Non-Design Books for Summer Reading

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What was the last book you read? “Do graphic design books count? Like those from the Looking Closer series?” Think differently. “Graphic novels? I read a lot of those.” Me too, but that’s not where I’m going here. “Does fiction count?” Not this time.

“Fair enough. What books do you mean?” Books for designers—that are not about design. Here are some summer recommendations to expand your mind in non-design directions when you’re lounging poolside.

Inside and Outside the Kitchen


Having watched Anthony Bourdain on TV for a couple of years, I finally got around to reading Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw back to back. My only regret? Not finding these books sooner. Fans of his TV shows know that Bourdain excels at storytelling, and both of these books give insight into his life, the culinary arts and plenty of other goodies in between.

Write Now


In his spare time, Bourdain transformed himself from a chef into a writer, turning him into an overnight sensation. If you don’t write enough or don’t write well enough, then William Zinsser’s On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction is the perfect place to start. I routinely go back to my copy of Zinsser that’s been sitting on my shelf since college.


In Stephen King’s On Writing, the master of horror gives his own advice for the budding storyteller. In the book’s opening autobiography entitled CV, King writes about his own personal experiences, failures, and successes. In the remainder of the book, King shares story telling methods and principles he’s learned over the years. There’s advice for non-fiction writers, but if you’re looking to power up your non-fiction writing abilities and can only choose one of the above, go with Zinsser’s book.

All Digital, All the Time


At over 200 pages, Nick Usborne’s Net Words: Creating High-Impact Online Copy is a treasure trove of insight about writing during a time when most of the words we read are in the digital domain. Sales copy, newsletters, email composition, you name it, Usborne covers it.

Although written before the social media explosion happened, much of Usborne’s advice still holds up today. I haven’t read it myself, but if you want something social media focused then consider Usborne’s Popcorn Content: The Craft of Writing Short-form Content for Social Media.


We read online and write online, and interact with our friends online, and Neil Postman’s Technopoly looks at those issues and others that surround technology for better and worse. Scanning our personal electronic devices, laptops, and computers routinely, we busy ourselves, taking in more and more. Postman saw it coming two decades ago: “we are driven to fill our lives with the quest to ‘access’ information.”

Quest for Success


Need to brush up on your social etiquette? Improve your people skills for better client management? Consider Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie wrote a number of books on interpersonal skills and self-improvement, but this continues to be the standard.


Successful on a number of levels, Steve Jobs knew what he wanted and pushed those around him in order to get results. Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs covers nearly every facet of Jobs’s devotion to perfection, including his success with and subsequent departure from Apple, to starting NeXT Computer, plus establishing Pixar and his return to Apple.


Many of the tales included in Isaacson’s book have been recounted over and over by the press and Jobs’s former associates, which is why I’ve been hesitant to pick up Brent Schlender’s & Rick Tetzeli’s Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of A Reckless Upstart Into A Visionary Leader. But by most accounts, Schlender & Tetzeli paint Jobs in a different light. Brad Stone of the NY Times called Becoming Steve Jobs “a layered portrait of the mercurial Jobs.” I may add it to my own summer reading list.



In terms of success, Michael Jordan is still considered the greatest basketball player of the modern era, and the two books in Michael Jordan Rare Air Collection: Rare Air and I Can’t Accept Not Trying reveal how the athlete approached the game of basketball. Jordan suggests that there are no shortcuts, and the hard work he put in on and off the court helped him master the craft of basketball.


It’s easy—and a mistake—to think that mastering one’s craft comes easy or that it comes quickly. In Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, George Leonard makes readers rethink what it takes to achieve mastery. Sports references enter Leonard’s book here and there, with the author’s expertise in the martial art of aikido giving him a deep understanding of how physical, mental, and spiritual interconnections help you along your path towards mastery.

Living Simply

When I discovered a Real Simple magazine article about Marie Kondo, and read her suggestions for organizing a wardrobe and chest of drawers, I knew how I would spend my upcoming weekend. Over a year later, I haven’t taken the big steps that Kondo suggests, such as purging your wardrobe down to only the necessities, but I have redesigned my sorting and folding process, and my chest of drawers looks all the better because of it. Kondo’s tips and tricks for decluttering appear in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.


Full disclosure: while I did read about Kondo and her practices in Real Simple as well as in other magazines, I’ve only skimmed Kondo’s books. Why? you may ask. Long before Kondo’s mission to tell the world how to declutter and simplify, I read Elaine St. James’s Living the Simple Life. I was in graduate school when I discovered St. James’s book on a shelf at my grandmother-in-law’s house during a winter holiday. I read the whole book in a weekend, but my host insisted that I take the book home and keep it.

St. James and Kondo have similar suggestions when it comes to simplifying your life, and hanging on to only the things that matter. For designers who hang on to rare, arcane, valuable, and even esoteric ephemera, the notion of downsizing might seem odd, perhaps even frightening. Many of us treasure our design samples, printed type specimens, posters, books or magazines, shiny black shoes, or outmoded Apple hardware and will never part with any of it. But for others, who are looking to live more by having less, consider the wisdom that Kondo and St. James have to offer.

Happy Reading

Whether you pick out one or more of the above books to read this summer, consider getting the e-books so you’ll wind up having less stuff. Better yet, borrow the books and you’ll be on your way to following one of St. James’s axioms for a simple life: Use your public library.


For more design (and non-design) books creatives will enjoy, check out the selection at