These days (2020 pandemic), most of us are spending more time at home, It’s a good time to pick up some extra reading.
Everyone chooses differently, but I wanted to share a few tips for sourcing interesting books. Plus at the end of this post, some specific recommendations.
5 GENERAL TIPS FOR SOURCING INTERESTING BOOKS —
1. Keep a list of websites whose book recommendations you found useful in the past.
Personally, I find great book recommendations on RyanHoliday.net, The New York Review of Books, The Guardian/BooksSection, and Five Books.
An opinion: I shy away from GoodReads for two reasons: (1) It’s owned by Amazon (2) Like Amazon reviews, it’s a site for opinions, not a place for professional assessments. Though I rely upon the Amazon website to give me useful information about the book itself, generally I don’t put huge credence in GoodReads & Amazon Reviews. Recently it feels like authors are ‘gaming’ their reviews to leverage their book launches. It’s become more about marketing and less about a thoughtful review of a book.
2. Check out the bibliography, references, notes or acknowledgement sections in a book you enjoyed.
No book is created in a vacuum. All writers are indebted to another so looking at the ‘hat tips’ that an author makes can provide you with additional reading recommendations. Besides, I love the mentality of any creator who recognizes the influence or ideas of another.
3. Ask people what they’re reading — anyone really, not just close friends.
I’m often surprised that someone I’d not ‘pegged’ as a reader of books makes an interesting suggestion. People are fascinating and never cease to impress me.
4. Listen to podcast interviews — especially on subjects/topics/guests who are out of your comfort zone.
I bounce around with my podcast listening. I’ll listen to one for several months then drop it and pick up a new one. I’ve mentioned several favorites in previous newsletters, but over the years some of my consistent favorites who frequently interview authors or creatives and reference lots of books: Six Pixels of Separation with Mitch Joel, The Rich Roll Podcast and The Moment with Brian Koppelman.
5. Go to your local library, bookstore or museum shop to wander around. This source of books only works when you’re not in a pandemic 😉 — It’s only in the last few weeks that my local bookstore and library reopened with some restrictions, so I’m grateful.
In the old days of vinyl records, I often bought albums because I liked the album cover. I found some great music that way. You can do the same with books — go wander around looking at book cover art. Do, however, make sure your peruse the book but letting your eye grab a book might lead to an interesting read.
Using the above tips, here are a few book recommendations:
Recommendations from a WEBSITE:
The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street by Charles Nicoll
I’ve been a big fan of the U.K. based book site FiveBooks.com for years. It’s one of my favorite places to find books. Their recommendations are often off the beaten path and can be what I call ‘big-brained books’ — so they’re not for everyone, but the selections are always interesting and often more global in perspective.
[An aside: If you’re intrigued by the Elizabethan era or have an interest in the strange murder of Christopher Marlowe (it was referenced in the Oscar winning film, Shakespeare in Love) Charles Nicoll wrote another book, The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe which dives into Elizabethan history and tells the tale.]
Recommendations from a NOTES SECTION:
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Eric Larson
The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel Boorstin
I’m a big fan of Dan Pink — his writing and the range of topics he tackles. Last year, I did a webinar based upon his book WHEN. He’s thoughtful, thorough, and entertaining — plus he always includes a detailed list of notes and references. He’s excellent at giving credit to those who did the work!
In his book, WHEN he opens with the story of the Lusitania and proposes the hypothesis that time of day led to or at least contributed to several fateful decisions by Captain Turner that brought on the disaster. It’s an intriguing way to begin his book and these two books mentioned in the Notes for the Introduction look mighty appealing.
Recommendations from ASK ANYONE:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
A few weeks ago, I was in Central Park and ran into an acquaintance. I asked her what she was reading — Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I remember it was all the rage several years ago — won the Man Booker and National Book Critics Circle, plus a boat load more. I’d started it but never finished it; loved it but got sidetracked at the time. The run-in with my acquaintance was a reminder that it’s time to put it back on my list.
Again a reminder why we should keep a list of books we want to read and revisit the list periodically.
Recommendation from a PODCAST:
The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist.
My sister is always recommending great podcast episodes. A few weeks ago she recommended a podcast from NPR’s Hidden Brain with Iain McGilchrist. I was so intrigued by the conversation with McGilchrist, I ordered the revised edition of his book, The Master and His Emissary. It’s a ‘heavy’ book — literally and figuratively. So, it’s probably not for everyone — 462 pages plus over 100 pages of Notes and Bibliography.
Recommendation from a wander in a shop:
The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston
I’m lucky to live in NYC and, up until our recent pandemic, I got to wander The Metropolitan Museum of Art shop. Hopefully, I’ll be back there soon! I’ve learned that museum shops can be great places to find unique books. But museum gift shops aren’t the only place — any shop that sells books will do!
Houston’s book is a gem. Given the subtitle how could I not dive in? I was not disappointed — I love the book itself — the design, paper, layout — plus the content is unique and clever. And, the author has been kind enough to include detailed Notes and several pages of Further Reading.i