I just finished Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking1, and it was wonderful.

It has been on my reading list for a while, because I knew her from my more active Twitter phase several years ago,2 and because I heard great things about the book. I wasn’t terribly interested in what I thought was the topic, so I didn’t read it right away. I was wrong, and to repeat myself, it was wonderful. I’m not even sure exactly why, it just was.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is definitely in the category of what I call an empathy book. I’ve previously talked about my empathy efforts, as they relate to travel and considering other cultures, but I also like to seek out books about people who are completely different from me. So far, this has most often meant an artist of some sort.3 Another prime example of a book in this vein is I’m Your Man  about Leonard Cohen.

As I read books about artists, I try to figure out how their minds work. I think I see familiar aspects, so the difference seems to be one of degree, rather than of kind. I often find myself feeling emotional, but artists seem to feel everything. I like to think I am introspective, but artists seem to always consider what something means.

I think the highest form of art is finding the wonder in the mundane, but this requires internal sensitivity to be set very high. We need a bright light to see fine detail, but too much bright light hurts our eyes. I wonder if the stereotypical tortured artist can’t turn off this enhanced view of the world. I wonder if they are unable to detach.

I’m sure I won’t ever really know, but that is why I want to read books from other perspectives. I fear I might otherwise think something is weird, instead of just different or unfamiliar. No part of life is made richer by caricaturing what we don’t understand.

I want to fight this natural instinct.

  1. This link is for the Audible book, but the MP3 CD might be cheaper. Regardless, I think this book is best heard in Palmer’s own voice, and it also includes her music at just the right times. ↩︎

  2. This was around when she married Neil Gaiman, had her record-breaking Kickstarter, and gave the TED Talk that led to this book. ↩︎

  3. Perhaps the perfect combination of both worlds is Mao’s Last Dancer↩︎