Books I Read – Spring 2019

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I laid out a pretty simple reading plan in January: Prioritize the books I own by genre and read them in order. It’s a system that’s working quite well… here’s what I read in Spring 2019.

Books I read in April, May, and June 2019:

  1. Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield
  2. The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin
  3. Keep Going by Austin Kleon
  4. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (re-read)
  5. The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun
  6. Resonate Leadership by Richard Boyatzis
  7. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
  8. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

I also attempted to read three books, but stopped because I wasn’t enjoying them. But you may like them!

  • Fraud by David Rakoff (I love & respect David so much, but could not get into his essays)
  • Magic Hours by Tom Bissell (I could see what Tom was trying to do, but it wasn’t for me)
  • Please Excuse This Poem edited by Brett Fletcher Lauer & Lynn Melnick (I tried to read this for a #poemaday challenge, and after about 2 weeks, I realized I wasn’t really enjoying the poems)

Book covers for Dead Ladies Project and Love is a Mixtape
My two favorite books of the month: Love is a Mix Tape and The Dead Ladies Project

Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield (re-read)

I read this book years ago and held onto it, because I knew that a moment would come when I desperately wanted to re-read it. That moment was this season & I greatly enjoyed revisiting Rob Sheffield’s story. If you’ve never read it, I won’t spoil it because you just need to experience it for yourself. And if you’re read it, go read it again. Somehow it’s even better the second time around.

“There are millions of songs in the world, and millions of ways to connect them into mixes. Making the connections is part of the fun of being a fan. I believe that when you’re making a mix, you’re making history. You ransack the vaults, you haul off all the junk you can carry, and you rewire all your ill-gotten loot into something new. […]

A mix tape steals these moments from all over the musical cosmos, and splices them into a whole new groove.”

Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield – Page 23
  • Grade: A+
  • Words to describe it: Personal, Funny, Emotional

The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin

Hands-down my favorite book of the season. I’m tempted to re-read it again in the fall because I want to memorize every story in it. I’ve read Jessa’s work before & am a fan of almost everything she does (her Spoila Tarot deck is just beautiful). But this book was something else; this book was extra-special.

The premise? Travel around the world, tracing the path of inspiring & challenging women. It’s part-memoir (breakups, bad sex, depression, and self-discovery) and part-history/biography (histories of cities, biographies of women), all woven into a cohesive unit. This is about as close as a book can get to perfection for me.

“When someone says a song or book or a poem saved their life, this is what they mean: (1) it took me out of my brain for the one second needed to get back onto the planet, (2) it shot out a spark into the distance that I could then build a path toward, (3) it opened something up in my imagination.

Because suicide is the result of the death of the imagination.

The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin – Page 204
  • Grade: A++
  • Words to describe it: Witty, Interesting, Unique, Thought-provoking
Alamo Drafthouse ticket for Keep Going tour

Keep Going by Austin Kleon

I love me some Austin Kleon. This book wasn’t on my bookshelf when I made my reading list for the year, but I wasn’t about to put off buying this book until 2020. Plus, he had a really awesome book launch event in Austin, TX, where instead of a normal interview/lecture, we instead watched the movie Groundhog Day at the Alamo Drafthouse.

This book is very similar to Austin’s other books, but he successfully captured the tone of the post-2016 election era, which makes it distinct from his other work. The aptly written subtitle says it all: “10 ways to stay creative in good times and bad.”

“Cobble together your own routine, stick to it most days, break from it once in a while for fun, and modify it as necessary.”

Keep Going by Austin Kleon – Page 21
  • Grade: A-
  • Words to describe it: Quick, Creative, On Point

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (re-read)

I was in a major slump as the spring started & after reading The Dead Ladies Project, I knew a book about creativity would spark my imagination & bring me back to life. Big Magic proved to be the perfect medicine. It’s not a book for everyone, it’s slightly shallow and frivolous at times. But underneath Liz’s light-hearted writing style is an honest heart and passionate plea to embrace the magic of creativity.

“Hard work guarantees nothing in realms of creativity. […] Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you will know that you have tried and that — whatever the outcome — you have traveled a noble path.”

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – Page 184
  • Grade: B+
  • Words to describe it: Inspiring, Easy/Approachable, Jolt of Creativity
Book covers for Resonate Leadership & Myths of Innovation

The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun

This was required reading for grad school, but it was on a topic that I greatly appreciate — demystifying the notion of “innovation.” It’s a practical, quick read that is neither surprising nor underwhelming. If you work in the digital world, it’s a good book for a different perspective on how to approach your life & work.

“The best possible truth to take from the apply myth is that Newton was a deeply curious man who spent time observing things in the world.”

The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun – Page 4
  • Grade: B
  • Words to describe it: Practical, Straight-forward, Solid

Resonate Leadership by Richard Boyatzis

This was also a book I had to read for my graduate course. I didn’t enjoy it as much, but I will admit it challenged the way I approach my job & gave me some strategies for avoiding burnout and acknowledging bad, immature habits I’d started to form.

We had to complete an exercise in the book, to reveal our internalized “fantasy job.” Topping my list was (1) an ice cream shop owner, (2) an author, and (3) the owner of my own creative retreat. It helped me reveal how much I cherish autonomy and creativity in my everyday work.

  • Grade: B
  • Words to describe it: Formal, Data-driven, Challenging
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Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

I failed to finish this book a couple years ago, but held onto it because I recognized it was a failure in myself and not the book. When I picked it up this time, I couldn’t put it down. It spoke to my weary soul, gave me wise counsel, and provided ideas to meditate upon.

My favorite thing about this book is that the words captured were said in the 1970s, but my edition wasn’t printed until 2011. Shunryu Suzuki’s words are timeless and meaningful. His students have kept his teachings alive in this book. And to them I am eternally grateful.

“But if your mind is calm and constant, you can keep yourself away from the noisy world even though you are in the midst of it. In the midst of the noise and change, your mind will be quiet and stable.”

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki – Page 42
  • Grade: A-
  • Words to describe it: Wise, Timeless, Meditative

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

When our president implied that the late-abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive during Black History Month in 2017, I laughed with everyone else, before realizing I’d never actually read his narrative. I bought it, then forgot it, like I do with many well-intentioned things. Finally, the book was on the top of my “biographies & memoir” pile, and I was determined to not let another 18 months go without reading one of the most important anti-slavery biographies ever written.

This was not a pleasant read. It was horrifying, sad, and disgusting. But it’s necessary to recognize our past so that we can make a better future. Frederick is an incredible writer, who conveyed so much strength and control as he told his ungodly tale. I’ll be forever thankful that his story was written, and saddened by all the stories that never were.

“Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little book may do something toward throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds — faithfully relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my humble efforts — and solemnly pledging myself anew to the sacred cause, — I subscribe myself, FREDERICK DOUGLASS.”

LYNN, Mass., April 28, 1845 | Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass – Page 76
  • Grade: A (though it feels wrong to give this book a grade at all)
  • Words to describe it: Heart rending, Important, Maddening

See what books I read in Winter 2019. See you again next season!