My journey with books

For me that is the key. Whether I am reading a work book, a novel or a christian book, I always look for something that will inspire and spark my imagination..

Its funny how I have begun to see patterns emerge in the types of emails I receive. One of the most common is an interest in what I read. I am not sure whether people mean just in terms of web design or generally speaking, but I thought I would share my somewhat erratic relationship with the written word.

I used to hate reading. As a child I had serious reading difficulties and to this day I am a painfully slow reader. I occasionally listen to audiobooks but somehow that doesn’t compete with the pleasure of turning a page.

I have a very mixed feeling about printed books. On one hand I hate them because you cannot search them or copy and paste particularly inspiring segments, but on the other hand nothing beats sitting in bed late at night winding down with a decent book.

In answer to the constant trickle of emails about my reading habits, I read four types of books…

  • Web design related books
  • Work related inspiration
  • Novels
  • Christian Books

Web design related

I have posted before my recommendations on web design related books, but if I had to pick a single title I would go with Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability”. User centric design should be the core of all websites whether they are developed in tables, css or even flash. Its a great book, written in plain english that really engages with the reader.

Work related inspiration

These books are not exactly web design related but have an effect on how I work day to day. Again, were I to make a single choice in this category it would be “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity” by David Allen. I have spoken about this enough in the past, so I won’t bother repeating the impact this has had on the way I work.


I have to confess that most of the novels I read are trash. They are how I wind down. Most of them are scifi/fantasy related, such as “Wintersmith” by Terry Pratchett. However, other genres do occasionally creep in. One of my favourite authors is Douglas Coupland, a superb writer who has written some amazingly insightful observations about Generation X. His titles include “Microserfs”, “JPod” and my all time favourite “Life After God”. Coupland has always had a disturbing ability to describe my life, from the wall of coke cans in Microserfs to this amazingly powerful quote from Life After God…

My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind , as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

which brings us nicely on to…

Christian books

If you read this blog regularly you will have gathered by now that I am a Christian. However, outside of the Bible, I never used to read Christian books. Nevertheless, recently that habit has changed following somebody giving me the very powerful and provocative book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Philip Yancey. This book is a no holds bar commentary on the failure of the church especially within the US (although most of his points apply in the UK too). This book not only made me seriously reconsider how I express my faith but also has spurred me on to search out other Christian titles.

Currently I am reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. Until I read this book I don’t think I fully grasped what an astounding thinker Lewis really was. This book is without a doubt the best defense of the Christian faith I have yet encountered.

Ultimate favourite

Its strange though, because where I to pick a single book out of everything I have read as a personal favourite, it would be none of the above. Instead it would be Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”, not because it is the best written or most powerful book I have ever encountered but simply because it was the first book I ever read for pleasure.

Before Lord of the Rings I only read when forced at school. I hated books and found them nothing but boring. It was a school teacher friend of my parents that realized I needed a book to capture my imagination, something that would make me read for pleasure and not out of obligation. Even though I read at a snails pace and struggled to read more than a few pages at a time, she decided to give me a massive tome of a book, simply because she knew it would light my imagination. I will always be grateful to her for that realization on her part.

For me that is the key. Whether I am reading a work book, a novel or a christian book, I always look for something that will inspire and spark my imagination.

It is strange that I have gone from hating books to the point now where it is looking very likely I will end up writing one. Hopefully I will be able to spark the imagination of my readers in the same way that the authors above have done for me.

  • Skip Harris

    Your “Christian Books” and “Ultimate Favorite” selections are excellent choices. Another Christian author you may like is Dallas Willard.
    Anything by C.S. Lewis is good, though his writing can sometimes be a difficult read. The Chronicles of Narnia are great to read to children, and it gives you an excuse to read the series. Also, because you like sci-fi you may like C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy.
    I will have to look for “Life After God”

  • Good selection old boy, very good indeed.
    My personal favourites are as follows.
    Design related:
    Beginning CSS
    Pro CSS
    Web Standards Creativity
    Transcending CSS
    Dont’ Make Me Think
    The Art of Looking Sideways
    Design It Yourself
    Designing With Web Standards
    Gene Wilder
    Roy Keane
    Andy Kaufman
    Richard Pryor

  • I just started reading Web Standards Solutions by Dan Cederholm and I think it may very well be the greatest book ever written on any subject.
    I’m glad to see some love for Christian authors. A friend just turned me on to G.K. Chesterton and The Man Who Was Thursday.

  • ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ was a hugely useful for me a few years back in explaining web design to my boss and colleagues.
    “Mere Christianity” was very influential a little before that, and I recommend them both. One of my current favourites is Nake Converations in the blog/web category.

  • Paul: Thank you for sharing this with us, I am happy to hear that we share the same interest in literature, specifically in regards to Christian books.
    I have read Mere Christianity over a couple times, and regularly listen to the audio book. I have also enjoyed others by Lewis, including ‘The Great Divorce’, ‘Screwtape Letters’, and some of the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ books. I am currently reading his autobiography ‘Surprised by Joy’, which is an excellent insight into the life of C.S. Lewis.
    When I first turned to C.S. Lewis, I had a hard time grasping his work, but after reading a few of his books, it has become a relatively easy read, and quite enjoyable. I have recently enjoyed a couple older books, such as ‘The Confessions’ by St. Augustine, and ‘Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life” by William Law. After reading those books, Lewis is a pretty light read!
    You can check out which books I have read, and am currently reading at my personal website: and click on the Quotes/Books link. (Although, now that I look at that page, I see that it is a outdated by a few months, I will be sure to update that page soon).

  • Hi Paul,
    Great list of books, and like you I always found/find reading difficult. I do however find reading techy books easy, and like a few good reads, especially Chris Ryans books, like Ultimate Weapon, and The Increcement

  • Simon Brookes

    My faves at the moment:
    Webby – Has to be “Don’t Make Me Think” too – Clear and Beautifully Designed – Genius!
    Non Webby –
    1. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – for those of us who stand on the other side of the religious fence. Dawkins is surely one of the UK’s foremost intellectual thinkers. A brave book!
    2. The End of Poverty: How We Can Make It Happen in Our Lifetime by Jeffrey Sachs – A real eye opener of a book with an optimistic and achievable model for ending poverty.

  • LondonStone

    I’ll admit I’m jealous….. I remember a couple of years ago I started reading books properly. It opens your eyes so much.
    Every book you read takes you on a journey, doesn’t it?
    Don’t waste your time on modern trash. There’s nothing been written in the last 50 years that will be worth the paper it’s printed on.
    Try some Thomas Hardy, a native of your part of the land I believe. Or Alecander Dumas or Victor Hugo for a riveting read.
    Don’t let your reading ability put you off Shakespeare, you’ll be surprised how easy he is to follow, and how cheeky his plays are.
    Books are more than a great way to unwind, they are enlightening and rewarding.
    It’s nice to hear of someone else who’s getting so much from the printed word.

  • Try some Thomas Hardy, a native of your part of the land I believe.
    I know your heart was in the right place but Thomas Hardy was shoved down my throat at school and is exactly the type of book I detest.
    To be honest, I am happy with my “modern trash”. For me what is important is that I have developed a love for reading. What I read is secondary.
    For a long time all I did was read trash but that has encouraged me and given me the confidence to branch out.