Earlier this week, Twitter went literaryally crazy, thanks to a hashtag meme called #ScaleBackABook. The object of the game was to take a book title, revise it to become something less impressive or substantial than the original — for example, Lowered Expectations, For Whom the Timer Goes Off, The Jungle Brochure or Lady Chatterly’s Tinder Date — and posting the witty revisions to Twitter using the #ScaleBackABook hashtag.
The meme was a nice diversion for a Monday afternoon. (I also got in on the action.)
While playing along with the Twitter game was fun, it reminded me that there are a lot of great books out there. And one thing I would never want to scale back on is my summer reading.
For some of us, summer is the time to binge on guilty-pleasure novels at the beach. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve done my share of that kind of reading myself. But these days I tend to share more reading traits with people like Jon Westenberg, an entrepreneur whose readings are eclectic and varied. In a recent blog post, he credits much of his success in the start-up world to his reading habits.
“I read,” Westenberg writes, “because there’s so much more to the world than my corner of it. If I never tried to find it, I’d be limiting myself.”
He suggests we all take at least 15 minutes a day to read a good book. With that in mind and on the cusp of the Memorial Day weekend, which heralds the start of summer in the U.S., I share five books on my summer reading list. You’ll notice that none of the books on my list are directly related to my job as a higher ed marketer. These five reads are eclectic, and I’m interested in their topics for different reasons. But I guarantee you that the information I absorb from these readings will help me do a better job in that role. Because we’re all multi-dimensional people, and the information we take in shapes and informs the people we become.
Paper: Paging Through History
Mark Kurlansky has a knack for writing thoroughly researched and accessible, readable histories about ordinary things — or unusual topics — that most historians overlook, and that’s what makes his work so fascinating to me. He’s written histories about cod, oysters, salt, a 1960s pop song, the Basque people (that’s the book that first introduced me to Kurlansky and his work) and other arcane topics. In each of his books (at least the ones I’ve read, which are many but not the exhaustive list), Kurlansky is able to build from his study of a single object, event or ethnic group and weave a tale of history that is much broader and much more inclusive than the object, event or ethnic group. Of all his writings, Paper is the one that should hold the most relevance to those of us who work in the marketing, branding, public relations or communication fields. Because paper has been an essential element in communication now for millennia. Even if we do much of our work these days in the digital, paperless realm, the existence of this technology (yes, paper is a “technology,” Kurlansky argues) continues to have a profound impact on what we do. Paper is the foundation of our literate, legal and academic worlds, and without it, things would be much different. I’ve already delved into the introduction and I’m liking what I’ve read so far.
The Next America
I’m a data geek. As a kid, I would devour the charts and tables in our family’s multi-volume World Book Encyclopedia. In my pre-teen years, I discovered the World Almanac and would pore over its data, charts and lists in the school library. Later, my fascination with demographic and sociological research nudged me toward my decision to pursue an education in journalism. Which later led me to the work of the Pew Research Center, a think tank that churns out studies and reports faster than even the most voracious of data nerds can keep up with. So when I saw this book at a Barnes & Noble a couple of months ago, I knew I had to have it. The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown is written by Paul Taylor, a former journalist who worked for Pew for several years and became an expert on generational studies in the process. In The Next America, Taylor presents a picture of what the future holds for the U.S. — a country that is becoming increasingly divided by age, ethnicity and a shift in values. Weaving together a narrative based on Pew’s exhaustive and impeccable research, Taylor outlines the way ethnicity and age is reshaping the nation. (If you’re attending the CASE Summit in July, be sure to stick around for Taylor’s closing keynote.)
Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife
There was a time when we all had goals. Get through high school — just make it to graduation. Then get through college. Get that first job. Start a family. Etc., etc. But as we grow older and approach midlife, those set goals vanish, and we find ourselves without those established goals. In Life Reimagined, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, a former religion reporter for National Public Radio, presents midlife as a new opportunity and a new chance to create new goals for ourselves. The midlife crisis is not inevitable. Instead, it’s a time of renewal and refocusing. She draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, biology and other fields to make the case that this time of our lives is a time of opportunity.
I’m really looking forward to reading this book. And if you’re approaching midlife and also feeling stuck, maybe you’d like to read it too.
I picked this one up mainly because of my interest in learning more about the challenges facing women who enter the STEM fields. Because of that, Lab Girl is probably the book with the strongest connection to my occupation and the academic culture I find myself in, at a university with a high proportion of science and engineering students but, like many STEM fields, not many women — students or (especially) faculty. What really grabbed me, though, was the opening lines of the first chapter: “There is nothing in the world more perfect than a slide rule. Its burnished aluminum feels cool against your lips, and if you hold it level to the light you can see God’s most perfect right angle in each of its corners.” It’s rare to read any sort of prose about a slide rule, and rarer still to read such prose from a scientist. Author Hope Jahren is an acclaimed geobiologist, and Lab Girl is her debut as a writer. It’s her memoir about being a woman in science — how she got interested in her field and the friendships and challenges she’s met along the way in her remarkable career. These days, with so much discussion about the challenges facing women in the traditionally white-male-dominated STEM disciplines of academia and the work world, I thought this would be a relevant read for a male marketer in higher education.
The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones
You knew there had to be a book about rock and roll in here somewhere, right? Well, look no further. The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones is this summer’s rock and roll read. Rock journalist Rich Cohen writes about the Rolling Stones, the world’s longest-living rock and roll band, by drawing on his years of covering the group for Rolling Stone magazine and his own personal obsession with their career. I’m not sure whether the world needs another book about the Rolling Stones or any of the band’s individual members, but I’m willing to risk some summer reading time finding out.
For further reading…
If you’re looking for more reading ideas, here are a couple of other perspectives:
- Jeff Bullas’s 7 books you must read. If it’s inspiration you’re looking for, these could fill the bill.
- 8 books Bill Gates wants you to read this summer. I’ve read one on the list (Sapiens) and I highly recommend it.
- Two suggestions from Twitter friends.
What books are on your summer reading list and why? Share in the comments below.