Two thousand fifteen is gone, but just barely, so my only-somewhat-tardy pick for “best book” of the year in the category of inspirational memoir is Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life & Business on the Spectrum & Against the Odds, by Microcosm publisher Joe Biel. I finished the book a few days ago and have picked it up several times since then to reread my favorite passages. “I wanted to project my experiences and those of the people around me who I felt did not have a voice anywhere else,” Biel says. The experiences he writes about include growing up in an abusive home, having difficulty in school, failing at personal relationships, and finding salvation in the “punk” subculture of the eighties and nineties. This is a story of survival; a story about never giving up and finding the courage to make painful changes to succeed in both life and business.
Biel started Microcosm at the age of seventeen to publish zines (a noncommercial publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subjects) as forums for “wounded young people” to express themselves, seek help from others by sharing experiences, and heal and grow.
Caught up in a world of dysfunctional personal and professional relationships, Biel found a therapist to help him sort out reoccurring issues that were crippling his emotional growth. Although Microcosm was experiencing some success in the publishing world at the time, low staff morale and financial strains threatened to collapse the company. Struggling to get his business back on track and smooth out personal problems that were causing him physical and emotional stress, Biel continued with therapy and was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. After learning the four defining traits of AS, Biel felt he was a poster child for the disorder. Rather than use the diagnosis as an excuse for his problems, he adopted a glass-half-full-attitude. “If I didn’t have clinical-strength egocentricity [one of the AS traits], I never would have had the gall to start a publishing company based on my vision as a seventeen-year-old and funded by my under-the-table job at an Italian restaurant.” He also writes about how the three other traits contributed to his success. Over time, he learned how to set boundaries and take care of himself. Then in 2011, while attending BookExpo America, the largest publishing trade show in the U.S., he met Temple Grandin, the bestselling author of several books on autism. He told her he was a big fan, but felt slightly disappointed by her indifferent response. Biel began to wonder how many times he had disappointed his own fans. He continued to hone the social skills learned in therapy, and as he got his life in order, his business began to grow. His personal relationships became healthy and meaningful.
Since that time Microcosm has evolved to become one of the most successful publishers of DIY (Do It Yourself) books, zines, and art. Their upcoming catalog includes graphic novels, books on the bicycling culture, vegan cooking, travel, history, music, and memoirs.
Good Trouble is one of the best motivational books of the year. It is inspirational tonic and a must-read for anyone seeking for a more wholehearted life. Biel writes with candor and courage. His willingness to share his vulnerability testifies to his emotional growth and strength. In the final chapter entitled, “Reconciliation,” Biel notes that, “. . . I’ve found that I can make my own path independently without compromising my values. And I can shine a light behind me so people who relate to my experience can follow.”