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Books that changed my life…

December 5, 2009

Steven Leckart wrote:

*A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn

Hard to believe so much has been forgotten, rewritten or marginalized into oblivion. Facts and accounts are only part of the equation. The insight Zinn brings to everything he unearthed is more enlightening
than any American history class, tour, film or book I’ve ever experienced. When I think of blogs and Wikipedia and the ever-blossoming public record, I’m convinced all of us are creating the next installment.

*The Death and Life of American Cities – Jane Jacobs

A book that entirely opened up how I think of space, neighbors, parks, community, rules, organization, movement, and living. Gave me a profound appreciation of the congested urban spaces I used to dismiss
as ugly, dirty and overcrowded. I grew up in Los Angeles, where walking always seemed foreign, inefficient. I enjoy walking the streets, taking public transit and riding a bike so much now.

*The Big Sea – Langston Hughes

A wandering intellectual struggling to find a place, 21 year-old Hughes boards a boat to Africa. He begins his journey — and this auto-biography — by heaving a duffle bag worth of books into the
ocean. Heavy! At 20, I traveled to Hawaii with little intention of returning to the mainland. After a few months, I’d had enough of disconnected island life. I meditated (still do) on the book’s eventual thesis: “Life is a big sea, full of many words. I let down my nets and pull… I’m still pulling.” With that line in my head, I returned to school to do some pulling.

*Kindred – Octavia Butler

A black woman in 1970’s Los Angeles travels (inexplicably) through time to the pre-Civil War South, where she meets a young white boy who turns out to be her relative. I read this in one sitting. Totally
changed my understanding of “science fiction” and the notion of genre altogether. Words and ideas seemed rather limitless after reading this.

*Emergence – Steven Johnson
An amazingly concise and focused exploration through territory where it’s easy and tempting to wander. For me, the book connected a lot of interdisciplinary dots in a major way. Made me want to learn about
everything and anything to see what connections I might someday stumble across.

*Big Sur – Jack Kerouac
A sober reminder that an inspired life of ‘carpe diem’ doesn’t necessarily guarantee a happy ending, and an unhappy ending doesn’t necessarily undo the inspiration that can be had from observing a life of carpe diem.

*Skinny Legs and All – Tom Robbins
Art, politics, Christians, Muslims, Jews, America, the Middle East and talking silverware all wrapped up in a story revolving around the end of the world. Wildly imaginative fiction that made me pick up a
newspaper.

*The Journalist and the Murderer – Janet Malcolm
I’ve always felt conflicted calling myself a journalist or a reporter. I think it has something to do with growing up in L.A. during the rise of Hollywood tabloids. I started my career writing profiles of
musicians. Making our interactions as human as possible, of course, lead to the best stories. At the same time, I never forgot that every conversation and moment was draped in agenda (on both sides). This
book captures the complications of being both a storyteller and a human being.

*River of Shadows – Rebecca Solnit
Investigative non-fiction that captures how technological innovation emerged in the San Francisco Bay Area at a time when the West was still wild. This book explained everything I’d always felt about the region, but didn’t know or grasp. A love letter that combines history, art, science, and insight with pages that feel just like poetry.

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