From Patti Smith to social media, from gryphons to visual communicado, my Tracking Wonder Book List really does include something for every well-rounded creative in your life.
1. (Graphic Novel) Wonderstruck (Scholastic 2011) by Brian Selznick. It’s not just the name. It’s the delivery of a tale of two deaf orphans plus a little back story that helps this book top my list. It’s a 600-page graphic novel aimed toward youth penned and illustrated by film director David (Gone with the Wind) Selznick’s quiet son. You follow a girl’s story set in the 1920s told through marvelous, cinematic illustrations. You follow a boy’s story set in the 1970s told through text. Eventually, they merge. Adam Gopnik on Selznick’s first book that Scorcese made this year into the film Hugo:
Neither graphic novel nor illustrated book, its composite of storytelling forms seemed derived from the storyboards of some lost Czech genius of the silent film era rather than anything evident in other books.
2. (Fiction) Gryphon: Short Stories (Random House 2011) by Charles Baxter. Baxter is a writer’s writer and a wonder tracker’s writer. I interviewed him in D.C. last February, and he’s just as generous and thoughtful in person as he is on the page. His stories are structured for surprise and deep self-recognition. Bookslut’s interview with Baxter reinforces my experience.
3. (Poetry) The Great Enigma, Poems by Tomas Transtomer. The Nobel Prize winner for 2011, Transtomer’s sparse poems hedge language’s ability to startle our sense of what’s real and true (no better definition of wonder).
4. (Creative Productivity) Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields. Few books on creativity or creative productivity sustain my attention beyond the first chapter. The serial entrepreneur-cum marketing smart guy-cum tribal author serve a good dose of science and story with workable interventions. Plus his book focuses on a topic dear to wonder trackers – uncertainty and what we call fertile confusion.
5. (Creative Nonfiction) Uncanny Valley by Lawrence Weschler. You can’t have a list of tracking wonder books without at least one true wandering essayist. This New Yorker essayist collects his best pieces that meander deeply into lived experience, politics, religion, and art.
6. (Music) Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years that Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes. Full disclosure: I know Will. That said, Rolling Stone’s senior critic delves into how the “lost years” of 1973-77 in patches of New York City were actually formative years for most music trends to follow. Will blends a generous storytelling talent with good ol’ fashioned in-depth research. And you have to check out the Patti Smith video.
7. (Visual Communication) Blah Blah Blah: What to do When Words Don’t Work by Dan Roam. The author of The Back of a Napkin illustrates (literally) how simple pictures sell ideas and solve problems. Check out Dan Roam’s trailer starring the hummingbird and fox in your mind.
8. (Social Business) Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant. This one comes thanks to Danny Brown’s recommendation. This book’s substantial chapter by two consultants on “How to Be Open” (a requisite for tracking wonder) makes it worth the read alone. Here’s a video interview with Notter and Grant.
9. (Raising Wonder Trackers) The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel & Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne. For the creative parent, Siegel’s book takes seriously the child’s emotional mind. Siegel’s “mindsight” approach to neuroscience and psychology is refreshing. Payne’s book lets wonder reign with simplicity and reinforces what even Google execs prefer when raising kids in a non-hypertext, hyperactive environment.
10. (Wondrous Business Relations) Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions (Portfolio Penguin 2011) by Guy Kawasaki. The relations whiz and former Apple evangelist gives quick, workable tips on how to engage people in memorable, genuine ways and how to help your business create enchantment with its right people. This book reinforces one of our main tenets at Tracking Wonder – that a business experience can be an aesthetic experience.
Drop in the Hut: I’m sure I’ve left off your favorite. Tell us what other wonder-tracking books you read this year.
See you in the woods,