February 6, 2024
February 06, 2024
Finding the right book at the right time can transform your life or your organization. We help you discover your next great read by showcasing four recently released titles each week.
The books are chosen by Porchlight's Managing Director, Sally Haldorson, and the marketing team: Dylan Schleicher, Gabbi Cisneros, and Jasmine Gonzalez. (Book descriptions are provided by the publisher unless otherwise noted.)
This week, our choices are:
Gabbi’s pick: Imagination: A Manifesto by Ruha Benjamin, W.W. Norton & Company
A world without prisons? Ridiculous. Schools that foster the genius of every child? Impossible. Work that doesn’t strangle the life out of people? Naive. A society where everyone has food, shelter, love? In your dreams. Exactly. Ruha Benjamin, Princeton University professor, insists that imagination isn’t a luxury. It is a vital resource and powerful tool for collective liberation.
Imagination: A Manifesto is her proclamation that we have the power to use our imaginations to challenge systems of oppression and to create a world in which everyone can thrive. But obstacles abound. We have inherited destructive ideas that trap us inside a dominant imagination. Consider how racism, sexism, and classism make hierarchies, exploitation, and violence seem natural and inevitable—but all emerged from the human imagination.
The most effective way to disrupt these deadly systems is to do so collectively. Benjamin highlights the educators, artists, activists, and many others who are refuting powerful narratives that justify the status quo, crafting new stories that reflect our interconnection, and offering creative approaches to seemingly intractable problems.
Imagination: A Manifesto offers visionary examples and tactics to push beyond the constraints of what we think, and are told, is possible. This book is for anyone who is ready to take to heart Toni Morrison’s instruction: “Dream a little before you think.”
Dylan’s pick: Literary Theory for Robots: How Computers Learned to Write by Dennis Yi Tenen, W.W. Norton & Company
Literary Theory for Robots reveals the hidden history of modern machine intelligence, taking readers on a spellbinding journey from medieval Arabic philosophy to visions of a universal language, past Hollywood fiction factories and missile defense systems trained on Russian folktales. In this provocative reflection on the shared pasts of literature and computer science, former Microsoft engineer and professor of comparative literature Dennis Yi Tenen provides crucial context for recent developments in AI, which holds important lessons for the future of humans living with smart technology.
Intelligence expressed through technology should not be mistaken for a magical genie, capable of self-directed thought or action. Rather, in highly original and effervescent prose with a generous dose of wit, Yi Tenen asks us to read past the artifice—to better perceive the mechanics of collaborative work. Something as simple as a spell-checker or a grammar-correction tool, embedded in every word-processor, represents the culmination of a shared human effort, spanning centuries.
Smart tools, like dictionaries and grammar books, have always accompanied the act of writing, thinking, and communicating. That these paper machines are now automated does not bring them to life. Nor can we cede agency over the creative process. With its masterful blend of history, technology, and philosophy, Yi Tenen’s work ultimately urges us to view AI as a matter of labor history, celebrating the long-standing cooperation between authors and engineers.
Sally’s pick: Never Not Working: Why the Always-On Culture Is Bad for Business--and How to Fix It by Malissa Clark, Harvard Business Review Press
Many workers believe that to compete with other top talent, they must embrace a culture that rewards long hours and a constant connection to work. Businesses and society endorse busyness, overwork, and extreme commitment as the most valued traits in workers. Sometimes that endorsement is explicit, as when Elon Musk told X/Twitter employees to work "long hours at high intensity" or get fired. More often it's an implicit contract, a buildup of organizational and cultural norms and the adoption of new technologies that make it easy to tether people to work.
Either way, this workaholic behavior is unhealthy and counterproductive for workers and for organizations. It's time to fight back. Malissa Clark—a preeminent researcher on the culture of overwork—shows you how in Never Not Working. Clark examines overwork and burnout, not just from the individual's perspective but from an organizational perspective too. She delivers a comprehensive, nuanced definition of workaholism, busting myths along the way—working long hours, it turns out, doesn't automatically make you a workaholic. She also helps you assess whether you're falling prey to the phenomenon and whether you're creating workaholics in your organization.
Clark shows you how to escape the trap of putting work at the center of everything and thus losing your well-being—or your company's performance—in the process. Deeply researched and written for everyone from leaders to individual contributors, Never Not Working is the essential guide to identifying workaholism in yourself and others and starting on the road to recovery.
Jasmine’s pick: The Resilience Plan: A Strategic Approach to Optimizing Your Work Performance and Mental Health by Marie-Hélène Pelletier, PhD, MBA, Page Two
Leaders and business professionals handle grueling hours and exceed high expectations. They are undaunted by challenges and embrace opportunities for growth. They assume they are resilient.
But given enough demands, anyone can burn out. This makes logical sense, yet you likely still think it could never be you. You are fabulous and at risk of burning out.
Resilience is not an innate character trait. Whether you’re in a leadership role or working as part of a team, you need to implement strategies that build and nurture resilience. You need a resilience plan.
Award-winning mental health expert Marie-Hélène Pelletier draws on her clinical practice and extensive knowledge in therapeutics and business practices to explore how resilience is the best defense against burnout and how everyone can build it in themselves—not with a one-size-fits-all plan but with strategies to help you create a custom plan.
Pelletier uses relatable stories and activities to bring her concepts into context. By working through the exercises in this practical guide, you will have a goal-oriented, custom strategy with the knowledge to implement and sustain it, to protect your health and success into the future.