At any given moment, I have at least six half-finished books sitting within easy reach. But which six? How do I choose? Ah, that’s where the magic happens.
A wonderful literary synergy is created by the accidental juxtaposition of reading materials.
Julia Keller, CULTURAL CRITIC, Chicago Tribune — Why need read many books at once?
So I really meant that it’s something I think is kind of part of the human species, to always be kind of looking over the horizon to the next thing. And I think that when you break off your reading to go read something else, the first thing is enhanced. It’s enhanced by that contrast by realizing all the different varieties of voices that there are out there.
The Joys Of Reading Many Books At Once (from an interview conducted by Jennifer Ludeen, for NPR’s Talk of the Nation)
You are either a reader or you are not. That’s my theory, anyway. I have always loved reading. I started with comic books (if only I still had my original collection!). I used to hide a book propped up in an open textbook during class as far back as junior high school. (I think the first books I propped up in such manner were the Nero Wolfe mysteries, which I still re-read every few years). It probably (ok – definitely) hurt my grades – but I loved my reading.
Anyway, I got the link to this NPR interview in an e-mail, sent by another book lover. Here’s Jennifer Ludden’s introduction to the interview:
Many people are serial readers — they pick up one book and read it cover-to-cover before putting it down.
And then there are poly-readers like Julia Keller.
The Chicago Tribune cultural critic juggles four, five, or even six books at any given time, never able — or willing — to choose just one.
Some have frowned when Keller mentions how many books she’s reading…
But she’s nurtured her habit not because she’s flighty or easily bored — or even because it’s her job to read many books at a time. It’s just because she finds life is simply better when lived among multiple books.
If you love to read more than one book at the same time, then you know the joy of this approach. If you don’t – well, I just feel sorry for you…
So, here’s the request that came in an e-mail:
We are going on a cruise in September and I want to load my Kindle with three books. What are the three best books you would recommend for my reading? The request came from a very sharp, keen-minded, successful, independent business consultant. He attends one of our book synopsis events. This is my attempt to answer his question.
I am tempted to simply list some of my all time favorite reads (not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, although they are close — but definitely books that I am very glad I have read), like: The Doorbell Rang, one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries, by Rex Stout; and The Powers That Be and The Reckoning by the truly great David Halberstam; and Defining a Nation, edited by the same Halberstam.
And then there is this: what are the business books from the last few years (and even a little longer ago) that should be on your “I’ve definitely read that book” list? I would certainly include Good to Great by Jim Collins; something Gladwell (it’s tough to choose — probably Outliers); Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf and The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy; almost anything, but definitely at least one thing, by Peter Drucker. Add to this The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, and a major personal favorite, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
But – I still have not answered the question. If I had but three books to load on my Kindle for a September cruise, what titles would I choose? Here’s a list of five; you will have to narrow it down to the three that most interest you.
Choice #1: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize winner with his earlier book Guns, Germs, and Steel, has written a tour de force in Collapse, sweeping us through the societies that collapsed, and providing warnings regarding the decisions societies make. An important book!
Choice #2: Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Laden, or, The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Of course, the Wright book is the heftier of the two; it won the Pulitzer, and provides an amazing education about the rise of Al-Queda, what went into their thinking, and especially their animosity toward the West. But there is a personal tone and a very personal take on life in the strict Muslim world of Saudi Arabia in Carmen Bin Laden’s book — the former wife of Yeslam, one of the brothers of Osama Bin Laden. It is a captivating read, and noticeably shorter than The Looming Tower. (You can tell, from this response, that I think we ought to seek to understand this “other” culture that is so foreign to our own).
Choice #3: OK, which two business books to put on the list? Not necessarily which books to read for enjoyment, but which books provide the most important and useful information? I list two choices. I would put The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life by Robert Cooper, because everyone would benefit from reading an occasional “let’s aim high, and take things higher” book. Unfortunately,this book is not available for the Kindle. (Yes, I checked on all the others). So, for this category of business book, I recommend The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. (I haven’t yet read the new Schwartz book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, which could be a better choice). And, for the other business book, I would have to go with The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, just because I think it deals with the complexity of this age and provides really valuable suggestions. (And, it gives every patient going in to surgery an important question to ask his or her surgeon: “do you use a checklist?”).
And you will notice that there are no novels on my list. I read about a novel a decade (except for my relatively frequent re-reading of the Nero Wolfe mysteries). But I have actually bought a novel – in the past week. It is: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I might actually read it – one of these days soon.
Two personal footnotes:
#1 – thanks, Tom, for providing a great idea for a blog post. I apologize for answering you in this fashion.
#2 — And, it would be interesting to have Bob Morris give his list of “only three” in response to this request? I’m pretty sure he would have different titles – all absolutely worth the investment of a Kindle purchase and a few hours of reading. So many books… so little time!
update: I definitely should have put The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis into the mix — as the book I would recommend to help you understand the financial meltdown of the last couple of years. So now I am up to six to choose from, to then narrow down to three. Sorry about that.
I have a confession. I love to read. It started with comic books, then progressed to the Hardy Boys, and then really took hold with all of the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout (I own the entire collection, and re-read them every few years). I admit that I took a brief trip into Mickey Spillane for awhile (no, I didn’t tell tell my mother). But for as long as I can remember, I have loved to read.
I speak to residents of retirement communities, and recently one such resident had to move from independent living to assisted living. He is quite a man, and has read all of his life. In World War II, he was among those who liberated Flossenbürg concentration camp just a short time after Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at the camp. (If only they had gotten there a little earlier). Well, this man moved into assisted living because he has lost his sight. His greatest loss, in his own words: “I can’t read any longer.”
My bias is clear. We need a new generation of folks who love to read. So I read with enthusiasm this article, A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like, in a recent New York Times. The approach is simple. The teachers let the students pick their own books, rather than assigning every one the same book to read. It’s a middle school inititative, sweeping across the country. Here’s the key paragraph:
But fans of the reading workshop say that assigning books leaves many children bored or unable to understand the texts. Letting students choose their own books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading.
“I feel like almost every kid in my classroom is engaged in a novel that they’re actually interacting with,” Ms. McNeill said, several months into her experiment. “Whereas when I do ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,” I know that I have some kids that just don’t get into it.”
Is it working? Not for every student, but it is for some. Here is a letter that every teacher longs for:
In the final week of school Helen Arnold, Jennae’s mother, sent Ms. McNeill an e-mail message thanking her. “She never really just read herself for enjoyment until she took your class,” Ms. Arnold wrote.
This is a primarily a business book blog, usually dealing with business issues. Here’s a business issue worth pondering – how do we build a generation of people who love to read? Because if we succeed at this, more will read all types of books – including good business books.
Personal note — a suggested place to start: with either Some Buried Caesar, an early volume, or The Doorbell Rang, a later volume, and maybe his best. These present Nero Wolfe and his Watson, Archie Goodwin, at their best.