Glowing, obsession, performance art, and a dead duck: my year in reading

Inspired by the The Millions Year in Reading series, I decided to post my favorite reads of the year. Narrowing it down to just a few, here are the books I enjoyed most in 2011 year:

The Illumination
Kevin Brockmeier’s The Illumination has such a compelling idea as its central premise that I kept thinking about it, long after I finished reading the book. What would happen if our injuries, our illness, our pain started to glow? How would the world be different (would it?) with that sort of shining?


Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest is about obsession, discovery, longing, dreams, and sex. Valente’s imagination is extraordinary: a lesser writer would never get to you to believe in what she can see.

The Family Fang

Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang is one of the funniest stories about one of the most fucked up families you’ll ever read. Funny as in haha, as in something off, as in weird: the Fangs are all kinds of funny. The Fangs are performance artists who raised two children (as props? as performance?), so what does it mean, now that they are grown?

Duck, Death, and the Tulip

Wolf Erlbruch’s Duck, Death and the Tulip is an unusual children’s book. It’s about death (not a common topic for picture books) and it isn’t preachy, sugarcoated, or evasive. The quiet illustrations are beautiful, evoking the right balance of sadness and acceptance. This books serves as a reminder that picture books are an art form.

Linchpin light

I finished reading Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin this weekend, and woke up thinking about it this morning.

There are quite a few diagrams in the book, so maybe that is why I came up with this as a way to describe what it’s about:

linchpin focus venn diagram

I want to write more about the book, but I want to do some rereading first, some giving it time to settle. I twittered a few quotes as I was reading that I’ll share again:

“Art changes posture and posture changes innocent bystanders.”

“lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can”

“art is the act of navigating without a map”

It’s worth spending time reading this book, and worth even more putting the ideas in it into daily practice. As Seth reminds us, “real artists ship”.

I am not immune to the year in review meme


Of the thirty-odd books I read in 2009, well over half were short story collections. So it isn’t surprising most of my favorite books turned out to be story collections: Demons in the Spring and Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir by Joe Meno, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson, and Elephants in our Bedroom by Michael Czyzniejewski. The Great Paper Caper (“…mystery, crime, alibis, paper planes, a forest, and a bear who wanted to win”) rounds out my list of favorite books.


My standard walk around lens is the Canon 50mm, but I got to know the lensbaby better, as I took it to some of my favorite photo spots in Salem and Rockport. I also decided on my next lens (the Canon 10-20mm wide angle) because I had so much fun when I rented one during my summer vacation.

I also experimented with creating new types of images. I spent some time taking abstract photos, which I’ve enjoyed. I created more diptychs, and played around with composites. (My contribution to Utata’s last big project was a series of composites.)


Things I started using this year that I really like:

  • MindNode is the first mind-mapping software I’ve ever liked — so I actually use it
  • Superfast and easy to use mockup creation tool Balsamiq
  • MAMP, which lets me run WordPress locally
  • I never thought I’d find a use for email-to-blog hosted platform like posterous, but it turns out I love it — I’m using it for a visual bookmarking blog.
  • Gruml is a Google Reader app for Mac users, and how I’m reading feeds these days. NetNewsWire started syncing with Google, which made me start using it, which led to me using this client instead. The sync really is good, and the sharing features are built in, though I confess I don’t use them very often. I’m still a save it on delicious person at heart, I guess.
  • Ommwriter showed me I have room for more than one minimalist, distraction-blocking text editor in my life (WriteRoom is the other, and TextMate is my workhorse.)

blogging ideas

Some folks like to say blogging is dead, now that everyone is on twitter (everyone being people who aren’t geeks — but still not my wife) or using facebook (everyone bitches about it, but never leaves) instead. I don’t think so. Plenty of folks have much to contribute on blogs, here’s just a slice of what has stayed with me this year:

Sasha Dichter writes about nonprofits, storytelling, what’s wrong with focusing on overhead ratios and other thought-provoking ideas about changing the world.

Tim O’Reilly’s ideas about working on stuff that matters is something I keep coming back to. It is and isn’t about nonprofits, too.

Bud Caddell’s how to be happy in business venn diagram made the rounds, deservedly so. I know I want to figure out how to spend even more energy in the overlap of what I do well, what I want to do, and what I can be paid to do — don’t you?

what about you?

What did you do? What did you pay attention to?