Trying (Desperately) To Live A Well Read Life

Highly recommend this gem of a book.

Before the internet became so encompassing I was a voracious reader of books.

Physical books. You know the kind: with paper, glue and binding.

I always had two and sometimes three books going at the same time—to fit different moods or different geographies in my house and car. There was always a nightstand book to fall asleep with, a book for the den and sometimes a book for the car so I could read a few pages if I got to a meeting early (and I’m always early).

Then the smart phone arrived and my reading habits changed. Now instead of reading at night, I find myself catching up on email, surfing the web or trying to beat Scott Porten in Words with Friends. And instead of reading in my car waiting for a meeting to begin, I find myself returning calls or sending texts.

Oh, I never stopped reading books but now it seems like it takes forever to get through them. I think my attention span has been shortened; retrained by internet videos and memes for the short hit and not the long term commitment a great book demands.

But I still love to read and I know it’s good for me, so I am determined to absorb as many good books as I can. And I am talking the physical kind, not the Kindle versions. I want to make notes, fold pages, underline passages and carry them with me on trips. I want to hold on to the physical experience—too much of our lives are digital these days.

Still, it’s a challenge to balance the demands of the constant barrage of emails, texts, notifications, beeps, buzzes and birthday notices.

So somewhere along the line you have to prioritize and you have to come up with a strategy.

I was reminded of a good one over the holidays when I ran into Steve Leveen, an old friend, fellow book lover and co-founder of Levenger, a company dedicated to serving the needs of readers.

Years ago, Steve wrote his own book, “The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life” and in that book he let us  in on a secret. It’s OK to put down a book you are not enjoying in order to make room for one you might enjoy.

Now that’s a pretty simple concept. But for me it was profound, because typically once I’ve made the investment of time and money, I’m going finish the book even if…well even if the book was boring me to tears.

I’ve slogged through tomes as a result. And guess what, it’s not a badge of honor and it’s not smart either.

It just means I will never get to a book I will love which means that I might miss that insight that could help me or someone else in my life.

So Steve Leveen liberated me. Because if he—a true book lover—can put down a book that doesn’t resonate— well then so could I.

Seeing him over the holidays reminded me of that wonderful lesson. And so I quit a book I was laboring over and opened a great new book which I can’t put down.

I read recently (in the Harvard Business Review no less) that the independent bookstore is making a comeback after years of being devastated by chains and Amazon.

That’s good news. Because there’s a whole world to discover in books and a whole world outside of our phones.

Things We Love: December Edition

Things we loved in December

December was a blur for many of us. But we didn’t want to let the month pass without pointing out some gems.

We enjoyed a great dinner with close friends at Fries to Caviar in Boca. The intimate spot which features a nice bar, great outdoor space and a varied menu has a sister restaurant in Delray, the excellent Jimmy’s Bistro. We highly recommend both places.

Speaking of great meals, we had a terrific “wine” dinner at Caffe Luna Rosa in December with special guest Max Weinberg of the legendary E Street Band. For me, that’s like having dinner with a Beatle.
I mention this because Max is playing a benefit show at the Arts Garage February 17.
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox has been playing several venues to big crowds and rave reviews. If you love great music from the 60s, 70s and 80s, don’t miss this show. And it benefits a great cause —our Arts Garage.

If you haven’t been to Beer Trade Company you really should give it a try.
This cool little spot on 4th Avenue is a nice locals spot with a vast array of craft beers and cider and the world’s best risotto balls.
There’s a companion location in Boca as well.

December is typically a philanthropic month with successful toy drives, food drives, and last minute charitable donations.
Those who organize and contribute to these efforts deserve our thanks.
Still, let’s try and remember that the immense needs of our community don’t disappear in January. If you are in a position to help, you are needed. It feels good to pay our civic rent.

Finally, we truly enjoyed December and it was gratifying to see Delray and Boca abuzz with people.
We shouldn’t take it for granted. Yes, finding a parking space is a little challenging, but you know what the alternative is; empty streets, vacant stores and not much to do.
We are truly blessed.

We didn’t have a chance to do a year end list but this was the year I put down the phone long enough to start reading books (actual physical books again) and it was great.
I’ve been a lifelong voracious reader: books, magazines, newspapers and later blogs.
But somewhere along the way, books fell by the wayside. This despite having written my own book. I was embarrassed. And I made a conscious effort to get back to reading books.
The effort was worth it. First, I figured out that I had the attention span to finish a book, something that I had begun to doubt.

I really believe that the barrage of media and content coming at us has compromised our ability to focus—at least it has impacted my attention span. But I’m happy to report that with a concentrated effort it’s possible to overcome.
So here’s a list of my 10 favorite books of 2017. In no particular order.
1. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. Ferris is a best selling author, successful blogger and popular podcaster. Tools is a huge compilation of his podcast interviews and he has talked to a who’s who from every conceivable walk of life. The book is a collection of valuable advice from world class performers.
2. Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris. Tribe is a great companion piece to Tools of Titans featuring more interviews with amazing people who answer questions about their favorite books (Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is a favorite of many), failures and best practices. The big reveal: it seems like nearly everyone who performs at a peak level is meditating.
3. What I found in a Thousand Towns by Dar Williams. We blogged about this book a few months ago. Williams is a folk singer who has travelled the country and has managed to get out of her hotel room to study the cities she plays in. Her insights are spot on and her writing is sublime. She knows what makes towns work. A great primer for those who love cities.
4. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss’ autobiography is a delight. Beautifully written, bravely revealing and always entertaining this fan came away with even more love and respect for this musical legend.
5. The New Brooklyn by Kay Hymowitz. I’m not from Brooklyn nor have I been lucky enough to live there. But my grandparents, aunt and cousin lived there and I spent a lot of time in the borough in the 70s and 80s. So I have been curious about Brooklyn’s history and how it became synonymous with cool. This book answered those questions. A great read.
6. Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon. This charming book focuses on several neighborhoods in places as varied as Philadelphia and small town Vermont. It focuses on walkability and community building and the towns that get it right. It made me want to visit Brattleboro, Vt. But not in the wintertime.
7. The Content Trap by Bharat Anand. May be the most insightful business book I’ve read in recent memory. A blurb can’t do it justice but let’s just say the book provides answers for businesses that care about not being disrupted into oblivion.
8. Hooked by Nir Eyal. A sobering look at how technology hooks us.
9. Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday. A terrific book that examines what it takes to create work and art that lasts.
10. The Amazing City by James Hunt. I bought this book after seeing Mr. Hunt speak at a League of Cities luncheon. A former president of the National League of Cities and former City Councilman in a small West Virginia town, Hunt’s book explores the elements that cities need to succeed. It’s a good list. We will share in a future blog.
Tied  for #10. Principles by Ray Dalio. This book (more like a tome) outlines the principles that Dalio used to build Bridgewater Associates into the world’s largest hedge fund. He believes in radical transparency and it worked for Bridgewater—spectacularly. An interesting book that also addresses life.

The Joy of Reading

Kay Hymowitz has some interesting thoughts on gentrification.

I’ve gone on a book binge and it feels great.
I’ve been a voracious reader since the fourth grade. That’s when my favorite teacher, Mr. Romanelli,  sparked a desire to learn that still burns 44 years later.
Great teachers will do that. And Mr. Romanelli was the very best.

From C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain to Hemingway, London and Steinbeck–I have been inspired, transformed and transported by great writers.
At Ward Melville high School on Long Island (it’s on not in, just ask Jerry Seinfeld)  I was blessed to have an English Teacher named Mr. O’Connor. His first name was Joey and his students lovingly referred to him as “Joey O.”

He looked like Les Nessman from “WKRP in Cincinnati”,  a popular TV show of that era but unlike Nessman,  Mr. O’Connor oozed cool.
He schooled cocky kids in one on one basketball, fascinated us in class and diffused the wise guys in the back row with memorable quotes:
“Ignorance is its own refutation.”
“You sir are a pebble in the collective shoe of humanity.”
He was great and I loved his class.

We read–happily –whatever he told us to because that was one class you wanted to participate in .
It was too much fun not too.
I lost track of Mr. O’Connor. But I found Mr. Romanelli on Facebook a little while back and I’m thrilled to be back in touch with the educator who flipped the switch for me.
And to realize that we share a love of the Yankees, the Giants, Vermont and politics somehow feels extra special.

All of which is a long winded way of saying I’m so proud of my daughter for going into teaching and I have read some great books lately. I’d like to share a few titles. And because we are a hyperlocal blog there are some tie-ins to Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

The New Brooklyn by Kay Hymowitz– Although I was born in Queens and consider Eastern Long Island home I have an affinity for Brooklyn. My grandparents, aunt and first cousin lived there and we made frequent visits as a kid. So I have an affection for Brooklyn and it’s fascinating history and diversity. This book is a great stroll through the many neighborhoods that make up the borough that has influenced urban dwellers all over the world. Hymowitz is a great writer and if you love cities this is a can’t miss primer on gentrification, race relations, housing, placemaking etc.

  •   Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon– Langdon explores a half dozen walkable neighborhoods in places as diverse as Philadelphia and small town Vermont. What makes these places special and vibrant is a lesson for other cities such as Delray and Boca. Langdon is an engaging writer with a keen sense of what makes places special.
  •  The Amazing City by James C. Hunt–Mr. Hunt is a former president of the National League of Cities. I had a chance to see him speak recently to the Palm Beach County League of Cities and he delivered wisdom that only a veteran and successful local elected official could possess. Three Delray commissioners and the Boca Mayor were in attendance and if they applied his lessons on how to create an amazing city we will all benefit. I’m going to write more about Hunt’s lessons in an upcoming blog.
  • The Content Trap by Bharat Anand–  Amazing business lessons. So good I may read twice.
  •  Perennial Seller by Ryan Harrison– Lessons on how to create work that endures. And shouldn’t that be the goal?
  •  Hooked by Nir Eyal– Sobering thoughts on how technology hooks/addicts us. Essential to understand in today’s hyper connected society.
  •  Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris– Ferris is a wildly successful blogger/author/podcaster. This is a huge book of his best interviews with fascinating people from all walks of life.  His most recent interview of Ray Dalio is amazing. Dalio runs the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, and recently wrote “Principles”, which is on my night stand waiting to be read. Lots of lessons to mine, scores of amazing interviews with high achievers and interesting innovators.
    Or as Joey O might have said: “if ignorance is its own refutation knowledge is your passport to success.”

Odds & Ends & A Delray Heroine Retires

Beautiful Quebec City

Beautiful Quebec City

In Praise of Quebec City and BVT

We’re back from a week of rest and relaxation in Quebec City and Burlington, Vermont.
Both are terrific cities.
Quebec City is magnifique–physically beautiful and very European in look, feel and scale.
While historic and oozing charm, Quebec City is also a dynamic and energetic place filled with street performers, artists, musicians, innovative food concepts and public art.
If you haven’t been, put it on your list. You will not be disappointed. You will be delighted.
Burlington is also a beautiful city with a rich history.
While its Vermont’s largest city, it’s smaller than Delray and Boca. Much smaller with just over 40,000 people.
Bernie Sanders got his political start in BVT becoming mayor with a 10 vote win back in the day.
When you drive into town after exiting a very scenic ride on Interstate 89 you run smack dab into the campus of the University of Vermont which is spectacular. Drive a few minutes and you come to the top of a hill overlooking picturesque Lake Champlain which serves as a backdrop to the city.
Burlington’s walkable downtown is charming and vibrant and features a pedestrian mall along Church Street, one of the few pedestrian malls that has worked (other examples are Lincoln Road and Charlottesville). It has one glaring flaw– not fatal mind you– but odd and that is an indoor mall anchored by a Macy’s. It doesn’t quite fit and seemed mostly dead while we were there. People preferred to be outside where like Quebec they enjoyed cafe dining, street musicians and the joy of just watching the world go by.
Burlington and surrounding cities –we visited Woodstock, Waterbury–(home of Ben & Jerry’s), Stowe, Shelburne, Queechee Gorge and Winooski–(known as Burlington’s Brooklyn) are teeming with incredible restaurants, creameries, cider mills, vineyards, distilleries and a slew of breweries. It’s beyond cool. And Lake Champlain—just wondrous.
It’s a sophisticated little place.
Relevant lessons for Delray and Boca: don’t design downtowns for cars, design for people. Both Quebec and Burlington favor the pedestrian and celebrate sidewalk dining, activity, festivals, pop up retail and localism. Local food, local beers, local wines, local artists, local farms, you get the picture.
Arts, culture, tourism are important economic drivers. They are celebrated.
The sense of place, history and the cool vibe is leveraged to create other industries. Burlington has a downtown incubator which was recently featured in the New York Times which is doing what it can to capture the entrepreneurial talent in the area and at UVM.
Breweries, distilleries and the local food scene are also encouraged with news articles, festivals, tastings and the like. We saw this in both Quebec and Burlington.
It’s really wonderful to have a university close to the heart of your city. It’s not only nice to see young people, but the college is a remarkable resource and source of intellectual energy.
Finally, both cities have a feeling of civic pride. They know they are special places, people seem proud of their cities and everyone you run into is eager to recommend sites, restaurants and things to do.
Civic pride is a killer app.
The Passionate Mayor
Over the weekend PBS ran a documentary about former NYC Mayor Ed Koch.
It was fascinating as was Mayor Koch. Alternately loved and despised, Koch was a larger than life figure and to a generation of New Yorkers he will always be the mayor.
He strived for relevancy and public engagement well into his mid 80s. It was both poignant and inspiring to see.
Love him or loathe him, one thing that was apparent was Koch’s love of his city. He reveled in New York.
That passion, that fire, I think is essential if you are going to be a mayor that matters.
If you don’t like people, loathe your downtown, use the office as a resting stop until you can get another seat or generally refuse to push, prod, coax, market or move your city forward you simple won’t succeed.
Short story about Koch.
I saw him once in Central Park and he was swamped by people. Many years later, I received a call to have breakfast with him at the Green Owl. It was 2004 and Koch–a lifelong Democrat who had never voted for a Republican– had jumped party lines to support George W. Bush over John Kerry in the presidential race. The campaign sent Koch to Florida and he was making the rounds. I declined the invite because I wasn’t interested in being a political prop, but I sure did wish there was a “no agenda” opportunity to meet Mayor Koch. It would have been fascinating.
Thanks Dr. Hunter
Last but most certainly not least we would like to wish a happy and healthy and productive retirement to Lynda Hunter who retired last week from the Delray Public Library.
Dr.  Hunter was the Children’s Librarian for forty years and positively impacted the lives of thousands of Delray Beach children through her love of reading.
A few of those kids were my very own.
Lynda and I worked closely together along with Janet Meeks and Lula Butler to create the Mayor’s Literacy Initiative which included everything from introducing books to summer camp programs to ice cream parties in our PJs.
Lynda was also there when we moved the library from US 1 to West Atlantic Avenue–which wasn’t without controversy but was the right thing to do. She helped to plan the new and vastly improved children’s section at the larger facility which bears her name along with philanthropist Virginia Kimmel who was so taken by Dr. Hunter’s passion that she felt compelled to get involved. Lynda is that kind of person. Inspirational.
Lynda’s heartfelt dedication to children and reading leaves a lasting legacy.
She sparked a love of books and reading on generations of young people who will surely pass it on to their children. That’s what the great ones do: they leave a legacy, they touch people and shape them, they leave us better for having met them on our journey.
Lynda is one of the  great ones. And lucky for us, she’s not done. She will continue to spread the love of reading which sees as an answer to what ails our society.
Thanks Lynda…what a legacy.

We couldn't find a picture of Lynda Hunter, but we found this from a reading event. Only she could get me to wear moose pjs...

We couldn’t find a picture of Lynda Hunter, but we found this from a reading event. Only she could get me to wear moose pjs…