4 books I (actually) read this summer.

I skim a lot of books. That’s one of the benefits of having an excellent public library. The San Francisco Public Library is excellent in 2 ways:

1) Breadth and depth of collection

2) Netflix-like system for reserving books

I drop interesting books in my request queue on sfpl.org as I come across them.  The library has the book I’m looking for over 90% of the time.  Then three days, three weeks, or three months later I receive an automated e-mail telling me my book is ready.


I’d guess that I only actually read one book for every three or four books that that I skim.

So here are four books that I actually read this summer. All four have spoken to me on a business and personal level. In fact, I’ve found that the less that a book has to do with work, the more impact it ends up having on the way I think about our company and our customers.



David Chang and Peter Meehan

My wife Denise found this cookbook / autobiography and thought that I would enjoy it. She was right. 

The food looks amazing and we’re going to hit up at least one of their restaurants when we’re in New York in October.

Yet it is the story of the restaurant that stayed with me. David Chang and crew scrapped, hustled, and invented their way to a new form of restaurant in one of the toughest markets in the world. Their passion for teamwork and focus on execution is contagious. I understand that David Chang’s swagger is off-putting to some, but I ate it up. This is a guy who wants to cook killer food, his way, and is not going to let anyone stop him. Great stuff.



Born Standing Up

Steve Martin

I fell asleep to Steve Martin’s records when I was a kid. I had dozens of his bits memorized. This came in handy one day in the seventh grade. One of my friends told me that he was auditioning for the school musical and asked me if I was going to try out. I thought that sounded fun, so I went along with him.  It turned out we were supposed to have prepared a monologue and a song. Crap. I had decided to stay after school and audition on a whim and wasn’t prepared. Or was I? Luckily, I had unknowingly been rehearsing for months and when my turn came to perform, I nailed a monologue and song of Steve Martin’s. (I wish I could remember which ones.)  I got the lead in the play and that was the beginning of my theater days.

“Born Standing Up” is a must-read for fans of Steve Martin. But I also think it is a must-read for anyone who speaks, teaches, or sells for a living.  Steve Martin started performing when he was 12 years old. He worked at his craft for decades before any of us learned who he was. He failed repeatedly and experimented wildly. He never turned down an opportunity to work on his material, “speaking” in front of small audiences and giving his all. His endurance is breathtaking.



The Razor’s Edge

W. Somerset Maugham

Steve Martin wrote in “Born Standing Up” that his favorite book of all time was “The Razor’s Edge.” So I requested it from the library immediately.

Steve Martin’s favorite character in “The Razor’s Edge” is Larry Darrell, who dedicates his life to acquiring knowledge and searching for meaning at the expense of love and wealth. Larry spends 12-14 hours in the library a day reading. Languages, classics, history, science, and philosophy. He doesn’t know exactly what he is looking for, but he is resolved not to stop reading until he finds it. When his fiancé asks him what he wants to do with his life, he tells her that he wants to “loaf.” That’s what he calls reading 12-14 hours  a day, “loafing.” Classic.



Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!”

Richard Feynman

Do you ever find that you have gone your whole life without hearing about a certain person or book and then three or four times in one week you come across them?

That happened to me with Richard Feynman.

I noticed that people spoke and wrote with a certain reverence for Richard Feynman that reminded me of the way people talk about Kurt Vonnegut or Richard Brautigan.

“You don’t know about Richard Feynman? Oh man, you’ve been missing out.”

And I had been missing out. I read “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” in one sitting. I couldn’t stop. He’s a scholar, inventor, prankster, and teacher all in one.

If teaching is part of your job (and I would argue that’s everyone) then you should read this book.  Or if you are like me and have a grandfather and father in law who love to tinker with mechanical things just for the fun of it, then this book will give you a good laugh.

So that’s me…

What have you been reading this summer?


Posted: August 30th, 2010 | Filed under: General | Tags: | 3 Comments »

3 Comments on “4 books I (actually) read this summer.”

  1. 1 Vik Duggal said at 12:09 pm on August 30th, 2010:

    Chris – I like this list. Will see if I can grab a couple of these on my Nook…on my end, this summer I went through:

    Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship by Mahan Khalsa

    How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes by Peter Schiff

    The Innovator’s Dilemma

    I’ll have to do some detailed review like you did, but I would recommend all three! I tend to be pick about my reading…It would be neat if you shared what blogs you tend to follow.


  2. 2 Christopher Parsons said at 6:29 pm on August 30th, 2010:

    Hey Vik,

    Cool. Thanks for sharing. I’m a big fan of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

    I had built a little tool that displayed a list of the blogs I subscribed to on Google Reader. Then the Google API changed and it broke my tool.

    Do you know of a better way to do this?


  3. 3 Claire Keerl said at 12:23 pm on August 31st, 2010:

    Chris…I read Razor’s Edge last summer! This year I read Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, a sometimes fantastic (as in unbelievable) and not-so-subtly-political paean to New York.