I got through a lot of books this year, so I just want to pick out a few that were especially important to my work in 2018.
Wayne & Shirley Wiegand’s The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South was recommended by librarians in Mississippi, when I visited the state to run Library Island in April.
The Wiegands’ book is a useful historical study in how public institutions comply with, mitigate, abet, or resist an abusive regime. To really get to grips with this issue, you should follow it with Margaret Stieg’s 1992 article on how public libraries transformed in the Germany of the 1930s.
My Mississippi trip also allowed me to visit the state’s Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. You can read more about the place in this New York Times article.
Collaborating with the Enemy, by Adam Kahane, looks at peacemaking and negotiation work, drawing on examples from Thailand, South Africa, and Colombia. Kahane is remarkably honest about his frustrations and failures, as well as his successes, in projects intended to promote collaboration under the most difficult conditions. It’s well worth a read, to challenge and inspire you.
I read Jeffrey Kottler and Jon Carlson’s Bad Therapy as part of a Kottler binge earlier this year, seeking insights to borrow from other relationship-focussed disciplines.
For Bad Therapy, the authors interviewed a number of leading practitioners on the topic of their greatest failures. The resulting discussions are brave, humbling, and food for thought in any profession.
What would it mean to focus on one’s failures in this way? What do bad librarianship, bad journalism, bad teaching or curation or medicine or design look like when the practitioner themselves admits to a job done poorly? This book is excellent for anyone interested in professional learning and growth, whatever field they work in.
Finally, I was four years late to an encounter with Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, a 2014 reflection on the decisions and dilemmas associated with end-of-life care.
The challenges faced in caring for those who are close to death emphasise and highlight problems which we confront in any healthcare setting. These include the limits of the patient’s right to choose, the authority of the physician over those in their care, and quality of life versus the drive to preserve life at all costs.
Gawande’s typically sensitive and personal discussion of these topics reminded me of Sherwin Nuland’s 1992 National Book Award winner How We Die. The challenge that faces us in healthcare is that the same issues Nuland identified more than twenty-five years ago still plague our health systems today.
Gawande – who more recently wrote for the New Yorker about the frustrations of medical software – is a humane and articulate guide to this territory. I’ll return to this topic in the new year.
These were my best reads of 2018. They’ll stay with me, joined by new writers and new volumes, in the year to come.
What were your best reads from the year just gone?