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Books Read: 2017

December 28, 2017

For a few months this year, I tracked and posted all of the books I read right here, on my website. I fell out of the posting habit, but kept up the tracking one. And, as I like year-end lists and tracking habits and activities, I thought I’d share all of the books I read this year. I marked the ones that were truly good with a 😊 and the ones that aren’t worth it with a little 🤐. The rest were pretty good, not much else to say about them. All-told, I finished 80 books this year, which might be a new record for me. Hopefully I can break that record in 2018.

Book of the Year

My favorite book of the year was Life in Code by Ellen Ullman. Ullman, who has been a software engineer for decades, collected some amazing essays on technology and its changing role in our lives. Although a lot of the essays were written around the time of the dotcom boom and bust, they are outrageously prescient for today’s world. In particular, her writing about the role of the internet in society and shaping people’s opinions was startling. It predicted what we’ve seen play out over the last year in politics, social media, and the corruption of American democracy.

Ellen Ullman portrait

Even if you’re not huge into technology, it’s worth the read. Ullman’s writing is very good and her stories uncover sometimes uncomfortable truths with which we all need to heed, especially as America (and the world) becomes more divided, with technology doing a lot of the dividing.

Here’s Everything I Read

These are all of the books that I finished this year. I started quite a few more but, for whatever reason, put them back down. Life’s too short for shitty books.

January

Although I was thrilled to be able to finish up Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem series, I think the standout was Thrill Me by Benjamin Percy. It’s an extremely entertaining look at writing and fiction. It makes you want to read, write, and enjoy the writing of others unlike any other book on writing I’ve ever read.

  • Thrill Me, Benjamin Percy 😊
  • Death’s End, Cixin Liu 😊
  • The Magic Words, Cheryl B. Klein
  • On Bullshit, Harry G. Frankfurt
  • The World Inside, Robert Silverberg 🤐
  • Waking Up, Sam Harris 🤐
  • The Zen Habits Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness, Leo Babauta
  • Some Thoughts About Writing, Patrick Rhone
  • Mindfulness for Mere Mortals, Patrick Rhone
  • The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin
  • Booklife, Jeff Vandermeer 😊
  • Searching for Bobby Fischer, Fred Waitzkin 😊

February

For entertainment purposes, David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp was superb. Tied for the best comic I read this year (along with Chester Brown’s Paying For It). The artwork and graphic design was central to the story and sucked you in completely.

For educational purposes, Heydon Pickering’s Inclusive Design Patters was fantastic. It’s the book on web accessibility we’ve always needed.

  • Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli 😊
  • Sloth, Gilbert Hernandez
  • The Fate of The Artist, Eddie Campbell
  • Inclusive Design Patterns, Heydon Pickering 😊
  • Networking! ACK!, Julia Evans
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill
  • Horten’s Incredible Illusions, Lissa Evans
  • Resilient Web Design, Jeremy Keith

March

Deep Work by Cal Newport was an easy pick for March’s favorite. It really made me take a closer look at my use of technology (especially social media) and how it plays into my ability to get real work done.

I didn’t get what was so great about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It was fine, but nothing to write home about. I enjoyed Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys much more. Hilarious.

  • Chicken with Plums, Marjane Satrapi
  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  • Weaving The Web, Tim Berners Lee
  • Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?, Roz Chast
  • Louis Riel, Chester Brown
  • Deep Work, Cal Newport 😊
  • Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon

April

I can’t get over Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer. The story is heartfelt and took me back to those young teenage years, especially since we used to vacation in a small, lakeside cottage town. What really made it stand out, though, was Jillian Tamaki’s unbelievably good artwork. Some of the best work I’ve ever seen in comics, and I read a hell of a lot of them.

  • Anything You Want, Derek Sivers
  • Scrum Basics, Tycho Press 🤐
  • This One Summer, Mariko & Jillian Tamaki 😊
  • American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang
  • Table Manners, Jeremiah Tower
  • Just Draw, Mark Badger 🤐
  • Tomboy, Liz Prince
  • Spiral-Bound, Aaron Renier

May

Not a great reading month, but I’d put Mary Mann’s Yawn at the top of the list. It was a funny, interesting look at how boredom plays into our lives. Sounds like it’d be a wash, but it was really entertaining.

  • Yawn: Adventures in Boredom, Mary Mann 😊
  • Success Through Stillness, Russell Simmons 🤐
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking
  • Micrographica, Renee French 🤐
  • Empire State, Jason Shiga

June

Both of Austin Kleon’s books were fantastic. Don’t dismiss them if you don’t think of yourself as an artist or creative person. They are applicable to anyone doing any kind of work. Which is all of us.

  • Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon 😊
  • Show Your Work, Austin Kleon 😊
  • Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
  • The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo, Drew Weing

July

I really enjoyed Phil Collins’ memoir, Not Dead Yet. I’d never listened to much of his music and knew less about his life. But it turned out to be very interesting and one of the better music-related books I’ve read. It gave me a new appreciation for his music, too. I don’t like all of it, but I went through and found a fair amount of good stuff that made it into regular rotation. And In The Air Tonight is a fucking masterpiece.

  • Not Dead Yet, Phil Collins 😊
  • Wilson, Daniel Clowes
  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O, Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
  • Adulthood is a Myth, Sarah Anderson

August

Not much to say about Fun Home by Alison Bechdel that hasn’t already been said. Very, very good.

  • French Milk, Lucy Knisley
  • Age of License, Lucy Knisley 😊
  • The Grownup, Gillian Flynn
  • Displacement, Lucy Knisley
  • Fun Home, Alison Bechdel 😊
  • Dizziness, Gregory T. Whitman MD and Robert W. Baloh MD
  • Work Life, Molly Erman 🤐

September

Paying For It by Chester Brown was one of the most thought-provoking books I read all year. It’s an honest look at prostitution and the people who participate in it. It’s a topic I’ve never really thought about, but one that turned out to be thoroughly interesting. Brown made me question a lot of my own assumptions about it and the appendix after the graphic novel was hugely educational. One of the best comics I’ve ever read.

  • The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Stephen King
  • Pinky and Stinky, James Kochalka
  • Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, Anne Helen Peterson 😊
  • Thornhill, Pam Smy 😊
  • Super Mutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki
  • Boundless, Jillian Tamaki
  • Diary Comics, Dustin Harbin
  • Diary Comics #5, Dustin Harbin
  • Diary Comics #6, Dustin Harbin
  • Scenes from an Impending Marriage, Adrian Tomine
  • New York Drawings, Adrian Tomine
  • Paying For It, Chester Brown 😊

October

Life in Code by Ellen Ullman was exceptional. That’s why it was my book of the year.

  • Cat Burglar Black, Richard Sala
  • Life in Code, Ellen Ullman 😊
  • Strange Practice, Vivian Shaw
  • Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine
  • The Three Paradoxes, Paul Hornschemeier 🤐

November

A very light reading month, as my brain was fried after the release of The Better Email on Design. My favorite was definitely The Heartless Troll by Oyvind Torseter. A great fairy tale with equally great artwork.

  • The Heartless Troll, Oyvind Torseter 😊
  • The Best American Comics 2017, Ben Katchar
  • Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel 🤐

December

Elie Wiesel’s Night is a remarkable book. It’s a heartbreakingly honest look at the lowest depths of humanity and one person’s journey through those depths. It’s one of those books I think everyone should read at least once, if not multiple times. Especially in today’s political climate, where self-professed Nazis are espousing the doctrines that led to one of the most nightmarish periods in human history.

  • Night, Elie Wiesel 😊
  • Behold the Man, Michael Moorcock
  • Present, Leslie Stein
  • Elizabeth and Zenobia, Jessica Miller

Have any recommendations for what I should read in 2018? Email me and I’ll put them on my list.

Elie Wiesel's Night

December 3, 2017

I finished reading Elie Wiesel’s Night last night. I don’t say this often about books, but it was profoundly moving. I’ve read other accounts of the Holocaust before, but none so visceral as his. The honesty with which he rights is exceptional for any author, but becomes astounding when given its context. To read someone grappling with something so inhumane, questioning his faith in the process, and owning up to his own feelings of guilt around his father’s murder is something that will undoubtedly stick with me forever.

I’m glad that it will. The book is massively important in exposing the cruelty which humans can unleash on each other and is a lesson which everyone should read. Especially given today’s political climate and our regression towards barbaric ideologies. We’re in a dangerous place as a country and as a world and only by openly discussing the mistakes of the past and moving beyond them can we remove ourselves from the dangerous cycle of history.

Oddly enough, the one section that stands out the most to me was not written by Elie Wiesel himself, but his son, Elisha. In an address given on November 30, 2016, at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, he says:

When Syrian refugees need our help, we must help them.

When Muslims in our midst are made to feel they won’t have the same rights as the rest of us, we must embrace them.

When children of hardworking and law-abiding undocumented immigrants fear deportation, we must insist on adding compassion into the equation.

When women are made to feel that they are objects rather than people, when our daughters are diminished in any way, we must protest.

When African American citizens feel they are strangers in the eyes of the law, and policemen feel estranged from the communities they serve, we must seek to rebuild that trust in both directions.

When the LGBTQ community feel they are at risk of being terrorized we must let them know we stand with them.

And when the State of Israel is singled out by the United Nations and BDS activists and treated as the world’s villain simply for making sure that Jews will never again be without a homeland—we must let Israel know she is not a stranger in foreign affairs but an essential partner in the global struggle for democracy.

Words to remember as 2017 draws to a close and we still face so many issues testing our principles and our resolve.

HTML Email and Accessibility

November 22, 2017

I just got published on CSS-Tricks and I’m thrilled. It’s my first article for them, but hopefully not my last. Head over to their site to get some tips for making HTML email campaigns more accessible using code, defensive design, and some plain common sense.

Read the article

The Better Email on Design

October 31, 2017

After months of hard work and one too many late nights, the wait is over. The Better Email on Design is now available for purchase.

The Better Email on Design is the ultimate guide to understanding HTML email design and development. It teaches you how to build robust, responsive, and interactive HTML email campaigns that your subscribers will devour. Both the book and videos dive into topics like email structure, typography and accessibility, using images, responsive design, and even adding animation and interactivity to your email campaigns.

If you want a handbook to quickly reference when you’re building your own emails, the 225-page PDF book will be your best friend. If you want your own, personal email development workshop, there are over 6 hours of step-by-step video tutorials available, too. Combined, they create the only email design and development course you’ll ever need.

Buy & Start Learning Now

Rethinking My Workshop Approach

October 8, 2017

workshops illustration

I ran my first workshop in 2014. Since then, I’ve taught over a dozen more. All of them have been about email marketing, design, and development, and they have mostly followed the same format. Most workshops have gone something like this:

  1. Housekeeping and introductions
  2. Lecture
  3. Show some code
  4. Student exercises
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 as needed
  6. Open Q&A session
  7. Point to extra learning resources
  8. Go home and get some sleep

As far as I can tell, this is a fairly standardized approach for tech workshops. I’ve only attended a few as a student, but they all used some variation on the pattern above.

Feedback from students has always been positive, with the biggest criticism being either, “The content was too basic” or, “The content was too complex”. Which goes to show you can’t please everyone. Running a workshop with a mix of skill levels is always a risky proposition. But I’ve never received any complaints about the format.

Yet, here I sit—the day after my last workshop of the year—wanting to blow up and completely rethink that workshop format. I’m not exactly what my new approach will consist of, but there’s a few reasons why I’m rethinking things.

It’s a Workshop, Not a Talk

My biggest complaint with the typical workshop format is that it’s more like a lecture than a workshop. Most of the time is spent talking at students instead of working with them and encouraging them to get their hands dirty.

Think of the typical workshop of a carpenter: tools at the ready, scraps of wood strewn about the ground, a half-finished project sitting on a bench, sawdust covering it all. It’s a place where someone can get a little sweaty, scratch up their knuckles but leave at the end of the day knowing that good work was done. That’s the kind of workshop I want to spend time in. I imagine most students would feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong: every workshop will consist of some lecturing, and slides likely can’t be avoided. But when it’s two, three, or four hours or more of talking, things get rough. Try as I might to keep students engaged, I can only assume that a lot of them space out, play online, and work on other things after hour two. There has got to be a better format for a workshop. One that is more engaging and interactive. Less talk from me and more from the students. I want to figure out what that looks like.

People Learn in Different Ways

Not everyone learns the same way. Some people can follow along with a lecture and get what they need, some can look at code samples and understand concepts, and some can do both. Some people struggle doing any of the above. Some people prefer text. Some video. Some need strong visual cues or even music or sound to solidify ideas.

The format described above cannot possibly be ideal for everyone. So why do we stick to it?

There has to be a way to merge different learning techniques, types of media, and exercises to improve comprehension for students. My hunch is that it’s going to require a lot of research, experimentation, and iteration to hit on what works, but I aim to figure it out.

Boredom

The last reason I want to rethink the workshop format is that, after three years of running multiple workshops a year, I’m getting bored of it. It’s nice following that format from a logistical standing since it makes prep relatively easy, but it’s getting boring presenting the same variations over and over again.

I want to design and build a workshop format that engages not only the students, but myself as well. I think if I can make that happen, we’ll all learn something and workshops will be hugely rewarding for everyone.

Again, I don’t know what any of this will look like, but I want to spend the time to figure it out and see what I can come up with. I know that it will be a long process to test out. Yet I’m certain that it will be completely worth the energy, effort, and time.

I’m curious… If you’ve attended or run workshops in the past, how successful were they? What did they do well? What sucked? Email me using the link below and let me know.

Tell me about your experiences

Mozilla CSS Grid Playground

October 4, 2017

Again, Mozilla’s been killing it. MDN has always been my go-to resource for web documentation, but I love this one-off playground for learning about CSS grid. So well done, especially when you’re using Firefox. Their dev tools are so, so good.

Email Design Podcast #77

September 29, 2017

The latest episode of The Email Design Podcast is out now! It was a big news week for the email industry, with Kevin and I chatting about iOS 11, better media query support in Outlook, the overhauled Campaign Monitor CSS guide, and more.

Listen here