Sam is an assistant with the Young Readers Sales team. He loves to sing, dance, yell, and eat in groups. His favorite things are funny people, smart books, and like-you-mean-it hugs. He reads almost anything if it can rein his attention in. He thinks the best part about reading comes after the last page, when you can talk about it with others and make a little more sense of the art, and maybe a piece of their own lives in light of it. He is moving to Texas! He loves adventure, and hopes to live a life full of movement.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote this book for herself. Not for you or for me; just herself, an therein lies this book’s greatest lesson: there is great value in your own joy. She includes that she is glad for anyone that finds BIG MAGIC to be helpful or enlightening, but really, writing about fear and its governance over creative freedom was an idea of her own that she wanted to nurture and expand, as if it were a real living thing sought her care. Ideas are more than flits of inspiration to Gilbert; they’re alive.
Whether you buy that or not, Gilbert’s knack for good writing is reason enough to spend some time with this book. Without patronization, she explains that we too can live a creative life if only we would put an end to the enabling fictions we create in order to avoid the massive, abundantly rewarding responsibility of, well, creating.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
I picked this book up and immediately thought of Disney Villains. Imagine, if you will, Jafar or Cruella DeVil flipping through these pages now that they’ve been thwarted and shamed in their respective worlds. The genius of the book however, lies not within its potential as a satirical prop in a Disney spin-off. Because rather than center on people who have committed “villainous” acts (see: Justine Sacco’s tweet on AIDS, or Jonah Lehrer’s fabrication of quotes in a major publication), the book is really about everyone else: the Tweeters, the Facebookers, the commenters, and perhaps literal mudslingers who can safely jab the perpetrator from an anonymous sea of onlookers. We’re happy to join the avalanche of shame-throwing because, in an avalanche, no one snowflake carries the blame for the amount of damage the group ultimately causes.
In any case, there isn’t a benign moment in this book, and the last line is the best line – the hook-in-cheek phrase that drags our attention through our protective bubbles and toward the places we don’t want to look: the margins where the results of our actions tend to rot. Once you’ve finished this, you won’t regard mistakes – your own or others’ – the same way again.
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The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
This was probably not written with the intent of improving its readers. However, I make the case that it does, simply for the amount of self-reflection I experienced from the first chapter onward. What makes Jon Ronson a great journalist and author is that his curiosity begets curiosity. Questions multiply and his focus, which at first is centered on subjects he suspects are real-life psychopaths, turns inward. Is he a psychopath? How many characteristics in the very real “Psychopath Test” can he have before someone can deem him too dangerous to live in normal society? This will no doubt force you to ask the same questions of yourself (and of everyone else in your life). As I read, I was dazed by how much attention I paid to my own mind. Things I didn’t know I possessed intrigued me, as did a whole branch of psychiatric research I gave little thought to before.
Ronson deserves credit for his strong writing and exceptional research, but his crowning achievement is instilling in his readers a curiosity they didn’t know they had.
The ADHD Advantage by Dale Archer, MD
Fear not, my unfocused friends, my shiny-loving brothers, my leaf-chasing sisters. You are not lost; you are not damaged; you are not hopeless. You’re just a different kind of fantastic from our linear minded comrades. Dale Archer, MD, uses his own life, and the lives of other hugely successful and happy “ADHD-ers” to delineate the fact that a wandering, hyperactive mind is more of an asset than we’ve been lead to believe.
When we were hyper, or when we stopped listening, or when we tore all over the house, we were usually punished, and therefore told over a long period of time that we were bad. What Archer points out is that punishment and medication are not the best ways of dealing with students (and adults) who can’t sit still. Instead, we should consider how to leverage someone’s strengths first and foremost before turning to drugs, which should really be a last resort. The success stories that he includes throughout the book are proof enough that those with ADHD can help turn the world in ways that others simply cannot. What is connoted as a burden, might actually be a gift.
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Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
I found this book (the 4th edition!) to be less of a book on how to draw, and more of a guide in perception. Edwards explains that in order to draw, we must tap into the non-verbal, non-linear, and non-logical side of our brains. To achieve this, she instructs the reader to perform various exercises – projects that require one to carve out an hour of uninterrupted time with no distractions. In a sense – she wants us to meditate. In order to speak in a language of only pictures, we have to melt away from our need to define what we see and simply see what we see. Drawing is less of an act of imitation, and more an act of perceiving. This opens an enormous space for noticing, and appreciating, how intricate each and every object is.
More than anything, this book gave me a reason to draw again – something I hadn’t done since I was a kid. After doing just one of the projects Edwards requires before moving on to later chapters, I felt physically lighter and more interested in my own atmosphere – the things that inhabit our lives are more complex than we give them credit for. What better way to pay tribute to your gift of sight than to draw what you see? What’s better, there is no rush or pressure to draw perfectly. Your drawing is yours, and nothing will be created exactly like it.
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