Reading List 2

In eight weeks, I've read more books than in all 104 weeks of 2013-14 combined. I wish I could understand what's changed - maybe I'm just getting old.

Another thing I've noticed is that all the books I've read lately were written by men. Mostly, or entirely as far as I know, white men. I made a conscious effort to change that this month. If I'm reading five, six, ten hours a week, I owe it to myself to seek out diverse voices.

Oh, and where am I finding an extra 10 hours to read each week with a full-time job and a one-year-old? I'm reading before bed every night. Sometimes it's just 15 minutes, others it may be two hours because I can't sleep. Even if you only have 15 minutes to spare each night, you can finish most books within a couple weeks.

February, 2015

100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater (Sarah Ruhl) - This book has some truly outstanding writing. Some portions of the book just aren't for me - particularly the parts heavy on theater-specific themes - but it's worth reading those parts for the pieces of wisdom and brilliance throughout.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Marie Kondo) - This book boils down to one simple idea for me: If an item no longer gives you joy, then it has served its purpose and is time to let it go. That perspective alone was worth the price of admission. Beyond that, it's a lot of tedious repetition, even for a short book. It's also presented for a very specific type of person. Not in an above average income bracket? Have more than one kid? Some of the advice given is simply not practical.

How to Be Black (Baratunde Thurston) - This is good. It should, without question, be required reading for every single college student. I don't think I can give much higher praise than that. Thurston's hilarious writing style from The Onion is on full force tying together a number of important topics.

Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel) - If this book were a pie chart, it would have three sections: The book I wanted to read, the book she wanted to write, and the book she wrote to connect the two (which is sadly the weakest link). It missed the right balance of the three for me. Overall, I enjoyed it, but I did skim some pages.

On Immunity: An Inoculation (Eula Biss) - I picked this up on a whim after seeing it in Mark Zuckerberg's A Year of Books, and I'm sure glad I did. Her writing is wonderful. Her use of metaphors critical. She takes on such a hot topic - vaccines - yet doesn't argue. She sets up facts, and supports them. She sets up myths, and knocks them down. All with grace and understanding. Highly recommended for parents, but everyone should read this book.

Up next

Man V. Nature: Stories (Diane Cook)

Previously

Reading List

 

Designing the perfect stapler

Ian Parker profiles Apple's Jony Ive for The New Yorker:

According to Clive Grinyer, “Jon’s always wanted to do luxury.” By this point, Grinyer said, Ive had already fulfilled one duty of industrial design: to design a perfect stapler, for everyone, in a world of lousy staplers. (Most designers driven by that philosophy “didn’t really rule the world,” Grinyer said. “They just ruled staplers.”) 

The key to designing the perfect stapler, in my mind, is to make paper nearly obsolete by designing the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

The retroactive reaction

When will we stop missing the bigger issue?

DeathtoStock_Medium6.jpg

The following is from Jon Ronson, writing an adaptation from his upcoming book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” for The New York Times Magazine. On Justine Sacco:

Sacco had been three hours or so into her flight when retweets of her joke began to overwhelm my Twitter feed. I could understand why some people found it offensive. Read literally, she said that white people don’t get AIDS, but it seems doubtful many interpreted it that way. More likely it was her apparently gleeful flaunting of her privilege that angered people. But after thinking about her tweet for a few seconds more, I began to suspect that it wasn’t racist but a reflexive critique of white privilege — on our tendency to naïvely imagine ourselves immune from life’s horrors. Sacco, like Stone, had been yanked violently out of the context of her small social circle. Right?

Sam Biddle for Gawker in a mea culpa of sorts:

Justine Sacco has a PR job she enjoys now, but she deserves the best and biggest PR job, whatever that may be. Give it all to her.

These articles, while important for entirely different reasons, are missing the bigger issue. They’re looking at a woman against a mob, which is certainly one angle, but I believe a more pressing conversation could have come from this situation. This was a chance to begin a conversation about the mentality of white free-from-consequence privilge. Instead, we seem to be set to perpetuate that privilge.

A day after this happened, back on December 21, 2013, I wrote about this. Some of it will be quoted below. I still stand behind every word I wrote. 

Perpetuating her privilge is why comments coming white guys like Ronson, Biddle, and Dave Pell claiming, “It was almost all about fun and entertainment,” really piss me off. I’m not going to rail on any of these writers for having blind spots, but I do have a problem with them putting everyone in buckets, and more or less apologizing for her after the fact. What she said was terrible. Yet, the overreaction following has absolutely nothing—nothing—to do with the real issue here: Why it was wrong for a person whose job title included the words senior public relations to ever say that in a public forum.

They may claim, “Of course it was awful! I would never condone anything like that,” and I would believe them. I don’t doubt that they’re good people. That still doesn’t change this attempt (by a PR professional, no less) to whitewash this incident after the fact. To make the top Google search result a positive Justine Sacco story, instead of a critical conversation about race. 

Job well done.

Job well done.

So, as for my question from 14 months ago:

Although she now finds herself without a job, that simply sweeps the issue under the rug. The internet feels like they won. And while someone who probably should not have been in a high ranking position at a huge company like IAC (About.com, Dictionary.com, Match.com, CollegeHumor, Vimeo, and many more websites you’ve heard of) lost her job, did she — or anyone, for that matter — actually learn anything? 

The answer is a resounding, “No.”

Now, there is absolutely a point to be made by those quoted before. The mob mentality of the internet is downright dangerous. One thing I made sure to be very clear about in my original post was the following:

[She doesn’t deserve] to be torn apart for the downright dumb things [she] said this week. Nothing should condone violence. Anyone threatening Ms. Sacco for her racist remark is just as wrong as she was when she hit “Tweet.”

But I’d argue there’s better causes right under their noses worth calling out than trying to clear the name of Justine Sacco.

No matter how innocent her intent, no matter her family history, no matter the inappropriate response of many (most?), some things have not changed.

Like this:

I have to interview with people like Ms. Sacco if I want a job in communication or marketing … And while it’d be just as wrong of me to generalize every white person in a managerial position at every company, hearing comments like this are harder and harder to digest when I get rejection letter after rejection letter.

This still hasn’t changed:

How am I supposed to feel when I see company websites featuring pictures of their employees and not a single one is black?

Or this:

It’s not about ignoring color, or gender, or sexuality. I know many gay people who are all extremely proud of their sexuality, as they should be, and pretending like their sexuality doesn’t exist is just as unfair.

But most of all:

It’s about understanding that when you surround yourself only with people who look, and talk, and act like you — you can’t pretend to know how someone else feels.

And finally:

Ms. Sacco can delete her Twitter account (and she has) and while she’s currently without a job, I doubt it will be a permanent situation. If over 1.7 million people support Phil Robertson, I’m sure she’ll find at least one who supports her.
But the rest of us can’t change our skin color, or gender, or sexual orientation. And that’s why comments like this are not ok.

We wonder why diversity in tech is almost nonexistent, but then we’re willing to so quickly move on from this. We’re willing to ignore the attitude that shapes the culture that influences the hiring decisions.

She wasn’t doing her best Stephen Colbert impression. She wasn’t writing headlines for The Onion. Instead, she posted a bad joke on her personal Twitter account to only a handful of friends and followers, mixed in between what were completely average, benign tweets.

Am I the only one that finds it dangerous to retroactively file that under “satire”?

Interview with DP Bradford Young

Bradford Young, director of photography for films including Selma, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, and A Most Violent Year in an interview with Grantland:

Filmmaking isn’t considered an art form in America, it’s considered a business first and foremost. Those who are artists, who get a chance to say something in the context of a business outfit, are the lucky ones, and they are far and few between. There are not a lot of us who can say we’re artists working in the film context. Basically, all this reminds us is that we’ve got to know who we are, we’ve got to remember who we are, and we’ve got to know that we come from culture and we come from stories, and stories are not about fact. Storytelling is the oldest art form in the world, and what it consists of is allegory and mythology. Stories were never sanctioned to be real, that’s not why we do what we do. 

Reading List

Something happened recently. I started reading books again. A lot of books.

Since I'm always on the lookout for good book recommendations, I thought I'd share what I've read and what I think, hopefully to connect with some other book readers out there. I'd love it if you could tweet any book recommendations my way.

2014

First, let's get the books out of the way that I read last year. One because it would be a shame to not mention a few of these books (I'm not much of a re-reader so it's unlikely I'll circle back to them soon), but also because the last few on this list really helped create my increased reading appetite.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan) - Aside from a few recent books, this is the one that still sticks with me. I have to be honest, I didn't love it at first. But as I kept reading, I was pulled down deeper and deeper into its mystery, and it hasn't let me go. If this is the year I start re-reading books, this will be first.

Ajax Penumbra 1969 (Sloan) - A short story expanding on the character in the aforementioned book. Recommended followup.

Luther (Neil Cross) - A prequel to the British TV show of the same name. Cross also writes the show, so especially as a filmmaker, I really enjoyed seeing those characters fleshed out in even greater detail. Although it's set before the events of the show's first season, I'd recommend reading it after watching. Being able to visualize Idris Elba and the style of the show really made the book more enjoyable.

The Martian (Andy Weir) - I love the setting and the setup, but beyond that, I just didn't like this book. Of all the books to quickly be scooped up and made into a Ridley Scott movie starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, I wouldn't expect this to be one. Still, I'm excited for the film and a lot of people love this book, so your mileage may vary. All that said, it's a quick read, and flying through this book is definitely one of the things that got me interested in reading again.

Wolf in White Van (John Darnielle) - I didn't care for this book. It felt like it was always waiting to get started. Still, it's another book that a lot of people love, so there's that.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert M. Pirsig) - Months later, I'm still not sure I've fully processed this book. There's a lot to love, but when I finished reading, I really felt like I'd need to come back to this book in about five years to really dig deep. That's a compliment.

The Circle (Dave Eggers) - I drifted away from this for awhile, but I'm glad I came back to it. It's really what cemented my current reading obsession. While it's sensationalized to the point of near-parody rather than the biting critique it could be, it's both enjoyable and thought-provoking. The idea of an all-seeing social network that doesn't sound so crazy is a little frightening to say the least.

January, 2015

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Eggers) - Frankly, there are some things I hate here, like the casual racism that pops up more than once throughout the story. Beyond that, though, in a lot of ways it is a book fitting of its title. I can't help but be in awe of Eggers' chameleon-like writing abilities, fitting in and out of so many styles and stories with ease.

The Thank You Economy (Gary Vaynerchuk) - While there's nothing "new" here in 2015 context, Vaynerchuk has the ability to put pieces together in a way that seems so obvious after the fact, it's hard not to think that's the way things have always been. It's a short book, and if you do any kind of work interacting with customers or clients, it's worth your time.

Steal Like An Artist (Austin Kleon) - Similar to the above, it's the way that Kleon connects ideas and presents arguments that are his true talents. If you're at all inclined to do creative work, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

Show Your Work (Kleon) - I'm less enthusiastic about his followup. I love the ideas, but it falls short of actually helping you approach your creativity in a new way. For what it's worth, his blog communicates his points in a much more effective manner.

Phoenix (Chuck Palahniuk) - He writes big ideas in brutally truthful ways that are almost beyond comprehension. I haven't really read his work since reading Fight Club years ago, but Phoenix was such an amazing short story that I'm going to jump back on the Palahniuk train.

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? (Eggers) - The filmmaker in me loves this book because it so easily translates to the screen. There's a lot to unpack here. Its style certainly isn't for everyone, but if you're into the style, I don't see any way you dislike this book.

Currently Reading

100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater (Sarah Ruhl)

Want more recommendations? Check out Allie Lehman's blog Be Up and Doing.

Paul Thomas Anderson's Filmography

From Still Smokin': An Interview with Paul Thomas Anderson by David Ehrlich:

Save for perhaps Punch-Drunk Love, which exists in the sweet synesthesia of its own dimension, each of Anderson’s films is a time capsule, a period piece, or both. With each successive feature, it grows ever more tempting to re-arrange his features by the chronology of their stories and look at his body of work as an alternate history of 20th century America. Anderson may not see much value in such an exercise (“Fuck. I mean, that would be cool, I guess. That would be wild!”), but his films nevertheless evince an uncanny ability to recreate the past so that it feels ineffably present.

I'm going to do that one day.