Summertime! And the livin’ is easy…
At least according to the words of the old George Gershwin song. And even the most inveterate workaholics and hard-chargers among us usually still take a week (or a few three-day weekends) off during the dog days of August.
Whether we end up on a beach or mountaintop, or simply at a friend’s backyard patio, there is some breathing space.
This fleeting hiatus of quiet allows us to disconnect from the seductive world of electronic media and enter a childhood place of printed words.
We can choose to turn off the laptop computer, iPhone, Blackberry, iPod, radio, and TV (yes, it is possible) and try to hear that small still voice inside of us…and let it mingle with the voice of a truly gifted author.
We can use the author’s musings to create our own imaginary dramas, meaningful dialogues, and stories. Every reader is a co-author of the book he or she is reading—not just a passive recipient of moving images and external soundtracks.
We must create the pictures and narratives in our own heads from our own life experiences, and not rely on Hollywood or Madison Ave. for our internal messaging.
Here is an eclectic palette of titles that might lure you to an armchair. They are all old friends of mine. Most of these books were given to me over the years by beloved relatives, teachers, dear friends, and a few just popped into my life through chance encounters and serendipity.
All the titles are available through Amazon; and most can be purchased used (good-as-new) for a pittance!
The books are loosely grouped into the following categories—The Creative Life, Personal Finance & Investment, Picture Books for Adults, Picture Books For Kids (of all ages), Innovation & Change, Dated but Wonderful Odds & Ends.
The Creative Life
The Elephant & the Flea: Reflections of a Reluctant Capitalist by Charles Handy. The dilemmas and delights of the creative flea in a world of organizational elephants are explored and explained. It is listed first for a reason!
The View From the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World by Ted Orland. Wise, real, and low key. It offers some genuinely helpful and even healing insights. (Incidentally, Orland was Ansel Adam’s studio assistant).
The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. Perhaps the best book ever written by a major American artist. I loved this slender volume when I was an art student 40 years ago and still return to it for inspiration.
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence, and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. This is not a how-to book but a how-to-be-yourself classic. It was written 70 years ago and is still totally relevant to those of us who need and want to write.
Art & Fear: On the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I picked this book up at the Maine Photographic Workshop a few years ago and still can’t put it down.
The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Small Island by Linda Greenlaw. This slice of life from a rough and remote Maine island says volumes about what we have lost and gained in our headlong pursuit of riches. This book is suitable for ardent feminists, tough guys, and anyone who has dreamed of abandoning the rat race.
Personal Finance & Investment
The Little Book on Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns by John Bogle. I always felt that John Bogle (founder of Vanguard) did more to promote human well being than Mother Theresa. His development of ultra-low cost stock market index funds has been a boon to millions of small, middleclass investors.
The Four Pillars of Investing: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio by William Bernstein. The author is both a Ph.D. and an M.D., and a longtime student of financial markets and human behavior. His section on “Why investors lose money” is worth the price of the book many times over.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street: Completely Revised and Updated by Burton Malkiel. This Princeton professor’s description of a chimpanzee throwing darts at the Wall Street Journal as an investment strategy is hysterically funny, and statistically sound. The book was first published in 1973 and is now in its 7th publication.
The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know about America’s Economic Future by Burns and Kotlikoff. This book is scarier than anything Steven King ever wrote—and it is published by the MIT Press. The basic premise is that old, unproductive, and ailing boomers will doom the American economy by 2030—unless there are drastic changes in public policy initiated right now. This is absolute essential reading for any young adult—and for their parents who are NOT interested in squandering their kids’ inheritance and shot at the American dream.
Zen and the Art of Earning a Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design by Laurence Boldt. This is a career book that will appeal to your inner hippie. Lots of great “zenny” philosophy, stories, quotes, and ink drawings. But Boldt is no dolt; both of his feet are on solid economic ground. And his cold, clear eyes look on human blindness without blinking.
Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life by Marc Freedman. This is a career book that will appeal to any aging yuppie. Although Freedman is making a highly promoted career out of advising befuddled but highly educated boomers about what comes next, it is a worthwhile endeavor. All kids of boomers should buy their parents a copy of this book. If the 75,000,000 grayheads don’t keep working and contributing to society, we (collectively) are toast.
Innovation & Change
Innovation & Entrepreneurship by Peter Drucker. The author is widely considered the greatest management thinker of the 20th century. This classic business book is essential reading for any young person who wants to go out and change the world.
Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility by Stewart Brand. In 1969, I was a nineteen-year-old straight-arrow youth from suburban Chicago—and then I came across a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog. The WEC was the brainchild of another suburban Chicago guy named Stewart Brand. His oversized, softcover catalog literally blew me away (and millions of other young people as well). I bumped into Stewart about two years ago at the PopTech conference in Camden, Maine. His new “legacy” book and chronological project is of vital importance to the world. American post-industrial culture has lost its sense of time, responsibility, and place in nature. Unfortunately, the media is not paying attention this time around.
The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent by Richard Florida. This once obscure professor of economic development became rich and famous from a book with a catchy title—“The Rise of the Creative Class.” As one of the few artists that actually read Florida’s bestseller cover to cover, I was left curiously lukewarm by his blandishments. Ironically, the concept of the flight of the creative class has real gravitas and urgency, and the media and policy wonks are not paying much attention to this important book. Young creative people better choose their zip codes very carefully!
Picture Books for Adults
The Family of Man by Edward Steichen. It is the catalog of the greatest photographic exhibition of all time.
A Summer’s Day by Joel Meyerowitz. Most creative young people know Meyerowitz’s photography through “Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive.” His documentation of the 9/11 disaster is monumental and heartbreaking; but I am still drawn to his classic images of Cape Cod. The sunlight is like no other. His luminous photos will make you happy.
Picture Books for Kids (of all ages)
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. I was mesmerized by this book as a child, and still try to heed its sage advice: to live by the sea and make the world a more beautiful place. Perhaps it should be the official book of the creative economy movement.
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. If the adult world is getting you down, simply read this book out loud to a young child. Life will become a wildly creative, exciting, and magical adventure for both of you!
The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper. “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can!” No better advice can be given to a human being of any age.
Dated but Wonderful Odds & Ends
The Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute. The author is mostly remembered for his harrowing tale of a post-nuclear holocaust world, On The Beach. His first novel was about a mechanically gifted but unassuming miniature model maker and technical writer. The protagonist must leave his safe haven in England and go out into the world to seek his orphaned niece’s inheritance. It is a sweet story. Decency wins out in the end. How is that for a ludicrous post-modern literary premise?
Fables for Our Time by James Thurber. These short vignettes are models of sly humor, stylish wordplay, and sad wisdom about the folly and foolishness of human nature. Thurber’s illustrations are pure delight.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
Have a great summer vacation; and try to spend some free time with a real live book!