colombia, and Colon… All in all I spent 78 days away from home.
    [2020 Goal: At the moment there are no specific travel goals or plans due to uncertainty. Will see where life takes me. :)]
  • On average I walked 7,321 steps a day, slightly higher than the 7,317 steps in 2018. I also attended 6 Hot Yoga classes, swam 13 times, and played tennis 5 times. Overall it wasn’t a bad year for exercise.
    [2020 Goal: Walk average 7,500+ steps a day; Swim 30+ times] 
  • I only posted 11 articles on this site in 2019, but I wrote 8 Chinese articles on travel (about 22,000 Chinese characters).
    [2020 Goal: 20 posts on this site; Write more Chinese travel articles (20,000+ characters); Collaborate on a book project recently conceived]
  • I started making Kombucha in August and have enjoyed every batch since (estimated 75 bottles). Cooking skills probably stayed the same.
    [2020 Goal: Continue with Kombucha; Try out 3+ new recipes for dishes]
  • I lost 6 pounds in 2019 which got my weight back to the 2017-2018 numbers.
    [2020 Goal: Lose 5+ pounds]

I will keep improving my technical skills on machine learning and Python. Right now I have an interesting analytics project in mind that would combine my passions. Will do a bit more research and hopefully flesh it out soon!

I can’t wait to begin the new adventures and check out what God has in store for me in the coming year!

Books read in 2019 Q4

Yay! I am happy to report that I just finished the 13th book of this quarter and 50th book of the year, thus completed my 2019 reading challenge on Goodreads. Check out the previous book reports: Q1, Q2, Q3.

Here are the books I finished in Q4:

  1. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
  2. The Revenant by Michael Punke
  3. Artificial Intelligence in Practice: How 50 Successful Companies Used AI and Machine Learning to Solve Problems by Bernard Marr and Matt Ward
  4. 半小时漫画中国史 (Cartoon Chinese History in Half an Hour) by 陈磊
  5. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
  6. 世界那么大,我想去看看 (The World Is So Big, I Want to Explore It) by 窝窝
  7. 半小时漫画世界史 (Cartoon World History in Half an Hour) by 陈磊
  8. See Me by Nicholas Sparks
  9. The Apprentice by Tess Gerritsen
  10. The Road to Character by David Brooks
  11. Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President by Harold Holzer
  12. The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara K. Lipska and Elaine McArdle
  13. R Cookbook: Proven Recipes for Data Analysis, Statistics, and Graphics by Paul Teetor

A quite eclectic list of books indeed. My top three are #1, #4, and #11. I don’t like #6 except the title – this phrase was the whole content of a resignation letter by a female teacher in China in 2015. #3 had interesting contents but was poorly written – I wrote a review on Goodreads. All other ones were quite enjoyable and/or informative.

I am already looking forward to next year’s reading challenge! Many good books in the queue…

Books 2019 Q4

Books read in 2019 Q3

I was two books behind schedule at the end of last quarter. I am happy to report that I managed to finish 15 books in the past three months, and I am finally back on track to reaching the goal for this year.

Here are the books I finished in Q3:

  1. The Man on Mao’s Right: From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry by Ji Chaozhu
  2. The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly
  3. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  4. End of Watch by Stephen King
  5. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
  6. Elevation by Stephen King
  7. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak
  8. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
  9. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
  10. When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought by Jim Holt
  11. 显微镜下的大明 (The Great Ming Dynasty Under A Microscope) by 马伯庸
  12. Python for Data Science For Dummies, 2nd Edition by John Paul Mueller and Luca Massaron
  13. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
  14. Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers by Stan Slap
  15. Neon Prey by John Sandford

Some very interesting books on this list! My top six are #3, #7, #8, #10, #11, and #13. I considered #9 and #14 a waste of time. #12 has good contents but was poorly written – I wrote a review on Goodreads. All other ones were quite enjoyable.

Looking forward to reading more and finishing the year strong. It could be more challenging than I thought though. Will see. 🙂

Books 2019 Q3

 

What A Year!

One year anniversary celebration golden vintage logotype. FirstMy last day with EY was July 9th, 2018. Therefore today marks a full year since I officially started my “work break”. Reflecting on what I accomplished during this time, I can say without hesitation that the experience has been very fulfilling. I am grateful to have this opportunity to devote much time and energy to what is important in my life.

My new journey actually started on June 25th, 2018, when I shared my plans on this blog before boarding a flight to Europe. A whirlwind of activities followed, as documented in Much needed R&R. Things didn’t get as crazy since then but I have been quite busy nonetheless. I can’t believe how fast time flies.

I set out three priorities during my time off – 1) travel; 2) spend time with family and friends; 3) read, write, exercise, and relax. I did pretty well in all three areas. My post at the beginning of 2019 included the first half of this one-year adventure, and below is a brief overall report (all numbers are for the time period 06/25/2018 to 07/10/2019).

Travel – I visited 14 countries, 11 of which were new to me.

  1. Denmark (Copenhagen, Bornholm)
  2. Poland (Gdańsk)
  3. Lithuania (Klaipeda)
  4. Estonia (Tallin)
  5. Russia (St. Petersburg)
  6. Finland (Helsinki, Aland)
  7. Sweden (Stockholm)
  8. China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong)
  9. Philippines (Hundred Islands, Manila, Boracay, Coron, Palawan)
  10. Malaysia (Kota Kinabalu, Kuching)
  11. Brunei
  12. Singapore
  13. Costa Rica (San José, Fortuna, Guanacaste, Manuel Antonio)
  14. Cuba (Camagüey, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Remedios, Havana)

Additionally, David and I did a 2000-mile road trip in US Northwest from Crater Lake to Glacier National Park via Columbia River Gorge. We fully immersed ourselves in the beautiful nature. We also drove down to Charleston, SC and spent a few wonderful days exploring its rich history and culture.

Spend time with family and friends – Believe it or not, I flew back to China four times this past year for various reasons. With 53 days there, I got a chance to catch up with many old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for decades. I spent three precious months with my mother during her recent visit, including three trips to Pennsylvania to see my aunt. I was also on four long road trips to New England to visit David’s family, a total of 19 days. Throughout the year there were numerous get-togethers with friends and ex-colleagues as well. I greatly cherished all these wonderful personal interactions.

Read, write, exercise, and relax – I ended up more or less on track with my reading schedule, even though I was four books behind at times. I still wasn’t able to finish the books piled on my floor, nor the many classic Chinese books that I was hoping to re-read. At my friend’s prompt, I wrote 7 Chinese articles on travel (about 20,000 Chinese characters). I didn’t write as many English blog posts as I should though. In terms of exercise, I swam less than before but walked a lot more, averaging 8,209 steps a day. I also attended 12 hot yoga classes and played tennis 5 times. Not sure how much I relaxed this year, given all the hectic activities, travel stresses, and family events, but I feel quite refreshed at the moment so I guess I relaxed more than I remembered. 🙂

All in all, it has been a very rewarding year with many unforgettable memories. I am so glad I made the big decision and carried it out. Now I am getting ready for the next chapter of my life, and I expect great things to come in the near future.

Books read in 2019 Q2

I was two books behind schedule at the end of last quarter. And I am two books behind schedule now. Guess that means my reading was on track this past quarter. This is no small accomplishment given all the travels and other things I did in these three months.

Here are the books I finished in Q2:

  1. Origin by Dan Brown
  2. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  3. The Associate by John Grisham
  4. Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
  5. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman
  6. If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating by Alan Alda
  7. The Bat by Jo Nesbø
  8. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
  9. Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better by Dan Gardner
  10. Deep Freeze by John Sandford
  11. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
  12. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

A good list of books, some of them are quite big page-wise, like #2, #5, and #8. The only two books that I didn’t enjoy as much are #7 and #11. Maybe because I have read quite a few books from the authors and these two books just didn’t meet my high expectations.

Looking forward to reading more. I have high hopes that I will catch up to my schedule by the end of next quarter. Stay tuned. 🙂

Books 2019 Q2