- I will make time for reading, the way I make time for meals, or brushing my teeth.
- I will make an effort to carry a book with me at all times.
- I will read whatever interests me. I will read novels. I will read poems. I will read essays. I will read short stories. I will read memoirs. I will read magazines. I will read newspapers. I will read comic books. I will read self-help. I will read street signs. I will read ads. I will read instruction manuals. I will read old love letters. Etc.
- I will read whatever the hell I feel like. No guilty pleasures.
- I will try to clear my mind of expectations before I sit down to read. I will give each book a chance.
- I will turn off my fucking phone.
- I will be a good date, but I will not let an author waste my time.
- I will not finish books I don’t like.
- I will let boredom ring like a gigantic gong.
- I will throw a book across the room.
- I will read with a pencil. I will underline. I will dog ear. I will write in the margins.
- I will massacre a book if I need to.
- I will copy down favorite passages in my own hand, to know what writing the words feels like.
- I will re-read favorite books the way I watch favorite movies and play favorite records over and over.
- I will make lists of books I want to read.
- I will take a deep breath and understand that it is IMPOSSIBLE to read everything.
- I will toss “The Canon” out the window.
- I will keep a list of books I have read. I will share this list.
- When I find a book I love, I will shout about it from whatever mountaintops I have access to.
- When I find an author I truly adore, an author who makes my gutstrings vibrate, I will read everything they have written. Then I will read everything that they read.
- If I hate a book, I will keep my mouth shut.
- I will make liberal use of the phrase, “It wasn’t for me.”
- I will ask people what they are reading. I will take notes.
- I will keep stacks of unread books at the ready.
- The minute I finish a book, I will start a new one.
- I will go to the library. I will go to the bookstore. I will get lost in the stacks.
- I will read bibliographies. I will let one book lead me to another.
- If I need to read for information, I will browse and skim and Google book reviews.
- As often as I can, I will read out loud to someone I care about.
- I will not lend out a book if I ever want to see it again. If a friend asks to borrow a beloved book, I will buy and mail them a copy.
- I will not harbor the delusion that being a reader makes me a superior person.
- I will not suffer under the delusion that the act of reading alone makes me a better person.
- If I don’t feel like reading, I’ll go do something else. Maybe even — gasp! — watch TV.
Notes on the art of reading books.
This morning I stuck copies of Show Your Work! in Little Free Libraries around my neighborhood.
What is a Little Free Library?
It’s a “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share. You can, too!
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
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.
10 more good books I read:
- George Saunders, Tenth of December
- Michael Azerrad, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991
- Max Barry, Lexicon
- Peter Straub, Ghost Story
- Ellen Ullman, Close To The Machine
- Eviatar Zerubavel, The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books
- Caroline Paul & Wendy MacNaughton, Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology
- Kio Stark, Don’t Go Back To School
- Karen Green, Bough Down
- Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
And 3 good books I started, was enjoying, but somehow didn’t finish:
For fuller recaps of all of the above and every book I read this year, browse the tag: my reading year 2013
See my favorite books from the past eight years of reading here.
15 great books I read this year, in no particular order:
Tim Kreider’s We Learn Nothing
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
Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood
David Byrne’s How Music Works
Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion
Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story
Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence
Ten great books I read this year:
“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
“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.”
“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
“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.”
“‘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
“The essays in this book should be seen as a collection of mystery stories.”
After the Apocalypse
“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
“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
“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:
- Jonathan Lethem, The Disappointment Artist
- Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
- Lynda Barry, Everything: Volume 1
- Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine
- Tina Fey, Bossypants
- Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #20
- Maira Kalman, The Principles of Uncertainty
- David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man
- Grafton & Rosenberg, Cartographies of Time
- Maggie Nelson, Bluets
PS: I post stuff I’m currently into on my Tumblr.
Ten good books I read this year:
by Joe Brainard
“I remember Saturday night baths and Sunday morning comics.”
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.”
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.’”
by Mary Karr
“I get so lonely sometimes, I could put a box on my head and mail myself to a stranger.”
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)
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.”
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.”
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.”
by Lynda Barry
“Why do we stop drawing?”
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.”
10 more good books I read:
- Lynd Ward, Six Novels in Woodcuts
- Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft
- Kay Ryan, The Best of It
- R.O. Blechman, Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator
- Michael Kupperman, Tales Designed to Thrizzle (Vol. 1)
- Kitty Burns Florey, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog
- Lewis Hyde, Common as Air
- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
- Kate Bingaman-Burt, Obsessive Consumption
- Andrei Codrescu, The Posthuman Dada Guide
What was your favorite thing you read this year?
Ten good books I read this year:
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.
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.
by David Mazzuchelli
A graphic novel that’s as good as everybody says it is.
Map of My Heart
by John Porcellino
Porcellino is one of my favorite cartoonists, ever. This collection is even better than King-Cat Classix.
by Frank O’Hara
Await Your Reply
by Dan Chaon
This is the only novel I read this year. A terrific read.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What was the best book you read this year?
11 good books I read this year:
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.
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.
Thoreau At Walden
By John Porcellino
Porcellino’s simple, zen lines are perfect for adapting Thoreau into comics.
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.
Don’t Make Me Think
By Steve Krug
A classic book about web design.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
A wonderful book about the psychology behind creativity.
The Power of Myth
By Joseph Campbell
A series of interview with Campbell, accompanied by lots of images. My map of the book.
And Then There Were None
By Agatha Christie
My wife’s favorite author. Great, classic read.
By Lewis Hyde
On art and commerce. Terrific read.
by Michael Lewis
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.
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
—Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California“
This weekend I was flying home from Cleveland, looked down at my New Yorker, and had a mini-revelation:
Underlining. Highlighting. Circling. When we read interactively, when we “alter” texts, we’re isolating little bits of writing that speak to us. Fire our imaginations. Illuminate something.
It’s the same thing when we hyperlink: we’re pointing to something that speaks to us.
And it’s the same thing when I make a blackout poem.
It’s the same practice done in the opposite spirit: they’re isolating text that speaks to no one!