While author Neil Gaiman might be best known as a fantasy novelist, he’s better described as a kind of writer-of-all-trades. His acclaimed Sandman series was one of the first graphic novels to make the New York Times best-seller list and he has published numerous children’s works to critical accolades. He’s a master of the short story. But his latest published work, The View from the Cheap Seats, is a collection of the prolific, versatile writer’s nonfiction pieces.
Gaiman is an unabashedly public figure who remains accessible to his many fans through his online journal and presence on social media. And while his built-in audience will be clamoring for this volume, it has much to recommend for those who have never read his nonfiction. The View features five dozen articles, speeches, introductions and essays on topics that are interesting and in some way important to the author.
He admits on his online journal: “It's a relief that it's published: I don't think I've ever been as nervous about a book coming out as I have been about this one. You can hide behind fiction. You can't hide behind things that are about what you think and believe.”
These thoughtful, insightful pieces are gathered under 10 categorized chapters, including “Some People I Have Known,” “On Comics and the People Who Make Them,” and of course, “Some Things I Believe.” Included here is his acceptance speech from the 2009 Newbery Awards, where he won the highest prize in children’s literature for The Graveyard Book, his Sunday New York Times piece “On Stephen King,” his introduction to the reissue of the final book in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and the in-memoriam essay he wrote describing Lou Reed’s songs as the soundtrack to his life.
The View would make an excellent gift book, as it’s the kind of collection you can pick up whether you have 10 minutes to devote to reading or a whole hour. You can always count on him to entertain, but here he manages to be thought provoking and incisive as well. Gaiman is the erudite friend you’d want at your dinner party, always ready to start the conversation.
As a librarian, I must admit that my favorite piece in the collection is a lecture entitled “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a better advocate for public libraries than Neil Gaiman. This essay alone will inspire you to visit the library to find out for yourself just what keeps us relevant.
When it comes down to it, few people understand or even think about the difference between being productive and being busy. If we get as many tasks done in the day as we can, are we really being productive? Charles Duhigg explains why productivity and busyness are not synonymous in his newest book Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. As the title suggests, we should be striving to be fully productive in our day-to-day tasks, rather than looking at them as a list of chores that need to be done as quickly as possible. True productivity fosters creativity, motivation and inspiration. It’s not just about completing tasks — it’s about fully doing tasks.
Duhigg shares his eight principles to true productivity: motivation, teams, focus, goal setting, managing others, decision making, innovation and absorbing data. Each principle has an anecdote about some sort of team, business or group that was on the brink of failure until they learned to fully harness their productivity. For example, under “teams,” by looking at the comedians on Saturday Night Live, Duhigg explains that the way team members interact with one another is far more important than who is actually on the team. Duhigg uses the term “psychological safety” to prove why that interaction is so important: When team members are unafraid to fail or be judged, they can be fully productive and share ideas without concern. Duhigg’s real-life examples make this non-fiction book a thought-provoking and narrative read. He favors drawings over diagrams and quotations over statistics, breaking down the psychological density of the topic so that readers can easily apply his productivity principles to their daily lives. Ultimately, this is a motivational and engaging read, perfect for anyone striving for self-improvement or fulfillment.
Logic. Problem-solving. Engineering. Physics. Architects have used these skills to create safe and accessible buildings for centuries. At the same time, burglars have been using these skills to figure out how to break into houses and buildings for an equally long time. A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh is written through the eyes and perspective of history’s most successful burglars. Manaugh writes, teaches and lectures on architecture, but he captures the thoughts, motives and passion of burglars with engaging, narrative prose in his book.
He begins with the story of notorious architect-turned-burglar George Leonidas Leslie, who used his architectural skills to perform hundreds of robberies in New York City in the late 1800s. The city was just beginning its development as a metropolis of wealth and affluence during the Industrial Revolution, and Leslie used this economic development to his advantage as he asked fellow architects about the structure of new buildings in the city. By gaining deeper architectural insight on the buildings he wanted to rob, he could create models and rehearse with his team, what Manaugh calls “the art of burglary.” A good burglar and a good architect both need impeccable attention to detail, and Manaugh writes of Leslie’s fervent planning and scheming with similar perspicacity.
Manaugh moves forward in history with other examples of burglaries to show that while buildings and security systems may change over time, it only inspires deeper and more complex problem-solving from burglars, reaping a bigger thrill and adrenaline rush as the stakes get higher. In addition, he writes of how architects have begun to anticipate crime in their building designs. Casinos are being designed specifically so that security cameras can be installed in ways that maximize their visual field while minimizing their noticeability. In the vast span of burglar history, Manaugh takes the reader deep into both the criminals and setting, showing how they work for and against each other in this entertaining nonfiction read.
Chris Guillebeau makes a living traveling (he visited every country in the world before his 35th birthday), writing (his blog and several New York Times bestselling books) and only pursuing work that is personally meaningful to him. He has definitely hit the career lottery, and in his new book Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do, he explains how you can also find the work you were born to do.
Hitting the career lottery is not a far-fetched dream like matching all six Powerball numbers. It’s not a matter of luck but a matter of knowing yourself and engineering the right set of circumstances. Guillebeau points out that this is not a book designed to tell you how to quit your job and become your own boss (he already wrote that book — The $100 Startup). Whether you want to become an entrepreneur or find meaningful work within an established company, Guillebeau will help you identify your own personal intersection of joy, money and flow. Joy is what you love to do, money supports you and flow is the Zen-like state you experience when working on something you are exceptionally good at. The work you were born to do will hit all three targets.
There will be no precise syllabus to follow because the work that you were born to do is a path that only you can chart. However, the book contains exercises to help you identify what you’re best at and what makes you happy, checklists and stories of real people who have found unconventional routes to their dream jobs.
Guillebeau is also the author of The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life and The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want and Change the World.
Now that it has finally warmed up, it’s time to get outdoors for a cookout or picnic and take advantage of the farmers markets! Here are some new cookbooks, on different levels of complexity, to inspire you and get you started.
Casual and home cooks will find serviceable recipes in The Love & Lemons Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio. In this bright and engaging book, Donofrio takes a practical approach to food, contextualizing her meals by what is in season and readily available in the pantry. She is quick to provide advice for those nights when you don’t feel like laboring over a stove after work and includes suggestions for reenergizing leftovers. All of her recipes are vegetarian, and it is easy to pair them with a cut of meat or, in the opposite direction, adapt them to become vegan or gluten-free. If you have signed up for a CSA share this season, Love & Lemons can get you started figuring out what to do with the less common vegetables that might crop up in your share — like kohlrabi and parsnips. Many more recipes are also available on Donofrio’s award-winning blog.
For gourmands looking for a challenge, there is The Field to Table Cookbook by Susan L Ebert, a manifesto that is the culmination of her previous work editing Rodale’s Organic Life (formerly Organic Gardening) and Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines. Ebert has shaped her life around a philosophy that puts the sustainability of her resources as the foremost consideration. She hunts, fishes, forages and farms for as much of her food as she can within the season and has closely researched where her food grows, including population statistics of the wildlife she shoots, chemical analyses of soil composition in her garden and snapshots on the history of American agricultural practices. It may take all day or longer to cook the meals precisely as Ebert does, but, through her writing, she demonstrates how sourcing your own food is not drudgery but an adventure. As much Jack London as Alice Waters, descriptions of tracking her quarry are laced with reminisces of stargazing and sunrises, meditations on the afternoons she spent as a child picking fruit and fishing trips spent with her own children. Those readers who might be squeamish or critical of Ebert’s hunting and fishing will be swayed by her reasoning and find a sympathetic pen from a woman not above crying for a goose she will later eat. It is worth noting that because Ebert’s lifestyle is so closely entwined with the environment and culture of her Texas home some of her meals, like Feral Hog Chile Verde, will be difficult to make here in Baltimore without relying on imports. Nevertheless, there is enough overlap between the Texas and Maryland climates to try out or adapt plenty of the recipes — homages to Chesapeake Bay seafood pop up surprisingly often!