Shoe Dog: A Memoir by Phil Knight, the Creator of NIKE (Book Review)

When goods don't pass international borders, soldiers will. Quote by Phil Knight, creator of Nike Shoes and Apparel, Memoir Shoe Dog

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. A memoir by the creator of Nike. Cover pageBill Gates recommended the book on his blog, and according to Warren Buffett, it is  the best book he read in 2016 (and that copies will be available at the annual Berkshire shareholders meet in May’17): Didn’t mean much to me when hubby mentioned it. He had loved the book and insisted (more than once) that I give it a shot. Unlike him, I wanted to protest,  I do not particularly consider myself a business buff. Instead, I just read it. After, awed and emotional, I just mumbled “No. Wonder.”

It was 1962 and in one of his morning runs, the shy and introverted Phil Knight wondered what he wanted to do in life. Though his ultimate dream of becoming a great athlete had not come to pass, he had resolved that whatever he did, it will not be work, it will be play. He was driven by the ideal of greatness to do something meaningful that made a difference in the world. At Stanford he had written a paper on the great potential the Japanese running shoes have to make deep cuts into the shoe market (just like they did with cameras), hitherto dominated by the Germans. Obsessed with what he called the “Crazy Idea,” he started selling the Japan-made Tiger shoes, and Blue Ribbon Sports was born. Of what would become Nike later, the company sales grew steadily and then exponentially, doubling sales every year. His coach Bill Bowerman, loved and regarded very highly of by Knight, became his partner, and gave excellent inputs on shoe improvement, as a result of his trail and error experiments with different designs and materials. In time, many talented people became a part of his company and shared his passion to play.

Though his business was growing rapidly, he would plow all the profits back into his business, leaving no “cash” (highly unacceptable to the Banks). As such, he had to always fight and beg for more credit of his bank. He was taking very high risks. To have a fall back income, Knight earned his CPA and worked for Price Waterhouse for several years, and later taught Accounting at Portland State University, all while selling shoes. Page after page of the years described in the book are filled with war that Knight and his team are fighting to not go out of business. But their passion to play, mutual camaraderie, and inexhaustible grit keep them together and going (as it does the reader). There are poignant moments where he expresses regret for not able to balance his home life, giving enough time to his two sons.

In the last part of the book, Knight looks back after stepping down as the CEO of NIKE for 40 years, wondering if of all this was just business. Most certainly not, he stresses. Far from it.
All this was about the passion and love for sports.
It was about having strong close relationships, be it with his coach or his team or even the endorsed celebrity athletes (he has a close bond with Tiger Woods, Agassi, Michael Jordan, to name just a few).
It was about the obsession to do something different on one’s own terms; money never a goal but  a means to make it happen. A by product.

A business started with $50 investment is today a $30 billion empire – a stunningly impressive number, sure. But to peer behind the scene and walk in Knight’s ‘shoes’ to see where it all began only as a Crazy Idea, is something quite extraordinary: real, relatable and somehow…. doable! Add to it the great storytelling and excellent writing, Shoe Dog would leave you at a high point, emotional, awestruck and stirringly motivated.

Educating. Inspiring. A compelling read. Very highly recommended. 5 Solid stars on my Goodreads.

Well played, Mr. Knight!

Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith Book ReviewThis book gave me a lot of trouble because I was quite moved by it and so, very much wanted to talk about it, but feared just might spoil it (you will know why*). None of the approaches I took felt right, yet  I could not abandon it. Ergo, this is a simple account of a few themes that ran through the compelling memoir of the poet, singer-songwriter and rock ‘n roll artist, Patti Smith.

Nostalgia. Barely twenty, penniless and unsure, but not without an intense desire to become an artist, Smith steps into New York City, then a petri dish for the counterculture of the 1960’s, with widespread use of recreational drugs, free sexual expression & exploration, psychedelic music, and the Beat generation giving way to the hippie culture. Once past my initial shock over their avant-garde lifestyle (credited entirely to the author’s honest and sober narration), I pictured those times in curious wonderment: the nobodies with the potential to be trailblazers; the weirdos, the drug addicts, the experimentalist; the searchers, the idealists, the artists… Those must have been interesting times!

Patti Smith. Cover of Album 'Horses'
P. Smith. Album cover ‘Horses’. By Robert.

The Chelsea Hotel, where, in a peculiar turn of events, Smith and her friend Robert start living. Known to be a haven for writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers and colorful personalities, famous and yet to be famous, one could trade art could for the room-rent. “The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in The Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe“, she writes. At this point in the book there are several names mentioned, some known to me, others unknown: Andy WarholJimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Allen Ginsberg and the other Beats,  and a multitude of others that I googled as I encountered, only to get woefully intrigued by their life-stories. Some made it, the rest succumbed to drugs or AIDS, and never lived to see the times they were ahead of.

Patti Smith Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti and Robert

Patti and Robert. What will stay with me is the tender friendship Patti Smith shared with her lover for a while, and best friend forever, Robert Mapplethorpe. It is a beautiful thing to see how they really understood one another, not only as friends but also as artists. “Nobody sees as we do, Patti” Robert would say, and “whenever he said things like that, for a magical space of time, it was if we were the only two people in the world.

Their relationship went through various definitions, but belonged to none. “We were evolving with different needs. I needed to explore beyond myself and Robert needed to search within himself.” With time Robert would discover and accept his homosexuality, and go on to become a famous (albeit controversial) photographer. Smith, a sketch artist and a poet, would finally find her niche and become a musician and the leader of her band ‘The Patti Smith Group’, and start a new life with her husband, Fred. Notwithstanding that, both of them would remain as close friends as they always were.

The last part was heart wrenching and yet there was a sense of innate beauty in its naked truth. Robert gets diagnosed with AIDS. For Patti (and for the reader who is now so invested in their lives), the idea of losing him is extremely unsettling. On his deathbed he wishes that she write their story.

Just Kids is Patti’s a fascinating and poignant tribute to their friendship. *There was something quietly private she tore apart and put out there for the world to read, and it feels like sacrilege to “review” it; one can just relate and respect and carry it in one’s heart. Of course, there is more to the book: Patti’s love for poetry and for poets like Rimbaud and Baudelaire, their times of struggle, their friends and their interesting journey in interesting times. It deserved 5 stars on my Goodreads.

I loved this excerpt from the epilogue ‘A note to the reader’ by the author:

“…There could be many stories I could yet write about Robert, about us. But his is the story I have told you. It is the one he wished me to tell and I have kept my promise. We were Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was the splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together. only Robert and I could tell it. Our story, as he called it. And having gone he left the task to me to tell it to you.

Poem by Smith for Robert- who had the greenest of eyes- for his Memorial:

 Little emerald bird
Wants to fly away
If I cup my hand
Could I make him stay?

Little emerald soul
Little emerald eye
Little emerald soul
Must you say goodbye?

All the things that we pursue
All that we dream
Are composed as nature knew
In a feather green

Little emerald bird
As you light afar
It is true I heard
God is where you are

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Book 1)

Outlander by Diana Gibaldon
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

What a disservice this book has done. As I read, I was far removed from my daily life and the chores, much to the silent consternation of my family members; Outlander had swept me off my feet!

This is the first book in a series of eight books (so far, and counting) by Diana Gabaldon. It is 1945 and the World War II has just ended. Claire, a combat nurse, accidentally goes back in time, two hundred years in the past to 1743, and there begins the adventure. She encounters few McKenzie clansmen in kilts speaking with Scottish Gaelic dialect, who, suspecting her to be an English spy, take her along to Castle Leoch. There, she tries to heal patients with whatever amenities and herbs she is able to get. Amidst family politics, clan rivalry and the Jacobite rebellion, develops Claire’s relationship with Jamie. Their fierce and impassioned love in the thick of continual danger, constant insecurity and looming fear only gets stronger, and keeps the book together. Their love and dedication to one another is one of the things so wonderful about the story. As they are displaced hither and yon, one witnesses the loyalty and valor of friends who come to their rescue from time to time. Set in the pristine Scottish Highlands, the book is replete with rich imagery of the terrain and the flora, with detailed description of plants, trees and birds.

The Scottish Highlands. Outlander.
The Scottish Highlands

I had almost fallen off my bed seeing the page count of my ebook: three times of a ‘regular’ sized book. How was I ever going to finish it? (Besides, there is this Goodreads Reading Challenge 2017 I signed up for, you see.) I finished the book in not more than 4 days, staying up very late, getting up in the wee hours, and reading while waiting in the car! It was worth the while. It is amusing to see life in those times, simpler of course, but certainly not as convenient as today; our commonplace comforts in the 21st century are manifold over those of the richest of the rich of that time. The valor displayed by people in wars and combats made me shudder. The book is so long and detailed that one starts dwelling in that time, living life along side the characters. And since it is a series, the characters and their stories create for us a universe, not unlike the Harry Potter series of books. Having completed the book, I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Book # 2 is on my list.

Note of the TV series: I saw the first episode (because it was free on Starz), partly out of curiosity, and partly due to my longing to dwell more into the book. It is quite well made, the show, left to itself. But I would not want to watch it just yet, as the characters I created in my mind reading the book still linger, with obscure faces notwithstanding, that are close to my heart. I would not want to spoil the aftertaste while it lasts.

 A beautiful, intense and a memorable book.

‘Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kelon
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Some of my earliest memories are from the house I grew up in: a huge British bungalow surrounded by aged trees and inspiring wilderness (attributed to lack of any proper gardening). I was must have been in early elementary, sitting by one of the bright windows that thrust in the tropical sun, tracing the dotted lower case letters in a handwriting workbook: my father was teaching me the cursive hand, the norm, and expectation, back in the day. I’d trace each letter over and over until I could reproduce it independently on a  4-line notebook.

Why do I bring it up, here? Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon is all about tracing until you can reproduce it independently. Or something to that effect. The book is not about stealing per se, as much as it is about making a paradigm shift in how you see the world. It bursts the idealist bubble some of us create for ourselves (for the worse), only to realize that art builds on art, and there is nothing “original” as such in this world. Suddenly, you feel you are a part of this huge fraternity that is working with you; you are not lonely anymore, sitting by yourself in a cave trying hard to create something out of thin air! The small book is a compilation of friendly advice stippled with inspiring quotes and clever visuals. A quick fun read, and certainly recommended for business leaders, artists, writers, budding spiritualists and anyone who is trying to inject creativity into their life and work. “In other words: this book is for you”

Some quotes and thoughts I liked are below:

Pick Masters who inspire you, emulate them and try to see the world as they do/did; fake it till you make it. Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.

The great thing about dead masters is that they cant refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want from them. They left their lesson plans in their work.

You are going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.

Embrace your limitation and keep moving.

There is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Saul Steinberg: What we respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations.

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The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.

I picked up the book after listening to this segment on NPR’s On Point. Loosely translated, “hygge” (pronounced Hhyuoogah) would mean something like cozy + intimate + joyful. I’d say it’s a book about how to feel Christmas-like, all the time. It is interesting to note that the weather in Denmark is not what you’d ask for: continual rain with truly no dry period, very short days during winter and mostly cold weather in general. Despite this, or because of it, the Danes are so good at the art of hygge. The more adverse the weather, the more one feels the security of the warm indoors, safe from the hostile outdoors.

The author of this book Meik Wiking is the CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. He tries to bring the reader to understand how it would look and feel to hygge (BTW, hygge can be used as a verb or an adjective). He gives a list of “things” that bring about the required “feeling” and effect: the lighting (like use of candles and diffused lamp lighting, and a wood fireplace, of course), clothing (socks, scarves, woolen jumpers and such), foods (a hot drink, cakes) and the company of a small group of like minded people. How he talks about cake, convincing “scientifically” how our brains are wired for sugar to make us feel good! (All the diet theories out the door I thought to myself; good thing I didn’t have any cupcakes in the fridge.) Reminds me of another such ostracized food, and do excuse my ghee propaganda here: In Ayurveda the meda dhatu, one of the seven fundamental elements in a human body physically representing the fatty tissue, when well nourished, gives the person a feeling of love, compassion and abundance. No wonder the chocolate binging when one is sad or depressed!

It is always simple rustic things that bring about the intimate cozy feeling; hygge is inversely proportional to bling. Surely, the soft touch of wool or the look and feel of rustic wood is much more welcoming than the sterile feeling of steel and glass. The author has an interesting list for ‘hygge on the cheap’. And a list for things to do every month and during the winter and during the summer. Actually, it is a book of lists, and for a list-ful person that I am, I kind of like it. Ok, so moving on, another list has some interesting Danish recipes, but what I loved the “elderflower cordial“, or just the idea of it, bringing to my mind smells and colors of sunshine and lemons! (Pic below).

Denmark, consistently a top ranking country for happiness of the people is concerned, is a welfare state.  The Danes worry less creating space for the feeling secure and happy, which, I think, is just wonderful. People mostly bike in Copenhagen instead of using cars. It is all about slowing down and enjoying the now, which, for most us, is but an academic goal set in future time.

What I loved most is to google the list recommendation of places to visit in and around Copenhagen. Below are some pictures from the web. The book is peppered with graphs (no, not intimidating at all) and illustrations which are minimalistic and beautiful, just like the book cover.

To tell you the truth, I started the book in a lot of excitement and expectation that was vaguely in line with Power of Now or Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, books I found phenomenal. This book was nothing like that, and didn’t give me those “aha” moments must’ve been looking for. Useless, I thought a few pages in, much disappointed. However, as I read on (I always try to finish a book I start), it dawned upon me that the book is about the art of creating hygge and thats what it does, and does it alright. Recalibrating my expectations, I found the book written in good humor about good feelings in life and how to go about it by transforming your space. I must say, if not anything else, it certainly makes a beautiful coffee table book with a benign cover and short sections for a quick read. The Little Book Of Hygge on a rustic living room table, some candles, a fireplace and a couple wool blankets thrown in, can’t not add to the hygge factor of one’s space!

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