“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”
Familiarity with the emergence of the educational system in the United States is quite sobering. Who benefits the most from an illiterate population in a country founded on the concentration of power in white, older landowners? Who also benefits if history is whitewashed and denied the problematic and disgraceful truth of its inception?
There is an apparent attempt to groom us toward the middle. Averages are where you can plow away at the ordinary, avoid standing out, and always be available when the race to the middle, lands at your feet.
Many of my colleagues are guilty of the blandness of listicles, coloring within the lines, and only looking where everyone else is pointing. For this very reason, the books I recommend in the Writing for Data Professionals: Goldilocks and the Perfectly Sized Data courses are not what you might think.
Here are my top 3:
Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write (excerpt seen above).
The best way to learn how to write is to read the good stuff. Claire Messud seasons her storytelling with thoughts from her life and experiences. Witnessing how a truly imaginative and artful writer brings complex relationships, inner thoughts and many of the challenges we all navigate throughout life together in a spellbinding book will make you a better storyteller.
The structure and gravitas of long-form non-fiction is best understood by an intentional review so you know where to find space to stray from rigid certitude. In reading this book you are less of an observer and more of a willing student—you get what you give with this one but either way—it is elemental.
This one will always be in the arsenal for simplicity and relevance to writing style and learning the fundamentals.
I was gifted Seeing with Fresh Eyes: Meaning, Space, Data, Truth by none other than Edward Tufte himself. In my opinion, anything else you read on the topic is a distraction from the true source of how to envision, display, and explain quantitative information. These books are where you should be grounded. I grab one from my shelf each time I travel and relearn or learn something new each time.
Isn’t life, most strangely, and even in evil, always made more real by its banalities?
This is the last line of the snippet from Messud’s book. It reminds me of the ordinary things we all share no matter our self-imposed polarizations. Parents waking up in Ukraine are first and foremost thinking of the safety of their children. The images of cooking whatever food is available over an open flame or melting snow for water resonates for all of us. Regardless of tragedy we know our families need sustenance and a nod toward routine. The bombardment and threat is real and in some strange way, soccer balls are still being kicked around on makeshift playgrounds.
Perhaps the unlearning begins with removing all that doesn’t serve us. Distortions of truth, the “right” way to do something or “people like us, only do things like this…” Posts like this always begin from questions I am asked. The sort of questions asked again and again on a loop.
The authentic answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know what you should read for certain but I do know there is not a fail-safe recipe for success. You need to be daring. Today might not look like we imagined it but wrestled from its artifice—we are all hoping for the same things.
Daring because after an 8-hour conversation about improving continuing education in medicine it all boils down to the limits placed on doing something that matters. Success metrics have been jiggered to favor business as usual and not upsetting the apple cart—although the apple cart no longer contains apples. It is piled high with money…
Where to find me next…
Python for Geospatial Data Analysis : Theory, Tools, and Practice for Location Intelligence online in early release published in October 2022.
Writing for Data Professionals: Goldilocks and the Perfectly Sized Data — subscribe here on Substack for early releases of user-friendly guide.