I promised in my post on water to blog more this summer. So far, so fail, but in part it’s because I’ve been reading a lot. Some miscellaneous notes on those books follow.
Those of you who have emailed my work address lately will have noticed I’m also on sabbatical this summer, because after five years of focus on Tidelift I’m feeling pretty burnt out. This is not a criticism of Tidelift: it’s a great team; I’m very proud of what we are doing; and I will be going back shortly. But a big theme of the summer has been to think about what I want to do, and how that intersects with Tidelift—so that when I come back I’ll be both a strong contributor, and a happy and healthy contributor.
Work—burnout and better futures
The End of Burnout, by Jonathan Malesic: Malesic puts the blame for burnout squarely on our culture rather than us as individuals, which means the book has very few prescriptions for how we as individuals can deal with burnout. But it has interesting meditations on how we can create a culture that mitigates against burnout.
I hope to do a fuller review soon, because I find it difficult to summarize quickly, and much of it applies to open collaborative communities, where the line between self-affirming creation and self-destructive labor can be very fluid. In the meantime, I’ve put some of my favorite quotes up on Goodreads and annotated many of them.
Imaginable, by Jane McGonigal: I found this equal parts fascinating and frustrating.
Good: it helped me ask “what the hell am I doing” in much better ways. Two key tricks to this: asking it in a ten year timeframe, and using a bunch of neat futurist-y brainstorming techniques to help think genuinely outside of the box. For this reason I think it might end up being, in ten years, the most influential “self-help” book I ever read.
Bad: it’s a classic “this book should have been an article”, and it is the first time I’ve thought “this book should have been an app”—the structured brainstorming exercises could have been much more impactful if guided with even minimal software. There actually is a companion(?) pay-to-enter community, which so far I’ve really enjoyed—if I stick with it, and find value, I suspect in the future I’ll recommend joining that community rather than reading the book.
Other big failure(?): it focuses a lot on What Is Going On In The World and How You Can Change It, when one of my takeaways from Malesic’s burnout book was to focus less on The World and more on the concrete people and places around me. The book’s techniques are still helpful for this, which is why I think it’ll be impactful for me, but I think it’d be a better book if its examples and analysis also drilled down on the personal.
I’ve had the luxury of spending the summer in Bozeman, visiting my sister and nieces/nephew. So a few books on Montana:
History of Montana in 101 Objects: Terrific. Great selection of objects; thoughtful but concise essays. I wish someone would write the same about SF. Highly recommended for anyone who spends time in the state.
Ties, Rails, and Telegraph Wires, by Dale Martin: A thing that is hard to wrap one’s head around when it comes to Montana is the vastness of the place; fourth biggest state, and 7.5 people per square mile. (CA: 254/mi2; SF: 6,200/mi2, The Mission: 30K/mi2.) This book does a lovely job capturing the vast spaces of Montana at the beginning and end of two massive technological changes: the coming of the train and the coming of cars. Bonus: lavishly photographed (largely via the work of Ron Nixon).
Water, Climate, and Climate Action
A disconnect I’ve been struggling with is between my digitally-focused work and my increasing concerns for/interest in the Real World. Related reads:
Introduction to Water in California, by David Carle: Recommend strongly if you’re a Californian wanting to geek out, but for most the Wikipedia article is probably sufficient.
How To Blow Up A Pipeline, by Andreas Malm: I recommend every citizen of the developed, carbon-dependent world read this. It might not motivate you to commit violence against carbon-generating property, but it will at least put you in the right place to react appropriately when you see reports of such violence against property. There’s a lot to unpack, and again, I recommend reading it, but at the end of the day much boils down to an image from the end of the book: when the author and other allies took down a fence around a brown-coal power plant, even Green party politicians condemned that as “violence”. The emissions of the power plant themselves? Not condemned; not considered violence in our discourse or politics.
Asceticism I didn’t read
In the past, I’ve on occasion turned to a certain sort of philosophical asceticism when in a frustrated place. So I packed these:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: I liked this book a lot in my teens and 20s, and much of the focus on Quality still resonates with me. I thought it’d be fun to re-read it in Bozeman (where much of the book takes place). But ultimately I haven’t even cracked the cover, because right now I don’t want to retreat to craft, no matter how well done. Instead, an outgoing, community-centric approach to life feels more appropriate.
Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, translated and annotated by Robin Waterfield: Unlike Zen and…, I have started this one, and would highly recommend it—the translation is very accessible and the annotations are terrific. But again, the detached life feels like the wrong route right now—even if it is one that in the past I’ve fallen into very easily.
Read a fair bit of fiction over the summer, much of it light, trite, and not worth recommending or even thinking much about. If you want every detail, it’s in my Goodreads feed; the best of it will get added at some point to my mega-thread of diverse science-fiction/fantasy recs over on Twitter.