Storytelling with Data: a book review and my takeaways

As a child, I loved telling stories. I’d take my favorite book and TV characters and create a world where they would oh-so-conveniently meet. Say, a magical anime girl wanders Narnia until she encounters the now-villainous Power Rangers.

As an adult in the corporate world, I still want to tell stories. But now I find that people are more critical of which stories I tell them.

It must be in the form of numbers, they said.

It’s a data-driven world, they said.

In Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s book Storytelling with Data, she argues we can do just that: tell stories with numbers.

language + math = data storytelling

She takes traditional storytelling concepts then re-interprets them for “adult-appropriate” tables and charts. She teaches us to edit our charts, the same way authors do their stories, by borrowing principles of visual design.

My key takeaways from the book can be found below (click for larger size), but they can be summarized as follows:

  1. Context is king. The form your data will take depends on your audience and what you want them to do with the data.
  2. Choose the right graph to best express the key message (I’ve made a flowchart in my notes to help with that).
  3. Following on #1, design around this message.
  4. Present your data as you would a story, with a beginning, middle, and end.
storytellingwithdata1
“Storytelling with Data” notes, by dannaisadork

P.S. Sorry about the terrible handwriting. My normal penmanship’s already pretty bad, but writing on a tablet made it worse!

 

Continue reading “Storytelling with Data: a book review and my takeaways”

Blind book reviews, March 2017

Another month, another set of blind book reviews.

For those of you who are joining us for the first time, Welcome!

The blind book reviews series is the result of my compulsive need to visit the bookstore once a week. Sometimes during those visits, I’d see a book that looks interesting, but not enough to buy it (yet).

These blind reviews are my attempt to verbalize that interest. A sort of pre-review for a book I’ve yet to read.

These books were on-shelf in FullyBooked between February to March 2017.

A Little History of the World, by E.H. Gombrich

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who did horribly in social science and history. 

Math, English, Science? Oh she did just fine. But ask her to memorize a name or a date, and she’d zero out.

That is, until one teacher taught Japanese history in a new way: A series of tragic love stories, maniacal villains, with ninja and samurai side-stories galore.

Suddenly, school became just as interesting as fantasy books, and so the little girl learned to love history.

I am that little girl, and this book is–I hope–like that teacher.

 
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Blind book reviews, December 2016

I meant to make a follow up to that post from November. The one about going to bookstores, keeping tab of the books that catch my eye. The one where I make mental notes on why they caught my eye. The one where I talk about why I think they might be worth the read, even though I’ve never read them myself.

Today I write that follow-up.

And because I want to give this a catchier name than say, “books I’ve been seeing on the shelf”, I’ve decided to call them blind book reviews.

These books were on-shelf in local major bookstores (mostly National Bookstore and FullyBooked) between November to December 2016.

A History of the World in 12 Maps, by Jerry Brotton

I can’t remember if it was National Bookstore or FullyBooked, but I’m confident its one of the two! FullyBooked.

I have this not-so-secret fascination with cartography. Back when Waze and Google Maps weren’t a thing, I always kept an atlas in my car’s front compartment.

My excuse was that I needed it, but really I just wanted it.

I’ve always found maps pretty. I guess its because it brings me back to the fantasy books of my youth, where the first few pages were dedicated to maps of the places the story will take place.

That said, this book discouragingly doesn’t have a lot of maps (just 12!). It does talk about those maps in detail and covers history as well, so perhaps that makes up for it? We’ll see.

Continue reading “Blind book reviews, December 2016”

How to find books that are actually worth reading

I’m a self-confessed bookworm. But I also confess to struggling to make time for reading. I may get a few free minutes or so a day, but rarely enough to actually settle down to read a book. So when I do manage to make time, I want to make sure what I read is worth it.

I like to read at night. On the bed, the book propped up on my tummy. I like to read until my eyes are so weary they start to close on their own. I like to be invested in what I’m reading, so intensely focused that I forget everything else.

This means:

  1. I need a conducive reading environment.
  2. What I read has to engage me wholly.

I’ve got the first one covered. Its why I read at night; for the peace. I lock my doors and don’t look at my phone until the next morning.

I still struggle with finding an engaging book though.

That’s why when I started to track what I read, I  also started to track what I should read.

Note I said should.

I no longer have a TBR (To Be Read) pile. It’s been replaced by the  “Potential” list.

I pre-assess any book that catches my interest. Read thorough reviews especially the critical ones. I regularly weed out the books I no longer have interest in, and re-prioritize the list according to what I should read next.

But most importantly, even before I start on all that…

The books are already pre-curated by someone else even before they make it to my list. 

And its those someone else-s that I will talk about today. This is how to find a book that you will actually read.

 

Continue reading “How to find books that are actually worth reading”

How to track what you’re reading (and what you’ve read, and what you’d like to read)

I love books.

In my family, good grades meant book money. For every subject you score a 90 or above, you get a pocketbook. As a kid this was how I fed my Sweet Valley High addiction.

At the time I was an only child and we lived in a bad neighborhood. My parents wouldn’t let me out of the house aside from school, so I never got into sports. My only pastime, pre- computers, was books.

My friends were mostly fiction; characters from whatever fantasy series I was into at the time.

One day, I made actual living human friends. And some of them loved books as well.

So we talked about books. Recommended books. Traded books with one another.

And then I learned to save money so I can buy my own books.

Over the years, this meant a lot of books. Books I read. Books I lent. Books I borrowed. Books I meant to read. And so on.

It was getting out of hand.

Then in 2009, Typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana) rolled into the Philippines. A flood rushed into our single-storey home. Our books were some of the first to go.

It was the universe’s way of telling us we needed a booktervention.

So of the books we managed to salvage, we sold. Of the books we couldn’t sell, we donated.

These days we still read a lot. But we’ve become a lot pickier about which books end up in our home.

As part of the pickiness effort, in 2012 I got the idea to track what I read. I wrote everything on a single list, making notes along the way if something was worth recommending.

In 2015, I decided to go visual and moved everything to Trello.

What is Trello?

Trello is one of those things that are easier to show than to explain, but I’ll try anyway.

Imagine a cork board. Those boards where you tack a piece of paper to make an announcement, or a photo to remember a special event in your life.

Next, imagine a Kanban board. Those boards that have three columns: “To-Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”. They’re used for task management where everything starts in the To-Do queue and make their way to Done.

Trello is the two’s lovechild.

What is Trello for?

Trello is a tool meant to organize projects visually.

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

“What is Trello?” by Trello Help

It’s popularly used as a project/task management tool similar to JIRA (on that note: Atlassian acquires Trello).

What does this have to do with books?

Everything.

I track what I read, what I’m reading, and what I want to read all via Trello.

library
My virtual library over at Trello.

Similar to a Kanban board, I have three primary columns:

  • Next (To-Do)
  • Now Reading (In Progress)
  • Done!

But I don’t track tasks. I track books instead. I track what status I am in reading them.

Over time I’ve added other columns as well.

  • Potential – Books I’m interested in but don’t have a copy of. These books are either recommendations or stuff I see in bookstores that caught my eye.
  • On Hold – Books I’ve lent, or dropped temporarily for one reason or another.
  • Dropped – Books I’ve dropped not-so-temporarily.

So, it just tracks what you’re reading? That’s it?

Yes… and no.

Trello has a lot of nifty features, and its those features that allow me to do so much more than just track. For example:

Comments

I can comment my thoughts on a book, post somebody else’s review (like Amazon’s or Goodread’s), or put a note to self if I borrowed it from/lent it to someone else.

Since I set the board to public, others can comment on the cards as well so if you want to feedback on any of the books go ahead.

Labels

I’ve labeled the books by genre and which ones I recommend.

Since Trello can filter by label, its easy for me to look for say, “books about fantasy” or even “books about fantasy that I highly recommend”.

It also gives me an idea of what kind of books I gravitate to. Trend says I read mostly nonfiction nowadays.

What does this have to do with the Ondoy story?

My family lost our library that day. We don’t intend to rebuild.

Instead, we’ve become more conscientious book-buyers. We try to borrow a copy or grab an e-book as much as possible. If we really have no choice but to go buy a physical book, its with the accepted risk that someday we’ll re-sell or donate it.

So the Trello board is the closest thing I have to a personal library. A virtual library. One that, at a glance, shows me everything I read. Whether its something borrowed, downloaded, or bought.

Trello has been really effective in tracking and organizing my books, so I would recommend this tool and method to anyone.

In the next post I’ll write about how I find what books I want to read next. That “Potential” list doesn’t populate itself after all.