Craving a good read to get the brain pumping and those creative juices flowing?
Here are 5 books that will expand your mind, get the cogs cranking, and fill the void when Game of Thrones wraps up next week!
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson
We’ve all seen it happen: someone writes a tweet or posts a photo on Facebook. It’s offensive in some way – maybe due to poor wording or thoughtlessness, maybe actual malice, maybe somewhere in between. And then… the pile-on happens.
Hundreds, then thousands, then millions of people jump into the fray. Barbs, threats, name-calling. Occasionally intelligent criticism, frequently rash judgment, often horrific attacks… But it all adds up to a butt-load of public shaming.
Social media has given people a voice. But what happens when we – and this book is squarely about us, not the crazy misogynists or Aryan douche-bags et al, but the otherwise ‘nice, normal’ people who consider themselves generally kind – use that voice to shame and cow other people?
Jon Ronson delves into the phenomenon of public shaming in the online world. And Holy Smokes is this is an important book.
Genuinely funny and enjoyable, while simultaneously being deadly serious and thought provoking, I devoured it in two days, and have already earmarked it as a gift for a few upcoming birthdays. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Peak: Secrets From The New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
The 10,000 hour rule is bullshit.
So says Anders Ericsson, the psychologist who actually ran the experiment on which the popular rule was based.
The 10,000 hour ‘rule’ – as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers – states that to become an expert in something, you need to have worked at it for (as the name suggests) 10,000 hours, which usually equates to a period of around 10 years.
‘Bullshit’ might be too harsh a word, but in this amazing book, Anders Ericsson systematically shows why this is a vast oversimplification that shifted people’s focus to the wrong variable in the pursuit of excellence.
To be an expert in something, the length of time you spend practicing isn’t the most important factor, it’s the type of practice you do. It’s got to be what Anders calls ‘deliberate practice’ – the kind of deep, focused work that stretches you to the point of being uncomfortable.
… Which, of course, is precisely the kind of work that most of us avoid doing because it’s so frigging hard!
This book changed the way that I conceptualized my work, it’s changed the way that I practice my writing, and it gave me a framework to set new professional goals (and actually achieve them).
Again, highly recommended.
(P.S. I love Malcolm Gladwell, and loved Outliers. So this was a really interesting read from that perspective too.)
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
This book is an amazing companion to Peak. Where Peak demonstrates why deliberate practice is important and how to construct your own path to expertise, Deep Work gets practical and delves into the nitty-gritty of how to actually make that happen on a daily basis.
Newport’s framework for achieving deep work is presented through 4 ‘rules’ for adopting a craftsmanship approach to your work and avoiding the endless distractions that keep us from being great at what we do. (Um, prepare for some blunt words on the impact of social media!)
This book changed the way I work, and I’m incredibly grateful for its insights and suggestions. When I finished the final chapter — after no small number of highlighted passages and dog-eared pages — I immediately went back to the start and read it again, something I rarely do.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, by Cal Newport
After being so impressed by Deep Work, I went back to read Newport’s previous book – So Good They Can’t Ignore You – and was not disappointed.
This might be the best book I’ve ever read on finding work that makes you happy.
It starts with a potentially inflammatory statement: that the conventional career advice – ‘follow your passion’ – is B.S.
With excellent arguments, evidence and case studies (Newport is a professor in his ‘real life’, so his ideas are incredibly well argued and supported), he turns this advice on its head and offers a different framework: create a remarkable life doing work you love by building rare and valuable skills.
I listened to this book (Audible for the win) and was genuinely captivated. It gave me really great insights into my own work and choices, and reinvigorated my drive to aim for excellence in everything I do.
The Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell
This book is the aberration on the list.
While you’d find the others in the ‘business’ or ‘science’ sections of your book store, this one would be nestled on the travel shelf.
This awesomely-titled tome first came to my attention when I was in Copenhagen last year — it was front and centre of every English language bookstore I came across. But with the CRAZY price of books over there (around $60 Aussie dollars for a paperback), I passed on purchasing it during my trip and put it on my wishlist to order when I got home.
In the end, I went the audio book option (seriously, my Audible subscription makes me so happy!). And this is an AWESOME book to listen to.
The story starts with a familiar trope: Russell was a not-overly-happy journalist living the busy corporate life in London when her husband was offered a job in Jutland (rural Denmark). Feeling dissatisfied with her dull and stressy life, she and her husband decided to pack up, make the move, and immerse themselves in a new culture.
She’d always been fascinated by Scandinavia. Even more so by the fact that the Danes routinely top global rankings for being the happiest nation on earth – which at first glance seems odd, considering that for four months of the year they only have a few hours of sunlight each day.
So, being a journo, Russell decided to document their adventure and use it as an opportunity to investigate up close what it is that makes the Danes so dang happy.
Part fish-out-of-water story, part travel memoir, this book was hilarious. I LOVE travel writing, and this is one of the most enjoyable books in the genre I’ve read in years.
For months – and I am not exaggerating here, MONTHS – after I read it, my boyfriend would roll his eyes in mock exaggeration when I would start a sentence at least once a day with the words, “Did you know that in Denmark…[insert awesome factoid here].”
For example, did you know that in Denmark, people leave their babies unattended in their prams outside cafes and restaurants while they go inside to eat? Such is their level of social trust (and belief in the importance of fresh air!).
Did you know that in Denmark, schoolkids stay in the same class with the same teacher from years one to ten? (Stability and security being considered important for optimal learning.)
Did you know that in Denmark, on Friday evenings, there’s a popular kids TV show that all the kids watch… Giving parents the opportunity to duck off and (ahem) ‘service’ their own needs while their kids are otherwise preoccupied? (They call it ‘Disney sex’. It’s a thing. Apparently everybody does it!)
From the Dane’s design to their food to their world-leading social welfare system to the intricacies of their sex lives (you will laugh), this book taught me more about Scandinavia than I ever knew I wanted to know.
Being of Danish heritage myself, I was absolutely, deliciously, delightfully absorbed. I’ve since passed it on to my mum, my sister, and my bestie – each of whom has in turn gifted it to others (confirmation that I wasn’t delusional in my obsessive love for this book!).
Despite it being fluffy and enjoyable on the surface, this book changed the way I think about so many things, particularly work-life balance and the importance of pleasure and beauty.
I laughed out loud so many times while listening – which was usually at the gym, which meant I got lots of funny looks.
But you know what? So. Damn. Worth it.
Have you read any amazing books lately? I’d love to hear ’em!
Or, want more books that will expand your mind and crank those creative cogs?