Note: I started working on this post one day before Mark Greenfield alerted me (via Twitter) of a new book, DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, that is right in my wheelhouse. I checked out the DIY U website, ordered the book from Amazon, and now I’m anxiously awaiting its arrival. So, while I stand by much of what I say below about the types of books I hear about via Twitter, I’m hoping this one is the exception that proves the rule. And I doubt it will take me long to devour the contents, so I’ll still be in need of some good books to read.
I’m on a quest for some good reading.
Once upon a time and not so long ago, I was a somewhat devoted, moderately diligent reader. I didn’t fall into the bookworm category, but I’d read a few books a month — maybe four or five on occasion. I’d even multitask my book-reading, plowing through two or three books at a time, alternating between them when one became slow going. Often, my reading was related to a specific project or pursuit.
But lately, I just haven’t done a lot of reading. One reason for that, I tell myself, is that there’s a dearth of really good — i.e., interesting — reading material. Either that, or I lack the initiative to seek out the good books that people are reading these days.
Oh, I’m exposed to books aplenty, just as I’m sure you are. Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble deliver reading recommendations to my inbox every other day. I follow authors on Twitter or via their blogs who are not bashful about flogging their latest books. But this surfeit of information doesn’t seem to help. If anything, it just makes me feel more befuddled about which books I ought to be reading, because there are just too many suggestions presented to me. (Maybe I should read The Paradox of Choice.) I don’t seem to actively pursue books the way I used to before technology made it so easy to have the latest news about books delivered to me. Besides, now that I can tap into blogs, tweets and RSS feeds by the dozens on the laptop or mobile device, why should I spend time looking for books?
Well, because there’s something about curling up with a good book. Or sitting outside on a warm spring day drinking in the words on page after page. I don’t own a Kindle or a Nook, so I’m not sure whether I’d get that same sensation from reading a book on one of those devices. I’m not sure I’m ready to move into the e-reader world yet.
Anyway, I feel the need for a good book. The kind that comes with a spine. I feel the need to go on a book-reading binge.
So, please comment below with an idea for a book you think I should read. Something enlightening, with a dash of wit. And please don’t recommend a book about the usual marketing, social media or technology topics I hear about on my Twitter feed. Most of those books seem to cover the same old ground, repackaged. Also, I’m pretty burned out on the self-improvement, leadership and management books, which also seem to recycle the same ideas or concepts. I’ve read many of them, from a variety of perspectives. I rarely read fiction these days, but I won’t rule it out. So if you have a particularly compelling new novel or short story collection to recommend, let’s hear it. (This list will give you some idea of the type of fiction that resonates with me.)
I tend to enjoy most the rare, well-written book that deals intelligently with pop culture, or that provides life lessons from an unusual, unexpected perspective. The books I enjoy most have to do with music and musicians, spirituality (but not devotionals, heavily moralistic polemics or political propaganda masquerading as spiritual insight), marketing, philosophy and the occasional memoir or biography. I also like books about writing — everything from The Elements of Style to the books of William Zinsser, Stephen King or other writing gurus. Although none can top my all-time favorite book on writing, Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. If you’re interested in writing better, and in connecting with yourself and others on a deeper level through the act of writing, you should read Ueland’s book. You really should. I also like good journalism and well-told histories.
But I digress. This is supposed to be a call for reading recommendations. But to help you focus your recommendations, it might help to give you some idea of the kinds of books I like. So, here are the three I’ve read (or reread) most recently and enjoyed:
Eating the Dinosaur, by Chuck Klosterman. Mr. K. is probably the most astute chronicler and critic of pop culture around these days, and in this collection of essays he covers topics as varied as time travel, Ralph Sampson, ABBA, laugh tracks, Pepsi’s marketing, David Koresh and Kurt Cobain with equal insight. Dinosaur makes for a good read in short stints. But I’m afraid Klosterman will never again equal the success of Killing Yourself to Live, which makes my list of the five greatest books about music ever written. (One of these days, I’ll turn that list into a Friday Five.)
Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, by Hugh Macleod. OK, here’s one from the Twitterverse that drew me in. Macleod (@gapingvoid) is a Twitter celebrity who also became famous, thanks to the Internet, for penning weird little business-card-sized cartoons. I don’t always get his cartoons so I was glad to read some explanations to them in this book. But this book is about more than cartooning. It’s about creativity and escaping the mind-numbing culture we find ourselves sometimes trapped within. Some great ideas in here about entrepreneurship and creativity that apply beyond the world of cartoons or art. Take key No. 23, Nobody cares. Do it for yourself: “Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, painting, screenplay, etc., especially if you haven’t finished it yet. And the ones who aren’t too busy you don’t want in your life anyway.” Good advice, that.
Zen Guitar, by Philip Toshio Sudo. Here’s a book that combines many of the things I love: music (especially guitar), a spiritual perspective, quotes from musicians, short chapters, and concise life lessons that transcend the subject matter. (I discussed one of those lessons — do not chase two rabbits at once — in a recent blog post.) This is a book I pick up from time to time and re-read sections of. Each chapter is its own little self-contained universe of wisdom.
Looking back on that short list, I realize that each book is really a collection of ideas, neatly packaged into short chapters or essays. Maybe that’s what I really want: neatly packaged ideas, steps, etc., that solve problems or answer questions in a few short pages. Isn’t that what we all want? To know the world in a grain of sand? Or in the few pages of a book?
Anyway. What good books do you think I’d benefit from reading? What books have helped you along your path — either professionally or personally? I’d love to hear your recommendations.