Yeah, summer’s long gone but I haven’t finished my reviews yet! More coming, I guess, as I did manage to read a few more!
Some books start off as one thing and then become something else and it’s ok — as I wrote about in my previous update, that happened in Dan Holloway’s Our Dreams Make Different Shapes, which morphed from coaching you in memory techniques to boost creativity into a manifesto for diversity in society and the workplace, but it all made sense.
For other books, that transformation from one thing to another doesn’t quite work. Justin Jacobs’ Indiana Jones in History should really just have dropped that last section about the space race. That’s pretty much my only quibble with the book, and once you know that’s coming, you can maybe decide to skip that section and move ahead to the final chapter which is just👌🏻
I taught a course on material culture of China, and we touched on the ethics of archaeology. I tried to ensure that one thing students would get comfortable with by the end of the course was to ask the question “How did this thing end up in this museum?” It's common sense enough and yet few people seem to ask! This book and the excellent accompanying little YouTube videos go a long way to answering those questions. Fair warning: you may want to watch the Spielberg Indie movies before diving into all of this, because the adventurer's story won’t be the same again.
Jacobs' writing is geared towards the curious non-specialist, and not weighted down with notes but still based on thorough research, I can confirm for the China chapters. Definitely worth reading!
Connect with me on Bookwyrm, where I am adding details about my book reading adventures.
I’m currently through the first four books of my Ten Books of Summer challenge (my personal list is in the previous post), but it’s slow moving, because I seem to have picked some titles for my list that just can’t be hurried. That’s because the content requires attention, not because they’re boring! And because these are worth my attention, I choose to savour the ideas they develop; I’m not in a hurry to get through them. Let’s kick off my mini-reviews!
The first of these “slow books” was Seth Godin’s This Is Marketing: You can’t be seen until you learn to see. If you know me, the last thing that comes to mind is marketing, and I am not looking into a Sales and Marketing role. (“Influencer” is about as low as a theme can go on my Clifton Strengths list, FYI). But Seth is different, of course, and he clarifies that everyone is in the business of marketing something to someone, trying to convince someone somewhere of something: to hire you (oh hi, that would be me!), to check out your art, to attend a concert (whether with you, or to hear you perform), to spend some time with you, to listen to your cool idea to improve the team or save the world or just to get a raise, or even how to make better coffee. This is marketing that makes me able to live with myself: it’s not about selling your soul to the devil and then living on the proceeds, but about how to make your work align with your values. It’s about how to create something that you can be proud of, so you can share and –where appropriate– sell in a way that makes you proud to make the world a better and more beautiful place. “Who’s it for?” is the central question the book keeps returning to, because what you make can’t be for everybody if it’s actually a worthwhile thing. And that’s what I need to learn. That some of the things I create are not for you, but for somebody else. And that it’s ok when I need to say that. There’s a whole lot more in this short book, and I urge you to give it a look and spend some time with these ideas, and the many others from Seth Godin, because he has a lot of interesting and thought-provoking ideas. Not all of his ideas may be for you, but some of them will be.
A second book I worked my way through quietly and slowly was Dan Holloway’s Our Dreams Make Different Shapes. The subtitle sounds ominous: How your creativity can make the world a better place (ok, not that part) and why the world will try to stop you. Why would the world try to stop you from making it a better place? Hmmmm… You should really read the book! But let me say this: this is a master course in writing a book with excellent “shadow objectives”: I know Dan a bit from our shared time in Oxford, and have admired him for his endurance feats in the mental and physical world. As a creativity champion and –among many other things!– an eloquent advocate for disability rights, I’m ready to listen to what he has to say, because thanks to him I already learned a lot on how to make the world a better place for my fellow human beings (and I have a lot to learn yet). We start off with memory palaces, and how to deploy them for increasing our creativity, for creativity is putting things together in ways people haven’t done before, and you should have a healthy stack of nuggets of info on hand for that. It’s also about pushing boundaries in unexpected directions. It’s very practical “here are exercises you can do to make you a more creative person. Try it!”
But Dan has also carefully observed that we’re pushing against boundaries that even creative people cannot move leave behind entirely if they want their creativity to have an effect on the world. Those people who were “ahead of their time”? They went too far out of the box, and the world just was unable to see their vision, for instance. Problem is, we’re now in a world where we need creativity more than ever to solve those “wicked problems” and our society is not encouraging the maximum number of creative people to take part in solving them. Or society is not listening to them.
Once you reach that section, the book quietly slips for all the right reasons into a well-reasoned and clear manifesto for diversity. A truly creative society needs the diverse perspectives “non-normative” people bring (but what is normal but a small sliver of society, of those people that just happen to have power and money), and this slim volume deftly combines those tricks you crave to boost your creativity with a call to action that, if we choose to listen, will leave the world a better place for more creatures –including humans.
I did not intend for my first two books to be such nice complements to each other, but it turns out these are a nice set if you’re in need of inspiration and encouragement to act.
The next two mini reviews will follow shortly. Until then, connect with me on Bookwyrm or leave a comment and share what you’re reading this summer!
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