You know the expression found money? When you put on a jacket that you haven’t worn in a while and find a $20 bill in the pocket? There is such a thing as found time, too. Millions of people now have extra time on their hands during this era of isolation. You can choose to spend yours toggling between 24-hour “Breaking News” reports, or taking advantage of the opportunity to read a good book. We’ve gathered titles for perspective on leading through a crisis, and beautifully written prose that is once both personal and profound. Spend this found time wisely to help you fend off a mindset of isolation and focus on a good read.
1. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
What it’s about: “Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing. But in a world where our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity . . . doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance.” So argues artist and critic Jenny Odell in this field guide to doing nothing. Odell sees our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.
Why pick it up: We featured this book in our post last month, 6 New Books to Read By, For, and About Women, but the topic is even more relevant today when we need an action plan for thinking outside of the narratives of efficiency and techno-determinism. Provocative, timely, and utterly persuasive.
What it’s about: A story of political brinkmanship set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers, his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage would go when the moon was brightest and the bombing threat was highest, and 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill, his family, and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turned in the hardest moments.
Why pick it up: The Splendid and the Vile takes readers back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.
3. The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
What it’s about: Full of extraordinary facts (your body made a million red blood cells since you started reading this) and irresistible Bryson-esque anecdotes, The Body will lead you to a deeper understanding of the miracle that is life in general and you in particular. As Bryson writes, “We pass our existence within this wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted.” The Body will cure that indifference with generous doses of wondrous, compulsively readable facts and information.
Why pick it up: For a head-to-toe tour of the marvel that is the human body. As addictive as it is comprehensive, this is Bryson at his very best, a must-read owner’s manual for everybody.
4. Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
What it’s about: Goodwin draws upon the four presidents she has studied most closely — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. They differed widely in temperament, appearance, and physical ability. They were united, however, by a fierce ambition, an inordinate drive to succeed. With perseverance and hard work, each of these men essentially made themselves leaders by enhancing and developing the qualities they were given.
Why pick it up: This seminal work provides an accessible and essential roadmap for both emerging and established leaders in every field. In today’s world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.
5. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
What it’s about: One of today’s most original literary voices offers up a genre-defying volume of lyric essays written over one tumultuous year. Gay offers a record of the small joys we often overlook in our busy lives. Among Gay’s funny, poetic, philosophical delights: a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, cradling a tomato seedling aboard an airplane, and the silent nod of acknowledgment between the only two black people in a room.
Why pick it up: The Book of Delights is about our shared bonds, and the rewards that come from a life closely observed. These remarkable pieces serve as a powerful and necessary reminder that we can, and should, stake out a space in our lives for delight.
6. Gilead: A Novel by Marilynn Robinson
What it’s about: Robinson’s epistle takes the form of a letter from 76-year-old John Ames, a fourth-generation Congregationalist minister, to his son just before his seventh birthday. Ames is suffering from heart disease, and his letter, written in 1956, is a summing up of the past sprinkled with anecdotes and advice and sketches of the present, especially of his son and his wife and his best friend, also a minister.
Why pick it up: Gilead is better than a good book. It is a slim, spare, yet exquisite and wonderfully realized story that will long stand as one of fiction’s finest reflections on the sacramental dimensions of life. Matchless and towering.
History is filled with great leaders who were avid readers and writers (Winston Churchill won his Nobel prize in Literature, not Peace). Make time during this season of separation to invest in books that will help you navigate through our collective new normal.
Question: What books can you turn to during these times to nurture yourself as a leader?
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