Summer Reading Reviews...

What I've Read--

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else By Geoff Colvin -- Let me save you $18, I can summarize this book for you right here -- His theory is that people aren't born with "talent" (i.e. Tiger Woods, Mozart, Bill Gates, etc.), but were born into the right circumstances with teachers who helped them and taught them intentional practice. He talks a lot regular practicing of something vs. practicing in a focused way. Practice is not fun, but it is what makes the difference. Not talent. In the end, he concludes that anyone can be good at something but it just takes 10 years of intentional and focused practice. 10 years was the magic number in his mind with practicing with focus and intent several (or more) times a week.

It's an interesting book, but was a little too close to Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell for me. It even had some of the same examples like Bill Gates. Of course, I read Outliers first, so that may shade this review a bit.

So while I'd recommend this book if you're interested in this topic, I'd recommend OUTLIERS first.

This book still had good info and I did finish it, but I think I just read it close to Outliers. But honestly, the main idea is that it's practice not talent that matters.

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Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction
by David Sheff - RECOMMEND!

I've been listening to this book on my iPod and it's pretty powerful walking back through a child's life from being born into addiction to see if you can figure out how someone falls into this world. There are no answers. David Sheff does a great job of sharing this story of his son's addiction and how it hurts families and what the parent goes through.

On a personal note, my sister is/was an addict. She was out of the house when I was 4, but her dramas have stayed with us through the years even though she now lives on the other side of the country from us. She has basically become the poster child for our family on why not to use drugs. Because of what I've seen in my own family, this book is a fascinating look into addiction.

I would recommend the print version of this book vs. the audio (which I'm listening to), because the book is read by the author and while he is a pretty decent reader, when he tries to talk in the voice of a child it's somewhat annoying to me. He also has that kind of smug professor voice that gets a little tiring to listen to.

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Grayson: 50 cent library late fee - and I never read it.

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Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
by Ray Bradbury - HIGHLY RECOMMEND! -

Ray says it better than me, so here's a snippet:

"...if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It mean you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one year peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don't even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is --excite. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it would be better for his health."

(Note: Ladies insert "she" for "he" in this passage.)

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I have a few more books I'm working on, so more later. I hope you've had a summer of good books. I'd be open to any you'd like to recommend.


  1. Not to minimize practice, but there are certain people who are truly gifted, else some of these key teachers would produce many more people like Mozart or Bill Gates.

  2. I actually am highly skeptical about the notion of inborn "talent" or natural ability. I tend to agree that (given the opportunity and the desire) anyone can learn to do anything well, if they persist and work at it.

    Our brains develop so quickly when we're very young that we can be deeply affected by very early experiences, which can lead to an early proclivity for (for example) music, or painting, or swimming, or numbers, or a curiousity about birds, etc. -- so much so that it can seem, from the outside, to be inborn.

    (I don't think there's anything magical about ten years of working at something, or how often one practices. Work habits vary so much from one person to another that it's very hard to draw broad conclusions.)

    Where my thinking is about this these days anyway.


    I recently finished reading From A to X, a novel by John Berger, which I really really liked. Berger is a British Marxist art critic, and I've read much of his art criticism and his essays on other topics, he's the only art critic I've been able to read more than a page of, let alone several books.

    From A to X is the first of his novels I've read. It's written as a series of letters from a woman, A'ida, to her lover Xavier who is in prison for two life sentences for political activities. Interspersed between the A'ida letters are comments Xavier has written on the back of the pages of her letters. The location seems to be somewhere in the middle east, maybe Palestine, though it's left intentionally a little indefinite. Beautiful and tender and lyrical and heartbreaking and joyful.

    And currently reading Beats at Naropa edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright (published by Coffee House Press), an anthology of lectures and interviews and panel discussion transcripts, gathered from the audio archives of Naropa Institute over the past three decades or so. Enjoying it so far.

  3. I too am skeptical about talent, and BIG on practice. In fact, without I think the only way to master any art is to master practice. However, and this is a BIG however, what it takes to be an artist is PERVERSE DESIRE. If you don't have the perverse desire it takes to keep going forward in spite of all the odds being against you, you'll fail. I knew many musicians in conservatory who were all in line to be the next big talent and they fell apart, they cracked, they couldn't take the pressure. So they stopped and raised families or became teachers or wandered the earth like Caine. What they lacked was that drive. It's got to be whacked out strong in you if you're going to keep in the game, especially a game like poetry where the rewards are so few, mostly for the poet herself.


  4. Justin, Lyle, & Rebecca,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Yes, the book goes into a little more depth about talent vs. practice, so I really didn't do it justice on such a quick summary.

    I think Rebecca really nails it though with the inner desire that many of us are born with. You have to have the ability to handle rejection and keep moving forward even when the world keeps slamming doors in your face. Yes, "perverse" is a perfect adjective for this desire. Sometimes I don't understand why I write, but it's something I cannot not do.

    Justin-- yes, I agree some people are born with a certain "gift" towards something, however I think many people see talented people and think "oh, they have a gift" instead of "they practiced their arse off..." I think as a culture we ignore or overlook the importance of practice, a focused practice (the book goes into this, not just screwing around, but challenging oneself in whatever field s/he is in.


    Thanks for the book nods. The Naropa ones sounds interesting.

    And yes, that "10 years" is an interesting number for him to come up, but I think it's more a general understanding that you have to do something for X number of years before you really master it, with intentional practice. I do think that younger humans can learn certain skills (such as a language or a musical instrument) faster than an adult. I know returning to the violin at 40 is a much different (and harder!) experience than when I was learning it in 5th grade. My muscles seem to want to do things they should be doing. ;-)

    Thank you all for commenting on this. I'd like to talk more about it in my blog. I think it's quite the interesting topic.



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