I often encourage people to read as much as they can because good writers read a lot. Occasionally, participants in my writing classes will respond to this suggestion by asking, “What do you read?” I usually answer with the obvious. The New Yorker obsessively adheres to grammatical conventions, and its in-depth articles are usually provocative and revelatory, regardless of one’s political proclivities. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal remain exemplars of literary excellence, if not always journalistic precision. I also encourage them to read books on topics that interest them because of the singular intellectual or emotional journey that books of all sorts can take their readers.
My own reading taste varies, tending toward themes. For instance, the terrorist attack of September 11 compelled me to read about the Western world’s relationship with Islam. During that time in late 2001, I read Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God, Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, Bernard Lewis’s Islam and the West, Judith Miller’s God Has Ninety-nine Names and Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, and Edward Said’s The Politics of Dispossession, and I reread Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. A conversation with a friend about dialogue theory led me to David Bohm’s On Dialogue, Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard’s Dialogue: Rediscover the Transforming Power of Conversation, William Isaacs’s Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, Daniel Yankelovich’s The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation. My desire to offer students tips on creativity brought me to Bohm’s On Creativity, Tony Buzan and Barry Buzan’s The Mind Map Book, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and Creativity, Edward De Bono’s De Bono’s Thinking Course and Parallel Thinking, and Michael J. Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. My sister, interested in my spirituality, recommended me to Kathleen Norris’s works, so I read her Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, The Cloister Walk, and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. A video course on argumentation inspired me to read Chaim Perelman’s The Realm of Rhetoric, Stephen E. Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument, and Douglas Walton’s Ad Hominem Arguments. This year, my involvement in semantics has sent me to Jean Aitchison’s Linguistics, Roland Barthes’s Elements of Semiology, Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics: The Basics, and Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics. My never-ending fascination of other viewpoints on the meaning of life prompted me to read Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the Mind, Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Albert Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, Norman Geisler’s four-volume Systematic Theology, Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer and The Passionate State of Mind, Robert Nozick’s The Examined Life, Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy, Religion and Science, and The History of Western Philosophy, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Many more books are waiting in the wings, including Theodor Adorno’s Reader, Mikhail Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, Noam Chomsky’s On Language, Jacques Derrida’s Writing and Difference, Michel Foucault’s The Foucault Reader, Antonio Gramsci’s Reader, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Jurgen Habermas’s two-volume The Theory of Communicative Action, Martin Heidegger’s Basic Writings, Edmund Husserl’s two-volume Logical Investigations, Jacques Lacan’s Ecrits, G.W. Leibniz’s Philosophical Essays, Georg Lukacs’ Reader, Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations, Charles Peirce’s Selected Philosophical Writings, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, and James D. Watson’s Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science. Thrown into the mix is always a smattering of English and American poets as well as foreign language poets in translation. While I strongly recommend reading fiction, my own coverage of short stories and novels has been sadly limited in recent years—a reason for yet another reading goal and journey of the imagination! Preparing for my work with clients, I might be drawn to certain business books by the likes of John K. Clemens, Robert Greene, Peter Krass, John C. Maxwell, and Tom Peters, or to engineering, insurance, investment banking, military, and science periodicals.
I will devote the next few installments of WORDS ON THE LINE to snippets of my current reading. My intent is not necessarily to endorse these books (I think some are helpful and others less so) but to suggest connections between reading and my life as a writing consultant. For all readers, making those connections undoubtedly should improve their writing performance at work.
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