Books Read in December ’14

In order to gain a better understanding of how I choose what to read, I’ll be doing monthly recaps of the fiction and non-fiction books I finished, and why.

December was a productive month. I finished two Coursera Entrepreneurship classes, ran a marathon in Tucson, made progress toward the launch of Connect A Book, and traveled around Europe. Through it all, I kept up with the focused reading I expected to do, including actionable guides for writing and business plans.

Additionally, I read two biographies (Ted Turner and Paul Otlet) that were compelling in their own ways. The two men lived completely different lives – Otlet, born in 1868 in Brussels, dreamed of a world where all information could be cataloged and connected, and was left to imagining how that might one day be possible. Turner, born in Cincinnati in 1938, was in many ways responsible for connecting millions around the world, thanks to the many influential television channels he created. That Turner took advantage of the quickly advancing media technology that was becoming available, while Otlet suffered from an inability to realize his projects (he tried to document the world’s information with millions of note cards) is shown in the contrast between the results of their outsized ambitions: a still-looming media empire versus a small museum in Belgium.  I’ll be reading another pair of biographies this month, as I incorporate them into my reading on a more regular basis.

I’ve fallen off highlighting and note-taking books, a decline I suspect is mostly due to the limitations of a consistent work space while traveling. The effect of this was immediate: one of the books I read left no real impression on me, and having no notes to reflect back on means it was functionally a waste of time.

For the rest of January, I hope to keep up the pace at which I’ve been reading, and to write more about certain themes (technology, futurism, science). The reading schedule I set up is more demanding than last year’s, and I want to insure that the reading continues to be useful and informative, a tool for enhancing the projects I want to work on, and that it doesn’t end up as a way of avoiding them.

Fiction

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers – I picked this up on impulse at The Last Bookstore, then inhaled it over the course of a flight and morning in Tucson. This is one of Eggers’s strongest novels, combining a meditation on America’s international relevance with a character’s struggle with middle age masculinity.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – A story of a mixed-race family in the 70s that centers around the sudden death of a daughter, told impressively and fluidly from the perspective of each family member. This was our December book club selection.

Non-Fiction

Call Me Ted by Ted Turner – I knew two things about Ted Turner before reading this: he’s the largest single landowner in America, and he had something to do with TBS. Now I know he started Cartoon Network, too (and CNN, and did a thousand other impressive things). For me the most valuable takeaway from his biography was getting a sense for how Turner analyzed opportunities to grow the business he inherited from his father at the rate that he did, how he thought about acquiring other companies, and when he branched into new markets.  I took this from Mark Cuban’s 6 great books for entrepreneurs.

Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age by Alex Wright – I became interested in Paul Otlet after seeing this Tumblr theme, then researching him more in-depth. He had an incredible capacity for envisioning a better, more connected world, and pursued it endlessly, setting up international organizations, pitching ideas to other great thinkers of the time, and developing his own institutions and museums dedicated to holding the world’s information. An excellent book that captures the time period, as well as Otlet’s boundless ambitions.

The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir by Dee Williams – I met Dee while producing a segment on Tiny Houses for The Jeff Probst Show two years ago and was pleasantly surprised to see she’d written a memoir (loosely) about her decision to build a tiny house. This is smart and charming and funny and life-affirming and you will giggle and be moved.

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber – The structure of E-Myth Revisited centers around how a entrepreneurial pie shop owner will reshape her business. I found the narrative helpful and instructional, and look forward to reading Gerber’s other books. It was recommended reading for the Coursera entrepreneurship class.

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow – Though this is my first exposure to Doctorow, it certainly won’t be my last. I enjoyed this look into how creative industries continue to shift, and how artists can be expected to work and make a living in the coming years.

The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder –  Kidder’s book is referenced in the Innovator’s Dilemma, which I read in November. Already partial to nearly everything Kidder writes, I pursued this, and can say it’s a great companion to the more technical Dilemma. There are many parallels, too, between hardware companies in the 70s and web-based companies today that should keep Soul relevant for a long time.

Rework by Jason Fried – A thoughtful examination of assumptions about starting and maintaining a business,  from a company that’s stayed small despite launching many successful products.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Strategies for Continuously Creating Opportunity in an Age of Uncertainty by Rita Gunther McGrath – This book is designed more for thinking entrepreneurially inside a corporation. There are some helpful strategies in the beginning, the book becomes less helpful for independent entrepeneurs as it continues.

Writing for a Good Cause: The Complete Guide to Crafting Proposals and Other Persuasive Pieces for Nonprofits by Joseph Barbato – Though this isn’t immediately applicable to the ideas I’m working on, I chose to read it to get a better understanding of how nonprofits target donors, craft letters, and function.

How to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark by Patrick Kingsley – I went to Denmark for a week.

If you have any recommendations of books to read, either based on the books above, or on your own experience, please let me know.

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