I’ve never been one for reading “The Classics” – and while I am most certainly missing out, I’ve always found it difficult to relate to them. I imagine Hemingway’s Farewell To Arms is the closest I got to a book that I enjoyed, but I wouldn’t call it influential. The books I’ve listed below, in no particular order, represent books that were influential to me in some way, that changed my understanding of the world, and maybe nudged my orbit a bit (or a lot).
- To Sail Beyond The Sunset – Robert Heinlein
- Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey
- Ringworld – Larry Niven
- Lost and Found – Shaun Tan
- Purple Cow – Seth Godin
- Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud
- Design, Form, and Chaos – Paul Rand
- Information Architecture For The World Wide Web – Peter Morville
- Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works – Erik Spiekermann
- The Hot Zone – Richard Preston
I read this when I was in high school, which probably is not a book you would want your high school child to read, but I went through so many books I’m sure nobody even noticed. I very much wanted to be Maureen, though, and have throughout my life had red hair a time or two (or ten), in her honor. She was a strong female figure, and reminded me very much of my grandma (red-headed, too!), whom I idolized for her “take no shit” attitude. Also, in this book I met Pixel, the Cat Who Walks Through Walls – who I am sure is Siamese, like my Pixel. This philosophical book was the first of the Lazarus Long series that I read, and thoroughly enjoyed. Thinking about reading it again, now, actually.
Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey
This was the first of the Dragonrider of Pern series that I read, and I know I read this in middle school because for years after I drew dragons, drew the typography from this book cover, and at one point stayed up all night with my best friend making paper mache dragons the size of the dining table. Wht girl wouldn’t want a constant companion who loved and cherished you and made you a hero? Another strong female protagonist, I wanted to be like Lessa, too. I also saw in her the ability to “rise from the ashes”, to overcome. I went through a lot in middle school, and the possibility of rising to greatness form the ashes was very very promising. It gave me hope.
Ringworld – Larry Niven
My first “hard” sci-fi novel, Ringworld was challenging to my somewhat limited worldview – I am not sure what about it makes it make this list, except for the fact that the science aspect of it, the basic astrophysics and planetary mechanics of it fascinated me. I was challenged by this novel, and I liked that – I read the rest of the Ringworld series, and to this day still read Niven, mostly for the matter-of-fact style his writing has.
Lost and Found – Shaun Tan
This otherworldly book, which includes my favorite-ever short film, The Lost Thing (2010), is something I read after seeing the short film at SIGGRAPH. The writing floats through this fantastic world as if it were a matter of course, just an extension of the real world that can be accessed if you just look in the right place. This delightful Thing, completely not of the normal world, fits right in to the world in the story. As if it belongs. And the story has a happy ending, though the Thing is lost. I like that very much.
This is a short, simple book on a simple topic, but I think of it in my work every time I am trying to innovate, or improve a product. I started reading it after I was hired into a marketing office, and wanted to know more about “marketing” without having to take courses in marketing. I’m glad I read it, and I refer to the metaphors in this book in my head constantly.
I’d wanted to pursue title design, and at the beginning of my studies at UTD, a professor of mine recommended this book. I’d scoffed, thinking, “Uh, this is about comics.” But as I’ve discovered, everything is connected. ANd any art that happens over a span of time is sequential – like comics. Not a comics-lover, I’d stalled on reading this book until the last minute, but it wasn’t about comics and fandom, and awesome comics, but about the process of breaking down a story into separate, distinct pieces, about building anticipation, about storytelling. I highly recommend this book to anyone pursuing any kind of storytelling.
Another professor-recommended book, this out-of-print piece was a huge eye-opener for me. Written by a maser of design, this book is a primer on the design field for the unaware and for the veteran – there’s something in it for every one. As someone who didn’t know who Paul Rand was initially, he is now one of my design idols; he helped shape my design thinking with this book, and bring out tenets of my own innate thought processes. I think it’s a must-read for beginning designers, and I constantly scour used bookstores for my very own copy.
Whether I knew it or not, I would come back to this book (and as a professional) later in my career. In fact, this book was the first serious study of building sites in a thoughtful manner (instead of worrying only about how many webrings I could connect my Jacky Cheung fansite to). It was my first rush of fascination with the Web as a medium, and my first realization that holy cow, guys, people out there are thinking about the internet in a deliberate manner, and it’s possible to approach it in a disciplined, scientific way to make it make sense.
I read this book in a Technical Writing class in 1998 (?) with a professor who was the first to say “deliverables” to me, and whose name I can’t remember, but that class on the whole was less tech writing and really much more about creating hypertext documents and structure for “large-scale web sites”. The lessons learned, and fascination with approaching the internet in a thoughtful, well-constructed manner, has lasted until this day.
This was my first serious foray into typography, also read at a professor’s recommendation, also in the late 90s. I will readily admit the first time I read it i had no idea what was going on. It was probably my very first “design” book – I’d taken painting classes and such but never studied design formally. This was my first book, and I still have it on my shelf today.
Today I’m a proud typophile, not a pro, obviously, but pretty madly in love with letters.
Funny (but not funny ha-ha) that I put this book on my list when I started writing this post back in September before the Ebola patients in the continental US. This was my first entry into science writing that wasn’t science fiction, and it encouraged me to read more on the topic, and I read (and still do) all of the virology books I can get my hands on. It’s kept me from panicking in this recent Ebola scare in the US, and it was the foundation of my science reading, and kind of made me regret not going to medical school to solve complex problems.
If you wanna see which 30 books I am currently slowly reading or in denial about probably never finishing, find me on Goodreads!