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.
“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, 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”

For the Bookworms: Books of 2016

Back in my tumblr days, I used to collate the books I read every year (here’s 2013 and 2012). In 2015 I moved everything to Trello. While it’s visually better, it isn’t able to give a yearly overview of the books.

(Update: I talk about this process here.)

So today, I’ll write about the books I read (finished?) this 2016, along with a snippet of why I’d recommend each. Hopefully you find something here to add as a last-minute sock-stuffer for that bookworm in your life.

Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles – This children’s fantasy series is for the mori girls and boys out there. Grounded by beautiful art in gouache, I confess I bought the book primarily for the illustrations. Get this if you love simple stories, forest themes, and beautiful artwork.

The Fountainhead – It’s impossible to pick up a book by Ayn Rand and not rethink your values. If you want a book that will make you think, get this one. Fair warning: At 700 pages, it’s not for light reading.

Nemesis – My first Asimov. For the classic sci-fi readers out there.

Every Day – I read this part to fulfill a reading challenge, part curiosity to why it’s a hit. I’d recommend this for people who focus on the plot over writing, or even John Green fans.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – Growing up in a strict household with an overbearing mother, this was one book I could relate to. If you’re from a similar family background, or curious about what the other side is like, I highly recommend this.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things – A book that’s thematically part of the fantasy Kingkiller Chronicles, but not necessarily part of the series. The book is written from the perspective of Auri, the series’ most mysterious character. Auri gives us a tour to the whimsical world below The University (where most of the series takes place). I’d recommend reading the series first, and only read this is you find yourself wanting more.

The ABCs of Hand Lettering – Do not be misguided by the name. This is not a guide on how to hand letter. The “ABCs” part of the title is merely a play on the author’s name (Abbey Sy). The book is a compilation of some of her best hand-lettering work, along with inspiration from other hand letterers.

Creative Lettering and Beyond – Pretty inspiration and light exercises on lettering. What this book does well is provide an overview on different kinds of lettering: hand-lettering, calligraphy, and even writing in chalk.

After Eden – A graphic novel which had gone viral in my childhood but, as usual, I was clueless. A friend thus insisted I read this revised version. It’s a typical love story which would appeal to a younger audience, or fans of the original who want to read the author’s re-take of one of his earlier works.

The Man Who Was Thursday – Read because Neil Gaiman compared Chesterton’s writing to “an artist painting with words”. I’d say its very illustrative and rich in detail. Read this to get an idea of Chesterton’s style, then compare to other writers such as Hemingway. The book is available on Project Gutenberg (FREE!).

Getting Your First Data Science Job – I’ve talked about this book in my Getting Started with Data Science post, but I’ll say it again: If you can only read one introduction book to Data Science, make it this one. It’s one of the best overview books I’ve read in a while. Again, free.

The Sketchnote Handbook – A good reference for anyone interested in sketchnoting, i.e., taking visual notes.

A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging – I had started following Sacha because of her sketchnotes, but kept following because of her blogging tips. This book is a compilation of those tips. In the book she goes over some common excuses people give when they fail to blog, then gives recommendations on how to overcome them. It was my primary reference when I started this blog.

Stumbling on Happiness – A book which explores the science of happiness–what makes people happy, and why is it so hard to achieve. Do not misinterpret: This is not a how-to book. What it offers is sound research on the subject of happiness. Insight is up to you.

And that’s it. I usually stick to nonfiction and fantasy genres, but this year I was doing a reading challenge for Fully Booked which made me cross over and try a few books I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.

Over Christmas I plan to wrap up Dataclysm and Storytelling with Data, so I might need to add a couple of books to this list by year end.

On the bookshelves this second week of November

Once a week I make a trip to the local bookstore.

I never go there to buy anything. Sometimes I leave my wallet behind, so I can avoid making an impulse buy. I just browse, browse, and browse the aisles.

Sometimes I talk to the sales staff, and ask if they’re carrying a new book I’ve heard about. Or if they have the so-and-so book of an author or series they’re already carrying. Or to ask why they decided to change their display this month.

It hurts a bit to read about Neil Gaiman’s librarians as I don’t have those. I don’t have any book gurus to recommend me books and encourage my reading. The bookstore sales staff are probably the closest I can get. Public libraries are hard to come by where I live, and even the few ones that exist are in a pretty dismal state.

But I’m happy with what I have. The bookstore to me is what the library must have been to the young Neil: A solace. A happy place. I never schedule my trips there, and yet I always end up going mid-week, either on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Always right when I feel like the corporate world is going to gobble me up then spit me out. It’s my hump day reward.

It must be what retail therapy is like, except I don’t have to spend for anything.

When I was making my rounds last week, I thought it’d be interesting to share the books that caught my eye. If others manage to discover a great book through my book haunts then I’d be so happy to be of service! The books below are my finds, along with what it was about them that sparked my interest:

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