Thirteen of my favorite books from the 2010’s

I start feeling reflective when something comes to an end, and closing out a decade magnifies the impulse, so I’d like to share some of my favorite reading over the last ten years. The following list doesn’t claim that these books are the best; there’s too much to read and too little time to crown that kind of superlative. These are just a few that I personally found thoughtful, enjoyable, interesting, and worth spending some time with. I’ve been influenced so much by recommendations from others’ lists over the years, and led to topics and ideas I wouldn’t have sought on my own. I hope that by sharing this, I can do the same for you. You are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier (2010) Lanier’s book opened the decade up with prescient questions about the relationship we have with technology, and set the table for several of the other books …

Continue reading

Trying out Scrib’d: “All-You-Can-Read” is more than you’ll ever be able to read

Every now and then somebody writes an article that mentions Umberto Eco’s library, or Thomas Jefferson’s library, and then goes off about how its okay to buy books and not read them. Nassim Taleb gave the concept a name – building an “anti-library.” The point of these articles seems to be making people like me feel smart for collecting more books than we will ever have time to read. So what does it mean for your “anti-library” when you sign up for an all-you-can-read service like Scrib’d? All-you-can-read, in this sense, is absolutely more than you’ll ever be able to read, but it’s nice to dream. Like Spotify did with music and Netflix with TV, Scrib’d is offering a subscription to books. All of the books. I signed up for a free trial a week ago, and after ten minutes I had a list of forty more books I want …

Continue reading

Tom Wolfe Captured American Life from the Center of the Carnival and We’re All Better Because of It

The USA lost an icon today. Tom Wolfe wrote the pants off of every subject he touched, and he will be missed. But that’s what writing is for, right? He is gone, but his work remains. I devoured as much of his writing as I could when I was studying for my B.A. degree. What I got in return wasn’t just a lesson in style or syntax, but a portrait of American history that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. From NASA to Nascar, Ken Kesey’s quest for the far-out and Charlotte Simmons’ prelude to #MeToo, Wolfe seemed to have a line on everything that happened in the half-century he spent writing. I hope that my generation can come up with a Wolfe of its own – someone who will thread the needle between all the cultural movements happening right now, and instead of illustrating only the divisions, find something …

Continue reading

Should You Read This Book? “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures”

According to Seth Godin, there are two scarce elements in our economy: trust and attention. I’m going to try and help with that by offering my trustworthy opinion on whether you should give your attention to this book by Dan Roam. If the title of the book, “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures“ doesn’t immediately pique your interest, it might not be for you. It’s pretty straightforward: this is a book about how to convey ideas with pictures. So why should you trust my opinion? Because I’m on the internet! …If that’s not enough, a few weeks ago I was on a podcast where I interviewed a startup in the data visualization industry, so turning ideas into pictures is fresh on my mind. In my free time, I’m a photographer and a writer, and I suppose I’ve read a handful of other books with pictures. (“Charlotte’s Web,” “Sin City,” …

Continue reading

Freedom, Concrete Island, & Richistan

The three books I’ve finished in the last few days initially seem disparate in theme, but if I dig, I might find a way to associate them and forge a coincidence in completing them around the same time. For some reason each of their unique stories caught my attention, after all. It’s a fun game to pick out three diversely categorized books and try to connect the dots between them, reading each at a completely different pace, thinking about them as various events unfold in my own life, and maybe looking for similarities I wouldn’t otherwise have been interested in. This fumbling investigation is the side effect of having no structured agenda when I decide which book to pick up on any afternoon. On the surface, the novel Freedom is a long and gossipy portrait of modern love and grief in post-9/11 America, and Concrete Island walks the line of …

Continue reading

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

It was the never-discarded trail of breadcrumbs left behind by my browsing on Amazon.com that led to Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” getting stuffed in a cardboard box and mailed to my apartment. With precision, Amazon remembers everything I’ve ever looked at, how long I looked at it for, and what I looked at next. It really wouldn’t benefit them to “tidy up” that history, nor would it anyone else who is enamored with the idea of “big data” and harvesting trends from massive collections of information. So it’s in this age of everything digital lasting forever, and giant mountains of digital ’stuff’ being heralded as the holy grail of information, that a book about throwing things away has become an international bestseller. Despite the celebrated promise of data hoarding, my past browsing led the magical website to believe that a book about cleaning (or ’tidying’ …

Continue reading

Bright Sided

Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. Barbara Ehrenreich. Picador, 2010. Twenty seconds before I sat with this book for the first time and saw the opening chapter’s title, ‘Smile or Die,’ an acquaintance walked by and saw me in my harried, just come in from the cold state, and said – “Hey, man, Smile!” So the context I’m working from is one where I have a very immediate sense that Ehrenreich is looking at real attitudes that exist everywhere around me: Smiling is Happy. Happy is Good. Good is Mandatory.  I was attracted to ‘Bright Sided’ because I knew it would take on ‘positive psychology,’ and propose that ‘thinking good thoughts’ is more delusional than anything else. As I’ve written before, I have personally benefited from learning about positive psychology – the ‘What Went Well’ exercise had a tangible effect on my life.  Ehrenreich believes that focusing on what’s good and going well is selling ourselves …

Continue reading

on ‘The End of Absence’

“I fear we are the last of the daydreamers. I fear our children will lose lack, lose absence, and never comprehend its quiet, immeasurable value.”  –  The End of Absence Many children this winter, especially in Boston, are having days off from school because of the weather. They’re being ‘absent.’ I used to love being ‘absent,’ on snow days. There was a peculiar isolation in it, a kind of detachment that’s almost impossible to reproduce now. This winter, those kids in Boston are having an entirely different ‘absence.’ They’re not absent in the way that I used to be absent. The End of Absence by Michael Harris is another book about the internet and how modern technology is changing the human experience. I keep reading books like this. Most of them have a pessimistic take on what it all means, and the fact that I spend many evenings reading stuff like this …

Continue reading

Creativity and Daily Rituals

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Mason Currey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Reading Daily Rituals, an atlas of anecdotes regarding the daily tics of well known intellectuals, has given me pause to think about my own idiosyncrasies. Am I repeating actions habitually without realizing it? Do I have better days when I follow a routine? Coincidentally many of the famously creative people and their quirks share a common thread. Historically writers, painters, architects and their ilk seem to have had a few oft-employed strategies for balancing their burdens. Walking and solitude were critical in the schedules of the great thinkers, who all seemed to champion their restorative and catalytic powers. Beethoven took his strolls after a ‘midday dinner,’ while Freud ‘marched at a terrific speed’ after his evening meal. At two o’clock in the afternoon, Dickens promptly left his desk for a vigorous three-hour walk, doing what he described as ‘searching for …

Continue reading

to Fiction or Not to Fiction?

The Daily Post asks – which do I prefer, fiction or non-fiction? I’ve been reading much more non-fiction lately than its counterpart, but an admission of habit doesn’t consummate an endorsement. Instead of my undergraduate idols like Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Twain, Calvino and Delillo, now my reading pile is full of business and political biographies, philosophy, psychology, and software development manuals. What gives? I can’t explain the transition, other than hinting that I don’t get paid to read novels, whereas skills or ideas I pick up from non-fiction have a chance of application in my working life. It’s a cheap premise, and I shudder to think I’ve unwittingly given up on the textured experiences of reading make-believe for the slim chance that I might find better financial rewards elsewhere. Reading non-fiction doesn’t also conclude I’ve disowned creativity – the best works of non-fiction can expose an unbelievable universe just as well as Tolkien can. Fiction …

Continue reading