Leading up to our 8th anniversary later this month, I’m writing a few (maybe only two, I don’t know yet) blog posts meant to expose a little more about the core of the Linkery. We used to do this all the time, but life caught up a little bit. Anyway, the first one, about the formation of the Linkery, is here.
This post is a reading list, of books that shape how and why we do what we do. This reading list started out as something we could give to new employees to say, hey, if you read these things you’ll have a good understanding of why this company exists, and what our goals are, with food, hospitality and community.
Of course, that turned out to be a big ball of twine. My list of Linkery-essential books is a little more than one person is likely to take on in any short period of time, and probably there’s no one (other than me) for whom the whole list makes interesting reading.
But, here it is. I reckon some of you readers might be interested in some of these books, and also perhaps knowing what manifestos make us tick will make your experiences with us richer in some way. I’m going to put them in the sidebar in lieu of our blogroll, too.
So, here’s the current Linkery reading list. Enjoy.
The Cathedral and The Bazaar, Eric Raymond
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Seth Godin
All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World, Seth Godin
The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?, Seth Godin
I believe it all starts with marketing, in the sense that Seth Godin uses the word to mean “doing remarkable things, being transparent about it, and making it easy for people who dig what you’re doing to spread the word.” Purple Cow delves into the importance of being remarkable, and All Marketers Are Liars explores how transparency and good storytelling can help your fans get the word out about what you do. These books make up the core of our marketing philosophy. Godin’s newest book, The Icarus Deception, reframes, or pushes, the idea of “being remarkable” into “making art.” It’s a powerful, powerful idea.
The first title on this list – The Cathedral and The Bazaar — isn’t a book, but an essay that was first published online. It probably also seems a little orthogonal to those outside the tech field, but basically it’s an argument for the benefits of transparency and open information.
When we started the restaurant in 2005, in most parts of the country including San Diego, the fundamental idea of a restaurant was of a closed, secretive kitchen putting on a drama for guests — who both didn’t want and didn’t deserve to know what was going on behind the curtain.
Informed by such thought as The Cathedral and The Bazaar and Seth Godin’s work, we believed passionately that freeing the information about what we do was not only the best marketing we could do, it also made for a better restaurant. We were one of the first US restaurants with an active blog, and we shared so much detail about what we did that to this day you’ll find people who resent us because they were sure we were making it all up (we weren’t).
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, Ray Oldenburg
The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape, James Howard Kunstler
The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community, Peter Katz
Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, Andres Duany
Glitter Stucco & Dumpster Diving: Reflections on Building Production in the Vernacular City, John Chase
Joyride, Mia Birk
Infrastructure is destiny. We humans are already maladapted for the age of agriculture (having had only 10,000 years to evolve within its framework), and particularly so for the age of cheap energy (having had only a couple hundred years). Our built environment can ameliorate or exacerbate those stresses on us. These books look at what works to make our lives better, and what makes them worse, and what we can do literally on the street level to help improve things. While we need the support and cooperation of civic and municipal entities, the first line of engagement is local business owners, property owners, architects, designers, and residents.
The initial impetus for the Linkery, and what is still our primary focus, was to help improve our neighborhood and the city by creating a thriving local place that people could walk, bike or bus to, to be on either side of the counter — that is, to be a worker or a guest, or both.
We wanted to help make our streets more livable, to support local businesses by buying their products, and to create good jobs that people in the community could walk to. We have varying degrees of success at all of these at different times, but they remain our key business goals.
Along the way, we added the goal of helping transform the local food system, too. Because we learned that it would be necessary if we all wanted to eat well.
How To Pick A Peach: The Search For Flavor from Farm to Table, Russ Parsons
Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, Michael Pollan
Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, Rowan Jacobsen
Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon
Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing, Rytek Kutas
Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, Michael Ruhlman
Moneyball, Michael Lewis
In its title and content How To Pick A Peach captures the exact thing that made me passionate about our restaurant being farm-to-table: I wanted us to serve peaches as good as we used to get from my grandfather’s farm and from his neighbors’ farms in Kingsburg, California. Which, in the current food system, can be damned near impossible.
Other books on this list cover humans’ relationship with agriculture, the corn economy, traditional nutrition, and of course the technical aspects of sausage making, charcuterie and fermentation.
What’s Moneyball doing here? For us, Moneyball might as well be an allegory about cooking nose-to-tail, and using the offal.
OUR ENERGY FUTURE
$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, Christopher Steiner
The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, John Michael Greer
Two distinctly different portraits of how we will live as the cost of energy puts much of what we currently take for granted, beyond our reach. What the two visions have in common is what’s most interesting: a world centered on local, self-sufficient communities.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, Bo Burlingham
Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach To Fun on the Job by Dennis W. Bakke
The Answer To How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters, Peter Block
Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest, Peter Block
Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block
The Company We Keep: Reinventing Small Business for People, Community, and Place, John Abrams
The Prince, Machiavelli
The biggest problem with most business books is that they are written by people who have been successful at business, who want to explain what they did to be successful. Unfortunately for us the readers, success in business — indeed, success in any field that lies fully within our dominant social/economic paradigm — is by and large a matter of luck, and those “ten steps to success” are a made-up explanation after the fact. The Black Swan lays out the math behind this situation, as part of clearly demonstrating the ways in which most of how we see our world is fallacious. One takeaway for me: if you want a degree of authorship over your fate, transgress the model you’re supposed to work within. Another takeway: don’t put too much stock in books written by successful businesspeople.
That said, I don’t know whether Peter Block, Dennis Bakke, and John Abrams show up on people’s radar as successful businesspeople, but I find their ideas about business, community and people to be inspirational.
Plus, Machiavelli, the author of the original Management for Dummies guide, gets a bad rap — I think this is because it’s so easy to adjectivize his name. In truth, he’s a forerunner of evolutionary psychology experts, and The Prince provides 80% of what any first-time manager needs to know to get by. I think everyone should read this book every decade, at least.
The only restaurant/hospitality book on my list. I’m sure there are others just as good — Charlie Trotter’s comes highly recommended to me — and of course they all are victims of the successful businessperson fallacy mentioned above. I mean, really, I want to read the book by a restauranteur whose place has amazing hospitality without adequate revenue — that would be educational. That said, Danny Meyer tells good stories about what hospitality looks like, and when it comes to understanding a concept, good stories are like gold.
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler
A book about integrity, and gimlets — written in San Diego, no less.