This is currently my favorite book of 2019 and for good reason: It is decidedly contrary to pretty much every piece of modern advice about working in a creative field, and defends its position succinctly. While not quite demanding we become luddite hermits, it does encourage those of us that are in creative jobs to “go into airplane mode” more often, get fresh air, change your mind, and seek the long view. That last piece of advice has stuck with me every day since reading it. We are submerged in a culture of “overnight” successes and daily encouragement to share our newest work for the sake of “posting for our personal brand.” Kleon, in this brief book lays out why we might make better work (and communities) if we slow down a bit, and aim for creating in a time frame much larger than today’s Instagram story feed.
Some see creativity as a fickle muse, one that comes and goes on a whim, without any control or reason. Twyla Tharp, in this aptly subtitled “Practical Guide,” sets out to prove that wrong. Creativity is a habit that is practiced and nurtured through repetition and environment, not by an amorphous notion of “inspiration.” Tharp’s combination of solid advice and exercises along with her delightful personal stories as a legendary choreographer make this an easy read. And since I discovered this book in college, I’ve turned back to it whenever I’m in a rut, and it consistently breaks my brain wide open and gets me back into practice.
I love poring over this book and dreaming up building my own thru-hiking setup. The approach Ray Jardine takes to lightweight backpacking, “The Ray Way” as it’s known, at first seems a little extreme and dangerous — eschewing weight at all costs means going without some extra REI bells and whistles. But the gain is also extremely appealing: speed and enjoyment. By leveraging knowledge, planning, and an adaptable set of choice equipment, one can enjoy natural trails without the feeling of lugging heavy boots and bags every inch of the way. I’ve not built my own “ray way” backpack yet, but I’ve definitely lightened up my hiking gear and it’s made all the difference.
Natalie Goldberg takes a gentle, no-nonsense approach to the craft of writing that removes the pressure of the blank page and reminds readers that writing, like all skills, is a practice. Goldberg sees writing through a zen-like lens that is unlike other books about writing — and that means a lot of the lessons learned are applicable to other creative fields. Having read this book a few times over the last decade, the biggest takeaway for me is always the concept of morning pages, and its changed the way I start my day.
Still as relevant today as when it was published in 1971, this industrial design classic delivers a square kick in the teeth to almost every designer for their immaturity and lack of responsibility for their work. Therefore it should be recommended to every budding designer, if only for that reason alone. What initially sounds like a depressing read becomes quite empowering, and opens one's eyes to the potential for both good and bad we have in the design profession. If you're in the business of designing products or even just buying new products (yep, that means you), and you haven't read it yet, please do so.
The Hokule'a is a modern marvel: a Polynesian sailing rig that circumnavigated the globe in the span of two years with no modern navigation technology whatsoever. By reviving the nearly forgotten Polynesian wayfinding techniques, the Polynesian Voyaging Society preserved a culture and showed the world it was more than possible. More importantly, their story is a great example of the feats we can accomplish when we understand the natural world, work with it, and preserve it. It's an enthralling read with gorgeous photography — get a copy here.
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." — John Muir
Patagonia is a company that P&T admires for a number of reasons, to say nothing of their amazing products. This book brings their most admirable achievement — the globally responsible business of Patagonia itself — to the forefront. While not exactly a manual for how to run any business the way Patagonia does, it makes a great case for why one should try. Plus, the simple rules of thumb for culture and decision making, paired with examples of their genuine success are always motivating to return to when the day's events have you feeling down.
Nick Offerman uses Gumption to tell the stories of the 21 historical figures who have inspired him to grow into the Ron-Swanson-esque human we all know and love today. Throughout the book he weaves historical anecdotes with light hearted humor to reveal hard truths such as the fact that it's incredibly unlikely that a young George Washington could have chopped down a cherry tree using nothing but a hatchet and an abundance of youthful energy. It's a fun, thought provoking read that finds a way to draw parallels between seemingly unlikely bedfellows, like Ben Franklin and Yoko Ono. Plus, this book is heartily loved and endorsed by every member of P&T — so read it already!
Yes, they're novels. No description I can write will properly convey how fantastic they are. I recommend that you read every single one of them... Except the last.
John Muir can wax poetic about exploring a forest better than any writer I've read to date. When I am frazzled and frustrated (and can't go for a hike myself), reading this is the next best path to calm.
A tome on self-reliance as much as it is on woodworking, the Anarchist's Tool Chest, by Christopher Schwarz takes you from an enthusiast with no tools and no skills to a skilled user of traditional hand tools armed with knowledge borne of creating a chest to store them in.