When I was writing screenplays I watched a lot of movies. Binges of them. Blackout binges.
When I’m working on interactive titles I tend to play games obsessively and read up on the latest failed attempts at interactive storytelling.
What’s been really enjoyable about turning toward the publishing industry over the past few months is that I’ve re-established a long-lost love affair with the New Books shelf at the local library. In doing so I’ve worked my way through a surprising number of books, and I’d like to pass along* the titles** of the ones that stuck with me.
Uranium by Tom Zoellner
It’s not often that a book addresses a subject I thought I knew something about and reveals my knowledge to be one-dimensional. This book reveals uranium in four dimensions, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Get it. Read it. You won’t think about uranium, nuclear weapons and nuclear power the same way again.
Appetite for Self-destruction by Steven Knopper
Want to know what happens when copyrighted content meets the internet revolution? Read this book. Yes, there are differences — stark differences — between books and music. But the internet is doing to publishing what it’s already done to the music business, and that’s not a coincidence. If you produce any content of any kind and are thinking about using the internet as a distribution mechanism, you need to know the absurd and riotous history in this book. And you need to read Chapter 7 at least twice.
Stealing MySpace by Julia Angwin
I can’t get over this book. It starts a bit too cute in trying to hook the reader (no hook was necessary), but after that it settles into a solid autopsy of the corporate slime behind the social networking sensation of MySpace. The fact that there are no heroes makes it all the more enjoyable. (If you’ve ever had the feeling that being an ethical person has hurt your bank account, this book will speak to you.)
The Great Wall by John Man
Take everything you think you know about the Great Wall of China and throw it in the trash. If it’s not outright bunk it’s (forgive me, but I have to do this) Communist propaganda. Written in a roving style, Man traces the origins of the wall back thousands of years, taking apart the mythology of its construction brick by brick. And it’s not a foreign tale. The Chinese are the cowboys, the Mongols are the Indians, and the Wall didn’t stop anybody from fighting anyone.
You deal with it everyday — and yes, that includes all you unlicensed Manhattan pedestrians. Traffic. It’s omnipresent in your life and yet you know nothing about it. This book will bring you up to speed and then some, and might even keep you from killing someone (including yourself, if that ups your motivation). If you’re like me, you’ll even end up a raving Hans Monderman fan, and look forward to visiting Drachten.
To bring you up to speed quickly, the subtitle of this book is: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity. As a writer I care a lot about copyright law, but I also value creativity and freedom of expression. McCleod’s book brings a lot of issues (and hypocrisy) to light regarding both, and I think you’ll find his arguments worth considering. I thought I knew the issues and I was flat wrong.
There’s a lot I could say about The Black Swan, and some I already have. People have always been penny wise and pound foolish, but in this book Taleb explodes the idea across every aspect of human endeavor. We think we are good at thinking, and we are completely, utterly wrong.
There are a lot of graphs and charts in this book. If that scares you, I understand. But if you’re interested in playing around in the fast-moving freeway lane called the internet, it’s worth pushing through the research to understand the issues at the heart of this book. Disruptive technologies seem to be appearing at a greater rate, and with more force, than ever before, and even a sole-proprietor will profit from understanding how established companies with every advantage routinely drop the ball as these technologies take hold.
I don’t care what your politics are. If you want to understand what happened in Iraq you need to read beyond the headlines. Ricks is at his best when he focuses on the tactical and strategic spasms that launched, crippled and revived American prospects in Iraq. He’s less successful at connecting the Iraq War to American politics, but that’s not his area of expertise. When I picked up the book I was angry. When I put it down I was sick. Somewhere in between was the truth.
I know: you’ve already read it. Like years ago. So this is me saying you were right to rave. Shirky pulls a lot of stuff together into a model that works, then avoids the typical guru-speak sales pitch. Good questions, plausible answers, and a must read for anyone thinking of doing anything on the internet other than email.
* Note: I will no longer be linking book titles to any particular retail web site — by which of course I mean Amazon.com. At a time when distribution is being democratized by the internet (along with thievery), I don’t want to validate market share or ease of use as defining metrics. Amazon has worked hard and effectively to become the default choice for books (if not everything else), but Amazon is not a library and it is not a particularly friendly internet neighbor. I’m making a conscious decision to deny Amazon default status on this site. To the extent that this futile gesture puts my attitudes ahead of my customer service obligations I apologize, but I feel strongly that booksellers need a level playing field. If I assume that Amazon is the only solution it will be the only solution, and that’s not in anyone’s interest.
** Why no fiction? Because I’m not writing fiction right now. What I’m interested in is the publishing process, and how that process can be used at the micro level by an independent author. (I already know how storytelling works.)
— Mark Barrett