It’s the middle of December, and a time when many of us are looking for a last-minute gift. Or possibly you have a bit of leftover budget to use up this year.
So I’d like to tell you about four books that I find myself recommending again and again:
- The Address Book by Deirdre Mask
- Field Work by Bella Bathurst
- Presenting Design Work by Donna Maurer
- The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by by Deesha Pilyaw
The Address Book – Deirdre Mask
The subtitle of Deirdre Mask’s “The Address Book” is “What street addresses reveal about identity, race, wealth, and power”.
Identity, race, wealth AND power? Yes, there’s a lot going on with addresses.
If you’d like a flavour of some of the many issues about collecting and using addresses, have a look at this lively discussion on GitHub about the Address pattern on the GOV.UK Design System – and that’s focused mostly on the UK. If you’d enjoy digging into the variety and complexity of addresses in nearly every country, have a look at Graham Rhind’s Global Sourcebook for International Data Management. Useful though they are, neither of those is really what I’d describe as a relaxing and engaging holiday read.
Deirdre Mask’s book, in contrast, is gripping. Try the opening sentence:
In some years, more than 40 percent of all local laws passed by the New York City Council have been street name changes.”
Deirdre Mask, “The Address Book”
My reaction was “What? 40%? Addresses are changing so much, all the time?”. I found the discussion fascinating, as she goes on to explain why addresses matter, in chapters that range across ancient Rome, Japan, Haiti, and many other places – not forgetting the problems that lack of an address cause to homeless people.
If you’re using up some professional book-buying budget, I’d recommend this book for anyone working on a service that includes asking for an address (nearly all of them).
As a gift, I think this works really well for people who enjoy quirky facts and good writing. Available from all good bookshops.
Field Work – Bella Bathurst
I came across Bella Bathurst’s fascinating book Field Work: What land does to people and what people do to land as one of the selections from the Fieldwork book club, a relaxed and friendly online monthly book club that focuses on books about farming, nature, and food.
Bella Bathurst is a furniture maker and writer. The book is loosely woven together around her experiences when renting a cottage on a farm in the Welsh borders. We learn about the farmer and his family, but the majority of the book is a series of chapters on the rich variety of jobs and types of work that are related to farming.
When I first read the book, I was working mostly with the Future Farming programme at the UK Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra), so the two chapters that stood out for me were the one about the veterinarian testing for bovine tuberculosis, and (of course) the chapter that is an extended interview with a retired Defra official.
From the farmer’s end, it often felt like an incoherent deluge of sanctions, instructions, verbiage and countermands, each form insisting on its own life-stopping importance and every meaning-free demand sludging up their inbox
Bella Bathurst, “Fieldwork”
I think I learned the most from the chapter about the people who help farmers to tackle the exceptionally difficult topic of deciding what happens to the farm when they retire, and from the chapter about ‘the knackerman’ – one that you may prefer to skip because she does not flinch from the gory details, but if you would like to try it then it’s available as a Guardian long read: the knackerman.
So do you both enjoy it?
‘Farming?’ says Rob. ‘Yes!’ For the first time, there is real zest in his voice. ‘I love it! Do you know what I love most? I like driving tractors. Do you know what I do the least? Drive tractors. I spend three and a half days a week on a computer. Emails, accounts, filling out forms for this, that, and the other, getting ready for inspections …
Bella Bathurst, “Fieldwork”
If you’re using up some professional book-buying budget, I’d recommend this book as a way of learning about a rich variety of people connected to farming.
As a gift, I think this works really well for anyone interested in nature, the countryside, or real-life stories about people. Available, now also as a paperback, from all good bookshops.
Presenting Design Work – Donna Maurer
Her most recent offering, Presenting Design Work, is only 52 pages long and it’s perfectly possible to read it in a couple of hours. But don’t dismiss it for that. You can see from my sticky flags on all three books that I noted more points (in proportion to the number of pages) in this book than in either of the previous two – and the other two are festooned.
If you’ve got to present design work – or do any presentation, for that matter – you’ll find advice in this book that’s immediately useful, and points to bear in mind for the future.
Presenting your work is not about getting a pat on the back, validation for your skills, or congratulations for doing well. It’s about using the skills and experience of a large, diverse group of people to improve the product or service.
Donna Maurer, “Presenting Design Work”
If you’re using up some professional book-buying budget, I’d recommend this book for anyone who has to do a presentation related to work (which is nearly all of us, at some time or other).
As a gift, I think this works for anyone who is doing design work or who might be considering a career in design. Available from A Book Apart (paper and ebook).
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies – Deesha Philyaw
In a complete change of focus, the book I think I’ve recommended the most this year is Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.
In contrast to the other books, this is entirely a work of fiction. It’s a series of short stories about Black women focusing on their relationships.
My reading note to myself says ‘vivid and raunchy’, and this might not be the ideal gift choice for a prim family member who might be alarmed by some of the more explicit scenes in the book. Or maybe that’s exactly what they need? Your choice.
I have to admit that I couldn’t quite come up with a reason to get this book on a professional book-buying budget, apart from perhaps saying that you need a change of perspective?
As a gift, I think this works really well for people who enjoy good stories with lots of perspectives. Available from all good bookshops.
Post script – available now
Just in case you still happen to have some professional book-buying budget leftover after investing in my recommendations, I’m pleased to say that Elsevier has a holiday discount through to 3 January 2023:
- Forms that work: Designing web forms for usability by me and Gerry Gaffney, 50% off the paper and ebook bundle, 25% off paper, 25% off ebook at Elsevier through to 3 January 2023
And of course, I’m always happy if you buy my survey book
- Surveys that work: A practical guide for designing and running better surveys
from Rosenfeld Media