Thursday, February 28, 2013

My TED bookstore picks

It's always an honor to curate a selection of books for the TED Conference bookstore — the team asks 20 or so people to select a few books that are their current (or all-time) favorites, and say a bit about why. Here are my picks for this year.

From a very early age, letters on a page have drawn me in. I get nervous in a room with nothing to read. These days I have plenty of digital titles (and devices), but also house many paper-based books, a messy pile of magazines and newspapers. All of that comforts me, as does the act of zeroing in to read. I can feel the synapses firing and I’m happy.

Why these books 
Predictably, these six titles reflect my passions. I love graphic non-fiction, and so there are two very different books in that style. Two touchpoints in my life are home and Buddhism, loosely defined, and so here they are represented too. One is an old classic, and the other a brand new novel. I hope you discover something that speaks to you in any one of them.

Rebecca Solnit - River of Shadows
Solnit has written a raft of books since this came out in 2004, but it’s such a terrific story: how Northern California became the nexus and nurturer of early technologies, outsized dreams and failures, and wild ideas that came into being. Little has changed in 150 years.

Alison Bechdel - Are You My Mother?
I loved Fun Home, her earlier graphic memoir about her father. This one cuts deeper for most every woman: the saga of Alison’s gnarly relationship with her complicated, mixed-signal-emitting mother. It’s rich in self-awareness, humor, and a hard-won understanding how life works.

Pema Chodron - Comfortable With Uncertainty
I have my share of “Buddhism for Westerners” titles; the ones I return to are by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist teacher. The chapters are short readings that guide us through the various difficulties of being human in a modern world, toward generosity of spirit, openness, acceptance.

Mary Gordon - Home: What It Means and Why It Matters
This little book is a lovely exploration of what makes a space into home, and how acutely we feel love or longing for that ideal. She writes candidly about times in her life when she knew she’d found a “home”, and other times when she couldn’t get to it. As a nester of the first order, I love understanding the deeper impulses of home.

Brian Fies - Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?
A whimsical (and dark) graphical exploration of our old ideas of what the future could mean, and our grownup understanding of its limitations. Fies starts with the World of Tomorrow at the New York World’s Fair in 1940, the visions from which were quickly dashed. But Fies is still hopeful: “There was a time when building the future was inspirational...I think it can be again.”

Robin Sloan - Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
I’m not usually a novel reader, but this cabinet of wonders offers a rich story of a secret bookstore, Google, magical characters and digital natives interacting and therefore exploring the pull of old and new. Sloan is deft and affectionate about all of it.

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