My reading list from 2005

Last night I was reading “25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself”:, a ChangeThis Manifesto by Rajesh Setty. In it, he councils us to read as much as possible. We learn he reads a book a week (!), and councils his business clients to read at least one per month.

I agree that reading is vital. My own personal breakthroughs are a direct result of all the knowledge I’ve poured into my head over the past couple of years. I think of my brain as a giant crock-pot: I pour the ingredients in, let simmer, and enjoy a unique medley of flavours. (I am keenly aware that I leave myself WIDE open by calling my brain a crock-pot. Let me spoil your fun by calling _myself_ a crack-pot ;))

I thought I’d list all the books I’ve read over the past 12 months. I’m surprised by their number. Had you asked, I’d have said that I’ve read maybe 10 or 12 books. My secret to getting through all of these is twofold: first, I love the subject matter. There isn’t a book here I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. If it didn’t sweep me off my feet, I put it right down. Second (and this is my secret weapon), I _listened_ to many of these.

Audiobooks are a godsend. Not only do I get to ‘read’ while commuting and walking the dog, I find my retention and comprehension of the subject matter is far greater. I have two theories about this. First, I listen when I’m awake. Reading science in bed? Not going to work for me. I’ll be asleep in seconds, with a bruise on my forehead from the weight of the book crashing down. Second, the narrator’s intonation and vocal colour help me get to the A HA! moment with far greater ease and regularity. The best audio books are narrated by the authors themselves. If you decide to try the audio approach, make sure to look for unabridged editions. Otherwise you’re better off with the paper version.

So, without further ado, and in absolutely random order, I give you my 2005 reading list.

h4. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night”:, Mark Haddon

Fiction. Wonderful story of an autistic boy’s search for order. A quick, entertaining, remarkably insightful book.

h4. “Bel Canto”:, Ann Patchett

Fiction. What happens when a group of backwards terrorists kidnap 70 VIPs (including an opera star) and hold them hostage in a luxurious compound? Not what you think. Warm, moving, funny…

h4. “The Red Tent”:, Anita Diamant

Fiction. A woman’s first person account of the time surrounding Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt. Wowza!

h4. “Hey Nostradamus!”:, Douglas Copeland

Fiction. I’ve got a real soft spot for Copeland. I’m a fan of his oeuvre, and this one doesn’t disappoint. As always, there is more to the story than meets the eye. I love how rooted in geography his work is. Having lived in the same city as this book (Vancouver), I can see, hear, and smell the same mossy dampness that permeates its pages.

h4. “The Universe in a Single Atom”:, His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Non Fiction. I’ve been thinking about the fact that modern neuroscience keeps butting up against the “problem” of consciousness, yet the scientific books I’ve read drop the subject like a hot coal as soon as it pops us. I was drawn to this books because it seeks to bridge the buddhist empirical study of consciousness and the empirical study of traditional science. It’s incredibly refreshing to find a spiritual leader so open to embracing modern thought and discovery.

h4. “Blog”:, Hugh Hewitt

Non Fiction. Not so much. Hewitt may have a point, but he so drowns it in his views on religion and science that it’s hard to draw out.

h4. “Across the Nightengale Floor”:, Lian Hern
“Grass for his Pillow”:, Lian Hern
“Brilliance of the Moon”:, Lian Hern

Fiction. Wow. Wonderful escapism. Beautifully written tale of love, honour, magic, and adventure set in mediaeval Japan. Great fun. A trilogy.

h4. “The Dream of Reason”:, Anthony Gottlieb

Non Fiction. The spiritual heir to Bertrand Russel’s A History of Philosophy, Gottlieb (the editor of The Economist) gives a remarkably in depth overview of the entire philosophical history, from the earliest pre-Greek thinkers to today. Despite it’s breadth and heft, this is a very accessible book, easily suitable to a philosophical novice like me.

h4. “The Fabric of the Cosmos”:, Brian Greene

Non Fiction. Jaw droppingly cool. Mind bendingly weird. Greene, “…string theory’s answer to John Cusack” has an amazing knack for rendering the insanely complex comprehendible. After reading this, nothing will be what you thought it was.

h4. “Getting Things Done”:, David Allen

Non Fiction. I’ve read this three times this past year, and I still don’t get it. It’s no fault of the author’s. His system works; if you can commit to it.

h4. “Creating Affluence”:, Deepak Chopra

Non Fiction. My first introduction to Chopra. He posits that in a universe ruled by quantum mechanics (ours), wealth is created at the sub-atomic level. Creating wealth, he argues, is a matter of understanding your role in the universe. After reading everything else on this list, I tend to agree.

h4. “A Short History of Nearly Everything”:, Bill Bryson

Non Fiction. A fantastic primer on the state of modern science, and great fun to boot. If you’re interested in getting up to speed on the breakthroughs of the past, oh, thousand years, read this. Even if you think you know it all, Bryson makes learning it again a blast.

h4. “On Intelligence”:, Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee

Non Fiction. Hawkins invented the Palm Pilot. Prior to that though, he studied the biological function of our brains. His Palm Pilot invention was merely a step on his road towards inventing thinking machines. In this book, he introduces his theory of how intelligence works. It’s a powerful, broad, straightforward model – one that intuitively makes sense. Read this and remember where you were when you did.

h4. “Coming to our Sense”:, Jon Kabat-Zinn

Non Fiction. A great introduction to living with our eyes open.

h4. “Awakening the Buddha Within”:, Lama Surya Das

Non Fiction. I know a couple of people who love this book. It didn’t do it for me the first time through. It’s on deck for a re-read.

h4. “Blink”:, Malcolm Gladwell

Non Fiction. Required reading. Enough said. If you’re in communications, and you haven’t read it, you’re not doing your self or your clients any justice.

h4. “E-Myth Mastery”:E-Myth Mastery, Michael Gerber

Non Fiction. The essence: work ON your business, not just IN it. Useful. I even tried to hire Gerber’s consultants after reading this. But they didn’t return my email.

h4. “Ender’s Game”:, Orson Scott Card

Fiction. Sci-fi. Go. Read. It. Now. It’s that good. How did I miss this one earlier?

h4. “Autobiography of a Yogi”:, Paramahansa Yogananda

Non Fiction. I listed to the audio version, narrated by the great Ben Kingsley. It’s a long, long book (just under 18 hours, narrated), but immensely enjoyable. Filled with joy and magic. It’s the kind of book that makes one want to jump out of bed to see what the day will bring.

h4. “Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot”:, Richard M Restak

Non Fiction. I’m only part way through this one at the moment. It’s useful, but I can’t help but feel Restak would be more comfortable talking to my parents than me. Give it to your 60 old friends.

h4. “A Brief History of Time”:, Stephen Hawking

Non Fiction. Recently updated on its 10th anniversary. The breakthroughs of the past decade in the areas of string theory are included in this seminal work. What a weird, weird world we live in. Read this, and try to keep it in mind the next time you’re struggling against something “important”.

h4. “Freakonomics”:, Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

Non Fiction. Like Blink: You. Must. Read. This. NOW. If nothing else, it’s a great read. Easy, fun. Jaw dropping.

h4. “Mind Wide Open”:, Steven Johnson

Non Fiction. Ever wondered “What’s going on in there?”. This is a fun, fast moving, first person account of the author’s journey through modern science to understand the hows and whys of his own brain. The breakthroughs in neuroscience of the past couple of years are succinctly and entertainingly explained. The perfect starting place to understand your own brain.

h4. “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell”:, Susanna Clarke

Fiction. Long. Very, very long. Clarke builds and populates a wonderful world, where Magic (capital m required) collides with 18th century Europe. At times longwinded, it gripped me enough to keep on trudging, then wouldn’t let go of my mind for weeks after I finished it.

h4. “Mind Hacks”:, Tom Stafford and Matt Webb

Non Fiction. The title sums it up perfectly. A user’s manual for geeks, organized into hacks, or tricks, to show you way our brains function by pointing out the flaws in our perception. Great for party tricks. Seriously.

h4. “PHP for the World Wide Web”:, Larry Ullman

Non Fiction. Starting from zero with my php knowledge, this book got me up to speed quickly. I bought it to read over christmas, when I was “off the grid”. It was immediately useful, and sits next to my monitor every day.

h4. “DOM Scripting: Web Design with Javascript and the Document Object Model”:, Jeremy Keith

Non Fiction. Yowsa! I had no idea it was so easy. Seriously. Keith does such a masterful job of walking us through basic javascript that you’ll be writing your own behaviours in no time. If you’re a web designer, this is required reading.

h4. “CSS Zen Garden”:, Dave Shea and Molly E Holzschlag

Non Fiction. I hate to say it, I really do, but this is the only book I regret buying this year. I was hoping for something a bit more advanced. Still, nice pictures.

Colossal Design

The big daddy of inspiration. I avoided this book for the longest time due to its weak cover design. I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago, and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. I love these inspiational books. This one in particular, does a remarkable job of simply duplicating every piece is last year’s design annuals. I don’t think I’d seen any of this work before. It’s fresh and fun. I use books like this when conducting my initial interviews with clients to help them identify what they’re seeing in their heads. Helps get the first round of comps closer to the target.

Web Redesign 2.0

I’ve owned this book for a couple of weeks now, and its already saved me a bunch of money, and more importantly, helped me bill more. While aimed specifically at redesigning existing sites, it proves equally valuable for building new sites. The book is chock-a-block full of examples, with downloadable forms for you to start using right away. Simply put, if you’re a web designer, you need to read this. Most of the content is not revolutionary. But having it collected in one place makes it a total no-brainer. Go buy it!

It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be.

Just buy this book. Don’t think about it, don’t wonder why. Just buy it. Paul Arden has spent a life time making waves in the ad industry. This wonderful little read is the distillation of what he’s learned. The bok itself is a mastery of design. Each spread is its own standalone piece. The advice is practical and immediately usable. I don’t think any other book has ever had such as big impact on me as a designer and person. *Highly Recommended*.

Color Index

This little book has saved my skin on more than one occasion. It’s basically 350 pages of colour combos. Each “recipe” lists the CMYK and RGB values. Each combo is shown in 3 formats, so you get a very good idea of how the colours work in different scenarios. If you’re looking to expand your palette, or need to find something unusual in a hurry, this is a great resource.

The Elements of Typographic Style

What can I say? I love this book. Robert Bringhurst is one of Canada’s best poets, and his love of the word oozes from every mark. His style runs toward the flowery and excessive – certainly not a criticism I can make without fear of reproach – but it moves along crisply enough. The content is dense, but very rewarding. If you want to know how type works, this is it.