Holiday reading

In case you are looking for some ideas about what to read in the remainder of the summer, here are the books that have tickled my fancy over the summer months.

How I Escaped My Certain Fate, by Stewart Lee

Autobiographical story – interspersed with transcripts of some his shows – by my favourite stand-up comedian/ The book recounts his seeming career collapse, re-invention and return to stand-up comedy.

Take that it is utterly hilarious throughout as a given. Beyond that, what it gives a really interesting insight into the business of comedy and Lee’s creative/artistic methods. It doesn’t set out to be be or ever really use the tone of a profound book, but it is – there’s rich inspiration and example here for anyone thinking about being true to their own ideals or trying to remember, re-work what they do for a living.

NB: I read this on the Kindle app, even though Lee says he wrote it hoping it would only work on paper. It worked fine for me, although maybe I missed the point… ;)

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block


A book about writing fiction by one of my favourite crime authors (Lawrence Block wrote the amazing Matt Scudder series, set in late-70s, early-80s New York – well worth tracking down). Like How I Escaped My Certain Fate, it sets itself against the conventions of its genre, for instance stressingjust how hard writing is, what a work of hackery pulling together thousands of words is, truths I can attest to after my own non-fiction effort.

This is one of a number of books I’d read, or at leat read in part, before. Again, a joy of the Kindle is that I re-visited it on a whim, re-downloading it from my archive while away on holiday.

Anathem, by Neal Stephenson


This is a multi-layered, cerebral sci-fi joy. But don’t let that put you off…

It’s a lovely book of ideas, but I’ll freely admit, it’s a bit geeky and if you’re not prepared to roll with the conceptual stuff and pages of people explaining scientific or metaphysical theory to each other you might not like it. Worked for me though…

The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson

An account by Jon Ronson of his research into the tickbox method of diagnosing psychopathy as a condition. Along the way he prods at fascinating subjects like the way that all mental illnesses are categorised (by some shouty psychaitrists in a small meeting room was the original approach a couple of decades ago – loudest theories win) and how madness exists at the edges of many people’s lives.

I ripped through this in a couple of days. It’s part gripping yarn – scientologists, war criminals and psychopaths-next-door rub shoulders in Ronson’s story – and part essay on what mental illness really means to us all. Highly recommend this…

The Power of Pull, by John Hagel and John Seely Brown

This is another book I pulled back out of my archive, partly because it speaks to a strategy project I’ve been working on and partly because it felt like it was time to revisit the source material for some ideas that have been exerting a strong pull on a lot of my work. It’s a business book, pure and simple, about how innovation and markets are speeding up as a consequence of the social web, and what strategies organsiations can put in place to thrive in this environment.

Business books I read all the way through are a minority. This is one of an even rarer breed: books I re-read… Probably as important to me now as The Origin of Wealth has been for the past half decade or so.

Change by Design, by Tim Brown


Design thinking has come in for a bit of flack lately, but it still stands as an amazingly useful way to approach any challenge, from designing a physical object to planning a marketing campaign. I’ve put the ideas to work in refining my Networks Thinking perspective and in designing the next phase of my business.

What’s interesting as well, to connect it with The Power of Pull’s themes, is how quickly some of the case studies have aged. This book was written in 2009, but already since then some markets and companies have moved on a great deal – not least the mobile industry which has been turned on its head in the past three years. Is design thinking is optimal as an approach for tactical, practical issues but doesn’t address strategic issues, despite its ambitions? I’m not sure about the answer to that, but its something I’m mulling at the moment…





Writing, running, pain and finding the perfect space

Writing is hell. That’s why writers spend so much time trying to find ways to make it slightly less helliish.

For instance, I gained a new impossible dream today – to have a writing studio like this one…

Private Library from A Space In Time on Vimeo. Via Open Culture

Funnily enough this incredibly expensive writing environment reminded me of a £4.99 one that I started using recently (thanks to a tip-off from my Dad) the Writer app for the iPad. It really is very lovely, basically because it removes all distractions from the screen and lets you get into your scribely flow… well worth a try.

I’m also reacquainting myself with Ecto, the Mac blog editor. Lovely. It is as close as I can get to Live Writer. (Please Microsoft, do a Mac version, I would even buy Office to get it. Seriously.)

The value of these editors is tat they remove fiddly bits from trying to write a blog post. They make it quicker, so you’re not mucking around with uploading images or trying to figure out with your knuckle-scraping understanding of HTML why the text is appearing without paragraph breaks, bullet points or with question marks in odd places (all issues for me using the otherwise lovely Canvas theme on my WordPress blog these past few weeks).

What you need for writing are tools and spaces (physical or just emotional, states of of mind) that let your mind go free and the words to come quickly.

Writing is torture. As one of my favourite crime writers Lawrence Block says in his book about writing Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (and I’ve heard this so many times, in different ways, from other writers) writing is, very often, incredibly hard, almost painful. No one writes on a Sunday just for pleasure, he says, unlike painters or musicians where even the amateurish practice of the craft can be an end all of its own. Writers must persevere, must prevail, if they are to create anything at all.

I think that writing my book last year actually took a long time to recover from. I don’t think my blogging has ever been the same since. It brought upon me some species of trauma.

That’s one of the reasons that What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami is one of the most useful books to read if you writing things of any length (beyond, say 10,000 words). Writing is like long distance running, he says: lonely, you compete mainly against yourself, against your deep desire to give up and do something less uncomfortable.

There are many moments of course when you hit that elation, that flow, that Hunter S Thompson is quoted about in The Proud Highway: “I haven’t found a drug yet that can get you anywhere near as high as sitting at a desk writing.

Acutally, when I was searching for that exact quote I found that Hunter S Thompson also said: “Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s only good when it’s over.

But still, it’s like running. Sometimes when you are training, on a long run, you get the runner’s high after 15 minutes of slogging through the rain. It’s hard to justify the rest of the misery sometimes, just for those moments though, you have to have a clear iea of a bigger goal, and more than that just a lot of bloody minded drive to make yourself get out the door in the morning to run. Get up to your desk and start creating prose instead of wandering through the web or your social networks.

Writing is hell. But I can’t stay away.ZZ3C117589.jpg