A self-described “writer who draws,” Austin Kleon is the bestselling author behind a trilogy of illustrated books focused on finding creativity in the modern world: Steal Like An ArtistShow Your Work!, and Keep Going. Also known for his blackout poetry – where Kleon creates new poems by redacting text from newspapers with a permanent marker – he compiled his favorite work in the medium into the collection Newspaper Blackout.

Popular among creatives for their advice on how to find inspiration, stay motivated and build an artistic practice, Kleon’s books have been translated into dozens of languages and sold over a million copies worldwide. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR, and in 2021, was asked to curate a book club for Literati.

Called Read Like an Artist, Kleon described his 12 picks as “an eclectic mix of creative nonfiction, novels, artist memoirs, comics, and more, all of which speak to living a more creative life.” From Jenny Odell’s radical ode to rest to Lynda Barry’s genre-defying guide to writing, explore his recommendations below – and check out the bookshelves of other celebrated artists right here.

Austin Kleon’s Reading List

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell (also rec’d by Lorde)

“After living through 14 sweltering Texas summers, I discovered the word ‘estivate,’ the summer equivalent to ‘hibernate.’ Animals that estivate rest in the summer months the way other animals do in the winter. This is the perfect book to inspire some summer estivating and make you feel smart about it.” -AK

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

“I love this book because it’s what I wish all my summers would feel like, deep and just a little dark and surrounded by the sea. This one was a hit, I think, and made a lot of readers reflect on their childhoods and their relationships with their grandparents. (I love all of Jansson’s work, especially the Moomin books.)” -AK

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin

“This is another illustrated story of a childhood, although a very different one, depicting 1970s Greenwich Village and Shopsin’s upbringing with her brothers and sisters in their parents’ grocery store and restaurant. The ‘arbitrary stupid goal’ of the title is a bit of the unconventional practice and wisdom of her father (the legendary Kenny Shopsin), which is sprinkled throughout the book. Reading ASG gives me the same jolt I get when I read something like Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions: ‘I didn’t know a book was allowed to do this!'” -AK

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker

“This might have been a risky choice for a book club because there is no real narrative here—it’s a smorgasbord of 131 exercises and inspirational quotes designed to get you looking and listening and exploring and discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary life around you. But it was a big hit — Rob’s a kindred spirit, and his newsletter rules — and best of all, we had a nice discussion about it.” -AK

Hold Still by Sally Mann

“While best known for her photography, Mann holds a BA in literature and an MA in creative writing, so her writing is top-notch. This book covers her long, interesting life and career and her struggle to make art while being a mother to three children. It’s not often that an artist can tell their own story in prose that sings, and that’s what makes this book so special to me.” -AK

Range by David Epstein (also rec’d by Kobe Bryant)

“This is a contemporary classic. Ryan Holiday sold it to me as a parenting book in disguise, a call to give kids the space and time to stretch out and try a lot of different things before they specialize. (The book was written before David became a father, but the afterword for the paperback edition was written after.)” -AK

What It Is by Lynda Barry

“Readers basically have two reactions to this book: ‘WTF is this???’ or ‘OMG I am now obsessed with Lynda Barry.’ (Sometimes it’s both, in that order: ‘WTF???’ and then ‘OMG!!!’) Simply one of my all-time favorite books and one of the biggest influences on my own creative practice. What more can I say?” -AK

We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider

“Kreider is one of my favorite working writers. He’s on my short list of people whose essays I read the minute they’re published, but I wasn’t totally sure how this book would go over with the crew. To my surprise and delight, the response was overwhelmingly positive.” -AK

Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl

“I adore Sarah’s book about art and motherhood, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write, so I got on a list for an advanced copy of Smile. It seemed like a more book club-friendly pick because it’s a short memoir with a straightforward narrative and flow.” -AK

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

“Quite possibly the most popular book of the whole club. People loved this one, and for good reason. Oliver is able to pull off the magic trick of writing self-help books that are, at their core, deeply suspicious of their own genre.” -AK

Old in Art School by Nell Painter

“This was an experimental pick. I didn’t read it before choosing — I thought it’d be fun to read fresh, along with everyone else. Ironically, it wasn’t quite my cup of tea! I wanted Painter (talk about nominative determinism!) to be more critical of the whole idea of going to art school, but she’s an academic, after all, so I don’t think questioning the value of formal education is part of her project. I also wanted her to be more critical of the concept of being a ‘real’ artist, or what she calls ‘An Artist Artist.’ (Other readers really liked it and said they were exposed to a lot of artists they’d never heard of.)” -AK

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

“The only other book on this list that had as much impact on me as What It Is. It was fun reading the reactions to this — it really is like the world’s coolest visual communication textbook. A bonafide classic, and a good note to end on I think.” -AK

(via Austin Kleon)

Looking for an Amazon alternative? Support local, independent booksellers by shopping Austin Kleon’s reading list on Bookshop.org:

Categories: Artists Writers