Shortform Reads: Self-Help by Day, Fiction by Night

What book had the greatest impact on Ian? What practice did Ian pick up that changed his life?

Ian is from Minnesota but has spent the past few months living in Ireland. He’s a writer at Shortform—summarizing books into educational book guides.

Our Interview With Ian

Here’s what Ian had to say about his favorite books, genres, and more.

What’s your favorite book?

My favorite book is probably The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson. I read it at a very directionless time in my life, and it told me all the things I needed to hear: It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re successful—or if people like you or not—if you find more important things to care about. Also, a lot of my favorite art presents high-brow ideas in an accessible, entertaining way—and Subtle Art does this so, so well.

What are you reading these days?

Since I read so much for work, I mostly save my leisure reading time for pure entertainment! Currently, I’m reading Little, Big by John Crowley—it’s fiction—and The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs—nonfiction.

Next up on my fiction list is the short story collection Exhalation by Ted Chiang. I know only that it’s high-concept sci-fi stuff, and it’s supposed to be really good. That’s all I need to know to be super excited to read it!

What’s your favorite genre?

My favorite genre, in fiction anyway, has got to be fantasy. I love unfamiliar worlds and any kind of magic—they’re just plain fun.

Are there any book genres or tropes that you dislike or refuse to read?

I’m a firm believer in execution over concept—any genre or idea can be thrilling if a story is told well. If you told me your favorite novel was about an insurance claims adjuster who gets into model trains, I’d give it a try for at least a chapter or two.

What’s your favorite way to read a book?

I love reading physical books—ideally in bed, or, like, a hammock or something. But the Kindle app on my phone is so convenient, I find myself doing more of that, especially when I’m out and about. I can’t do audiobooks—the fact that they go on when I get distracted and stop listening is a dealbreaker for me.

Who are your favorite authors?

For nonfiction, they’re Mark Manson, Ryan Holiday, Seth Godin, and Tim Ferriss. For fiction, honestly, most of my fiction consumption for the last few years has been movies. My favorite filmmakers right now are Charlie Kaufman, the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and Edgar Wright.

What’s an interesting fact that you learned from a book recently?

Recently The Courage to Be Disliked by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi has had the greatest lasting impact on me. The idea that chasing external approval requires sacrificing your personal values crosses my mind a lot. It’s easier for me to stop people-pleasing if I remember that it’s borderline immoral. That was one of my many personal takeaways—this book is honestly life-changing.

Have any books you’ve read caused you to make any life changes or to change or develop any habits?

Mark Manson’s book led me to his blog, which turned me on to meditation. By far the best habit I ever picked up. Training myself to question my own thoughts and emotions has paid off more than any other skill in my life. I meditate for only 10 to 20 minutes every morning, and it saves me so much unnecessary heartache.

What’s your favorite quote from a book or an author?

Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite pieces of writing, the essay “This Is Water” by David Foster Wallace:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

At Shortform, how do you go about working on a book that has viewpoints you don’t agree with?

I try to focus on whatever values I share with the writer and use that shared perspective to try to understand where they’re coming from. So far, all of the authors I’ve covered for Shortform have been well-intentioned—if nothing else—and I try to convey their ideas from that point of view. Someone sharing ideas they wholeheartedly believe will help the world. Who am I to argue that they won’t?

Ian’s Book Recommendations

About the Series

At Shortform, we want to give our employees names and faces so you can get to know the people who make the magic happen. That’s why we’re doing the Shortform Reads series, where we interview our employees and share their thoughts and opinions. You can check out more employee interviews here.

Shortform Reads: Self-Help by Day, Fiction by Night

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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