What I Read in 2016: My Top 5 Books

 In Reading

I read 40 books in 2016. I’ve never read that many books in one year (and I’m not counting my kids’ books), usually I’m a one- or two-book per month kind of guy. I didn’t really start out the year with any New Years Resolutions to read more either. In fact, I didn’t even read anything in January. As the year went on though, I made more of an intent to read more; driven merely by ricocheted curiosity. This is a list of my top 5 favorite books read in 2016.

My list is a bit all over the place. I had no real agenda, sometimes one book led to another. Most were geared toward my profession in design and art direction; some biographies, some classic fiction, and some personal finance (because we can never know too much on that subject). I won’t cover the full list, but you can skim it here. I can’t say that I read any real duds, but a few books took a little extra choking down; the way one might choke down a bowl of oatmeal without any sugar because they know it’s good for you. e.g. Tao Te Ching, and On Book Design.

I was able to read more books this past year than previous years because I changed my routine later in the Spring to wake up an hour earlier and read in the morning. My previous routine was to read before bed, but I would often fall asleep a few pages in, sometimes waking back up moments later to the book smashing down on my face. I also took advantage of my library’s audio books as I took walks over my lunch break.

Below are the 5 books that left the biggest impression on me this past year.

The Agony and the Ecstasy The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo
Not a romance novel—at least not by modern standards—this book is a biographical novel of Michelangelo. This book was made possible by Irvin Stone’s incredible amount of research and poring through translations from journals and various sources. The novel itself if a fairly accurate depiction of Michelangelo’s life that you don’t get in any art history class. This book captures the most extreme of the creative process. Michelangelo was a slave to his uncompromising pursuit to create the greatest art the world has ever seen. He would dream up commissions that would be nearly impossible to complete in one lifetime by any other artists. Anyone involved in the creative process in any way, or anyone interested in art history, would benefit from this book.

How to Use Graphic Design…How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World
I have always been a fan of Michael Bierut and Pentagram’s ability to tell a story through a brand. This is an inspiring collection of work, and a window into Bierut’s approach to solving design problems and building brands.

Stanley Kubrick: A BiographyStanley Kubrick: A Biography
Kubrick is one of the greatest film creators of all time. His 2001 a Space Odyssey paved the way for space sci-fi as we know it today. He had an obsessive compulsive approach to his work. In most cases, being a perfectionist goes counter to creating art, but Kubrick is a different breed. He had a calculated and deeply focused approach that stemmed from his obsession of chess. He would pore through scores of books before lifting a pen. Most would suffer from analysis paralysis, but he was unrelenting. This biography was written before his final film, Eyes Wide Shut. The Shining is one of my all-time favorite movies. I would also recommend on the subject the documentary Room 237.

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby
I had never read this book. It is indeed a classic, and does live up to the hype in my opinion. A great collection of dialog, and a tragic story of being known by everyone, yet not really known by anyone. I will be reading this again.

Pretty Much EverythingDraplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything
Just an incredible collection of work. Aaron Draplin just creates. Always making, always creating something tangible. This book shows the huge body of work he has accumulated over the past few decades. What I admire most about Draplin is that fear doesn’t hold him back. He gets the art our there and moves to the next. Something to strive for in the upcoming year.

Honorable Mention:


In ProgressIn Progress: See Inside a Lettering Artist’s Sketchbook and Process from Pencil to Vector
I went to Jessica Hische’s AIGA talk when she was in Omaha. Watching her go through the process makes lettering seem so damn easy. Upon going home and trying for myself, it became quite clear lettering, however the process, is far from easy. Lettering, to the level to which Hische does it, takes years of practice and experimentation. The process however, is a great place to start.

Made You LookSagmeister: Made You Look
Stefan Sagmiester is known for pushing the boundaries of the medium. His books a perfect example of that. Not only in the work showcased, but the actual book itself with the transforming cover and fore edge. This is a book you display proudly on you bookshelf.

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