The Saturday Read – Summer Books

We have summer in our sights, anticipating travel, adventure, rest and relaxation. Harbingers of the coming season are the summer reading lists from the traditional print book review sources, the icons of Silicon Valley and the titans of Wall Street.

The act of picking up a book, unrelated to work or school, has moved away from the center and occurs only on the periphery of our lives. We seem to have relegated reading to the category of indulgence vs. necessity. We give ourselves permission to read in summer, during an interval when we step away from work.

Writing in The Irish Times, Isabelle Cartwright considered the question of why we read.

“…the simple answer is for pleasure. But what exactly is the nature of that pleasure? Reading removes us from the structure of our lives, from the routine, the sequential habits of our day-to-day living. We enter instead another time zone. The plot, characters and setting occupy us, and while we read we inhabit the others’ reality. The pleasure therefore is derived from escaping our own small, limited and often repetitive lives and entering an exotic elsewhere.

But perhaps there is also the attraction of reserving something private for ourselves, something outside of the public world of relationship, family, work and occupation; something that is not encumbered by the stricture of time and self.”

For those of you who need a utilitarian rationale to set aside time to read, there is research to show we are morally and socially better as a result of our efforts:

Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, reported in studies published in 2006 and 2009 that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective. This link persisted even after the researchers factored in the possibility that more empathetic individuals might choose to read more novels. A 2010 study by Mar found a similar result in young children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their “theory of mind,” or mental model of other people’s intentions.”

We become more emotionally intelligent as we read.

If that doesn’t convince you, the ‘Lifehack blog’ lists ’10 Benefits of Reading: Why You Should Read Every Day’ (not just in summer): “Mental stimulation, stress reduction, knowledge, vocabulary expansion, memory improvement, stronger analytical skills, improved focus and concentration, better writing skills, tranquility and free entertainment.”

I think they’re on to something here, for all you skeptics. A few of these skills match exactly to what employers look for in potential candidates: communications and problem solving. Maybe reading is a necessity and not an indulgence.

Here is a menu of links to the popular reading lists this summer:

The Los Angeles Times – Summer reading guide: The 136 books you’ll want to read

The New York Times – When the Water’s Too Cold, Something Else to Dive Into, A Critic’s Survey of Summer Books

USA Today – 25 Hot Books for Summer

The Washington Post – A great leadership reading list — without any business books on it

Bloomberg – Books Worth Reading This Summer

NPR – Four Books That Deliver Unexpected And Delightful Surprises This Summer

A Year of Books, Mark Zuckerberg

Beach Reading (and More), Bill Gates

10 Beach Books from J.P. Morgan’s Summer Reading List

Happy sand in your toes, head in the clouds, sea spray on your face reading!

The week@work – Nail salon workers, Sally Mann, sacrifices of the successful and Dan Abromowitz shares his potential job list

The dominant story of work this week was told in a two part series for The New York Times, ‘Unvarnished‘, by reporter, Sarah Maslin Nir, “examining the working conditions and potential health risks endured by nail salon workers”.

“Once an indulgence reserved for special occasions, manicures have become a grooming staple for women across the economic spectrum. There are now more than 17,000 nail salons in the United States, according to census data. The number of salons in New York City alone has more than tripled over a decade and a half to nearly 2,000 in 2012.

But largely overlooked is the rampant exploitation of those who toil in the industry. The New York Times interviewed more than 150 nail salon workers and owners, in four languages, and found that a vast majority of workers are paid below minimum wage; sometimes they are not even paid. Workers endure all manner of humiliation, including having their tips docked as punishment for minor transgressions, constant video monitoring by owners, even physical abuse. Employers are rarely punished for labor and other violations.”

The series received an immediate response from the New York governor.

“Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered emergency measures on Sunday to combat the wage theft and health hazards faced by the thousands of people who work in New York State’s nail salon industry.

Effective immediately, he said in a statement, a new, multiagency task force will conduct salon-by-salon investigations, institute new rules that salons must follow to protect manicurists from the potentially dangerous chemicals found in nail products, and begin a six-language education campaign to inform them of their rights.”

In a follow-up report for The New Yorker, James Surowiecki examined ‘The Economics of New York’s Low Nail-Salon Prices’.

“…one of the most surprising, and economically telling, facts in the piece is also among the most mundane: namely, that the price of a manicure hasn’t budged much, if at all, in the past two decades.”

“What the nail-salon owners have done…is to pay their workers much less than a market wage. Maslin Nir’s nuanced account of who nail-salon workers are and how they live helps explain just how the nail salons are doing this: they hire workers who have fewer choices for employment because of language barriers, immigration status, and so on. These workers also have less bargaining power, and many are presumably leery of using the legal system to gain redress, which gives nail-salon owners the freedom to violate minimum-pay and overtime laws with little fear of being punished. The result is that these salons can stay profitable and still keep offering their customers the same low prices for decades. From this perspective, the cheap manicures New Yorkers have been getting have come, quite literally, at the expense of nail-salon workers.”

These articles, letters to the editor, media follow-up combined with good old fashioned customer guilt, will hopefully continue a conversation to improve the working conditions of these folks whose day is spent making others feel beautiful.

In other news this week@work:

Charlie Rose interviewed photographer Sally Mann. In an exchange taped for the CBS Morning News they shared their mutual concept of work: “In the end it’s love and work. Work to find your place so you can stand and leave your mark.”

Lifehack, a productivity and lifestyle blog reported on the ‘8 Things Successful People Sacrifice for Their Success’: “time, stability, personal life, sleep, health, quiet times, sanity and immediate desires.” 

Writer and comedian Dan Abromowitz shared a list of ‘Jobs I’d Be Well Suited For’ in The New Yorker, “As part of my current job hunt, I conducted a thorough inventory of my unique skills. From that, I’ve generated a list of professions at which I believe I’d excel. Please contact me if you are recruiting for any of these positions.” 

A sampling: “History Channel alien expert, Lobbyist, if that meant what it sounds like it means, Night watchman at Sleepy’s & Night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, provided that “Night at the Museum” is true, but lower-key than that.”

We are now in the ‘high season’ of university commencements. NPR has collected ‘The Best Commencement Speeches Ever’ from their archive. “We’ve hand-picked over 300 addresses going back to 1774. Search by name, school, date or theme, and see our blog n.pr/ed for more.”