Technology allows us to ‘read’ books in many different ways.

Dan Holohan

I was walking down Lexington Avenue in Manhattan the other day when I noticed this young woman who was staring at her upheld hands and about to crash into me. I altered my course a few inches and she raced by. She was texting.

That got me noticing the other people around me. I’d say three-quarters of them were either talking on their phones or typing on their phones. This is the new normal. We want to talk with, or text with, anyone we’re not currently with, and at the expense of whomever we are with, but that’s OK because he or she is doing the same.

It’s normal. We just text and walk into traffic - and manholes. 

I also was on the phone while walking down Lexington, but I watched where I was going and I wasn’t talking; I was listening to a book.

I’m a writer. Reading is a huge part of my job, and I’m not suggesting you do what I do, but you might want to give it a try because the people in those books have much to say, and they don’t make your thumbs tired.

Every year on the first of January, I set out to read 100 books before the year ends. I don’t always make it, but I usually get very close. I’m not a speed reader; I just take advantage of technology. I use a Kindle, an iPhone (which syncs to the Kindle) and I listen while I’m walking, exercising and driving. I read while I’m in line at the store. I read at least three books at the same time. I know I’m ridiculous when it comes to this, but it’s how I get to learn from so many people.

I just finished the following books, and they’ve helped me through these challenging times. I offer them to you because I think they will help you as well. It’s up to you, of course.

  • “Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” by Peter F. Drucker. Drucker was a management consultant and this book came out in the mid-‘80s. Think back to the big corporate names of that time. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon were still in the future. This book is a time machine because many of the companies Drucker praised floundered afterward. The value of the book is it gives us the opportunity to think about why they floundered, and then to hold up the same light to your businesses, large or small. Imagine your company five years from now.

    Will it still be relevant? If not, why? And what are you doing about it right now?

  • “The Big Roads,” by Earl Swift. The subtitle of this book is, “The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways.” But that’s only part of it. This book busted a lot of the myths I once held to be true. It goes back to the beginning, long before the Lincoln Highway, and tells the story of population movement, politics, government, power brokers and construction as the world had never seen before. It’s thoroughly enjoyable, and it will help you to better understand where we live and why we live there. 

  • “Powering the Dream,” by Alexis Madrigal. If you’re in the business of keeping babies warm, this is required reading. If you think any of this “green” technology is new, you’re about to get a big wake-up call. Madrigal covers the history of “green” technology in the same way Swift tells the story of highways. Want to know why there’s little or no insulation in the walls of most tract housing? Read this book. Looking for new opportunities? Read this book.

  • “The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield. Good title, eh? Pressfield is a novelist, but this nonfiction book is about the process of fighting what he calls the Resistance. That’s the force that has you doing other things when you should be getting your job done. Like texting. Or maybe I’ll check my email again. I haven’t checked it in five minutes. Or let’s knock off for today and get the rest of this job done tomorrow. Or next week. “The War of Art” is a book about getting things done. You start, and then you ship. And always on time.

  • “The Creative Habit,” by Twyla Tharp. Tharp is a famous dancer and choreographer. She once picked up the phone and called Billy Joel, whom she didn’t know, and within a few minutes, talked him into giving permission for the very successful Broadway show, “Movin’ Out.” This book is the perfect partner to “The War of Art” because it’s about taking on the hard work, sticking with it and getting things done. In times like these, you need to read books such as these.

  • “The Greater Journey - Americans in Paris,” by David McCullough. This big book looks at how many American writers, artists, doctors and scientists traveled to Paris in the early days of the 19th century and then returned to America to change it forever, and all through hard work. McCullough weaves their lives together in a gorgeous tapestry.

  • “Justice - What’s the Right Thing to Do?” by Michael J. Sandel. All the big questions we face today, all the stuff in the news, all the political battling - that’s what Sandel takes on in this brilliant book. But he does it though a philosopher’s eye and through the lens of thousands of years of human history. There’s perspective and peace in this book, and I think we could use a bit of both of those things right now.

  • “Islands in the Stream,” by Ernest Hemingway. I spent last spring rereading all of Hemingway. When I was done, I wanted to kill myself (just kidding). No one, before or since, has written as this man wrote. This heartbreaking book is my favorite of his. The title says it all: islands in the stream. That is what we are.

  • “Shop Class as Soul Craft,” by Matthew B. Crawford. Required reading for anyone who works with tools. Crawford has a doctorate and worked for a think tank, but left all that to open a one-man business restoring old motorcycles. This book is a pure, thoughtful celebration of the trades. It’s more important than ever right now, considering how many people we’ll need in the coming years and how few young people are considering the trades as a profession. There’s a power and nobility to this book. Read it and then give it to your kids to read.

  • “Country Driving,” by Peter Hessler. This one begins as a travel book, as Hessler sets out to drive all around China in a rental car. The people he meets along the way and the stories he tells will delight you. Toward the middle of the book, he takes a sharp turn as he gets into the way the Chinese work, think and live, and how they’ve done what they’ve done to us so quickly. If you want to understand your true coming competitor, read this book.

  • “Factory Girls,” by Leslie Chang. When you’re done with “Country Driving,” follow up with this book, written by Hessler’s wife, Leslie Chang. It’s about the Chinese factories. Read this book and then spend some time thinking about where the stuff you buy comes from, and then think about where it once came from. This is a very sobering read.

  • “The Vintage House - A Guide to Successful Renovations and Additions,” by Mark Alan Hewitt and Gordon Bock. I’ve known Gordon Bock for years. He once edited the Old-House Journal magazine. He and Mark Hewitt have put together a book that’s both smart and gorgeous. When it comes to the ins and outs of old houses, these guys know it all. Read this one, learn from it and then put it on your coffee table for others to enjoy.

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