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Diversity in Reading

I am participating in the amazingly fun and fulfilling Nonfiction November this month. Lots of book bloggers are chiming in here and there with Becca (I’m Lost in Books) hosting this week’s question:

What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for? What kind of books besides different countries/cultures do you think of as books of diversity?

This is a huge question for anyone to tackle. Our world suffers from too many folks living in echo chambers consuming only what reinforces their beliefs. Reading can change that. Being intentional about reading will definitely change that.

When thinking about diversity in reading I settled on two points: I like to read in pairs and I really like when smart people write about things outside of their life experience.

thomas_sowellWhen I say read in pairs, I mean to intentionally read both sides of the coin. Are you reading a smart philosophical book on humanism or atheism? Then follow it with a smart philosophical book on Christianity. Reading about the downfall of marriage in society? Then pick up a book by an author that carefully posits how they think society is evolving. Read people you disagree with. Argue with them and scribble in the margins. I really enjoy reading Thomas Sowell. Agree with him or not – the dude is smart and well researched. But I follow his books with (and really enjoy) Noam Chomsky who is on the other side of the political spectrum but just as smart, well researched and passionate.

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But stay away from blowhards. I do not care if you are reading about Christianity, homosexuality, women’s rights, food deserts, or politics every issue has blowhards (and for some reason we keep letting them wrote books). Do not read the blowhards. Do some research and read the smart careful compassionate writers from both sides. (My rule of thumb is that if an author has their face on the cover or back cover of their book – then I usually keep looking pass as they are trading on their personality and not what they are talking about. That’s not a golden rule by any means, but it’s a start.)

Speaking to my second point (smart people writing about things outside of their life experiences), I have a lot of books about the history of Western Civilization. Mostly written by white folks. But do you know which is my favorite? The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter. She’s African-American. The way she presented her thoughts and research was so refreshing. Nothing super earth shattering, but her understanding of the implications of how a people are formed and create culture were new to me. And I am convinced it’s because of who she is and her life experiences (plus all of her book learning). She’s a great writer. A smart writer. When you find one of those be sure to latch on.

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Diversity in reading is hard to do often out of my comfort level. But my life is richer for reading books and writers like these. I know I am more empathetic to folks that are “not like me” and hopefully more compassionate (hard to rate yourself on that one).

The world would be much improved if folks sought out diverse viewpoints rather than being satisfied with their comfort zone-defined bubbles.

 

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National Readathon Day 2015

Penguin Random House has joined forces with a few other companies to found the National Readathon Day event. Mark your calendar for January 25, 2015, if you’d like to participate. The hashtag is #timetoread.

The event is a fundraiser with aims to raise money to combat illiteracy as well as shine a spotlight on the fact that younger folks are turning away from books. You can click through and get more details on how to participate and even info on how to set up your own reading party for the National Readathon Day.

But even if you don’t get to participate, if you are reading these words, I would like to encourage you to volunteer at an adult literacy program in your area. Somehow I’m always surprised when reading the stats on literacy in America. The National Readathon page states that:

  • 40% of American adults are at or below basic reading levels
  • 14% of American adults are completely illiterate

Literacy_CouncilHere in Birmingham, AL you can check out the Literacy Council over on 2nd Avenue North. They do a really good job and offer training classes for tutors and volunteers. The schedules are good too. There is a small cost involved for materials so make sure you read up on everything.

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Be the Expert: in Book Covers

Week One of Nonfiction November was fun and is responsible for adding nine books to my wish list this holiday season. This week’s topic is being hosted by Leslie and is listed as “Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert” where we are supposed to highlight some books we’ve read (or want to read) around a topic.

So for Week Two I would like to offer up the following books which will help you to Become the Expert in Book Covers. Please notice I did not say Book Cover Design or the History of Book Covers or Book Cover Production Engineer, but simply book covers. Some of the stories behind a few famous titles and covers are amazing and humorous. Also, how do you know if a book cover nailed it? What works? What doesn’t? Why? Should the designer have tried something a little riskier?

Here are three books that I recommend reading if you are at all interested in book covers/book jackets and the thought process/discussions behind the winners and losers.

First up is Chip Kidd’s Book OneKidd is as close to a rock star as you get in the book design world (he was asked to play himself in a soap opera for crying out loud) and this book doesn’t disappoint. It’s very large, colorful and gorgeous. Plus, it’s filled with all kinds of tid-bits and insights into the publishing world as Kidd shares hate mail from readers who dislike his covers, letters from authors as they flip/flop on whether a concept will work and rough drafts that lay at the bottom of the trash can. Many iconic covers, from the past 20 years, appear in Book One as Kidd shares how they came to be. Including the Jurassic Park dinosaur logo, Donna Tartt’s covers and dust jackets for Haruki Murakami.

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Another book worth reading is Wendell Minor’s Wendell Minor: Art for the Written Word. Minor has produced many iconic covers himself, but his are all painted and watercolor (as opposed to Kidd’s graphic designs). But this book does a great job sharing notes, letters and thoughts behind the composition of some of Minor’s more famous covers for authors like David McCullough and Pat Conroy.

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I have to admit to feeling a little teacher-ish about this last one, but to appreciate all of today’s book covers and to see how all the rules are being broken (I mean we are trying to be experts this week, right?) – it helps to gain a little historical perspective. That’s why I’d recommend Alan Bartram’s Five Hundred Years of Book Design. Yes, it sounds dry and boring. But if you like words… if you like books… if you’ve ever considered buying  a throw pillow because it has words typed all over it, then you will appreciate this book. The book is an odd tall narrow shape and features page after page after page of wonderful photos of (mostly) type-only book pages from Roman-times to modern-times. Once you get a feel how type and text is best stacked and what works and what doesn’t you’ll really start to notice jackets at the bookstore when the author’s name is too big or the title is just too off-center.

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Anyway, those are three books I’d recommend you check out if you’d like to become an Expert in Book Covers. I promise they are each filled with big colorful photos of books, words and dust jackets. Everything you need to get excited about book cover design and chat about them over a beer.

So catch up on all of the other bloggers posting this week for Nonfiction November over on Regular Rumination and by following the #nonficnov hashtag on Twitter.

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A Life in Books – Super Cheap

Warren Lehrer’s A Life in Books came out last year. It’s 380 illustrated pages dripping with books and books-within-books, meta-short stories and this month they dropped the price to $6.99!!! I have no idea why. It’s usually $34.99, but be sure to check this one out if you like to read about books or know someone who does.

LifeInBooks_coverIt is an illustrated novel of a fella locked up in prison recounting his time as an upcoming author. This stroll down memory lane is accompanied by covers, back cover copy, reading samples, etc. of every book this fictional author ever did. Can you get a sense of the rabbit hole that is A Life in Books? Pretty fun. Here’s an interview with Lehrer if you want to get a better idea about what the book is about and why it’s been written/built the way it is. Here is the LibraryThing page as well.

Anyway, no affiliate link. I don’t get anything out of this other than saying “Holy heck, that’s a gorgeous colorful book-about-books on sale for $6.99″. Which is a pretty fun thing to say these days.

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Books, Publishing and Birmingham