A Personal Canon

What follows is a collection of things that have shaped my thinking, things I email people, things I return to often. If you are familiar with a literary canon, it’s kinda like that.



The best guide I’ve ever found to improve your writing is On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, has a great article titled “The Day You Became A Better Writer.”

Inspiration, Travel Writing and L’Esprit Frondeur by Jeffrey Tayler

All of the action on the page, everything that happens, happens in the verbs. Bad verb choices mean adverbs. More often than not, you don't need them. Did he run quickly or did he sprint? Did he walk slowly or did he stroll or saunter?"

—Alexander Chee, "Annie Dillard and the Writing Life"

There is a thread on Quora regarding “tips for advanced writers” which has some good advice on craft. The responses from Venkatesh Rao and Alexandra Pell are especially interesting.

Also, you’re probably using the wrong dictionary.


Design is how it functions, not how it looks—how it looks is called art.

This is Broken by Seth Godin

Words by Justin Jackson

Personal Finance & Self Reliance

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin

How to Survive Without a Salary by Charles Long

The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour


While Bill Mollison was the founder of Permaculture and author of Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, it was Geoff Lawton who did more to popularize the system. Many of Lawton’s films can be found on the web.

Garbage Warrior: a documentery about architect Michael Reynolds and his house designs.

One Man, One Cow, One Planet: a documentery about farming in India and a man from New Zealand teaching Biodynamic agriculture methods.

Masanobu Fukuoka: while I’m not a big fan of his book The One-Straw Revolution, I very much like his ideas on natural farming.

Why is gasoline so cheap? What is the vaule of oil?


Building something interesting requires a surplus of time and money. Salaried jobs provide neither.

Rob Fitzpatrick

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout

Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz

Art & Craft

By art I don’t mean paintings or drawings, but those things people do that make you feel good. Think of that time someone did something for you that was way beyond what was required. Think about how that made you feel. That is art and no one describes it better than Seth Godin in Linchpin.

Raw Craft with Anthony Bourdain: an exploration of craft.

Do you have a Mrs Harris in your life?


Craig Mod on books and walks and how to tangibly capture events.

Austin Kleon on keeping a logbook and how diaries are evidence of our days.

Other Goodness

The Busy Trap by Tim Kreider

Go Your Own Way by Doug Mack

A History of the American Public Library by Ariel Aberg-Riger