November 06, 2018

Filed under: Inspiration

Book Club: Belief Agency Edition

The Office had "The Finer Things Club"—a once-monthly lunch to discuss books "in a very civilized way." We have this blog post—a one-time-only collection of all the books Belief Agency staffers recommend. Add 'em to your queue!

The Collected Works of Paddy Chayefsky: The Television Plays by Paddy Chayefsky

Book recommendations are hard for me because there are many reasons to recommend books, and I often cater my recommendations to a specific person or circumstance. Given my reputation as a story teacher, I’ll keep my first book in that arena:

Chayefsky is a legendary screenwriter who got his start in the early days of live television drama and, even at the time, was considered one of the giants in the field. Not only does this book contain some of his television plays, but it also includes insightful essays on his process. It’s the best and cheapest film school one could ever attend.

Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

This is the autobiographical story of an affluent white woman who learned painfully—through educating herself on history and other subjects—that race had more of an impact on her life’s course, opinions, and attitudes than she had ever suspected. This book is an unflinching reflection of this journey.

—Brian McDonald, chief storyteller

Bill Idleson's Writing Class by Bill Idelson and Rob Lotterstein

Bill was one of the leading screenwriting teachers in Los Angeles for more than 30 years—he wrote on MASH, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Twilight Zone. In this book, he teaches about character, obstacle, goal. It’s a short read—and Brian and Jesse love it.

—Andy Maier, post-production supervisor

Brand by Hand: Blisters, Calluses, and Clients: A Life in Design by Jon Contino

I haven’t actually read this book yet, but I love Jon Contino—he’s been a big influence on me. He does branding, illustrations, and lettering by hand—this is a collection of his work.

—Victor Melendez, art director

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

I’m a little bit obsessed with true crime (or really, any kind of murder mystery—I grew up on Nancy Drew), and Michelle McNamara’s work kept me up for days—partly because it was so haunting I couldn’t sleep, and partly because it was so compelling I couldn’t put it down. The nonfiction work chronicles the terrorizing history of serial-rapist-turned-murderer who rampaged California during the 70s and 80s and whose identity was unknown until just this year, thanks in part to Michelle’s smart work—a testament to the power of investigative journalism. It’s dark and heavy, but if you’re a little bit twisted like me and into that kind of thing, it’s a must-read.

—Hannah Gilman, senior copywriter

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

I’d recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t pay too much attention to where they get their food or isn’t concerned with it on a daily basis (like me, generally). It’s mostly about eating local and how that’s more important than anything else. It really puts things in perspective, and it taught me how I can make conscious purchasing decisions when it comes to groceries without feeling like I’m part of a hokey trend. I feel like I can follow his advice and maker wiser choices without cutting out meat and other products entirely.

—Sarah Xanthakis, designer

The Crosswick Journals by Madeleine L’Engle

Words have always been the most powerful medium to convey an idea. People talk about songs that moved them, pieces of art that changed the way they saw the world. For me, it’s been books. My current favorite book, which is actually a four-part series, is The Crosswick Journals Series. I've been reading and rereading this series for the past two years. It's Madeleine L’Engle’s autobiography, and each time I sit down to read one, I'm in awe. Her ability to perceive and put words to what it is to be human and to live the every day along with the highs lows of life helps me feel grounded. She gives gravity to the hard things, has grace for the things that are difficult to understand, and has an ability to celebrate the simple act of living. On a dark and gloomy day when I’m struggling to see beauty in the world, have faith in humanity, and hope for tomorrow, I’ll pick up one of her books and take a minute to sit with her and find words for my feelings.

—Rachelle Cummings, creative director

Basketball (And Other Things) by Shea Serrano

I love basketball and the NBA, and this book is the perfect second screen for when you’re watching a game. The book tries to answer questions about the NBA in a completely unique way and features really cool illustrations.

—Nathan Shain, filmmaker

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber

Written in the beginning of the 20th century, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is arguably one of the most important pieces of writing around economics. It discusses the concert of protestant worldview and its large impact on how work is done with the ultimate conclusion of how modern capitalism looks.

—Joe Gannon, account manager

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I’ve never laughed out loud (or cried) so much while reading a book—it’s about this really old, super curmudgeonly grandpa who comes to find community after losing his wife. It’s so good—I think I read it in like two days, and I even read a quote from it at my best friend’s wedding.

—Jenna Shin, project coordinator

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Suffering can be overwhelming. Grief has been a large part of my life in the last month. This book really helped provide a perspective on life as it shares how people who have suffered lived through their experiences. This provided helpful tools to engage in my own grief, and helped me learn that circumstances—good and bad—never last forever. More than that, it taught me that bad things usually happen really fast but short, and good things usually last longer but don't happen as fast. It's a good book to gain perspective or to find some words if you're in a time of suffering.

—Joel Cummings, director of strategy

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

If you enjoy running at all, read this book.

—Dave Powell, digital marketing manager

Whistling in the Dark by Frederick Buechner

Buechner is about the only faith-based writer I can still read because he’s authentically comfortable with faith and doubt, anticipates there will be seasons for each (or that faith and doubt coexist for many people), and creates a welcoming space. This book explores faith-based doubt while being unapologetically intellectual, imaginative, and gracious, and it's a clarifying book for people who are attracted to those kinds of traits.

—Ian Ebright, publishing manager

33 1/3 by Bloomsbury

I fly. A lot. In fact, I just returned from 48 hours of flying in four days. My routine has become this: every time I’m leaving Sea-Tac, I buy two books from the 33 1/3 series from the Sub Pop record store. Each book in the series covers the history and stories surrounding a specific album by a different author than the others in the series, all in a digestible 150 pages. The volume of authors can lead to a lack of quality and consistency at times, but being a music junkie, getting to learn a lot of the behind-the-scenes song and studio stories is fascinating. I’ve read 20 books in the series and have plenty more flights to go, so good thing there are tons of books in the series. For this last round of travel, I read about Andrew W.K., Metallica, Johnny Cash, and Nirvana. I highly recommend getting into the series.

—Jonathan Dunn, accounts director

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

I read these books a few years ago and don’t normally read sci-fi, but ended up really liking them.

—Wesley Anderson, designer

The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky

This book is written by the guy who started Behance. It’s about how to not only take your product to market, but how to think about your company. It talks about being able to endure the dips and optimize the highs, and I’d recommend it to anybody who’s into business.

—Jesse Bryan, executive creative director

The Color Code: A New Way to See Yourself, Your Relationships, and Life by Taylor Hartman

My boyfriend’s family actually gave this book to me—they’ve all read it and taken the personality test associated with it to see what their “primary” color is. This is an interesting read in that unlike other personality tests and books, it helps you navigate other personality types based on your color and theirs.

—Kristine Manalo, account manager

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

All the King’s Men is a political near-fiction novel based on the fictionalized political career of real-life Louisiana governor, Huey Long. It’s an excellent book made all the more poignant in a modern political climate that closely resembles the populism of the book’s fictional Willie Stark.

—Keelan Hooper, project manager

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull

My pick is a must-read for anyone leading—or even just working with—a creative team.

—Hannah Lofgren, director of production

Rich and Poor by Jim Goldberg

This book is a series of photographs of people in their homes that Jim Goldberg took over the period of several years accompanied by descriptions from the subjects in their own handwriting. Some of the things people wrote about themselves in those descriptions were so incredibly frank and vulnerable that it made me wonder about his process: What did he prompt the subjects with before they wrote? How did he build that kind of rapport with someone after knocking on their door as a stranger and asking to take their photograph? It’s a super fascinating look at humans—and class—specifically.

—Michelle Henley, associate filmmaker

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is just a fun read. I love the contrast of a futuristic dystopia wrapped in nostalgia with all the 80s references. Like people usually say, the book was better than the movie.

—Matt Naylor, senior designer

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Fiction gets a bad rap. I think you’re “supposed” to respond to this question with the nonfiction book that’s taught you the most lately, because Business (with a capital “B) loves nonfiction. But fiction is so, so, so important, especially in our line of work. Reading fiction stimulates empathy and emotional intelligence because it activates the areas of the brain that allow us to associate our life experiences with another person’s life experiences. I just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and it’s the perfect example of this. 11/22/63 tells the story of a high school English teacher who travels back in time and attempts to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I devoured it. It’s easy for me to to slip into despair when I think about the state of the world right now. The story that unravels in 11/22/63 reminds me that sometimes events we perceive as horrible galvanize people to contribute toward a better future—one we wouldn’t necessarily have had, otherwise. The past is obdurate, but the future is ours to change.

—Heather Croteau, copy director

Nonviolent Communication: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values by Marshall B. Rosenberg

Communicating in the midst of conflict is very hard. We have to navigate heightened emotions, different perspectives, and motivations that can be at odds in order to get to the truth underneath. Nonviolent Communication provides some great principles and and tools to help peel away things that can confuse and distort the intention in conversation, helping both the sender and the receiver of the message to be more open and clearer, leading to greater transparency and action.

—Marcus Hackler, managing director

The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Written in 1958, The Ugly American is a fictional novel that points out the insensitivity of Americans when they’re abroad—both politically and culturally. It’s still relevant today.

—Don Bryan, controller

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is a fictional, first-person account of Ester Greenwald, a young woman interning for a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. Her life takes a sudden and disorienting turn, and you're there for all of it. What's most exceptional about the book is Plath's ability to tackle things like sex, gender stereotypes, and the complexity of mental illness in a culture known for its prudishness (it went to press in 1963). Despite being published as fiction, the book is largely autobiographical—which makes it all the more devastating. Plath was a wildly talented writer, and in part she was fueled by her debilitating depression. She barely made it to her 30th birthday, killing herself one month after the publication of the book. Despite her short career, she was incredibly prolific, writing hundreds of poems in addition to her works of fiction—I also highly recommend Sylvia Plath: The Collected Poems.

—Cali Pitchel Schmidt, creative director