What we must have are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us.
- Franz Kafka*
In Paris, I had lots of fun drunken conversations. “So, do you like French wine?” someone asked. Hmm. There are times when I like French wine, and the wine makes lots of sense and it seems like little doors open all over my body. There are other times where I drink and I say, did someone forget to wash this cup? Or there is soap in the glass, or maybe the glass was half water before the wine was poured? But when that right wine is paired with the right food, that’s when galaxies spin and fossils erupt alive out of the ground.
It’s the same with books. Independently, 2 books might be “ok”. But their union can be an explosive force just as with a wine and food pair.
I’ve wanted to write about the books I’ve recently read. I wanted to say “I found this really fucking amazing book, and it really opened my mind”. But as I started to think about how I found the book…it’s actually the wrong book before it that got me to this right book. The book that I yelled at and laughed at condescendingly got me to 2 winning books. Like wine and “the right food”, it’s really the pairing that matters.
The Stinky, Rotty Cheese
The Hard Thing about Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers – Ben Horowitz
This book, wow, I fucking hated it. Halfway through the audiobook, while screaming to myself about how stupid the book was while driving up 280, I told myself “if I make it through this book, I will write the author and tell him what a idiot he is”. Even worse, the author’s viewpoints weren’t anything new to me. The points covered in the book are the same as every other “business” book I’ve read. That made me even MORE frustrated: even though I’ve read most of the material before, something about this book drove me insane. Perhaps I could tell the author “your book is like other business books I’ve read but I yours made me insane”.
Fast forwards a few weeks, and I don’t think he’s an idiot. He seems to be great at what he does. But his style is completely different than mine. And that’s a enormous discovery, personally. I even read the book twice! If you’ve been disappointed by the business books you’ve read, I recommend reading this, perhaps it will polarize you.
The Dirty, Earthy Wine (which Pairs Wonderfully with the Cheese and makes a BOOM)
Redesigning Leadership – Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life – John Maeda
I was out of town staying with friends for a week in Napa. I blabbed on about why I couldn’t stand the Horowitz book. We talked about the difference between being an “artist” and a “businessperson”. Most of my life I’d thought of myself as business minded with the blood of artists (painters, specifically). The artist-blood was the trick in my back pocket. My friends said that I might embrace the artist and see what happens. Everyone went off to go to bed, and I started Googling “artists as leaders” in the dark. Big turning point.
I ended up reading about this guy John Maeda, who was the president of RISD art school. He wrote a book on leadership, great! I read the whole thing that night, and in the morning I knew one new thing: artists are very different leaders. Maeda’s book for me was like a flimsy bridge made of popsicle sticks. It was just enough to get me where I needed to go. Just the existence of such a book, the tone in which it was written, and the mindset of the author were earth shaking. This kicked off all sorts of thinking and ideas, like an action movie where terrorists blow up a dam and all the water explodes out.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration – Ed Catmull
And then a few weeks later this book came along, a classmate in my design class at Stanford was asking if anyone had read it. I’ve gotten in the habit of buying books when people mention them, and I bought it immediately. Something about Pixar and creativity. I’m about halfway through it, and it resonates with me, a lot of principles I’ve understood myself but never heard from others. Creativity and innovation are fragile, why doesn’t anyone fucking talk about that? And that’s where I’m at today.
So that’s it. I spent about an hour writing this post and I think I covered what I wanted to. Post…and iterate. One other point — both the Horowitz book and Catmull book I listened to as audio books. Maybe there’s something there.
*(As of today, I have no idea who “Franz Kafka” is. But I read a quote of his in a book I’m reading, and it’s interesting. Maybe I’ll read up on Kafka.)