BOOK BLITZ: Humor That Works by Andrew Tarvin

 
The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work
Self-Help, Personal Development
Published: April 2019
Publisher: Page Two
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If you want to increase team productivity, relieve stress, and be happier at work, you could hire a bunch of workplace consultants, invest in scream therapy, and put Pharrell Williams on repeat—or you could just read Humor That Works.
Written by Andrew Tarvin, the world’s first Humor Engineer, this a business book on humor. No, that’s not an oxymoron. It really is a business book and it really is about getting better results by having more fun. Because people who use humor in the workplace are more productive, less stressed, and happier. No joke; sources included.
The goal is not to make you funnier—though that may be a side effect—but to make you effective-er. You’ll learn to develop a personal humor habit that’s not about spitting wisecracks or telling the funniest stories, but a way of seeing work in an energizing new way. You’ll build on some of the most important business skills for today’s work environment, develop techniques for leveraging humor, and take action to improve your work immediately. And you’ll have fun doing it.
There will be stories about grandmas who text, multiple mentions of milkshakes, and exactly seven references to zombies. Oh, and there will be puns. (You’ve been warned.) Looking for success and happiness at work? Discover the missing skill of Humor That Works.
About the Author
Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer, teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. Combining his background as a project manager at Procter & Gamble with his experience as a stand-up comedian, he reverse-engineers the skill of humor in a way that is practical, actionable, and gets results in the workplace. Through his company, Humor That Works, Andrew has worked with more than 35,000 people at over 250 organizations, including Microsoft, the FBI, and the International Association of Canine Professionals. He is a bestselling author; has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and FastCompany; and his TEDx talk has been viewed more than three million times. He loves the color orange and is obsessed with chocolate.
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My Favorite 2019 Non-Fiction Reads

Like every single year, I didn’t read as much Non-Fiction as I meant to—but I did read a decent amount, more than I did in 2018 (by a whole percentage point, so…). These are the best of the bunch.

(alphabetical by author)

You Can Date Boys When You're FortyYou Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About

by Dave Barry

My original post
Barry at his near-best. This reminded me for the first time in a few years why I became a life-long devotee in high school. I could relate to a lot of it, and what I couldn’t was just funny. His reaction to Fifty Shades was a highlight—the chapter about his family’s trip to Israel was fantastic, funny and moving.

4 Stars

Have You Eaten Grandma?Have You Eaten Grandma?: Or, the Life-Saving Importance of Correct Punctuation, Grammar, and Good English

by Gyles Brandreth

My original post
I remembered rating this higher, but I’m not going to second-guess myself now. I’ll steal from my original conclusion for this: It’s the kind of thing that my college-bound daughter could use on her dorm bookshelf (and will probably find), and I know more than a few people who find themselves writing reports and the like for work who could use something like that. If you need help, might as well have a good time while you’re at it—and Have You Eaten Grandma is just the thing.

3.5 Stars

Dreyer’s EnglishDreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

by Benjamin Dreyer

I haven’t written a post about this yet, but it’s a great book. I can see why it was so popular this year—so much so that it got its own card game! The only more useful book I read in 2019 was the next one on the list. I’m not sure if I read something that made me laugh more. Fun, smart, incredibly quotable, and a resource you’ll return to time and time again.

5 Stars

How Not to DieHow Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

by Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, Gene Stone

My original post
One of the doctors that I’m seeing this year recommended this book to me, and it’s literally been a life-changer. This is an information-packed resource. But it’s not dry—Greger tells this with humanity, wit and concern. It’s a great combination of theory and practice.

4 Stars

The Art of WarThe Art of War: A New Translation

by Sun Tzu, James Trapp (Translator)

My original post
The classic text about military strategy—a great combination of psychology and management. It’s simple and profound, and approachable enough that there’s no excuse for not reading it.

5 Stars

What the Dog Knows Young Readers EditionWhat the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World

by Cat Warren, Patricia J. Wynne (Illustrator)

My original post
I loved the “adult” version of this a couple of years ago, and this is just as good—but edited so that middle-grade readers can tackle this exploration of the life of Working Dogs and their handlers.

4 Stars

46% Better Than Dave by Alastair Puddick: Dave meets a better version of himself

46% Better Than Dave

46% Better Than Dave

by Alastair Puddick

Kindle Edition, 245 pg.
Raven Crest Books, 2019

Read: December 14-17, 2019

No matter which way I looked at it, I was now inexplicably living next door to another version of myself. Another Dave Brookman. A richer Dave Brookman. A more successful Dave Brookman. And though I didn’t like to admit it, he was clearly also a slimmer, fitter, more handsome Dave Brookman. It was as if he was better in just about every single way. And, whether it was his intention or not, he was making the old Dave Brookman look bad. Really bad.

To say that our narrator, Dave Brookman, is surprised to find out his new neighbor shares a name with him. He shortly learns that they grew up near each other and are in the same industry. The coincidences are mindblowing. But as our narrator starts comparing the two, he keeps thinking that the “new” Dave has it better—from a literal ex-model wife to a flashy car, and all points in between.

But just how much better is “new” Dave? “Old” Dave puts together a spreadsheet assigning numerical values to various attributes/possessions and ends up with the titular value:

I sighed loudly. Of course, I’d expected there to be a difference. I knew he would come out on top. But 46%? That was nearly 50%. And 50% was half. So New Dave was nearly a whole half better than me. How could this be? What the hell had I done with my life? Had I wasted the opportunities we apparently both shared, as New Dave took full advantage of them? What could my life have been if I’d made different decisions along the way? Would I have my own company and a flash, expensive car? A house with a new extension and swimming pool? Would I be married to a former model, and have robotically clever children?

Dave spends weeks obsessing over this idea and dives into a (very one-sided) competition to become the “better” Dave. Which is ridiculous, preposterous and unsuccessful. And that’s before his wife finds the spreadsheet. After that things go from bad to worse, and then worse. Until they don’t.

It’s a great concept, it hooks you right away. But it’s what happens after the hook that’s vital—how successful is that? Well, that depends on how you read the book.

If you are looking for any real degree of realism, it’s just too hard to swallow. But if you look at “old” Dave as a character in a comedy—he’s a lot of fun. He’s really a decent, successful guy with a good family. At least until his neighbesis (his word) moves in and he becomes an obsessive, jealous mess. In his less-obsessive moments, he seems like a decent, likable guy and it’s these moments that keep you reading. In his most-obsessive moments, he makes it hard to stick with. It’s quite the balancing act that Puddick tries here, and generally, he succeeds.

Everyone else in the novel—”new” Dave and his family, Dave’s family and co-workers—all seem perfectly normal and well-adjusted. Their reactions to him are perfectly rational and understanding, too. This both highlights his irrational behavior and makes everyone else the “straight man” to “old” Dave. Without that, I think the whole thing would’ve collapsed.

Puddick has given his readers a sweet and funny novel about obsession, jealousy, and what happens to someone when they lose sight of what’s important in life. If you’re looking for a fast and fun read, you’d do well to give this a shot.


3 Stars


My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Love Books Group

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan (Audiobook): Gaffigan’s Tribute to the Topic that Defines his Comedy

Food: A Love Story

Food: A Love Story

by Jim Gaffigan

Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs., 17 min.
Random House Audio, 2014

Read: December 11-13, 2019


This is largely what I said about the book in 2015, but I have a few more thoughts about Gaffigan’s book on parenting, Jim Gaffigan offers a book on his true strength: food.

As with Dad is Fat, a lot of this is material I’ve seen/heard elsewhere, but most of it isn’t. There’s more than enough original material to satisfy even those who’re familiar with has specials. I think, so anyway—I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of Gaffigan’s material, as much as my children want me to (I wouldn’t mind it, either).

On the whole, this is about what foods, dishes, and practices he likes—but he breaks it up with things he can’t stomach or understand. Sometimes, like with the chapter on Reuben sandwiches, he handles both.

The chapters on Coffee, Steak, Doughnuts, Breakfast, Hot Dogs and Bacon stand out particularly for me. Although the pair “Nobody Really Likes Fruit” and “Even Fewer People Like Vegetables” really amused me, even beyond the great titles.

Actually, there’s really nothing that didn’t amuse me.

Naturally, there’s an entire chapter devoted to Hot Pockets. That’s all I’m going to say about that, it speaks for itself.

Because the book is pretty tightly focused, there are two ways I’d recommend to read this book: in one setting, or broken up into tiny chunks over several days. There’s a danger of things getting repetitive that either of those tacks reduces.

I’m going to limit myself to just a few highlights, there’s quotable material on almost every page:

A.1. was always on the table when my dad would grill steaks. It seems everyone I knew had that same thin bottle of A.1. It always felt like it was empty right before it flooded your steak. Ironically, the empty-feeling bottle never seemed to run out. I think most people still have the same bottle of A.1. that they had in 1989. Once I looked at the back of a bottle of A.1. and was not surprised to find that one of the ingredients was “magic.”

Of course I am aware that doughnuts are bad, horrible things to eat, and according to my health-nut wife, they are not appropriate for a trail mix. I’ve repeatedly tried to explain to Jeannie that I’m on a different trail. Mine leads to the emergency room. Trail mixes have nuts, and my favorite nut is most definitely a doughnut.

In my opinion, however, the line of the book has nothing to do with food:

Bill Shakespeare himself, another actor who did some writing…

Listening to Gaffigan added a little more to the experience—sure, it’s easy to imagine him saying the same things, it’s another one to hear him do it. It’s not a superior experience to reading the book, but it’s an added flavor that makes it fresh even on the second exposure.

I’ve spent the last few months trying to change my eating habits, which made enjoying this celebration of unhealthy eating a little personally ironic (particularly for the 35 minutes I spent on a treadmill), but it still made me laugh. If you’re the kind of person who eats food, has opinions on it, and likes to laugh, pick yourself up a copy.


4 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge<Humor Reading Challenge 2019

Catch-Up Quick Takes: Best. State. Ever.; Live Right and Find Happiness; You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty (Audiobooks) by Dave Barry, Dick Hill

I’ve mentioned before here that I think that Dave Barry is just about the funniest writer around—I used to gobble up his stuff in the newspaper and bookstore as quickly as it came out. I’m not sure what changed, but there are a handful of books by him that I haven’t gotten to yet. Thankfully, my Library had a few of them available to listen to last month. Here are a few thoughts about each of them. Quick reminder: the point of these quick takes post to catch up on my “To Write About” stack—emphasizing pithiness, not thoroughness.

Best. State. EverBest. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland

by Dave Barry, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs., and 47 mins.
Recorded Books, 2016
Read: November 21-22, 2019

(the official blurb)
The best parts of this one for me were the introduction (explaining some of the phenomena behind the widespread mockery of Florida) and the chapter giving a history of the state. I chuckled a lot at both of those.

When he moved onto looking at various tourist attractions and or locations in the state, it lost a little bit for me. There was something in each chapter to make me grinmaybe even laugh. But not as much as I’m used to from Barry. The Key West chapter came close, but even that stumbled. I do think if I’d ever been in the state to get a feel for some of these places it might have been better.

The biggest revelation for me from this is just how funny Dick Hill can be. No offense intended, but the voice of Jack Reacher and other thrillers is just not what you think of when it comes to silliness. But man, he was really, really good at this.
3 Stars


Live Right and Find HappinessLive Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry

by Dave Barry
Unabridged Audiobook, 3 hrs., and 39 mins.
Recorded Books, 2015
Read: November 26, 2019

(the official blurb)
This is more like it: pieces of wisdom (and other things) Barry’s passing on to his daughter and grandson. The driving tips for his daughter were fantastic (not just because my daughter is in the process of getting her license right now). The letter to his infant grandson was funny and touching.

Barry also looks at his parents’ generation (the Mad Men generation) and their ability to party, Google Glass, and a trip to Brazil for the World Cup (not being a sports guy, I didn’t think that last one would do much for me, but it was really funny). Oh, yeah, then he talks in-depth about a trip that he and Ridley Pearson took to Russia to talk about writing.

As much as I liked Dick Hill, Barry’s a better narrator of his own stuff.
3.5 Stars


You Can Date Boys When You're FortyYou Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About

by Dave Barry
Unabridged Audiobook, 3 hrs., and 22 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2014
Read: November 8, 2019

(the official blurb)
This one ticked all the right boxes for methe stuff about his daughter dating was the kind of thing that fathers everywhere can relate to and second; taking his daughter to a Bieber concert was even better. It was probably not a good idea for me to listen to his chapter about Fifty Shades of Grey at work, thankfully no one asked me why I was laughing (I did not want to have to explain that). Oh, and his funeral instructions were priceless.

Something I wasn’t prepared for was a long piece about a trip his family took to Israel. Listening to Barry juggle travel humor (searching for A/C and Wi-Fi in the midst of historic/cultural wonders), sensitive political discussions, and even getting close to the spiritual was fantastic. It’s not the kind of writing that you often see from Barry, and it’s easy to forget he can be really effective doing things that aren’t just verbal slapstick.

This is probably one of my favorite collections from someone I’ve been reading for decades. This is just great.
4 Stars

2019 Library Love ChallengeHumor Reading Challenge 2019

XYZ by William Knight: A Grouchy Computer Programmer Struggles to Find his Place

XYZ

XYZ: One Man, Two Kids, Ten Devices and an Internet-Sized Generation Gap

by William Knight

Kindle Edition, 216pg.
2019

Read: October 11, 2019

I’m one of the original computer geeks…

I was in the first intake for Computer Science O Level at my local college, and I signed up for a computer programming degree when the rest of the world was still using slide rules and copying documents in purple ink…

I was part of a small wave of silicon-brained cool kids that was destined to become a tsunami. My generation was going to make the world a better place and in record time. We had ideas of perfect information, total transparency, evidence-based-government and university for all. We were the builders of Utopia and the founders of global prosperity…

I hadn’t then realised the destiny for which I was headed. It was nothing more than fun. Fun to spend 10p on a video game and bash the console into submission. Fun to program pretty patterns on a screen and load games from a floppy disk, and fun to be part of the BBC’s Micro Live phenomenon, when the broadcaster sponsored its own computer as part of its remit to educate the masses.

And it remained fun until it became a trap, when computers ceased to be the promise of progress and instead became the terrorists of truth. Somewhere along the way, I turned from God of Silicon to an anorak-wearing dweeb, and from dweeb to a lonely fifty-five-year-old bastard. One at the end of his career, hopelessly out of touch, and unable to operate his own phone.

WTF happened?

What becomes of someone who saw himself as one of those who’d bring in a technological utopia and finds themselves trying to survive in the era of smart phone-ubiquity and social media dumpster fire? Well, judging by our protagonist, Jack Cooper—you get (at best) a curmudgeon who feels alienated in the industry he helped establish, estranged from your family, and hoping to remain relevant and productive (and employed!) long enough to retire.

We meet Jack on his first day at a new employer—a personal finance app corporation. He’s had a number of first days at various corporations lately, and his daughter is concerned that if he’s not careful this could be the last one. Despite his wide-ranging experience lately, he’s still in for a giant dose of culture shock and unclear expectations when he gets to work. Even after a period of acclimation, he’s still feeling like a fish out of water amidst these young people more focused on the internal chat program, employee fulfillment/empowerment, and lack of accountability than they are on actually producing something useful and on-time.

In other words, things aren’t going well for him. But at least he can go home and drink to excess at the pub across the street, right?

Meanwhile, he and his wife are separated (he’s still paying the mortgage on their home, in addition to the rent on his flat), he’s not speaking to his son (Jack can’t accept his life as a furry), and his relationship with his daughter is on the precipice of disaster. Which makes that drinking to excess a lot more tantalizing.

Then, while in a meeting with his superior about his job performance, he finds himself telling her how attracted to her he is. Jack’s last chance is looking pretty slim indeed.

This is a novel clearly in the vein of Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss/A Man Called Ove, where a grumpy older man clashes with a world that’s changing faster than he’s ready for it. Yes, that’s right, Gen Xers are now old enough to get our own books like this, which is depressing enough to suck the fun out of this book. Typically, these books are written from a Third-Person POV, but XYZ is a First-Person Narrator. This puts the reader firmly in his cantankerous, drunken, obstinate, and angry head. Honestly, it’s a little easier to have any sympathy for these types of characters when you’re not drowning in their anger (or at least steeping in it), but seeing it from the outside.

Still, there is plenty of fun to be had in this book. A lot of it is fun at Jack’s expense—laughter is the best way to react to his cringe-worthy behavior, otherwise, you’d end up being pretty censorious. Although you won’t be able to avoid judging Jack a little bit. There are times (the Prologue is a great example) when Jack’s loathing of the cultural moment (particularly in tech corporations) comes through stronger than the humor and it’s hard to take (and I agree with Jack in almost every bit of his counter-cultural thinking).

But, as with Ove/Chandra and the rest of the type, Jack manages to find a measure of acceptance for those around him, and is even able to do some work on repairing familial relationships (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say either of those things, that’s sort of how this kind of book works). As this happens, the book is at it’s strongest and easiest to enjoy/relate to. I do wonder if that portion of the novel is a bit rushed—we get plenty of time to watch Jack make a train-wreck of his professional and personal lives (which weren’t in great shape before he makes it worse), it’d be nice if we could see him get his feet back under him a bit more clearly.

On the whole, it’s a fun book—a great combination of humor, heart, and growth. Sure, some of the edges could be a bit smoother, but on the whole, this is an entertaining read. It can be easily read by a wide-range of readers—those of us who played Space Invaders when it was near the cutting-edge of technology, as well as those who can’t get over its primitive design and game-play. It’s charming, it’ll make you smile, it’ll give you a feel or two (to use a phrase Jack would hate). Recommended.


3 Stars


My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Love Books Group

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: XYZ by William Knight

Today I welcome the Book Tour for William Knight’s XYZ. We’ll kick it off with this spotlight post and then I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. But like I said, let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay?


Book Details:

Book Title: XYZ: One Man, Two Kids, Ten Devices and an Internet-Sized Generation Gap by William Knight
Release date: July 13, 2019
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 216 pages

Book Blurb:

From a former Guardian and BBC writer, and author of The Donated, comes a hilarious story of mid-life crisis, family, technology, and coping with the modern workplace.

Jack Cooper is a depressed, analogue throwback; a cynical, alcoholic Gen-Xer whose glory days are behind him. He’s unemployed, his marriage has broken down, he’s addicted to internet hook-ups, and is deeply ashamed of his son Geronimo, who lives life dressed as a bear.

When Jack’s daughter engineers a job for him at totally-lit tech firm Sweet, he’s confronted by a Millennial and Zoomer culture he can’t relate to. He loathes every detail – every IM, gif and emoji – apart from Freya, twenty years his junior and addicted to broadcasting her life on social media.

Can Jack evolve to fit in at Sweet, or will he remain a dinosaur stuck in the 1980s? And will he halt his slide into loneliness and repair his family relationships?

About William Knight:

William KnightWilliam Knight has written for the Guardian, the Financial Times and the BBC, among many other publishers. He is a journalist and technologist currently living and working in Wellington, New Zealand.

A graduate engineer, he’s chased a varying career starting in acting, progressing to music, enjoyed a brief flirtation with handbag design, and was eventually wired into technology in 1989.

By 2003 his non-fiction was being regularly published in Computing newspaper in the UK, and he has since written about the many successes and failings of high-technology

The Donated (formerly, Generation), his first novel, was conceived from a New Scientist article in 2001 and was ten years in development. Subsequent novels, XYZ, Foretold, The Fractured, will be available, he says, “Sometime in the future. Hopefully not as long as ten years.”

William Knight’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website



My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Love Books Group