This week I didn't feel like writing about advertising or business or leadership or anything else an ambitious soul might find useful. So if you're in a vibrating hurry with far too much to do, right here would be the place to stop reading. The DELETE button is sitting there, twitching, anxious for you to bang it. There's nothing in today's note that would do a busy person like you any good.
Unless, of course, you're in a major, world-class bigtime really extreme hurry. Then you should by all means keep reading.
Would you like to have a secret retreat from the buzzing noise of daily life in the 21st century? Are you prepared to take a journey that will move your mind to another place, another time? Today I'm going to tell you about four non-fiction books and not one of them has a plot.
But don't let that fool you.
Sea Room, by Adam Nicolson.
True to my custom, I opened this book to a random page (141) and began to read: ” …Something of the sense of holiness on islands comes, I think, from this strange, elastic geography. Islands are made larger, paradoxically, by the scale of the sea that surrounds them. The element which might reduce them, which might be thought to besiege them, has the opposite effect. The sea elevates these few acres into something they would never be if hidden in the mass of the mainland. The sea makes islands significant.” Impressed, I turned to chapter one where I was greeted, “For the last twenty years I have owned some islands. They are called the Shiants: one definite, softened syllable, 'the Shant Isles', like a sea shanty but with the 'y' trimmed away. The rest of the world thinks there is nothing much to them. Even on a map of the Hebrides the tip of your little finger would blot them out…” I bought hard-to-find copies for several of my friends.
The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto.
My partner Jeffrey Eisenberg shares my taste in books, so when I told him this book was “the epic story of Dutch Manhattan and the forgotten colony that shaped America,” he wasn't worried. Read it anyway. Later Jeff called me to say, “I think it may be one of the most interesting books I've ever read. Definitely the best-written history book. Almost reads like a novel.” But then again Jeff is strange. Might there be a chance that you, too, are Jeff's and my brand of crazy?
Travels with Charley, by John Steinbeck.
In 1961, a year prior to winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, John Steinbeck bought a camper and set out with his dog, Charley, to see America through the windshield of a pickup truck. This book is the story of that 3-month journey. Most people associate Steinbeck with Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, or East of Eden. Worthy books, to be sure. But this, his odd collection of experiences and observations is, I think, my favorite Steinbeck of them all. Travels with Charley is a celebration of the Ordinary, the disjointed thoughts and notes of a highly accomplished man looking quietly at the world around him. It is perhaps the most underlined, dog-eared, footnoted book I own.
In tribute to Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, we're going to publish – in a 380-page book – all the essays we received in response to the challenge I issued 5 weeks ago. This book will have an ISBN number and a barcode and will be registered with the Library of Congress – the works. It will be called People Stories: Inside the Outside, and a free copy of it will be the special “gift of initiation” I promised to send everyone who dared to join our bleary-eyed fraternity. When the book arrives from the printer, (hopefully by late April,) it will be released with considerable fanfare during a huge party at Wizard Academy's Tuscan Hall. Following the party, it will be made available for sale at major online booksellers. Details when we know them. Stay tuned.
This Noble Land, by James Michener.
On October 8, 1996, just a year before he died at the age of 90, this giant of literature chose to publish his highest thoughts and deepest fears about our nation. Steinbeck took us on a physical journey down roads of asphalt, but Michener takes us down paths of memory. You'll love it or hate it.
I have no way of knowing which.
Roy H. Williams