Illustrated primer

I’ve been reading Neal Stephensons the Diamond Age, its a rather good book. In it a smart nanotechnology interactive book named The Young Ladies Illustrated Primer is an important part of the story. This book helps people grow. It’s sort of like an RPG but with explicit life lesson style.

We don’t have nanotech yet and so we can’t make the primer but we do have a bulkier version, if you put a little imagination into it. Extrapolate back from the primer to books that have had a huge influence on where you are today, desert island disks style. These may not be your favourite books, they probably won’t be the best ones you’ve read. They will have been important to you at some point. They will have taught you a lesson.

  • Mossflower, Brian Jaques. One of my best presents ever, I must have read this about 15 times my old copy of it is so fantasically dog eared and well loved that I’m surprised it survives at all.
  • The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemery Sutcliffe. Showed me that it is possible to touch the past and for that past to be just as real and significant as the present.
  • The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier. Just a marvelous book, one of the few really great stories about refugees. You always need to see the flip side.
  • The Wool Pack, Cynthia Harnett. Historical fiction old skool style and all the better for it. Really I think a child can’t have enough imaginative reading, getting into other peoples situations is so important.
  • Enduring Love, Ian McEwan. Showed me that sophisticated writing can be gripping, that when it wasn’t there was something wrong with the book, not you.
  • Microserfs, Douglas Coupland. One of the best books about the computer industry ever written by one of my favourite writers. I could sit reading Coupland all day and have done so many times.
  • A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace. Of any writer he’s certainly influenced me (conciously) the most, probably to a fault. I didn’t read this first but its my favourite of his, a book of collected long journalism and essays, probably my favourite length of writing. He’s a wizard of style and very, very funny in addition to being astute etc. I envy it all apart from the hair and untimely facial furniture.
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc Searls and others. Showed me that whilst the old way of doing things is perfectly useful it may not be the best way. Always question, always strive to perfect. Make things work for people not organisations

To sum up quickly I’ve read an awful lot of books in my time and learned an awful lot. Yet I have the same experience as the heroine of The Diamond Age, they’re not enough. You need to do things to do your growing up.

Like most of my vaguely good blogging ideas this occured during my regular Thursday afternoon coffee and toasted sandwich sessions with Emily before her Japanese lesson. I’m not sure why I have lots of ideas then, perhaps its the bouncing ideas off people thing, who knows. It’s why we did OOoCon and it seemed to work there, one to think on a little more perhaps.