In 2018 I read 23 books, which is a solid 9 more than last year’s paltry 14, and 1 more than 2016). I credit the improvement to the 4-month sabbatical I took in the spring. Not working really frees up time 😄
For the last 2 years I said I needed to read more fiction since I only read 3 in 2016 and 2 in 2017. So how did I do? I’m proud to say I managed to read 7 fiction books this year (if you can count My Dad Wrote a Porno as “fiction”…). My reading still skews heavily to non-fiction, and specifically design, but that’s what I’m passionate about and it helps me professionally, so I’m ok with it.
I also apparently didn’t finish any books in January or February. I thought this might have been a mistake at first, but when I looked back on that time I realized it’s because I was wrapping things up at Optimizely, and reading both Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson and Story by Robert McKee at the same time, which are long books that took awhile to work through.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
by Robert McKee
I’ve read next to nothing about writing stories before, but Robert McKee’s primer on the subject is excellent. Even though I’m not a fiction author, I found his principles for writing compelling narratives valuable beyond just the domain of screenwriting.
Published and edited by Victionary
There wasn’t much to “read” in this book, but it was full of beautiful hand-lettered pieces that continue to inspire me to be a better letterer.
The Baroque Cycle
by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle is a broad, staggering, 3-volume and 2,500+ page opus of historical science fiction, making it no small feat to complete (I read the first 2 this year, and am almost done with the 3rd volume). It takes place during the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries when the world transitioned out of feudal rule towards a more rational and merit-based society that we would recognize as modern. It weaves together a story between fictional and non-fictional characters, including Newton, Leibniz, Hooke, Wren, royalty, and other persons-of-quality. Although the series can be slow and byzantine at times, Stephenson makes up for it with his attention to detail and the sheer amount of research and effort he put into accurately capturing the time period and bringing the story to life. Even just having the audacity to put yourself in Newton’s head to speak from his perspective, much less to do so convincingly, makes the series worth the effort.
Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
by Richard P. Rumelt
Strategy is a fuzzy concept, but Rumelt makes it concrete and approachable with many examples of good and bad strategy. Read my full notes here. Highly recommended.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott
A great little meditation on the writing process (and life!), sprinkled with useful tips and tricks throughout.
Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s design process
by Ken Kocienda
Ken Kocienda was a software engineer during the “golden age of Steve Jobs,” and provides a fascinating insight into the company’s design process. I’m still chewing on what I read (and hope to publish more thoughts soon), but it’s striking how different it is from any process I’ve ever seen at any company, and different from best practices written about in books. It’s basically all built around Steve Jobs’ exacting taste, with designers and developers demoing their work to Steve with the hope of earning his approval. Very difficult to replicate, but the results speak for themselves.
Ogilvy on Advertising
by David Ogilvy
I hadn’t read much about advertising before, but Ogilvy’s book on the subject is great. It’s full of practical advice on how to write compelling headlines and ads that sell. Read my notes here.
Full List of Books Read
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee (3/7/18)
- The Color of Pixar by Tia Kratter (3/18/18)
- Conversational Design by Erika Hall (3/27/18)
- Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (4/3/18)
- Handstyle Lettering published and edited by Victionary (4/24/18)
- Bimimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus (5/4/18)
- Design is Storytelling by Ellen Lupton (5/11/18)
- Trip by Tao Lin (5/20/18)
- Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters by Richard P. Rumelt (5/27/18)
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (6/10/18)
- The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper (6/13/18)
- It Chooses You by Miranda July (6/13/18)
- String Theory by David Foster Wallace (6/22/18)
- Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (6/28/18)
- My Dad Wrote a Porno by Jamie Morton, James Cooper, Alice Levine, and Rocky Flintstone (7/1/18)
- The User Experience Team of One by Leah Buley (7/8/18)
- Change by Design by Tim Brown (9/3/18)
- Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (9/16/2018)
- Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s design process during the golden age of Steve Jobs by Ken Kocienda (9/20/18)
- The Confusion by Neal Stephenson (9/26/18)
- How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan (10/27/18)
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy (11/11/18)
- Draft No. 4. On the writing process by John McPhee (11/14/18)