The Saturday Read – Four blogs/newsletters you should be reading

Before I started writing ‘Workthoughts’, I was reading other blogs. Maria Popova, author of my favorite, ‘Brainpickings’, was the 2016 commencement speaker at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. She challenged the graduates to act as cultural change agents by continually broadening their horizons beyond a specific discipline.

“Today, the soul is in dire need of stewardship and protection from cynicism. The best defense against it is vigorous, intelligent, sincere hope — not blind optimism, because that too is a form of resignation, to believe that everything will work out just fine and we need not apply ourselves. I mean hope bolstered by critical thinking that is clear-headed in identifying what is lacking, in ourselves or the world, but then envisions ways to create it and endeavors to do that.

Whatever your specific vocation, your role as a creator of culture will be to help people discern what matters in the world and why by steering them away from the meaningless and toward the meaningful.”


How do you maintain the discipline of the undergraduate learning experience and diversify your thinking?

In the past, traditional routes to post-graduate learning involved graduate and professional school. In rare cases, employers took on the role of educators, supplementing work with professional development options. Today, educational entrepreneurs are disrupting traditional education, offering countless ways to access knowledge online.

One of the most engaging options is to join folks who are exploring life’s mysteries and sharing their discoveries through blogs and newsletters.

For this week’s Saturday Read, I recommend four blogs/newsletters from contemporary ‘curators of culture’ that you should be reading to improve you critical thinking and supplement your journey of lifelong learning.


Bruce Feiler, writing in The New York Times, described this blog as “the exploding online emporium of ideas”.

“She’s a celebrator,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former State Department official. “You feel the tremendous amount of pleasure she takes in finding these things and sharing them. It’s like walking into the Museum of Modern Art and having somebody give you a customized, guided tour.”

Since 2006, Maria Popova has been sharing her cross disciplinary expeditions with a growing audience of readers.

“Brain Pickings — which remains ad-free and supported by readers — is a cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology, and more; pieces that enrich our mental pool of resources and empower combinatorial ideas that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful. Above all, it’s about how these different disciplines illuminate one another to glean some insight, directly or indirectly, into that grand question of how to live, and how to live well.”

The next selection comes from the mind of writer and ‘philosopher of everyday life’, Alain de Botton. If you read Brainpickings or Workthoughts, the name should be familiar. The founder of London’s School of Life, publishes a weekly newsletter, ‘The Book of Life’.


The Book of Life 

“It’s called The Book of Life because it’s about the most substantial things in your life: your relationships, your income, your career, your anxieties. There’s always been a longing to gather the important things in one place. Some of the appeal of a Bible or the collected works of a big name author is the sense that amidst all the chaos and disparate sources of knowledge, someone has taken the trouble to distill, to compress, to say what is essential. In a world overflowing with information, what we most need is curation. The Book of Life aims to be the curation of the best and most helpful ideas in the area of emotional life.”

For those of you technology and engineering gurus who feel a bit insecure when a client conversation turns literary, subscribe to the ‘Lit Hub Daily’.


Lit Hub

“Started last year, Lit Hub’s goal is to provide a “go-to daily source for all the news, ideas, and richness of contemporary literary life,” with curated and original content such as interviews, profiles and essays.”

“Literary Hub is an organizing principle in the service of literary culture, a single, trusted, daily source for all the news, ideas and richness of contemporary literary life. There is more great literary content online than ever before, but it is scattered, easily lost—with the help of its editorial partners, Lit Hub is a site readers can rely on for smart, engaged, entertaining writing about all things books.”

The latest newsletter I have added to my daily/weekly routine comes from writer Austin Kleon. His Friday newsletter is an eclectic collection of music, art, design and life. To give you a sample, this week’s edition included George Carlin’s Playboy interview, an HBO documentary on Studs Terkel and the Everything is a Remix series.

What makes Austin’s blog unique is the doodles; his visual interpretation of information.


Austin Kleon 

“I’m a writer who draws. I make art with words and books with pictures. Every week I send out a list of 10 things I think are worth sharing — new art, writing, and interesting links straight to your inbox.”

These four blogs/newsletters provide a customized curriculum of research and shared wisdom, delivered by a faculty of four non-traditional experts. Take a look, you may find one or more will fit with your individualized lifelong learning plan.


The week @ work March 16 – 22

This week@work invited us to broaden our thinking with ideas from TED and SXSW, a suggested reading list from Mark Zuckerberg and a David Remnick pick from The New Yorker archive on the creative life. Using a variety of online resources and social networks we can construct an individualized professional development curriculum based on our interests and career aspirations.

On Friday The New York Times included a continuing education ‘special section’ in their print edition. In the lead article ‘That’s Edutainment’ reporter Greg Beato described the growing phenomenon of “the academization of leisure: casual learning propelled by web culture, a new economy and boomers with money.”

In a companion article, Peder Zane asked the question, “If you can know it all, how come you don’t?” He goes on to report on Jonathan Haber, a “52 year old from Lexington, Massachusetts” who is attempting to “meet all the standard requirements for a bachelor of arts degree in a single year.” And he is doing it by selecting from a menu of online offerings from Harvard, Yale and Stanford, chronicling his experience in a book and of course, online.

This past week folks came together to discuss ideas at the annual TED conference and celebrate music, film and interactive at SXSW.

You may categorize all these formal and informal experiences as ‘edutainment’, but I would suggest that lifelong learning, often promised, is finally here. And the topics discussed are widely relevant to today’s workplace.

Visit the TED website and access presentations recorded at the conference. One of the most compelling, Monica Lewinsky on our ‘culture of humiliation’. The Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza summarized the key point of her talk: “For nearly two decades now, we have slowly been sowing the seeds of shame and public humiliation in our cultural soil. Gossip Web sites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers traffic in shame. Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.”

And on the SXSW site, you can view film maker Ava DuVernay encouraging her audience to pay attention to their intention. She takes the audience on a narrative of her early success and then cautions from experience: “The dreams were too small. If your dream only includes you, its too small. If that dream is just about the thing you want to accomplish and you don’t even know why you want it…it’s to small…When you win awards and the light is on you, that’s not gonna be enough. If we limit our visions to those things outside of us to validate us, we’re making an intentional error that might very well bring the outside thing you want, but will bring hollow in the end.”

Online, lifelong learning allows us to make connections beyond our comfort zone, sparking new ideas and important conversations.

The availability of a variety of content online in a global economy where the majority does not have access to the innovators and great thinkers is a good thing. It’s a source of career inspiration for the young, professional development for the worker and sustained intellectual engagement for the retired.

Closing the week, David Remnick in his ‘Sunday with the New Yorker’ email recommends a selection of stories from The New Yorker archive on ‘The Creative Life’ including a 2007 profile of the British graffiti artist Banksy.