Spotlight

With the help of some amazing writers around the world we dive into some of the most moving moments we stumble across on Literal.

2 weeks ago

Every word I’ve read, that made me understand the world or me a tiny bit better, influenced my life based on actions, thoughts, words, and my general awareness of it.

Interview with Antonia Wagner

Digital Designer and Literal user Antonia—or for short—Toni Wagner is nerdy about books. In more detail: Books that challenge the status quo, that address things that invite—or simply need—different viewpoints in a world of diversity. An inspiring interview about the meaning of women in literature, the impact of books on identity and what you can learn from The Handmaid’s Tale.

Your profile on Literal contains a lot of literature addressing current topics like feminism, body positivity or consumption. Why do you like reading these types of non-fiction books and how do they influence your everyday life?

To stay sane in an insane world you have to understand its madness—that would be the short answer. The long one would be that our world and all its different aspects, are so complex but yet connected and make me curious to go on a deep level of understanding—not only the world but also myself.

I like the feeling of understanding. And I like when a feeling I had about a thing is scientifically proven. Every word I’ve read, that made me understand the world or me a tiny bit better, influenced my life based on actions, thoughts, words, and my general awareness of it.

What role do women play in literature for you?

Words are powerful—very powerful, and by giving a structurally discriminated group like females/queers an audience, things change. It was so healing for me to read all that queer and feministic literature because I felt heard, seen, and understood. We are the problem and we can be the change. If stories are never told—how can someone be aware of that problem? I also just love how badass some authors are. I feel I kinda absorb their power by reading their words.

On your Instagram account, you shared a poster for every book you read. How did you get started on this and what was your motivation to display books in this way?

The initial thought was, that I love to read and I love to design—so why not combine it? (And I am obsessed with side projects.) So yeah, after I finished a ‘hundred days of posters’ challenge, I wanted to continue and combined two things I am passionate about. In the beginning, there wasn’t a goal of portraying something ‘meaningful’, I just wanted to do posters and explore different techniques and styles.

But the more I did it I started to feel I also want to try to communicate the feeling, the mindset, and the key takeaways of each book. It is still a work in progress, to be honest, and I need to update the page with some more posters.

What was the last book that absolutely blew your mind?

*All about love* from Bell Hooks and my all-time favourite *Handmaids Tale* from Margaret Atwood. The first is a very warm, analytical book about love, the second one a bittersweet dystopia. Both taught me a lot about my role as a woman, intersectional feministic perspectives, and that silence is never protecting, you have to act.

3 weeks ago

A lifetime worth reading

What can reading do for you? Picking up a book used to feel like a drag to me. I was, and probably still am, a bit of a lazy reader. To this, one could say “hey, how about reading better books?”.

I find that it’s more about the right book. At the right time and place, really any book can find a way to unfold its magic and fascinate the reader in individual ways the next might not comprehend or relate to. An old German book did it for me. Its title roughly translates to “Reading serves as water in the desert” and was dedicated to “Ursula und Ingeborg” (again, an old German book). The book discovers the manifold benefits of reading throughout our lifetime and how this act develops our being over the ages.

For me, it was exactly the right book at the right time and made me realize that despite all differences in genre, all books share at least one powerful commonality: reading is learning; about things on the inside and about those outside of yourself. Books fire impulses to our brain. They’re written workouts to get the thoughts going. From pulp mags to poetic prose, from biographies to books on Botanics. They’re distilled knowledge, focused juice for the mind. Made to learn, entertain, and to break the occasional mundanity. Books are a fun treadmill to exercise our creativity with. An open playing field for letting out all the A-League stories our brains can muster. Reading is a mystery vacation to wherever the next sentence might lead you.

Words, combined by the author, are the code to fire up our creativity, and the many languages in which we read add the nuance of flavor, the culture, for the manner in which we perceive what has been written. And sometimes those words touch our soul. We connect through words. Reader and writer. Books address mental needs, the itches of the intellect. Books put us in a state of attention which allows us to learn and draw conclusions from what we just read. They challenge us to filter and process their code. It’s thanks to the ideas in the writer’s mind that we get to share his thoughts and thereby hone our intellect with fresh input. Thus it seems as if books make three things happen.

Reading is entertainment

Welcome to the movies for the mind. Through the work of our brain, those cryptic letters suddenly form complete sentences, paragraphs and grow into complex stories, ready to embrace us and to take us into their world. They offer an intellectual excuse to take a mental break and a fair argument not to care about all that other crap we can’t be bothered with as we turn the pages. Give me space, I’m reading here!

Every story needs a raconteur, the one who tells it. This engineer of words catches thoughts and notions to bundle them up into a mental ride ready to be injected into our brains. From wherever they might stem (there are many takes on their origin), those wild and often intoxicated ideas from the mind of the writer jump over to the one of the reader to be unpacked and enjoyed like presents. It’s really a bit of magic coming together.

Reading educates

It’s the only thing which lets us learn all by ourselves and at our own pace. No classroom, no teacher, no recess. No exams. No scolding. No bullies. Reading is the essence of learning and crucial to pass on knowledge for the survival and security of the next generation. What you read will be processed and served ready to be passed on to the next human to enrich their life. Reading lets us combine our factual knowledge and grow smarter together.

Books bolster not only the amount of “things we know”, but our emotions as well. The act of retreating with a book can bring forth real emotional as well as bodily reactions outside of the confines of the book itself and serve as a sort of intensive meditation. A story that saddens us leads to a very real tear on a page and leaves us with thoughts long after we finished reading. The story might be over, but its intent and effects stay with us. This is learning.

Reading is reflecting

Books let you read yourself more easily. Your personal lifetime of reading is your development exemplified by itself. From the books of your youth to the ones you are reading right now, to the ones you will read. Pay attention to the reading you have done over the years and notice how your reading helps you grow and prosper through dedication over time. The aspect of time lets you relive and recall earlier feelings of youth, nostalgia and bring forth memories connected to your past reading. This explains why children’s books remain relevant throughout all generations and why reading to a child involves reading the story to the inner child, housed in our own adult body, as well. Books exemplify our mental growth throughout the ages with every line we ingest.

In that spirit: what are you reading today and what will you have learned by tomorrow?

4 weeks ago

Without a mentor figure, I turned to books for guidance.

Interview with James Bedford

Software Engineering Manager. Introvert. Minimalist. James Bedford’s bio is reflected in the books he adds to his Literal profile. Like Effortless by Greg McKeown, Quiet by Susan Cain or Ikigai by Francesc Miralles and Héctor García—books are not only entertaining or shaping us (and vice versa), they’re also sources of advice when we need it.

A lot of books on your Literal page are dealing with the topics of management and empowerment. Why do you enjoy reading this type of book?

About three years ago, I made the move from software engineer to engineering manager when an internal role came up at the company I was working for at the time. It was a bit more money, which was very tempting at the time, so I applied without giving it too much thought to be perfectly honest. Before that point I had not thought about managing people, I am incredibly shy and like to keep myself to myself if possible, and thought generally I wouldn’t make a particularly strong leader! I was delighted to be given the role, but also incredibly overwhelmed, to begin with, because I didn’t know the first thing about managing teams.

Without a mentor figure, I turned to books for guidance and discovered straight away some incredibly valuable information. The more I read, the more I understood how much more experienced leaders handled certain situations in a range of companies and the better I got at my job. With software engineering, I always found that you could read technical books but the knowledge would not be particularly useful until you used what you had learned in anger or a real codebase. With leadership books, however, I felt every scrap of information I was absorbing had a place in day to day work life.

Even now, with a few years of practical experience, learning about different leadership styles in different industries, in different cultures, both in the present day as well as the past, is something I find incredibly valuable.

What is your favourite fiction book?

I admit I don’t read many fiction books these days! Probably my favourite is *The Road* by Cormac McCarthy, I am generally a fan of anything apocalyptic or dystopian. Also, I am very fond of the Millenium Series (the first three anyway) and these books played a big part in influencing me to go down the route of software engineering, originally I wanted to work in pen-testing and ethical hacking. I haven’t seen the film for any of them, nor do I want to. My favourite non-fiction book is Digital Minimalism.

What’s a must-read for software engineers?

The obvious choice would be a technical book, there are many great ones out there, but I believe the most valuable book for many software engineers would be *How to win friends and influence people* by Dale Carnegie.

I say this because technical ability only makes up a part of what the role of a software engineer does. Many folks will be graduating from Computer Science degrees without ever needing to have interacted with a customer or a client, and it can be a long learning process if you haven’t been exposed to that scenario. Whether it’s communicating with product owners, stakeholders, clients (which nearly every software developer will have to do at some point) communication ability plays a vital role in being a good engineer. How to win friends is a classic, and is chock full of valuable nuggets of wisdom to make you a better people person.

1 month ago

Power To The Public is a manifesto for anyone interested in how human-centered design can make a positive impact in our world.

Interview with Jessica Sutherland

Technology, Design, Critical Thinking—the shelves and read books on Jessica Sutherland’s Literal profile range from Seeing Gender by Iris Gottlieb to Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Throw in some books about interactive screen design or web design for an even broader mix. Learn now more about the reading habits and preferences of Australian user experience designer Jessica in the interview.

Right now, you have three shelves on Literal—Technology, Design and Critical Thinking. What is of interest to you about books in these genres?

What interests me so much about technology, design and critical thinking is how interchangeable they are. Each one is essential to the other, and our world as a whole. Technology and design are useless without critical thinking—and alternative viewpoints inspire original ideas. Original ideas can’t progress without new technology.

Critical thinking books have a wonderful power of making us reinterpret our beliefs as they’re a one-way method of communication; the reader does not debate with the author. We—the readers—can’t rebut like we’re used to in real life discussions, we simply have to consider. This model of publication relies on trust and a depth of expertise, something that seems to be fading throughout the online world, but only growing in a printed publication.

Here’s a wonderful quote, taken from an editor’s note of Scragend: “In the same way that the automobile allowed the horse to become a creature of leisure rather than one of labour, so too has digital publishing moved traditional publishing into the realm of luxury.”

Which book had the most impact on your life?

A book that has had the most major impact on my life right now would be Power To The Public: The Promise of Public Interest Technology by Hana Schank and Tara Dawson McGuinness. I’m a strong believer in the ambitious future use of public interest technology—a philosophy not just of design, but development, government and civics.

Power To The Public is a manifesto for anyone interested in how human-centered design can make a positive impact in our world. Public interest technology includes more than the traditional definition of technology that many digital-age meritocratics are used to and explores what role government will play in the future. Throughout my design career, I hope to make a difference using the principles of public interest technology, an emerging new job title of technologist.

Imagine a person that’s completely new to design asks for a book recommendation—what are you recommending?

Across the board, my recommendation would have to be The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, a timeless classic in how to create timeless user experiences through design excellence. Read it, and read it again.

And for anyone who is a member of a minority group in design, or simply wants to be an ally, Extra Bold is not just a celebration of our diverse design industry, but preaches everything from coming out at work, to the patriarchal roots of italic typography through critical essays, portfolios, and zines.

Do you have a favourite book quote?

“If we agree to outsource sex, birth and death to machines to have the illusion of control, we risk losing hold of our empathy, our imperfections, our agency, the contingency of our existence. Technology dehumanises us. Even if it really is developed with the noblest intentions.” — Jenny Kleeman, Sex Robots and Vegan Meat.

Kleeman explores new ideas and technologies surrounding the most essential pillars of our existence, sex, birth, death and food in her book Sex Robots and Vegan Meat. The quote I’ve chosen here shows the risks involved with not only the development of future technologies but the necessity of innovation at all. As she then goes on to state: “The ‘problems’ the innovations in this book are supposed to solve were caused by technology in the first place.”

We cannot simply proceed in a cycle of rapid innovation, replacing problems caused by technology with problemed technology. What should matter most in innovation is maintenance. For anyone interested in reading more about this, I recommend having a read of *The Innovation Delusion*.

How will your reading habits look like in the next five years

I’m not actually obsessed with how most people define growth—meaning while I hope my reading habits grow stronger over the years, I don’t aim to do this by simply reading more books, but rather by savouring each book in more detail, collecting more meaningful and timeless publications, and re-reading critical theory books to reinterpret them as I age.

Another one of my goals is to support more local book stores and stop purchasing publications from the online giants, and connect with others through my reading with book clubs, which is one of the reasons I joined Literal. Right now I’m obsessed with small-print photography zines, counter-culture and oddities. I picked up a book last week that is all about the mythical properties of fungi, something I couldn’t imagine myself reading five years ago! In summary, I don’t hope to read more, but to understand more of what I read.

2 months ago

I’ve had a monumental shift in my worldview after reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.

Interview with Jatan Mehta

Space Exploration Writer. Three words that spark interest the moment you’re visiting Jatan on Literal and take a look at his biography. But what does a writer for all things outer-space do exactly? And most importantly: What does Jatan read?

Your biography on Literal is quite interesting. You label yourself as a space exploration writer. What exactly is that?

It’s much like a science writer except one dedicated to covering space exploration. I’m passionate about us exploring space as a species, being humbled by those endeavours, and use it as our zenith to push ourselves forward. To that end, I write popular science articles on my space blog and for publications to get people excited and informed about how and why we explore space, and the science we learn from our missions.

How does the interest in all things space impact your reading behaviour?

Space exploration gives me hope for the future. Seeing pictures of a lone Earth from outside and learning about the unforgiving nature of space really makes you wonder about the fragility of our planet as well as the boundless possibility that we can outlive this beautiful but impermanent rocky world. As such, I’m always leaning towards science fiction and future-projecting books, even if dystopian. Even for my leisurely reading, you’ll see me pick up a short Sci-Fi story, such as The Star by Arthur C. Clarke.

You are also a poet. One of your poems is called Words and contains a quote No wonder then / that you like to read, / between the lines, / And write on empty space” – what does this mean to you?

That there is always more to dig than what is being told and more to express than what has been imagined.

If someone asks you to recommend a book to them, which one is the first one that comes to your mind?

The entire Robot series by Isaac Asimov, starting with The Caves of Steel. With the series, Asimov doesn’t just set out to do world-building but to build a galaxy of spacefaring humans and their advanced robots. Personally, I love the consistency of the characters even in an imagined setting.

Which book had the biggest influence on your life?

As with many space enthusiasts, I’ve had a monumental shift in my worldview after reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. To sweeten the deal, his words were poetic throughout. It’s as if he was acknowledging that for all our flaws and failures, there’s still hope for our future. And there is no place for it but space.

2 months ago

I read ‘Goodbye, Things’ at a time in my life when I felt weighed down by material possessions as well as expectations.

Interview with Alexander Sandberg

A book without readers is paper. Paper packed with thoughts, adventure, intent, advice, and emotion, but it takes a person to make sense of it, to feel it. They are the ones diving books into the atoms that make up stories, ascribing their subjective meaning and adding their own personality to the words. They are literal, #weareliteral.

We think that different viewpoints deserve their own hashtag, collecting the stories of readers and their love for books here on Literal. We’re looking at the reader behind the paperbacks or Kindles. Like Alexander Sandberg. Taking a peek at his shelves on Literal, two things become clear – he likes non-fiction books but seems to inhale every novel by Murakami that’s out there. More in the following interview.

Starting with an existential question: Why do you read?

As you’ve already noticed, I’m a big fan of non-fiction. I’m a curious person that loves to learn new things. Books are one of my sources of new knowledge. I, of course, also like the occasional fiction book as it’s a great way for me to relax and take my mind somewhere else for a bit.

What was the book that impacted you most in your life? Can you describe it in one sentence?

I would have to say Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki, which­ I would describe as a guide on how to live with less and appreciate the space that the absence of things gives you.

… and why do you like it so much?

The timing of reading a book is important. I read Goodbye, Things at a time in my life when I felt weighed down by material possessions as well as expectations. I was a proponent of minimalism before, but after reading Sasaki’s book I found a new personal meaning in his philosophy. It helped me regain peace of mind and changed many areas of my life, from finances to relationships.

My favourite quotes from the book are “If you lost it, would you buy it again?” and “It’s actually open space, left empty, that gives us peace of mind”. These words perfectly sum up the essence of Sasaki’s writing.

Going back five years – what did twenty-two-year-old Alexander like to read and how has your reading behaviour changed?

I always found non-fiction interesting, because I’m a curious person always looking to learn new things. I was reading books like Tim Ferriss’ The 4-hour Work Week. I don’t think my reading habits have changed a lot. But I do enjoy more fiction books these days. And I also recently found a new love for physical books after primarily reading e-books for a few years.

If you could only recommend one book ever to other readers, which one would it be?

As I already mentioned, the timing of a book is important, so that’s quite a difficult question. A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine, because I think that every reader can find something for him- or herself in stoicism. It’s a philosophy with a lot of great principles and advice that can be applied to life.

2 months ago

Foreword

It’s not easy writing the foreword for a story that’s yet to be told. But I’ll tell you what we’re planning and hope that you’ll find the sound of that journey as intriguing as we do – and perhaps even join us on it.

In short, we want a digital home for our literary lives that feels like ours. Something that supports the authors, publishers and readers that makes up this ecosystem.

We want to build the best possible platform to collectively explore the ideas of the worlds greatest authors. Whether you’re reading for entertainment or learning, we want to give you the foundation for sparking conversations with the people you care about.

We want to go beyond reviews which are at best a subjective opinion closed for debate and — unless either scathing or glorifying — utterly boring.

We’re building Literal to let you share the most impactful moments of your reading and dive into what moves the people you care about.

Literal is built on the idea that trust beats algorithms in the game of recommendations and that we are all trusted by someone. Some by millions of followers and others by a close-knit group of friends.

We’re just getting started on the first chapter of Literal and hope that you’re up for joining us in writing the rest of the story.

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