What are you reading / playing? (May 2017)


What are y’all reading / playing this month?

My recent list:

  • Pokémon Red on the Gameboy. It’s amazing how well this game holds up: it was a lot of fun as a kid and a lot of fun today. I don’t play a ton of video games anymore, so this one may just be run of the mill these days, but I really enjoyed how the game levels you up — you’re not suddenly dropped in to something that’s too far out of your abilities, but you don’t feel forced to do anything. You get to explore kind of on your own, and it’s exciting.

  • The Montessori Method (Maria Montessori). I’ve never read any of her books, but decided I should check it out. Unfortunately the book felt quite dated (the introduction, written in 1911, says the book is so remarkable because it was written by a woman :sob:). The first hundred or so pages read quite religiously to me, so I ended up dropping the book. Anyone have any other books by her worth trying out? or should I try and just stick through this one?

  • Mindset by Carol Dweck. The book explores the “fixed” and “growth” mindsets people (students, adults, athletes, CEOs, etc) seem to exhibit. A fixed mindset roughly believes that abilities (such as intelligence or athletic skill) are fixed at birth, you either have it or you don’t. The growth mindset roughly believes abilities are gained and grown through effort, tactics, and refinement. This was basically Khan Academy’s 101 credo while I was there (“You can learn anything”) and it was fun to read the source material. The book was a tad too anecdotal for my taste, but it was fascinating to see the same pattern of fixed / growth mindsets manifest in people time after time.

So how about you? What have you been reading lately?


I’m currently reading How to read a book and Infinite Jest. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the first, I’ve always considered myself to be a great reader, especially because I always scored exceptionally high on reading comprehension and reading speed tests in the earlier stages of my education, but it turns out my reading skills don’t hold up to the smart-people-adult-world. I’m not even 100 pages in, and the book already taught me so many things around reading; how to approach complex books, how to determine whether a book is worth reading or not, how to convert the information in a book into real knowledge that you can honest-to-god understand, remember and even defend. It doesn’t even stop at reading alone, it touches on other topics as well; how should you challenge yourself to increase your knowledge? How do you build a habit of reading?

Given your interest in education, it also touches on teaching to read in the beginning of the book, and shortly discusses different methods of teaching, if you haven’t heard of it before, I can more than recommend it to you.

About Infinite Jest, I’m not sure what to say apart from (1) it’s worth reading, and (2) that it might well be my favorite book of all time. If you haven’t read it, I don’t know if I can recommend it, it’s not for everyone and it takes up a huge chunk of time and concentration, I’ve had more trouble with this book than with Gödel, Escher, Bach, and this is fiction for god’s sake.
Where I was previously unable to read this book, and gave up after reading ~150 pages, thanks to “How to read a book”, I picked it up again and I understand a lot better how to tackle this beast now. As a fantastic bonus, I’ve strongly grown my vocabulary, English-brain and reading pleasure in the process.


Just finished “Deep Work” after hearing it recommended by a couple peeps, and enjoyed it. I was simultaneously using Moment’s “coach” tool to use my phone less, and in the few “deep work” sessions I’ve tried, I found I got a good amount done!

I’m now reading “Better Angels of our Nature” after seeing it get recommended in a few spots, and then Bill Gates recommended it last week, so I dove in - I’m a couple of chapters into it, and it’s been great so far. My favorite part: whenever I feel like I disagree with the author because they’re neglecting to address a counterpoint to their argument, it’s like magic: within a page or two, the author says “and yes, I’m aware that XYZ is a terrible consequence of this, and we will address it later in the book”. It helps me believe an author when they address and resolve the counterarguments to their theory.

I tried reading Montessori when I joined Khan Academy, but I did the same thing you did: I read the first couple of chapters or so, and abandoned it - the writing style was so old-timey that I found it hard to understand what was new/novel about the Method as compared to school in 1911 versus what I’m more interested in, which is what’s different between the Method and school today.

“How to read a book” looks neat! I’ll check it out… I’ve tried-and-failed with Infinite Jest and GEB, so maybe that’ll help me out!


Montessori & Steiner (Waldorf) are sadly super religious in their motivations.

My favorite education/school organization writer is Célestin Freinet, particularly his Oeuvres Pédagogiques. Sadly I don’t believe his work ever got translated to English. Perhaps a project for a lonely summer in the future…

Looks like there is a book about his work in English; haven’t read it though so can’t vouch for it. Let me know if you do!


Sounds very interesting! Maybe it’s time I brush up on my French reading skills, anyway :slight_smile:


@Martillion How to read a book sounds very interesting! I’ve been very curious lately about how children learn to read (and since it’s so difficult, what motivates them to do it?) so I’m excited to dig in to this!

@bryanjclark Deep Work sounds interesting. I’ve been feeling a lack of deep work time for basically the last year (or maybe I’m mixing it up with getting into a “flow state”). Neat!


Yakuza 5

i just don’t know what to say, but i tell everyone about this game, so i will tell y’all about it too. The game is basically a stock arpg set in a 1/4 mile radius area in tokyo (and occasionally other towns) and the primary Random Encounter mechanic is encountering some goon or show-off yakuza that’s all “you were looking at me funny, time for payback” and predictably you fight (and defeat them) in glorious ps3-era head stomping with just hilariously over the top combos. This is sort of unremarkable by itself, but there are some surprising parts:

  1. the game is also mostly a soap opera with an engagingly cheesy storyline
  2. because the game involves so much city exploration it embraces the mundanity and delight of being a Flaneur in a way that GTA and co. do not.
  3. about 3/5 the way through the game, you play as a longtime series npc, Haruka, an 18 year old orphan aspiring pop-star idol and all your headstomping encounters become being DDR-style dancing rhythm games and, awkwardly jobs where your goal is to shake fans’ hands at promotional events while making small talk with them before a bouncer shoos them away.

part of the game is the weird interplay between the protagonists you play, all ex-yakuza who have a Heart-of-Gold™ morality paired with a robin hood-esque motivation, and the fact that they spend so much time bashing peoples’ heads with bicycles. It’s a weird dynamic that gets especially weird as you inhabit a character who literally has no capacity to fight and instead begins each dance encounter with an uplifting aphorism like “i’ll do my best!” or playing as the series protagonist serving up bowl after bowl of ramen at rush hour in a dual-n-back flavored minigame.

that said, the game is not without its faults and they mostly center with the role of women in what is ostensibly a crime-filled redlight district. it’s hard to escape this fact and it’s enough to make it a hesitant recommendation on my part were it not for the fact that those aspects of the game (running a hostess club or engaging with idol fans, for instance) all do their best to maximize how extremely awkward and unenjoyable the place and profession are. those don’t make up for the fact that the game still features them heavily, but it does at the very minimum highlight the fact that the characters you inhabit (both yakuza and haruka) are sort of stuck in this universe where success is maximizing others’ satisfaction while literally keeping your exhaustion and unhappiness meters out of the red.

still, for an rpg that dives headfirst into the boring of “everyday video game life” with dashes of corny soap opera, the game is super cognizant of contrast: the fun parts of the game are extrinsically motivated and very fun and the “boring” parts are boring because the motivation required to succeed at them is entirely intrinsic and completely optional. from what i’ve read about zelda BotW, i get the impression that yakuza is the Rated R version: surprisingly vast with an endless stream of sidequests and unexpected minigames in addition of a surprisingly long main campaign.


Putting in a defense for Montessori Method (which I maybe recommended to you!). Her insights about how kids think were really good. Some of it feels dated of course, but I place a high value on educational theory that is informed by direct experience with children. Seymour Papert and Logo is another good example.

Building on that, John Holt is another great observer of children and slightly more modern. I liked How Children Learn the best.


Note that the section on how children learn to read is only a few pages long, if you’re looking to buy the book based on that merit alone, I recommend asking around for books specifically on that topic instead. Regardless, I still highly recommend the book if you haven’t read it.