Neil Turner's Blog

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Listening to books, part IV

It’s time for another update on the audiobooks that I’ve been listening to, this time since December.


Cover of Bossypants by Tina Fey Continuing my trend for listening to memoirs by female comedians, I spent December listening to Bossypants by Tina Fey (Amazon link). Fey is a comedian and actress for whom I’m broadly familiar with – particularly her Sarah Palin impressions. Alas, having not watched 30 Rock, I missed some of the references in the book. This perhaps ruined my enjoyment of it slightly.

Fey’s advice on improvisation is something that has stuck with me – the ‘Yes, and…’ response when asked a question. It’s a key part of keeping improv sketches moving, but can be applied to many other situations too.

The book is now six years old and it sort-of shows. But it’s enjoyable and I recommend it.

Where am I now?

Book cover of Where am I now? by Mara WilsonGrowing up, I was a fan of Roald Dahl’s books, and enjoyed Danny DeVito’s film adaption of Matilda. The starring role in that film was Mara Wilson, and Where am I now? (Amazon link) is her story.

Mara isn’t so well nowadays. As a child actor, she was in a string of well-known films, but she wasn’t able to continue this fame into adulthood. The book covers how she never quite fitted in, her battles with mental health and her sometimes difficult family life. It’s a charming book that will take you through many emotions, both happy and sad.

After listening, I bought this book as a Christmas present for Christine, as many of Wilson’s life experiences mirrored hers. That, and it’s a book that I really enjoyed.

Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies

Book cover for Be Awesome by Hadley FreemanI’m not a lady, but this book by Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman was recommended to me. Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies (Amazon link) is part-memoir, part advice column, and partly an opportunity to rant about patriarchal oppression and the rubbish that modern women have to put up with.

Freeman’s wit livens up a book that I’d otherwise have stopped listening to partway through. Again, a lack of familiarity with the many TV series that Freeman references in the book made it hard to follow in places. And like her columns, this is a very lighthearted read that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

As with Lindy West’s audiobook Shrill that I reviewed last time, Freeman isn’t the best person to speak her own work. This is especially noticeable at the beginning when her performance isn’t great. Again, I put this down to Freeman (and West) being journalists rather than actors and performers.

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Book cover of Algorithms to Live ByMaking computer algorithms both interesting and relevant to the wider public is a hard task, but this book does it well Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions (Amazon link) is by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, and Christian himself reads the audiobook. It takes the concepts of various common algorithms and shows how these can be applied to real life. The collision detection algorithms used in computer networking are a good example. We use the concept naturally when talking in a group, to ensure that we don’t speak over others.

Because computers follow every instruction explicitly, the book shows how actions that we humans take for granted have to be unpacked for a computer, and how we can learn from this process.

Some of the concepts can be a little hard to get your head around, and having a background in computer science definitely helped me. Whilst it’s not your typical self-improvement book, I picked up a few tips for dealing with real life situations based on this book’s concepts.

In addition to these books, I’ve been listening to some fiction books, which I’ll write about later. Next up, is Steve Coogan’s Easily Distracted.

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