October 6, 2010
News & Opinion: An Embarrassment of Riches
In 1997, Sebastian Junger wrote a great book called The Perfect Storm. The phrase, “a perfect storm” is used when multiple things come together to create an extraordinary experience. That thought fleeted through my mind last night as I sat reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, because, including Freedom, I’m actually reading three brilliant books in three rather different genres. I didn't want to like Freedom, due to the hype, but it is totally worthy of all the praise it has been getting. I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction, but this is a brilliant story told brilliantly. In the biography genre, I am reading Ron Chernow’s fantastic Washington, A Life. I have been a fan of Chernow for years, and in fact, his classic Titan about John D. Rockefeller was included in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. In the business genre, I am reading Steven Johnson’s fascinating book about innovation called Where Good Ideas Come From. Johnson is one of the best writers of “big idea” books, books that look at a common subject and use unpredictable stories combining history and science and the like to illuminate the subject a different way. In the process, we as readers, learn to look at business more holistically...and enjoyably. In the many years I have been in the book business, I can’t remember a time when I so looked forward to sitting and reading books from multiple genres at the same time. These three books have ignited a passion for reading that I haven’t felt in a long time. For all the talk of the decline of publishing, this embarrassment of riches reminds me that there is plenty of life left in the industry.