Archive for reading recommendations

reading log . Inspired by MLK

One of my goals for 2017 is to read at least 25 books. The goal fits into my thinking on three areas of growth I want for myself this year. I’ll share more on that later in the week, but in short, I see this goal of concentrated, intentional reading as a way to expand my thinking and creativity.

I tend to be a binge topic reader. So, while I often have what I deem a “doesn’t require much thought” book in the mix as a way to relax, I also usually have one or two more “serious” reads that fit into whatever binge topic of the moment. For the last two years, it’s been politics and political history — mainly covering a curiosity about the last fifty years. Given the craziness of the current political climate and the uncertainty of the presidency beginning later this week, some of those reads have left a knot in the pit of my stomach. So much about the last few years has seemed a discouraging redux of unrest and social stretching. This year, I wanted to take some of that immersion in history, and tweak it to stretch my own understanding of justice — and injustice. To open my eyes to more marginalized hearts.

So, for the next books on my night stand, I’ve turned to some of the lions in the fight for social justice… a list to prime the pump of my own willingness to speak out, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this day we celebrate his legacy. 

Strength to Love
by Martin Luther King Jr.

Published in 1963, this collection of sermon notes, bible studies, and convictions about faith and justice served to not only codify the ideals of a movement, but to inspire a new generation of nonviolent activism. Oddly, I’d never heard of it until we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis a few years ago. The book was in Dr. King’s briefcase in the Lorraine Motel where he was shot in 1968. In her forward to the book, Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, wrote: “If there is one book Martin Luther King Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love.” She described it as the best explanation of “his belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.” 

Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation
by Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly

Clarence Jones was a speech writer and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., and his book offers an account of the weeks leading up to the March on Washington and how the “I Have a Dream” speech came to be. I heard about this book during the coverage of the 6oth anniversary of the March a few years ago, in an interview with Mr. Jones. As a “storyteller” often tasked with framing client messages, I am excited to read this account of how that role is applied to social justice.

March Trilogy
by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

I’ve been holding off on reading this trilogy until the final book came out in 2016. The graphic novels tell the personal story of Congressman Lewis, and his iconic involvement in the civil rights movement. Book One offers an account of his growing up years, his meeting of Dr. King, and the beginnings of the Nashville lunch counter sit-in campaign. Book Two covers efforts during the bus boycott, Congressman Lewis’ rise as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, his speech at the March on Washington and the Birmingham church bombing. Book Three, which won a 2016 National Book Award, continues the story including accounts of Freedom Summer, the fight against voter suppression and the march to Selma. The format of the books was inspired by the 1958 comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. We have much to learn from this American hero who is still standing for freedom today. I’ve promised to pass these on to my son when I finish reading them.

Love is Love
Comic Anthology

Love is Love is an anthology of graphic impressions contributed by numerous writers and artists as a response to the Orlando Pulse shooting. The book, organized by Marc Andreyko, benefits the survivors of that terror attack, and shares many of the fears and reactions from the tragic event. Because I have dear friends in the LGBT community, I choose to look carefully at this uncomfortable and raw reaction to unspeakable violence.

So, my journey of seeing inspired by MLK begins. I hope to read with an open mind and an open heart. I hope to share some of my reactions as I make sense of them. And I’m excited to see how these new perspectives will color my own work and voice.

reading log . Summer Reading + Nixonland

The autumnal equinox arrives tomorrow, and although you wouldn’t know it by the temperatures in Mississippi, that marks the official end of summer. The children and I had some family goals for reading this summer that were a little too ambitious for our travel schedule, but each of us managed to contribute several completed books to our Montgomery Summer Reading List. The kids were quick to insist that I include my own book selections on the list as well. Like me, each of the children really do like to read, but sometimes the fun gets dampened if the reading is some kind of “assignment.” I think they wanted to be sure this was actually a fun family activity and NOT some subversive summertime homework exercise!

In addition to adding some purely fun mysteries to the Summer Reading List, I also read a few challenging books — great books that challenged me to think beneath the surface, to look critically at the culture around me, to wonder at the power of storytelling, and to be moved by the experiences of other humans. Several selections focused on events and the political and social climate of some of my coming-of-age years, the years that are too recent to show up in any of the textbooks in school. As we close out summer, I wanted to share a few posts with thoughts on some of the books I would definitely recommend you add to your reading list.



Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

by Rick Perlstein

summerbooks_nixon I started 2016 wanting to read about politics and history — maybe because the presidential contest was already in such full swing. I was particularly interested in the 1960s and 1970s, and I had been re-reading several books about the story of Watergate by Bob Woodward, including All the President’s Men, The Final Days, and his tracing of Watergate’s impact through five subsequent presidencies in Shadow. My Scribd e-reader subscription offers up suggested reading based on your book history, and Rick Perlstein’s book, Nixonland, popped up. I decided to take a look.

The book was published in 2008, and was listed as a “notable book” by the New York Times and a number of other publications. As the subtitle suggests, Nixonland is mainly the story of Richard Nixon’s political rise from the somewhat-maligned and disrespected role as Eisenhower’s Vice President to his role as the eventual President of the United States and early architect of the modern Republican Party — plus, many of the bumps in between. It is also, however, an amazingly detailed account of so much of the racial unrest that occurred during those decades, the anti-war movement, the transformation of the Republican and Democratic parties as their souls and public images virtually switched, and ultimately, the dividing of America along the political rift these realities created. I’ve seen no better account identifying the roots of today’s divisive and deadlocked political culture.

Nixonland is not an easy or a short read. It took me a big part of the summer to get through it because of how much detail the author includes. There was a lot to absorb. However, it kept my interest the whole time because of how the author dramatically weaved together so many real-life stories along with Perlstein’s poignant conclusions. It is probably the best and most comprehensive book I’ve ever read chronicling the politics and social issues of the 1960s and early 1970s. What struck me about the book was how much of the political climate mirrors what we see today. Perlstein very effectively traced seeds of our current polarized culture through these very turbulent and formative years in modern American society. So many players in modern politics pop up in the book — presidents, strategists, and politicians who dominate our news stream today. It was amazing and eye-opening to see the dots connected between so many playmakers in the public sphere.

In many ways, Nixonland was a sad book to me. It definitely turned the mirror on American culture and so much of the social issues that are still left unresolved. Reading accounts of the Watts riots, segregation, and the very divided government response alongside today’s Twitter accounts of the Black Lives Matter movement and continued racial tensions now 50 years later was very disheartening to me. To be facing some of the same issues so many years later feels like an indictment on my generation. And, race was just one social issue that emerged. Poverty, trust in government, the specter of war, the role of faith in the public sector, and the emergence of media as a catalyst and impactor of public opinion are all areas from that era that mirror today’s climate.

Perlstein ends his book at Nixon’s landslide victory for re-election in 1972, even as the foreshadowing of the Watergate fallout was looming near. He points out that just 20 months after a routing of his political opposition, Nixon would become the only U. S. President to resign the office in disgrace. Perlstein also ended with an evaluation of “Nixonland’s” logical trajectory — the polarized vitriol we see on every channel today.

“In this book I have written of the rise of two American identities, two groups of Americans, staring at each other from behind a common divide, each equally convinced of its own righteousness, each equally convinced the other group was defined by its evil.

What Richard Nixon left behind was the very terms of our national self-image: a notion that there are two kinds of Americans…. and both have learned to consider the other not quite American at all.”

I highly recommend this book as a necessary read for those like me, who were barely born during these pivotal years in American culture, and yet have had so few opportunities to learn about them in ways that draw the threads tying the last decades of the 20th century to today. Nixonland, though a challenging read, also served as an inspiration for me to engage more critically in this year’s election process, to seek out a variety of voices telling the tales of social issues in our nation, and to re-engage with my own thoughts and beliefs about the nature of the democracy I’m handing down to my children.

design read . Uppercase


I’m excited! In December, I treated myself with a subscription to UPPERCASE Magazine — “a magazine for the creative and curious. My first issue arrived in the mail this week and I can’t wait to immerse myself in it this weekend. At first glance, it promises not to disappoint with beautiful photography and spreads, a great design and intriguing stories and profiles from lots of creative disciplines, all on nice-to-hold uncoated paper. It’s published, edited and designed by Canadian designer, Janine Vangool. It definitely lives up to the teasers I found online it its companion blog. Enjoy a few of my favorite at-first-glance spreads and I let me know what you’re reading this weekend!

uppercase1 uppercase2 uppercase3 uppercase4 uppercase5


inspired by . Amelie Hegardt Fashion Art


Last week during our down time, I was browsing some of the articles in the latest iPad issue of JENESEQUA. The watercolor and ink fashion illustrations from artist, Amelie Hegardt just took my breath away — especially her use of what art school called “negative space.” It is the areas in the composition that are left void where a part of the picture is implied through the shape of the white space. (That was your art lesson for the day! *grin*) I checked out Ms. Hegardt’s website to see more and I hope you enjoy some of the images I found.





A Good Experience… with an Ad

On Friday, I shared some of my favorite spreads from the Sept/Oct issue of Lonny Magazine. This particular issue celebrates the publication’s 2-year birthday. Since the magazine is published primarily in a digital format, I’m impressed with how they’ve tranformed the traditional periodical model into one that’s been successful online. And one that’s been able to stay relevant not only with design, style and content, but with technology as well. One example…

The reader is able to click on various photos, logos and content throughout the magazine to view relevant websites. But, they’ve also begun to incorporate video segments into the mix to make the pages “come alive” so to speak. As I was clicking through the issue the other day, I came to this spread featuring regular content next to a full page Waverly ad. Of course, the bland coffee cups don’t fit the normal image of Waverly products, so it stopped my eye. As I moused over the ad, I noticed that the image was actually a video ad. And a great one. I really liked that experience with an advertiser. Check it out…

Untitled from Max McDonnell on Vimeo.

inspired by . Well-drawn Closet

Daily PONDspiration [for the well-drawn closet}… Take a look at these great illustrations of fashion accessories by Jenny Mortsell from Line – A Journal, No. 6. It’s an inspired and unexpected approach to showing products that are usually all photos and glitz. The intricate illustrations become little jewels hovering over the background textures. Nice.

Line – A Journal is an intriguing quarterly online magazine focused primarily in fashion with art, design, film and people-watching sprinkled in. It always sports some great photo styling!

small thing . Book Darts

I was first introduced to the CANOE store through the Portland-based Miss Modish Blog. Through one click, I discovered a wonderland of well-designed products. I love the store’s mission… “to offer simple, beautiful, and functional objects that can be used and enjoyed everyday.”

One small Thing: Lovely book darts. These one-inch long paper thin metal markers in stainless steel, brass or copper offer a convenient and beautiful way to “hold that thought” as the tin says. I’d love to slip one of these next to a favorite sentence or paragraph to remind me of something inspiring — a well-designed way to slow down the skimming process and really grab the pleasure in reading a good book. Plus, I can imagine happening upon the dart months from now and being inspired all over again. Nice.

small things

I saw this plaque featured in a post about the Patina stores on one of my favorite blogs, Creature Comforts. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now, and it’s inspired me to begin something new for Plop!. I began Small Pond Graphics last July unexpectedly as a result of unforeseen life changes. Six months or so later, I am still fine-tuning the “story” of the Small Pond. And thinking small is a part of it. No, I don’t mean eschewing the big ideas. I just mean focusing some attention on the small details that so often translate into ripples of impact on the big picture.

Part of my goal in this blog has been to inspire MYSELF to focus on creating a well-designed company with well-designed projects, well-designed relationships and to open myself to the well-designed life all around me. So, I mostly post about things I like, things that interest me or give fuel to my creativity. To that end, the sentiment on this plaque echos my thoughts about daily habits and rituals, and about living a creative life–or about a life lived creatively.

I keep a book beside my desk that I pick up and read snippets of regularly. It’s called Living a Beautiful Life by Alexandra Stoddard, and I’ve probably read it through and through ten times. Still, it never ceases to inspire me. Mrs. Stoddard is an interior designer and how we approach our daily rituals is one of the things she considers in designing the most intimate spaces her clients inhabit. In her book, she talks about the power of elevating the “daily” to something wonderful, about creating beauty in even the most mundane of spaces and activities. She writes…

Daily rituals are personal statements; they fuel our zest for living…. Personal rituals make you a poet–and they can help you feel good about yourself and others. They reinforce the significance of the simple acts we perform repeatedly. While you are fulfilling basic needs, you can make the ordinary quite extraordinary. When you make your everyday rituals–simple things such as bathing, sleeping and eating–meaningful and attractive, they nourish other areas of your life.

Mrs. Stoddard’s thinking has encouraged me to make the ordinary special by savoring those moments, surrounding them and infusing them with what I find beautiful and meaningful–because life is a series of all those moments strung together.

I like that idea. So, I wanted to begin a series here called “small Things.” I hope to use it to share some of the little things I come across that can add beauty to the daily rituals of life and work. It might be products I’ve spied or tips I’ve noticed or visual images that make my heart take a deep breath. The commonality (I hope) will be “small things” that make the normal of life beautiful and important. Because it is.

small Things:
My other favorite plaque… COLOR OUTSIDE THE LINES 😉