What should I read? What should I watch?

What to read? What to watch?Except for occasionally mentioning other books that are related to the subject of questioning, I don’t usually share other reading or viewing recommendations. But these are unusual times; everyone I know is doing a lot more reading and binge-watching than usual and they’re all (myself included) looking for suggestions.

Let me start with a few books that are relevant to questioning/critical thinking/creativity, before I veer off into other interesting stuff. 

I’ve always enjoyed the work of Michael Bungay Stanier, who is featured in The Book of Beautiful Questions. Michael has a great new book out called The Advice Trap that’s about holding back the tendency to give advice, offer opinions, and pass judgment. Michael believes (and I wholeheartedly agree) that if you really want to help people, don’t just tell them what you think they should do. Rather, listen to them, remain curious, ask questions, and try to help people figure out problems for themselves.

I’ve come across a couple of new critical thinking books, which I’ve just started reading, but I can already recommend them. One is Thinking Like a Lawyer, by Colin Seale. Colin believes that educators can help their students become better critical thinkers by sharing some of the thinking frameworks used by lawyers (Colin himself is an attorney as well as a teacher). 

Another fine new addition to critical thinking books is out now from Gleb Tsipursky and it’s called Never Go with Your Gut. That title says it all (though I would add, if you’re an established chess master, sometimes you can go with your gut). But as Tsipursky explains (and the science bears it out), relying too much on feelings of intuition or gut instinct is a recipe for trouble, particularly for those in positions of leadership. That doesn’t mean you should ignore gut feelings—only that you should be willing to subject those instincts to rigorous questioning while trying to consider multiple viewpoints and all available evidence.

A couple of new creativity books worth mentioning: One is The Non-Obvious Guide to Being More Creative by Kathryn Haydon, which explores questions such as, Why do some people seem more creative, and how can you be one of them?, as well as How can you have a continuous flow of actionable new ideas? This a highly-practical guidebook. Natalie Nixon has new book titled The Creativity Leap, offering a fresh way of thinking about creativity—as an essential skill that is absolutely critical to success in today’s world. Nixon shows us that creativity is a fascinating blend of inquiry, improvisation, and intuition—and that it calls on us to take a “leap” (one that is well worth taking).

Shifting to “pure pleasure” reading, here are a few books that have been helping me not just occupy my time but enjoy it. I’ll start with Say Nothing, by Patrick Radden Keefe, a fascinating story of an unsolved murder in Belfast that is really the sweeping story of the notorious Irish Republican Army. I’ve been telling everyone I know to read this book. I’ve also immensely enjoyed Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow, which chronicles how Farrow cracked the Harvey Weinstein story with lots of dramatic twists and turns in his own life along the way. 

I’m just getting into Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It’s a look at what happens when small, working-class towns throughout America—such as the town of Yamhill, Oregon, where Kristof grew up—are left behind and ravaged by unemployment and drug addiction. But it’s not as grim as it sounds; Kristof and WuDunn share some powerful insights and ideas about how we might begin to deal with this immense challenge. 

Lastly, for pure fun, check out Kevin Wilson’s novel Nothing to See Here, about a woman who is asked to take care of two young children who have an unfortunate tendency to burst into flames when they get upset. The clever author Wilson is fully aware of how crazy that premise is, but he manages to have fun with it while also producing a surprisingly touching story.

To bring a female reader perspective to this reading list, I want to share some recommendations from my wife and creative partner, Laura Kelly, a longtime book editor and one of the most voracious readers around. She highly recommends: News of the World by Paulette Jiles, set just after the Civil War, where a veteran soldier tours the South reading old newspapers to news-starved communities (soon to be released as a Tom Hanks film); Milkman by Anna Burns, a prizewinning stream-of-consciousness novel inside the head of a young woman in 1970s Belfast; Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, the first of her series of detective books (albeit with a literary flair) featuring the character Jackson Brodie; An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, an emotional page-turner involving a newly married African-American couple and how they cope after a false accusation parts them; and for those with a lot of time to invest, there is the Old Filth Trilogy by Jane Gardam, an award-winning group of novels about three old British frenemies who in the past lived passionate intertwined romantic and professional lives that their friends and neighbors never would have guessed.

You can only do so much reading (or listening, if you’re into audiobooks)

Sometimes you need to sit back and turn on the tube. When you do, here are some series that are well worth your time (these recs are from me and Laura both). Netflix seems to be our go-to entertainment network these days…

Unorthodox (Netflix). When three people in one day tell you to watch a series, you know you’d better tune in. The four-part Unorthodox is set in two unfamiliar milieus—an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect in Brooklyn and a music conservatory in Berlin. Curious about what the connection might be? Check out this intriguing drama, based on a true story of a young woman who tries to escape her past… but the past comes after her. 

If you liked the “True Detective” series on HBO, check out Unbelievable (Netflix), a gripping slow burn like “TD” but with a different feel because it features two intense women as the detectives (Toni Collette and the wonderful Merritt Wever). For those who enjoyed the film “Little Women,” give Anne with an E (Netflix) a go—it’s a fresh, lively, and sometimes dark adaptation of the classic “Anne of Green Gables.” Please, do not miss The Crown (Netflix). I know, you may think you don’t care that much about the Royal Family, but you will care about this series—each quality episode is a zoom-in, self-contained story about one pivotal incident in the life of Queen Elizabeth, bringing to life famous historical characters in a very personal way. Lastly, just for laughs, check out Schitt’s Creek (Netflix), the once-obscure Canadian comedy series that has become hugely popular—and it gets better and better as it goes along its 6 seasons. With short, quirky episodes about a fish-out-of-water family of urban sophisticates stuck in the boondocks, it’s the perfect binge series.



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About the Author

Innovation expert and questionologist Warren Berger has studied hundreds of the world’s foremost innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers to learn how they ask questions, generate original ideas, and solve problems. He is the author or co-author of 12 books, including his three books on questioning: A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas; its follow-up THE BOOK OF BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead; and BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM: Transforming Classrooms Into Cultures of Curiosity and Inquiry. Warren’s writing has appeared in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, and he writes the “Questionologist” blog for Psychology Today. He lives in Mount Kisco, New York. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts

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