A very hard-working friend of mine who also juggles work and parental responsibilities compared recent Audible selections with me. Hers were overwhelmingly about self-improvement, with many focused on parenting. All were worthy reads, and she’s determined to internalize as much as she can.
When it came time for my turn of this game of show and tell, I mentioned a couple books relevant to my work and my own self-improvement, like Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism,” but I then brought up other recent highlights that have nothing to do with any desired outcome: “The Woman Who Smashed Codes” by Jason Fagone about pioneering American cryptologist Elizebeth Smith Friedman; “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” by Steve Brusatte (this is about real dinosaurs, not the corporate kind); and the novel “The Old Drift” by Namwali Serpell about generations of Zambian families before and after the country’s founding.
My friend’s reaction? “I just don’t have time for any of that.”
I hear comments like hers a lot. Fiction feels like you’re eating dessert for your main course, while non-fiction feels like an entrée-sized kale salad, and it’s easier to give ourselves permission to read when it’s connected to work or our current responsibilities.
Yet don’t we have it backwards? How many business or personal improvement books do you read that feel intellectually stimulating and motivating, and then a month later you can’t even remember the book’s title? And how often does great fiction truly move you?
I’m listening to “The Old Drift” on Audible now for a second time. Yes, I set the speed a bit faster this time, since I no longer need to adapt to the verbiage and flow of the book, but it’s such a treat to hear this rich and complex story again. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so engrossed in a book, and I will probably get it in print, as I read a sample on the Kindle and can already discover bits I’ve missed from the audio alone. Serpell is gifted, almost too gifted; most of the less-than-glowing reviews by readers seem to indicate they can’t keep up with her. I can’t either, but I at least respect that’s my fault and not hers.
I don’t know what I will get out of “The Old Drift” in any concrete way. I was curious enough to try it when one of my favorite authors, Salman Rushdie, reviewed it in The New York Times. My oldest brother recommended that I read “Midnight’s Children” when I was in high school, and that book influenced my eagerness to go to India on my honeymoon more than a decade later. Rushdie is too versatile to be pegged as a magical realist. I’ve never appreciated the importance of free speech as I did after reading Rushdie’s memoir, “Joseph Anton.” I can’t say Serpell has made me want to visit Zambia on my next trip, but I am now spending more time reading about Afronauts.
Perhaps the best treat that fiction offers is to activate different centers of the brain. With a novel like this, I can’t help but try to deconstruct it. How did Serpell tie these threads together? When did it become clear that the play on the Greek chorus narrating the meta-story tipped their hand as to their true identity? Did Zambia really have a space program in the 60s? What makes certain characters more heroic in this work, with nine core chapters having their own protagonists and many other figures reappearing?
How can someone not have time for work like this? Or for rereading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” as I recently did following listening to some of Nick Offerman’s Mark Twain readings on Audible? Or for reading a cookbook like “Salt Fat Acid Heat” by Samin Nosrat, even if I feel like I will never spend a tenth as long as she does preparing a meal? Yes, I’ve also been reading “The Information” by James Gleick with many professional implications, and “The ABCs of How We Learn” by Daniel Schwartz, Jessica Tsang, and Kristen Blair which scratches my parental improvement itch, and I still need to make more notes on “Make Time” by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky.
If I follow the lessons from works like “Make Time” and “Digital Minimalism,” it will give me more time to eat dessert first. And then come back for seconds. In the case of “The Old Drift,” I’ll even go back for thirds. It’s one of those works like “One Hundred Years of Solitude” where I feel like I can’t be the same person reading it as the person I was before. It doesn’t matter if I can’t tell exactly what changed or how. The best response I could muster to my friend was too simple to be worthy of someone like Serpell, but it was honest. I told her, “Of course you do.”
Filling up on dessert is what I’m making of myself lately. What about you – what are you making of yourself?
PS: The first Serial Speakers event is next week. Join us! Use the code 30off as an added bonus. I hope to see you there.
LEARN. TRY. SHARE.
DID YOU ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION?
Brad Berens uses the changes in attitudes toward car ownership as a way to implore marketers to ask better questions. In the process, he makes the case for allying with the most direct competitors in order to defend and reposition an entire category. Brad’s thought pieces are always worth reading, as they’re typically as applicable as this one is.
HOW TO BUILD A 21ST CENTURY BRAND
The Association of National Advertisers was putting together a story about building enduing brands. And then they spoke to me and had to make do with a quote about “pizza emoji.” The others quoted here in this John Obrecht piece have a few more polished ideas.
THE MOMENT FACEBOOK WAS LOST
In all the coverage of the doctored Nancy Pelosi’s videos, this quote from Kara Swisher in the Times is the most damning: “It was at that moment that I knew that Facebook was lost.” That moment involved Mark Zuckerberg comparing his own communication lapses to Holocaust deniers. And the moment, which goes on way too long, does seem to imply that Zuckerberg really has no idea what he’s doing.
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SERIAL SPEAKERS: INFLUENCER MARKETING
It’s the first Serial Marketer event, and we’re tackling a very hot topic: influencer marketing. While we have a terrific panel, they might not last for long, as at various points, anyone could wind up being on stage if you have something to say. The experts include FIT professor Dalia Strum, MuseFind CEO Jennifer Chiang, Mainframe Interactive MD Jordan Hirsch, and Social Studies founder Brandon Perlman. Use code 40off for 40% off, exclusively for subscribers to this newsletter (and sure, share this with your friends).
July 31-August 1
CommerceNext, the summit for next level customer acquisition (and one of the best events I’ve ever sponsored), is coming back to NYC. The 700+ person conference will have 80+ speakers from leading retailers, DTC brands and innovative tech companies. Speakers include Purple, TechStyle, Victoria’s Secret, Men’s Warehouse, Bonobos, Casper and more! Learn more:
ANA DIGITAL & SOCIAL MEDIA
The 2019 ANA Digital & Social Media Conference is July 24-26th at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. Check out this agenda including top marketers from Target, Domino’s, American Express, Sephora, Bayer, Organic Valley, MGM Resorts and more.