Having a book list front and center may have given you the indication that I’m a reader. I have 1-2 on me at all times, even in inopportune places. This has been a trait of mine for as long as I can remember- I remember a particularly heated family Disney trip, turned so after I lost a book somewhere in the park (if anyone sees Baby-Sitters Club #91, let me know so we can make arrangements)- and I’m genuinely pleased it persists.
As an educator in the college and university space who focuses so intently on creativity, the need to approach reading with students creatively is not lost on me. And I frequent circles where book recommendations circulate often, and the same names and topics appear. These recommendations are rightfully earned, as these books are thoughtfully researched and yield important conclusions and lessons. This week, however, I want to pose my offbeat answers to that question. They’re insightful, borne of life experience, and truly entertaining. Whether these recommendations are passed to individual students, or used in classes, I hope they’ll change the way you think about imparting lessons of leadership and development.
I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart | Completing this book during a work trip last week was what first drew me to the idea of writing this post. Within the genre of comedian/celebrity memoir (in which I read a great deal), Hart’s approach was unique. He aligned his life story and its many ups and downs to lessons about areas of life (success, loss, the grind, family). What results is a far more expansive view of his career journey, as well as what he got from those experiences and how they shaped the person he is today. As funny as it is insightful, share this one with students who may feel as though they’re losing perspective on their goals or are facing obstacles they feel are too big for them.
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin | I continue to share with folks that this memoir is my gold standard in its particular subgenre. Martin writes beautifully about how he decided to be a stand-up comedian, as well as the decision to walk away from it at his height of fame. Leadership books are packed with advice about commitment, structured paths, calling and dedication. While all of these things are valuable and important, there is space to forge your own path- and to deviate from that path when you need to. Born Standing Up makes that case, in beautiful prose to boot. Share this one with students who are feeling at a crossroads, perhaps apprehensive about changing paths.
Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, edited by Kelly Jensen | This book, in its entirety, was my reading for International Women’s Day back in April. This edited volume sharing the stories and advice of a diverse group of women, men, and trans* individuals is the most comprehensive volume on feminism I’ve ever read- and it’s targeted toward young adults. So two things here- 1. Don’t minimize what young adults can grasp or understand. This book got me thinking incredibly deeply about what feminism is, who it affects, and how many different ways it can be expressed. And 2. Don’t underestimate the ways in which feminism impacts our world. The book’s 44 contributors share highly individualized accounts of how feminism has impacted them, and yet these are specific stories that each feel highly relatable. I can’t stop talking about this book, and wholeheartedly recommend it to those grappling with feminism- regardless of gender, by the way!
Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley | Even as I tackle bringing my own contribution to creativity literature into the world, I feel strongly compelled to share the book that had a significant impact on how I teach and explore it. The Kelley brothers, founders of IDEO, address the many roadblocks we see on our path to creativity and share concrete advice and exercises for how to overcome these challenges. Creativity is a trait that is accessible to anyone who wishes to explore it, and I never felt more capable than when reading the words of Tom and David. I can only hope my book plays a similar role for people upon its release.
Hamilton: The Revolution by Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda | This was not, by any means, designed to be a leadership book. And yet it’s one of my favorites. Because as it tells the story of a revolutionary (pun not intended, but recognized!) play, it’s also the story of creating a team capable of and willing to help cultivate a vision. It tells the story of not singular, but collective vision and execution. We herald one man with the creation of the play, but the book dedicated to detailing that instead shares the stories of countless others who helped it come to life. Share this book with leaders struggling to value the concept of teamwork and delegation.
Queer and Trans Artists of Color, both volumes, compiled by Nia Levy King | I came upon Nia’s books, transcripts of her “We Want the Airwaves” podcast, at a time when I was looking to introduce new and differing perspectives into my reading. What I found were not just new voices and artists, but new perspectives on the impact of my work. In addition to hearing about the inspiration behind these artists’ work, I learned so much about the institutional and societal challenges- placed intentionally or otherwise- that are making their work difficult. It has made me thoughtful about how I present information, how I support art, and who I look to for support and collaboration. This is a great read for anyone looking for inspiration to keep creating, regardless of how they identify but especially for queer and trans* students in need of a sense of community.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes | If ever there’s someone the overloaded student leader could learn from, it’s Shonda Rhimes. The lessons she shares in this book about saying yes to herself, friendships, family, and even to opportunities to say no, are incredibly valuable for anyone feeling overcommitted or endlessly taxed. After I finished this book, I found myself asking on multiple occasions, “What Would Shonda Do?” Give leaders in need of some perspective the chance to ask the same.
Between Breaths by Elizabeth Vargas | The list of reads for 2017 numbers at nearly 40 by this point in the year, but this might have been my most impactful. The lion’s share of alcohol and other drugs literature I see, and that is often shared with students, links to the behavior and not the underlying motivations behind it. Vargas shares beautifully and nakedly what that connection looked like for her, how it affected her work, the struggle it was to make those connections, and how she came to manage her twin challenges of alcoholism and anxiety. This book has value for any students examining their relationship with alcohol, but it has special value for women- whose reasons and motivations for drinking are rooted in things far less often talked about.
What additions would you make to my reading list for the second half of 2017?