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July 3, 2005


Eclectic Econoclast John Palmer has tagged me with a book meme. As it’s the holiday weekend, I’ll play along—although like Craig Newmark, I’m changing some of the rules.

How many books do I own and have I owned? There are well over a thousand in the house right now, and we give a lot away—so over the years I’d guess 3,000+.

Last book I bought?Democratizing Innovation,” by Eric von Hippel. A look at how customers—not companies—are now driving innovation, written by the head of MIT’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group. Short (under 200 pages), thoughtful… and useful for the day job.

Last book I read?A Long Way Down,” by Nick Hornby. Well this was uplifting. A tale of what happens to four would-be suicides who meet by chance on the roof of Toppers’ House, a building popular with jumpers. If you like Hornby (he wrote “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy,” among other things), you’ll probably like this. If you can tolerate Ian McEwan, you’ll like it a whole lot more.

Five books that have meant the most to me? Yikes, impossible to narrow down. But five come to mind:

1. “Against the Self-Images of the Age,” by Alasdair MacIntyre. Anyone who takes on god, Marx, Stalin and Freud in one—relatively—readable volume gets my vote. Twenty-five years ago this book changed how I think about the world. I’ve yet to change back.

2. “The Loved One,” by Evelyn Waugh. A (very) dark tale of love and death among the manicured lawns of the Whispering Glades Memorial Park. I discovered Waugh at an early age—his family lived close by and he taught at my father’s school. He also taught me that the best humor usually involves someone getting injured—preferably fatally.

3. “England’s Dreaming,” by Jon Savage. It’s an age thing, OK? It’s not my fault that in the mid-70s I stumbled into what became a musical revolution, alongside folks like Susan Whitby, Mark Perry, Ray Burns, Ariane Forster, Paul Godley, Paloma Romero… so many talented people, too many now dead. It’s also not my fault that Jon Savage wrote a book in 1991 that brought it all back. Thank god for pseudonyms—but if you don’t recognize any of the names above, all this will be meaningless anyway.

4. “The Best of Saki,” by Saki (Hector Hugh Munro). Back to the black. Saki, who died in the trenches of the First World War—his last words, followed by a rifle shot, were “put that bloody cigarette out”—wrote darkly perfect short stories that often pitted people against animals. The animals mostly won. Read “The Brogue” or “Tobermory” online to get a flavor. Saki made me want to be a writer. He’s also a constant reminder of how far I have to go.

5. “Bird by Bird,” by Anne Lamott. Subtitled “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” A book I need to re-read from time to time.

I resisted including Thomas Nagel’s “The View From Nowhere,” but it’s on the extended list. As are many, many others—five is way too few.

Tag five other people? I’m with Craig: Nah.

Posted by Stephen at 4:06 PM in Whatever | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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