A Few Bookish Questions With Benjamin Spall
Benjamin Spall is the co-author of a wonderful little book called My Morning Routine. It features the routines and habits of successful people, as well as plenty of tips for creating a morning routine that works for you. The website, mymorningroutine.com, carries ongoing interviews with folks, myself included! Benjamin, a writer and thinker, spends a lot of time reading and it was my pleasure to interview him for this newsletter.
1. Are there any books or authors that kickstarted your love for reading (particularly as an adult)?
I started keeping a reading list in the form of a Google Sheet in 2015, and I backdated it (using online receipts, my bookshelf, and my memory as a guide) to 2008. I can see from this list that Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point was a tipping point, you could say, for my renewed love of reading after college.
2. You write a lot about business, productivity, meaning, etc. That's a lot of non-fiction, to be sure. Do you read much fiction? What do you read for fun/entertainment?
I don't read a great deal of fiction. Looking at my reading list over the last few years, only about five percent of what I read is fiction. That's on me; I would like to read more of it. For fun, I read narrative non-fiction. Rich Cohen, Patrick Radden Keefe, Maria Konnikova . . . I read Sarah Frier's No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram last year and loved it.
3. Has the last year changed your reading habits at all? You did some writing about quarantine and routine; I'm wondering if your reading factored into that at all.
It did. For the first month or so of the pandemic I didn't read anything at all. I can't remember what I was reading at the time, but every time I picked it up I felt an utter sense of hopelessness and promptly set it down. I soon got back into the swing of reading, and now (as before the beginning of the pandemic) I make myself read for half an hour every day, though I do allow myself to kick my daily reading quota down the road each day. So, if I miss one day, the next day I need to read for one hour. That kind of thing. I do this so not to let me off the hook. To be clear, I love to read—I give myself a daily reading quota because of my love of reading, not in spite of it.
4. Are there any books or authors that have especially shaped your writing style? Anyone you try to mimic?
I could never begin to mimic him, but Rich Cohen's writing style is so good. Alain du Botton, Anne Lamott, and Cheryl Strayed are exceptional writers that can tear at your very core.
5. What are you reading and enjoying right now? What's next on your list?
I recently adopted a six-month old puppy, so I just finished reading Cesar's Way and Short Guide to a Happy Dog by Cesar Millan. Prior to that I read and loved The American Presidency by Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer, which is a short biography of each president from George Washington to George W. Bush. Prior to that I read The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, which was equal parts terrifying and hopeful. Next on my list is David McCullough's John Adams biography, and Edward Rutherfurd's new historical fiction work on China.
6. Do you have any all-time favorite books that have particularly shaped your life and thinking? Books you think about a lot and/or return to again and again?
Alain du Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work I've come back to a number of times, and I think about its ideas frequently. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson has shaped my thinking, as has Deep Work by Cal Newport. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is devastating.