Reading recommendations for creative peeps

Reading recommendations for creative people

This year, one of my New Year’s intentions way back at the start of the year was to create more space in my life for deliberate, proactive reading. Meaning: big, glorious books. I fell off the wagon with this goal, but recently decided to get my ass back in gear. So I’ve been giving myself permission to go a little very wild on Amazon and stock up my shelves so that I’ve always got something interesting on hand to read.

So, if you’re after some reading recommendations (particularly if you’re a creative and/or have a passion for business), here are some of the best tomes that have tickled my fancy over the past few months…

The Creative Habit — By Twyla Tharp

It took me a while to get around to this book, despite raving recommendations from a bunch of friends. If you haven’t read it yet and you have the heart of a Creative thrumming inside your chest, get ye over to your chosen digi-store tout-de-suite and buy yourself a copy. I recommend getting a physical copy for this particular title because it’s one of those ones where you’ll want to scribble in the margins and flick back and forth between the chapters. It’s also beautifully designed, and though I haven’t seen the ‘e’ version, I’m guessing a lot of the impact would be lost on a kindle screen. (Actually, I read all the books on this list in hard copy, which is a marked departure from how I’ve done my reading over the past few years. For some reason, everything analogue is calling me right now — books, pens, paper, people…)

Tharp’s discussion of morning rituals is often referenced by other writers, and her own routine is nothing less than inspiring:

‘I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I workout for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it — makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.’

Seriously, I cannot overstate how much I loved this book.

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Committed: A Love Story — By Elizabeth Gilbert

I read this years ago when it first came out, and loved it. After recently listening to the audio version of Big Magic, Liz’s latest book (yes, we are on a first name basis, and I’m pretty convinced we would be besties if only we could meet), I decided to revisit this one again. Committed tells the story of how Liz came to grips with the fact that she ‘had’ to marry her partner (‘Felipe’, the man she met at the end of Eat Pray Love) due to border control issues. She looks at the institution of marriage from various perspectives — legal, historical, philosophical, feminist and psychological, as well as working through her own emotional response to the idea of getting married after having been through a painful divorce.

If my description has made this book sound in any way boring or academic, it’s not. Gilbert is masterful at weaving facts and figures — and, of course, feelings — into a narrative. On this most recent read-through (which is actually the third time I’ve read this book), I attacked the pages with a highlighter pen and a heap of sticky-notes — I just love studying how she pieces her stories together and how she can make things that could be boring (say, the socioeconomic effects of marriage as they relate to gender) so ridiculously interesting. From a writer’s perspective, it’s gold; from a reader’s perspective, it’s all kinds of delicious. (On a side-note, this book also happens to contain the most thoughtful, articulate argument for gay marriage that I’ve ever read. LOVE.)

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P.S. Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ is also amazing and well worth checking out. I’m only at the halfway point, but am already in love. It’s all about living a creative life no matter what fears or doubts are niggling at your soul. #SoGood


Yes Please — By Amy Poehler

Amy is *funny*. She’s also whip-smart, perceptive, and heart-searingly honest. My favourite part of the whole book was when she discussed a comedy sketch she’d been involved in where she’d unknowingly offended some people — rather deeply. Reading her account of her shame, her anger, her resistance, her ego, and the eventual resolution, was one of those experiences where you get so completely immersed in the storytelling (and can so clearly identify that exquisite, awkward pain/shame within yourself) that you almost forget that the incident actually happened to someone else and not you.

More like a series of vignettes and bite-sized stories with a hint of scrapbook, this is a book that fuses fun AND meaning. LOVE.

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Oranges — By John McPhee

Oranges by John McPhee

“The sex life of citrus is something fantastic. Citrus is so genetically perverse that oranges can grow from lime seeds.”

If that sentence doesn’t thrill the pants off you… then you’re not quite as nerdy as I am!

I picked up this book after repeatedly hearing writers (including Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday) recommend John McPhee as a towering giant of creative non-fiction writing. The author has been a professor at Princeton for decades, teaching students that very subject, so I decided I wanted a piece of the (key lime) pie.

I could have chosen his book about canoes, or the one about Russian art, or the one that details a single tennis match (yep — an entire book on one match). But I felt called by Oranges, so snapped it up.

It takes a certain type of writer to keep you fully engaged for 160 pages on citrus fruit, but McPhee does it (seemingly) with ease. There were so many nuggets of trivia gold (like the fact that a citrus fruit is, botanically, a berry) and writing gold (like the aforementioned ‘citrus sex’ sentence), that I began to piss my boyfriend off. The poor guy had to listen to me rattle of all my new-found orange-knowledge, and put up with me exclaiming loudly every time I read a passage that was particularly exciting.

The impact that the book (and the writing) had on me is probably best demonstrated by the fact that I currently have a glass jar sitting on my kitchen counter with four or five citrus seedlings growing in it. The seeds all came from a single Valencia orange, and I am so-freaking-excited to see what its offspring actually turn out to be. You can already tell that there are different types growing, due to the different shaped leaves.

Here’s my jar, complete with McPhee-inspired Post-it warning…

Citrus sex

Caution! Citrus sex in progress.

Makes me so. damn. happy!

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The Rise of Superman — by Steven Kotler

‘Most of us have at least passing familiarity with flow. If you’ve ever lost an afternoon to a great conversation or gotten so involved in a work project that all else is forgotten, then you’ve tasted the experience. In flow, we are so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance goes through the roof.’

Thus begins this book about creative flow and ‘getting in the zone’. Using extreme athletes as examples, Kotler walks us through the various aspects of flow — why we enjoy it, why our brains need it, why it is essential for human progress, and its often overlooked dark side. I found it absolutely fascinating, particularly the part about ‘flow triggers’ — the environmental, social, creative and behavioural prompts that can help us consciously and deliberately cultivate a state of flow.

There are loads of case studies and stories to demonstrate the scientific principles he’s discussing, so a topic that could have been dry was actually highly engaging. (Again, my boyfriend had to listen to me regaling him with all sorts of flow stories: But this time it’s about surfing! You’ll actually like this paragraph, I promise!)

I’ve already started actively putting the author’s ideas into practice, and I know I’ll have to go back and read some sections again to really soak up the insights. Highly recommended all round.

[Get it]


Have you read any great books recently?

I’d love to hear your recommendations. Give me an excuse to let loose on Amazon; let ‘er rip in the comments below! 😉


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You might also like my September Reading List and Deepak’s guide to the creative process.