Books That Matter is Tracking Wonder’s interview series that showcases influential thinkers’ and authors’ relationships with books that matter to them.
The times, they are a-harried. Yet the very act of reading books lets us shape meaning of our own lives’ dashing moments.
Today’s Books That Matter guest Jonathan Fields seems to live this truth. Jonathan’s life has evolved in myriad, beautiful ways – even in the few years I’ve had the pleasure to know him. The current tags he goes by – “entrepreneur” and “media producer” and “award-winning author” – seem like vehicles for how Jonathan ceaselessly makes meaningful experiences for himself as well as for the audiences he loves and engages. The kinds of books he’s shifted to writing, to reading, and to returning reflect Jonathan’s ongoing pursuit of meaning.
In this Books That Matter feature, Jonathan shares an astute prediction for the future of publishing as well as the two books – the philosophically profound and the playfully profound – he most often re-reads.
Jeffrey: 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 last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down.
Jonathan: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, it wrecked me in the best of ways. As a human, it reminded me to embrace the grace of simple moments and deeper callings. As a writer, it reminded me that the craft is at its highest when it ceases to be apparent.
What one detail do you still recall from that book?
The Epilogue by the author’s wife, Lucy, finished the story and was the moment where I fell apart. So true and raw and beautiful. I began reading it on a plane, had to close the book, then begin again in my hotel, where I just lost it.
What one book have you most often re-read? Why?
Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. It’s fast and light, yet deep and timeless. Reconnects me to what matters and, as a writer, reminds me of the power of simple structure and craft. A second, by the way, is Oh, the Places You Will Go, and a close second at that!
What kinds of books are you seeking these days?
Memoirs. I’ve spent decades immersed in more overtly prescriptive work, but I’m finding deeper learning as of late from the stories of others who are willing to share not just their circumstance, but how it changed them. Even the prescriptive books I now read tend to be much more story-driven.
You will read anything written by whom?
Gladwell, Mary Karr, Hemingway, David Brooks, David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, Pico Iyer and, wait for it…James Patterson (love a formulaic thriller, lol!)
Survey: Roughly what % of books do you read digitally versus in paper?
80-90% are on paper, though that is changing. More and more are audio, followed by a small percentage of ebooks.
Which book would you want everyone to read? Why?
Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. It is a powerful call to embrace meaning as a core metric of a life well-lived and to reframe suffering.
In a sentence or two, what’s your forecast for the future of publishing?
For authors who are willing to become enterprises, glorious. For authors who just want to write, not-so glorious. For publishers who are stuck in an old paradigm, slow (and sometimes not so slow) decline. For publishers who are forward-looking and willing to risk evolution, rock-solid. For big box booksellers, #oy. For well-curated indie bookseller, #yay. For Amazon, the world.
If you had the time, talent, grit, and support, what book would you write?
The next one, because the only way I get to “that” book is one book at a time. Put another way, the only there there is here now.
What is one thing that you hope readers of your book, How to Live a Good Life, will come away with?
A sense of possibility. A knowing that, whatever has brought me to this place in life, however snuffed-out my light has become, it is not too late. There is a path back to presence, to grace, to meaning, vitality and connectedness. To laughter. And, it begins now.
Jonathan’s current focus, Good Life Project, is a global movement that inspires, educates, connects, and supports mission-driven individuals in the quest to live better, more engaged, connected, and aligned lives.