My reading year, 2012

15 great books I read this year, in no particular order:

Book I couldn’t believe wasn’t more popular

Tim Kreider’s We Learn Nothing


Book that introduced me to one of my new favorite thinkers

Sarah Bakewell’s How To Live: Or A Life Of Montaigne


Book I probably pimped more than my own

Mike Monteiro’s Design Is A Job


Favorite novel I read that isn’t really a novel in any conventional sense

Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood


Books read about reading

Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read and Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction


Best book about how art works

David Byrne’s How Music Works


Best book about my favorite musical era

Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever


Best book with the ugliest cover

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking


Book I thought I would hate that I actually liked a lot

Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion


Book I can’t believe I’m putting on this list but it was actually super helpful

Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting


Book that made me laugh a lot

Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story


Book I’d never read that was adapted into a movie I’ve probably seen a dozen times

Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?


Best book (only book) I read this year that mentioned Tommy Wiseau’s The Room

Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation


Best book that I should’ve spread throughout the year, but gobbled up in one chunk

Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence




A while back, the folks at Wired asked me to make some blackouts from their recent design issue. I thought I’d play around with the whole “maker” movement, and went hunting in the magazine for all the instances of “make” and “maker” in the text.

The blackout process is tricky — often, the more I try to intentionally “do” something with it, the less spectacular the results. Like most poetry and art, the blackouts aren’t really editorials, either — so much of what they say is what the reader brings to them, or what title or captions they’re given, or what context they’re put in.

In the end, nothing really came of these two pieces, so I’m posting them here.


Introducing Owen Wells Kleon!

Owen Owen Owen Owen

After 23 hours of labor, my wife gave birth to our first son, Owen Wells Kleon, on October 25th at 4:32 a.m. He came in at 6 lbs., 11 oz., 20 3/4″ long.

His birth was the most amazing feat of human strength and endurance I’ve ever witnessed. (Granted I’ve now attended exactly *one* natural childbirth.) If you know my wife Meghan, you know her brains, her class, and her charm, but in that room you would’ve seen a force of nature, something primal and powerful. I’m so unbelievably proud of her.

The day after we got back from the hospital, I gave a talk at the Texas Book Festival, and luckily John Anderson from the Austin Chronicle was there snapping a few pictures:

Introducing Owen at the Texas Book Festival

Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist) began his presentation on the creative process by showing off pictures of his newborn son. “I’m sure you can all tell I’m super sleep-deprived.” He inhaled his sleeve deeply. “But I am a little high on new baby smell.”

Owen’s now a week and two days old, feeding well, sleeping a little more, getting bigger and even more alert. He’s pretty much the coolest project I’ve ever worked on, the ultimate creative collaboration, and anyone who says publishing books is like birthing babies, they’re nuts — birthing babies is way, way harder, and way cooler.

If you’d like to see more pictures of him, follow me on Instagram: @austinkleon

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Scenes from a book-in-progress

“The disorder of the desk, the floor; the yellow Post-it notes everywhere; the whiteboards covered with scrawl: all this is the outward manifestation of the messiness of human thought.”
Ellen Ullman

I’m writing a new book. It’s my third book, and the weirdest one for me so far, because I’m writing it the way you think of someone writing a book: I had an idea for a book and now I’m sitting in the same room every day all day and trying to write it.

Neither of my other two books were made this way. Newspaper Blackout was “written” the same way I’d always made blackout poems — one at a time on my lunch break and my commute to and from work. The only difference was that I didn’t post them to my blog and I made a hell of a lot more of them than usual for about 20 weeks, then half of those pieces were thrown out and the rest were pieced together into a sort of narrativeSteal Like An Artist began as an hour-long talk written in a hotel room which was mostly adapted from over five years of online writing, that talk was turned into a 4,000 word blog post, then over two months of nights and weekends I expanded that blog post into 10,000 words and about 30 or so illustrations.

Both those books presented themselves as books after being something else online. This one is like starting from scratch.

This is what the book look liked a month or two ago — just a big stack of index cards and a few notebooks full of scribbles.

A few weeks ago I jumped over to handwriting on sheets of cardstock — essentially, really big index cards that I could then shuffle and play around with. (Above are the stairs leading up to my office filled with an insane, completely unsustainable marathon day’s worth of writing.)

I’m still working, slow and steady. I’m not quite ready to talk about the subject of the new book yet, but as I alluded to yesterday, I think it picks things up nicely from Steal, and if you’ve been following my Tumblr or my “Show Your Work” videos you have some major hints.

Right now, that messy office above is cleaned up and in the corner under the guitars is a baby swing waiting for a baby. My wife is about a week or so away from giving birth to our first son. With the baby coming, I might be pretty quiet for the next month. (I’ll probably still be updating my Tumblr and posting a baby picture or two or three on Twitter.) I’ve been told that becoming a parent lights a fire under your ass like nothing else, so we’ll see what happens!

Show Your Work! Episode 3: Chain Smoking

Watch it in HD quality→

Due to the slow scheduling of the publishing industry, there’s usually a significant interlude between when you finish your book and when the book is released into the wild. Jonathan Lethem calls this “the gulp” — your book no longer belongs to you, but it doesn’t belong to readers yet, either. Add to that gulp the one or two months of intense publicity you have to dedicate to the book post-release, and if you’re not working on something new during that time, you’ve spent a ton of time not working.

I went through a funk after each of my books dropped, because I didn’t start anything new until a month or two after the publicity schedule from the last book wound down. Lucky for me, the questions and the byproducts from the previous book turned into the next book — Blackout‘s leftovers became Steal, and Steal‘s leftovers have turned into what I’m working on now — but each time, it was rough getting back into the swing of things.

Then I watched a documentary about Woody Allen and how he doesn’t take breaks in between movies. And thinking about that led me to make this little video…

Watch the other episodes of Show Your Work