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Five books that changed the way I see the world

Books are my white sugar: the more I consume, the more ferocious my appetite. Since challenging myself to reading 100 books in 2015, I’ve been reminded that reading is one of life’s simple pleasures: it is escape, joy, learning, and connection. Nothing beats a conversation with someone about a great book. I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve finished so far this year (mostly because I don’t finish books that I don’t enjoy) but here are five whose impact will be longest-lasting:

The bombed out wall of an abandoned building in Israel.

The bombed out wall of an abandoned building in Israel.

1. Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis:  I list this first because it’s impact might be the greatest so far. I teach Digital Marketing and deliver lectures about online privacy and information sharing in the Internet Age. Until I read this book my teaching was mostly a cautionary tale: think about the consequences of sharing too much. After reading this book, my message is the same–think about the consequences of sharing–but I have a whole trove of positive consequences I can now point out to balance my message.

Living publicly, as most of us do online, is fundamentally changing the way we connect with each other, get information, and do business. This book does a great job of arguing why this is beneficial – a point of view that many of us who remember life before the Internet hesitate to embrace. What really convinced me was how much people’s reaction to innovations in written communication sounds the same, regardless of the innovation. The fears voiced by the most vocal critics of Gutenberg’s printing press are nearly the same paranoia we hear by those criticizing social media today.  I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in thinking about how the Internet is changing our lives.

2. Little Blue Truck Leads the Way by Alice Schertle:  When my son was learning to connect words and images, he would point out all the black men in this book and say “Daddy” and point out all the white women in this book and say “Mommy.”  This was months before he was two.  This opened my eyes to two things: 1) Kids are aware of race before they can even talk, and 2) this book has a delightful diversity of characters in it, which most children’s books lack.  Why are most children’s book so full of white people?  Any illustrators out there interested in working together to bring diversity to children’s books, email me and let’s chat.

3. Bossypants by Tina Fey:  This book made me laugh, which is always good, but the thing that I am still thinking about months after finishing it was a small nugget in the essay, “A Mother’s Prayer for her Child.” Fey writes:

“Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.” (italics mine)

I think about that–successas not having to wear high heels — ALL THE TIME. I teach in the School of Business where a common problem is being underdressed for Grainger (our building) and overdressed for the rest of campus. But let me tell you, I’m rocking those flats because DAMN, I’m going to live the dream as often as I can.

4. Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff: I love negotiations and pitching ideas. This was such a refreshingly new take on the art of the pitch, which is something we were trained in extensively as part of the MBA curriculum. Much of the book focused on how our subconscious dictates our reactions to things before we even realize it. It also talked about the value of brevity, which is too often overlooked. For one of my favorite pitches – when Spill won $25,000 at the Global Social Venture Competition — we only had five minutes. That’s all we needed.

I also admired the brazen confidence of the writer – go into every deal knowing that you are the prize! I would love to take a class from the author Oren Klaff: he has much to teach me.

5. Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer:  I read this book as a reference for a Faculty Development trip focused on the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that I took to Israel this past winter. The book focuses on how Israel’s strong culture of innovation springs from resource constraints (a small country, relatively small population and, as more than one Israeli said to us, “being surrounded by enemies”), mandatory military service, and the Israeli chutzpah (questioning authority and refusing to accept status quo.)  The book also had a fair bit of history, which was welcomed.  The book has a pro-Israel bias, no doubt, but I still thought it was a great read.

What books changed the way that you see the world and how? I’d love to hear from you.

If you want to see all the books I’ve read and a quick review, you can on my virtual bookshelf.

PS.  Many of you have asked me how I managed to find the time to read so much. The answer is Audible: I listen to audiobooks whenever I can – on my commute, running errands, on walks.  It makes driving so much more tolerable!  Try two free audiobooks and see for yourself.

If you like what you’ve read, join the email group for more.  I send out updates about twice a month.