Books That Matter to Michael Bungay Stanier



Books change our world views and spark revolutions, inside and out. [Tweet this] Books awaken what’s dozing. Books crack open our hearts and our lens of possibility. Books matter.

Today marks our first feature for the second annual Books That Matter series. Books That Matter showcases influential wonder-trackers’ relationships with books that matter to them. Last year’s 8-week series was so well-received, this we’ve extended the series to 12 weeks. Each Wednesday for the next 12 weeks, you’ll glimpse the book shelves, digital libraries, and imaginations of people you either know or want to know.

Our first focus: Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael defies boxing in. He’s founder of Box of Crayons, a colorful consulting firm that helps organizations do more great work. He’s authored books such as Do More Great Work and edited the anthology End Malaria that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Malaria No More. He’s produced a smart, uplifting video series.

My advice: Read or listen between the lines of Michael’s books and videos. Behind the Great Work MBA leader is an MFA imagination and wit, an Oxford lad who’s published academic papers on Joyce’s Ulysses. He’s a model for how a creative mind lets his passion for literature & psychology infuse a viable business model that has integrity.

Below we glimpse the books that have mattered and matter to this husband of a YA librarian (lucky reader!). You’ll also eavesdrop on his literary and academic confession. Share your responses and questions in the comments below, and feel free to share this feature with your fellow book lovers and authors.

What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on
 poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or
 otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do 
for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you
 on as a young adult or that salved some pain or turned
 your thinking upside-down.  

Italo Calvino’s Imaginary Cities. It’s very short, fragments of imagined memory as Marco Polo tells Kublai Kahn of the cities he’s visited.

What one detail do you still recall from that book?

One city had waged a war on animals, wanting to celebrate its purely human nature. It killed the condors, only for the snakes to run rampant. It killed the serpents, only for the spiders to emerge. And so it went. . When finally the last of real creatures were eliminated – the final battle was against the rats – the unreal creatures emerged to take control of the city: the dragons, the unicorns, the hydras…

The book I imagined/imagine living inside of is______.

David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life. Malouf is an amazing Australian author, one of the current giants along with Peter Carey. This beautiful book tells the story of Ovid’s exile to the out edges of the Roman empire, and how this civilized man found a new language and a new life.

The character I still imagine being or being friends or seeking counsel from is _______ because_____.

My wife was trained as a YA librarian, so I get constant access some of this amazing writing. One character I’d love to hang out with is Flora Segunda, who’s a fabulous heroine for the trilogy of the same name. Think steam punk/magic/Latin/Scottish/California blend.

The one book I have most often re-read is ______ because_____.

I keep picking up Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bryson is a brilliant story teller, a master with the metaphor, constantly funny … and in this book he keeps showing me what an amazing world we live in, all through the lens of science.

The kinds of books I am most appreciating or seeking these days are_____.

I read across a lot of genres – business, science, YA, fiction, design. I appreciate it whenever a book that captures my head and/or heart shows up.

The kinds of books that most irritate me are______. or The one book that really irritated me was _____.

Business books that stretch a short blog post’s worth of content over 220 pages, recycling the same old stories everyone else has told.

I will read anything written by_______.

Tim Winton. Wow. His ability to talk about the complex misery of being a man is extraordinary. These are never easy reads, but always powerful. Breath is amazing

Survey: Roughly what % of books do you read digitally versus inpaper? (What’s your preferred reader?)

I’m still 90% paper. I tend to borrow from the library (or get sent business books for review). I use the Kindle when I’m travelling.

In a sentence or two, what’s your forecast for the future of

I only know I’m glad I’m not in that business.

If you had five days off to read books next week, which bookswould you at last read?

The enormous pile of unread books in my office.

Which book would you want every(child/boy/girl/woman/man/daughter/son/business person/thought leader) to read? Why?

The God Species by Mark Lynas. Clear-eyed view of our ecological disastrous ways of living, and how we might still survive.

The little-known book I most relish and champion is ______.

The Harry Potter series. I’ve no idea why that never took off.

The book I am most embarrassed/proud [specify] to say I’ve never read is____.

I’ve read most of Ulysses, but not all of it. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read it all in part because I’ve actually published academic papers on it…

If I had the time, talent, grit, and support, the book I would write is_______.

I know I can write business -y type books. Writing fiction – knowing how good good fiction is – would be a hefty mountain to try and climb.

To find out more about Michael you can visit www.boxofcrayons.com


Share your comments, responses to the same questions, and questions for Michael here.

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