My reading year, 2013

Breakthrough this year: thinking of books as potential experiences, not just objects. Matching up a book with my mood, life situation, etc…

In 2013 I had a book to write and an infant to care for, both of which gave me a lot of hell, so I read a lot of novels and Nancy comics.

That said, here are my 10 favorite books I read in 2013:

Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers

This book couldn’t have been more perfectly matched to my tastes: it’s a great story, a Western, it’s funny, it’s violent, it features a digressive narrator, it has tight, short chapters, and it’s 300 pages long. I heard from at least a half a dozen people who read this book on my recommendation and loved it.

Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

When I was writing Steal Like An Artist, I wasn’t really aware that it would eventually be shelved in the self-help section. So after finding myself there, I became increasingly interested in self-help as a form. One of my favorite things about this book is that it riffs on self-help books without totally abandoning the structure of many self-help books—in each chapter, there’s usually a story, mentions of a few studies, and a lesson, or extrapolation. (The Malcolm Gladwell-ish “story-study-lesson” formula.) It’s a slick trick, and it works. Burkeman is also a good follow online: @oliverburkeman

Ernie Bushmiller, Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945

As I mentioned before, this was not an easy year. There were many, many nights when I sighed at my Kindle, sighed at the books on my nightstand, and then picked up a Nancy book and read until I fell asleep. Go out and buy this or the second collection so that Fantagraphics will print another one!

Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Once again, a book with self-help ties: the novel’s structure “mimics that of the cheap self-help books sold at sidewalk stands all over South Asia, alongside computer manuals and test-prep textbooks. Each chapter begins with a rule—‘Work for Yourself,’ ‘Don’t Fall in Love,’ ‘Be Prepared to Use Violence’—and expertly evolves into a narrative.” The whole thing is written in second person, and none of the characters have names. It might sound gimmicky, but it doesn’t come off that way — the execution is pretty perfect, and really moving.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I started meditating last year, so I got interested in Zen Buddhism. I had this book on my shelf for years, but only read it recently. A lot of my favorite artists have Zen backgrounds, but it was really surprising to me how much of this book applies to creativity and art. (Of course, half of it makes no sense to me at all.) Contrast Suzuki’s line, “When you give up, when you no longer want something, or when you do not try to do anything special, then you do something,” with Andy Warhol: “As soon as you stop wanting something you get it.”

And then there’s my favorite line, which I quoted in Show Your Work!: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts

Another breakthrough for me this year: realizing the value of re-reading books. So I’m doing something out of the ordinary and putting a re-read book on my list. In a way, the book was a kind of dark therapy for me—as I increasingly found my inbox stuffed full of emails from desperate aspiring artists, there was Miss Lonelyhearts to suffer a breakdown so I didn’t have to. Everyone who has ever though about dishing out advice on a mass scale (is there such a species? oh dear) should have to read this first.

Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

For some time, my motto has been “something small, every day,” so what’s more delicious than a book full of the daily routines of famous artists? Some of my favorites here.

Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Did I underline more sentences in a book this year? Probably not. My friend Kio wrote of the first essay, “the end of each sentence leaves me gasping the way a kiss can begin in a gasp.” What a wonderful collection of lectures.

Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices

In many ways, 2013 was my Year of Eno. Listening to Another Green World while working, Music for Airports while meditating, watching his lectures, following the Oblique Strategies — Eno had such a big influence on me that I started Show Your Work! with his concept of “Scenius.” This book is really two books: 300 or so pages are the diary Eno kept in 1995, and 100 or so pages are the “swollen appendices,” little mini-essays on various topics. Sadly, it’s out-of-print, and used copies are very expensive, but it’s worth tracking down. I downloaded a PDF online and read it on my iPad in GoodReader, which was an interesting experience in itself.

Carl Hiaasen, Tourist Season

If you ever go on vacation in Florida, this is the perfect reading material.

[Read more…]

My reading year, 2012

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

tumblr_m7gwivMuFE1r13mfoo1_100 Book I couldn’t believe wasn’t more popular

Tim Kreider’s We Learn Nothing

 tumblr_m6kcfgVKRQ1r13mfoo1_100 Book that introduced me to one of my new favorite thinkers

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

tumblr_m7gweqnHPT1r13mfoo1_100 Book I probably pimped more than my own

Mike Monteiro’s Design Is A Job

tumblr_mdjncnmoBi1r13mfoo1_100 Favorite novel I read that isn’t really a novel in any conventional sense

Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood

tumblr_m6kcf2xDDw1r13mfoo1_100 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

tumblr_mbp9zsb7YZ1r13mfoo1_100 Best book about how art works

David Byrne’s How Music Works

 tumblr_m06oizodvL1r13mfoo1_100 Best book about my favorite musical era

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

tumblr_m6kcbpXZaE1r13mfoo1_100 Best book with the ugliest cover

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

download 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

Untitled-3 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

tumblr_m06ofmiXFD1r13mfoo1_100 Book that made me laugh a lot

Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story

tumblr_mbp9xm7vzP1r13mfoo1_100 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?

tumblr_m6kcg9blqY1r13mfoo1_100 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

tumblr_m06oihTacV1r13mfoo1_100 Best book that I should’ve spread throughout the year, but gobbled up in one chunk

Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence

My Reading Year, 2011

Ten great books I read this year:

Lonesome Dove
Larry McMurtry

“I’m sure partial to the evening,’ Augustus said. ‘The evening and the morning. If we just didn’t have to have the rest of the dern day I’d be a lot happier.”


“We were kids without fathers…so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history, and in a way, that was a gift. We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves…Our fathers were gone, usually because they just bounced, but we took their old records and used them to build something fresh.”

The Dog of the South
Charles Portis

“My wife Norma had run off with Guy Dupree and I was waiting around for the credit card billings to come in so I could see where they had gone.”

Herman Melville

“Small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught–nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!”

The Art of Fielding
Chad Harbach

“All you had to do was look at each of your players and ask yourself: What story does this guy wish someone would tell him about himself? And then you told the guy that story. You told it with a hint of doom. You included his flaws. You emphasized the obstacles that could prevent him from succeeding. That was what made the story epic: the player, the hero, had to suffer mightily en route to his final triumph. Schwartz knew that people loved to suffer, as long as the suffering made sense. Everybody suffered. The key was to choose the form of your suffering. Most people couldn’t do this alone; they needed a coach. A good coach made you suffer in a way that suited you.”

Skippy Dies
Paul Murray

“‘But, Dennis, do you think Mr Slattery’d be teaching it to us if it was really about anal sex?’ ’ What does Mr Slattery know?’ Dennis scoffs. ‘You think he’s ever taken his wife up the road less travelled?’”

Believing Is Seeing
Errol Morris

“The essays in this book should be seen as a collection of mystery stories.”

After the Apocalypse
Maureen McHugh

“Cahill lived in the Flats with about twenty other guys in a place that used to be an Irish bar called Fado. At the back of the bar was the Cuyahoga River, good for protection since zombies didn’t cross the river. They didn’t crumble into dust, they were just stupid as bricks and they never built a boat or a bridge or built anything. Zombies were the ultimate trash.”

The Medium is the Massage
Marshall McLuhan

“Xerography—every man’s brain-picker—heralds the times of instant publishing. Anybody can now become both author and publisher. Take any books on any subject and custom-make your own book by simple xeroxing a chapter from this one, a chapter from that one—instant steal!”

Where Good Ideas Come From
Steven Johnson

“Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.”

Ten other good books I read:

See my past reading years: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

See also:

PS: I post stuff I’m currently into on my Tumblr.


Ten good books I read this year:

I Remember I Remember
by Joe Brainard

“I remember Saturday night baths and Sunday morning comics.”

The Anthologist The Anthologist
by Nicholson Baker

“I ask a simple question. I ask myself: What was the very best moment of your day…this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about.”

Just Kids Just Kids
by Patti Smith

“an older couple stopped and openly observed us. Robert enjoyed being noticed, and he affectionately squeezed my hand. ‘Oh, take their picture,’ said the woman to her bemused husband, ‘I think they’re artists.’ ‘Oh, go on,’ he shrugged. ‘They’re just kids.’”

Lit Lit
by Mary Karr

“I get so lonely sometimes, I could put a box on my head and mail myself to a stranger.”

Reality Hunger Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
by David Shields

“Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands. By necessity, by proclivity and by delight, we all quote. It is as difficult to appropriate the thoughts of others as it is to invent.” (Emerson)

Geek Love Geek Love
by Katherine Dunn

“There are those whose own vulgar normality is so apparent and stultifying that they strive to escape it. They affect flamboyant behavior and claim originality according to the fashionable eccentricities of their time. They claim brains or talent or indifference to mores in desperate attempts to deny their own mediocrity. These are frequently artists and performers, adventurers and wide-life devotees.

Then there are those who feel their own strangeness and are terrified by it. They struggle toward normalcy. They suffer to exactly that degree that they are unable to appear normal to others, or to convince themselves that their aberration does not exist. These are true freaks, who appear, almost always, conventional and dull.”

Lucky Jim Lucky Jim
by Kingsley Amis

“Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.”

The Pursuit of Happiness And The Pursuit of Happiness
by Maira Kalman

“Everything is invented. Language. Childhood. Careers. Relationships. Religion. Philosophy. The Future. They are not there for the plucking. They don’t exist in some natural state. They must be invented by people. And that, of course, is a great thing. Don’t mope in your room. Go invent something. That is the American message.”

Picture This Picture This
by Lynda Barry

“Why do we stop drawing?”

Master of Reality Master of Reality
by John Darnielle

“When you listen to early Black Sabbath, you know the main difference between them & you is that somebody bought them guitars and microphones. They’re not smarter than you; they’re not deeper than you; they’re a fuck of a lot richer than you, but other than that, it’s like listening to the inside of your own mind. So when they write songs, they sing about wizards. And witches. And robots.”

See more good books I read in 2010 →

My previous reading years →

What was your favorite thing you read this year?


Ten good books I read this year:

book cover

Memories, Dreams, and Reflections
by Carl Jung

The best thing I read all year. Jung started his autobiography when he was 81, and worked on it right up until his death.

See my map of the book.

book cover

Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make A World
by Ed Emberley

I discovered this book last year, but returned to it over and over this year, recommending it often to folks as a beginner’s drawing book.

book cover

Asterios Polyp
by David Mazzuchelli

A graphic novel that’s as good as everybody says it is.

My post about the book at The Book Design Review

book cover

Map of My Heart
by John Porcellino

Porcellino is one of my favorite cartoonists, ever. This collection is even better than King-Cat Classix.

My post about Porcellino at The Book Design Review

book cover

Lunch Poems
by Frank O’Hara

Jen Bekman got me into O’Hara. This collection, written while O’Hara was on his lunch break, includes the great “Ave Maria” and “Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed!)

book cover

Await Your Reply
by Dan Chaon

This is the only novel I read this year. A terrific read.

book cover

by David Small

The drawing in here is really top-notch: Small enjoys teaching anatomy, and it shows.

Every artist’s memoir has one underlying plot: *how I became an artist*. That plot can allow for infinite variations.

My favorite page from the book.

book cover

Trickster Makes This World
by Louis Hyde

Hyde’s The Gift is one of my favorite books. This book isn’t as good, and took me a few months to finish, but it was worth the read.

book cover

Seven Days In The Art World
by Sarah Thornton

My wife got me this after reading one of Thornton’s articles. After reading it, I understood the art world better, and wanted less to do with it than before.

book cover

Ignore Everybody
by Hugh Macleod

Hugh’s said the book is “advice I wish I had when I was in my early 20s.” The book sprung from his piece “How To Be Creative,” which was a big deal to me when I found it a year or so ago, specifically for his “Sex and Cash Theory.” Helped me feel better about keeping my day job.

See also:

What was the best book you read this year?


Eleven good books I read this year:

book cover What It Is
by Lynda Barry

What more can I say about this book?

It’s collage, it’s a writing textbook, it’s a memoir…it’s everything. It’s big. It’s hardcover. It’s awesome.

berger Ways of Seeing
by John Berger

Fantastic book based on a 1972 BBC miniseries. Amazing how much the contents remain valid in the age of the internet.

My map of the book.

book cover Thoreau At Walden
By John Porcellino

Porcellino’s simple, zen lines are perfect for adapting Thoreau into comics.

book cover Born Standing Up
By Steve Martin

A book that moved quick and didn’t bullshit. Great writing, very subtle and smart jokes.

My map of the book

book cover Don’t Make Me Think
By Steve Krug

A classic book about web design.

My notes on the book.

book cover Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

A wonderful book about the psychology behind creativity.

My notes.

book cover The Power of Myth
By Joseph Campbell

A series of interview with Campbell, accompanied by lots of images.

My map of the book.

book cover And Then There Were None
By Agatha Christie

My wife’s favorite author. Great, classic read.

book cover The Gift
By Lewis Hyde

On art and commerce. Terrific read.

My map of the book

book cover Moneyball
by Michael Lewis

My review of the book.

book cover The Cheese Monkeys
By Chip Kidd

A very funny and quick read. Since so much of the action takes place in the classroom, it sort of functions as a wacky introduction to graphic design.


Ten good books that I read this year:

the road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My reaction was similar to James Kochalka’s.

harry potter 7

Harry Potter 7 by J.K. Rowling

Always a fan of the movies, this year I let go of my HP snobbery, looked past the clunky prose, and let myself fall into the dream..


The Early Comic Strip by David Kunzle

A long-out-of print collection of ancient precursors to the comic strip that I got my hands on through interlibrary loan.

Posts about the book:


Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, by Anders Nilsen

Maybe my favorite book last year by my favorite contemporary cartoonist. My “review.”

political brain

The Political Brain by Drew Westen

A book that got me interested in politics again. My mindmap of the book.

secret knowledge

Secret Knowledge by David Hockney

A book about the use of optics in painting from the 1400s on, which changed a lot of my ideas about perspective, realism, comics, and collage.

Related Posts:

king-cat classix

King-Cat Classix by John Porcellino

A retrospective collection of Porcellino’s King-Cat mini-comics. I also read his Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man and Perfect Example. Those clean, Zen lines!

gospel according to jesus

The Gospel According to Jesus by Stephen Mitchell

Reminded me how much I love the teachings of Jesus and how much I hate contemporary Christianity. A lovely book.

Related posts:

saul steinberg illuminations

Saul Steinberg: Illuminations by Joel Smith

This was the catalog of a gallery show we saw while we were on our honeymoon, and it kick-started the Year of Steinberg, in which I became obsessed with his work.

Posts about Steinberg from this year:

george saunders braindead megaphone

The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders

A collection of essays from my favorite living fiction writer. We got to meet Mr. Saunders twice this year: once at Oberlin College and once at the Texas Book Festival.


Soccer in Sun and Shadow, New Edition Soccer In Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano

The ultimate bathroom reading. Short, smart, prose-poem chapters about soccer. Picked it up because Barry Yourgrau (another good bathroom read) recommended it. Became an instant fan.

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels Making Comics by Scott McCloud

Not as good as Understanding Comics, but way better than Reinventing Comics. Any McCloud release is an event. Thrilled to see a chapter on world-building in there. Will make a good textbook someday.

six memos for the new millenium Six Memos For The Next Millennium by Italo Calvino

Intended as lectures, Calvino died before he could give them. The first five, Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, and Multiplicity, were written. The sixth, Consistency, was not. A hell of a collection of last words from a hell of a writer.

bks-beautifulevidence.jpg Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte

The fourth of Tufte’s books, contains his devastating pamphlet on Powerpoint, which should be required reading for everyone. Come to think of it, all of his books should be required reading — in the age of pictures and words, they could take the place of freshmam composition…

rabbis cat The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar

The Rabbi’s cat swallows a parrot and announces his ambition to learn the Torah. Loose, wonderful drawings, a no-nonsense structure, and a great story. Didn’t get to read Sfar’s Vampire Loves, but that looks excellent too.

Mother Night Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

Gallows humor, anyone? Picked this up because I read that it was Etgar Keret’s favorite Vonnegut. Devoured it in one sitting during a sunny afternoon on our balcony.

Curses Curses by Kevin Huizenga

I haven’t actually put my hands on the Curses collection (it’s on the xmas list), but when I was at Quimby’s in Chicago, I bought every Huizenga comic they had, and after that, ordered everything available through USS Catastrophe (including his great booklet for the Center for Cartoon Studies). Along with the stuff available online, I’ve read a good bit of what’s gonna be in the book. His blog is great, too.

166xgeneric.jpg Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace

“I don’t know a whole lot about non-fiction journalism, but the way i think about [it] in terms of what I can do is: I think of it as a service industry. Essays like this are occasions to watch somebody reasonably bright but also reasonably average pay far closer attention and think at far more length about all sorts of different stuff than most of us have a chance to in our daily lifes…”

Brilliant dude, brilliant essays. Still haven’t read a bit of his fiction.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

A story that couldn’t be told in any other form than a comic book. I loved meeting Alison, and her Powerpoint presentation about the “making of” made the book seem even more brilliant. Best book published this year, hands down.

CRUDDY: An Illustrated Novel Cruddy by Lynda Barry

Next to getting married, meeting Lynda Barry and hearing her read from Cruddy was probably the event of my year. To me, Lynda is the perfect model of a writer and an artist. This book is just too cool for words.