One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2011 was to read one fiction, and one non-fiction, book every month. Then the year started and 2011 hit me like a ton of bricks. Or a bomb.
Whichever hurts worse.
Anyway, I’ve almost kept on schedule, reading, on average, two books every other month.
In contrast to writing for the web, writing a book is not (always) reactionary. Nor is it always timely. Writing a book requires a great amount of (a) cultural/historical insight, (b) personal insight, (c) foresight, or, often, (d) all of the above.
My favorite authors tend to be those who write books that are both timely and timeless. Books that speak directly to the day’s cultural conditions, but also have enough foresight to be applicable to your life 10 years from the time they were written.
So below is a list of, not necessarily the best writers I’ve ever read, but the most timely and relevant writers I’ve ever read. Both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve not read every book by each of these authors, and I haven’t listed anybody like Jack Kerouac because he’s already obviously defined a generation. These are writers that are producing in, for and about this generation, and they have helped define me.
Malcolm Gladwell. I picked up Outliers in New Jersey last year. Read it in two days. Immediately following, I stuck my nose in Blink and finished it in a week. Gladwell writes about business and decision-making through the lens of neuroscience. By pinpointing thinking patterns, and normal individual and group-think behaviors, Gladwell offers a broad view of how people work with one another, against one another, make decisions and gain success. Instead of giving you a cut-and-dry “10 Steps To Whatever,” Gladwell offers a mental framework to help you better understand your circumstances and your own decision-making process.
Donald Miller. Don is the only writer that made it onto both my online and book-reading lists. As I said in the previous post, he has a way of making Christianity (spirituality, whatever) less “religious” and more… well, human. Blue Like Jazz was his first bestseller, and it made some waves because Don writes for the skeptics. And not just skeptics of religion. Skeptics of anything. He understands that holding a belief in something doesn’t mean that you won’t doubt, and doesn’t mean that you won’t even, at times, blatantly disagree with your own supposed beliefs. This last summer while driving through Texas with my family, I read A Million Miles In A Thousand Years and it was just as refreshing as anything else he’s ever written.
Chuck Klosterman. The first book I read by Chuck was called Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. How in the world could a book with a title like that not be intriguing? In a series of essays that may or may not make sense if you’re trying to follow a storyline, Klosterman critiques everything about pop culture. From music, to art, to sports, what makes him believable as a critic is that he critiques what he likes just as much as what he doesn’t like. Too many “critics” have blown their own bubbles and can’t separate personal preference from cultural significance. Klosterman understands how to walk that line.
Cormac McCarthy. I actually just finished my first McCarthy novel last weekend, so I am by no means an expert on his writing. But if No Country For Old Men is even slightly indicative of the rest of his work, he is now in my top three fiction writers. No Country was written with a certain amount of authority; there’s not a trace of uncertainty in the story. His words are biting, his characters are convicting, and, based on that one novel, he may very well be the living embodiment of the “American” genre of writing.
Tom Rachman. Yeah, see, this is another guy that I’ve only read one book by. But I have an excuse, see. He’s actually only written one book. I read The Imperfectionists after seeing that it was Zach Frechette’s pick of 2010 over on GOOD. Following the story of a booming, and then struggling, newspaper in Rome, Rachman’s narrative constantly changes perspectives. Never once during the course of the story are you offered the same perspective, and yet the story stays on a linear timeline and feels extremely cohesive. It’s a beautiful piece of literature and I can’t wait for his next novel.
Jason Fried. “Business books” aren’t really my thing. I used to read them often, until I grew tired of the pithy statements that seemed to ignore real issues. Luckily there are successful businessmen like Jason (co-founder of 37signals) who know how to cut the crap and offer business advice that, while maybe still “pithy,” doesn’t ignore the real world we’ve found ourselves working in. His book REWORK is responsible for why Proxart doesn’t have a centralized office (and it’s not a priority of ours to have one), why we don’t hold a meeting unless we absolutely have to, and why we’ve decided that there’s no reason we shouldn’t make a magazine. Thank you, Jason.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
If you’d like to see a short-list of who I read online daily, check it out here.
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