Let’s Talk About Books: 3 Things I’m Doing

Let’s Talk About Books: 3 Things I’m Doing

Books, I find, demand not just to be read, but also to be talked about. They are keen for us to agree and disagree with their contents. They invite us to engage and complement their ideas, and thus enrich the greater dialogue that they are a part of.

 

Each book is a community. At least, it has the potential to be one. At its fullest realization, fellow readers gather to engage each other in conversations in book clubs, forums, or casual hangouts.

 

Finding communities in our modern lives, however, is not always easy (see Tribe: Home in Community). But how awesome it is to find one with kindred minds and spirits.

 

A Craving for Community

 

My reading has been quite consistent over the past few years, as my Goodreads account can testify. But as the knowledge and information piles one on another, book after book much without an outlet, my craving for a book community has peaked. I need to talk about what I’ve read!

 

Reading is great, but to have a conversation that goes along with it is superb. Conversations let you digest the books more deeply, exchange ideas and point of views, and probe more interesting questions. Thoughts become more complex. Differences in perspective emerge, and nothing sharpens and refines your views than sitting face to face with others who can challenge your thoughts.

 

Driven by this craving, I finally sought out my tribe. These are the 3 things I’m doing to talk about books these days.

 

3 Things I’m Doing to Talk about Books

 

1. The Next Big Idea Club

 

I’ve been seeing the Facebooks ads for The Next Big Idea Club that feature Adam Grant or Malcolm Gladwell for a few months. Spot on targeting there. What’s a bookworm to do but to click away.

 

The Next Big Idea Club is an online book club for nonfiction lovers, curated by Adam Grant, Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain, and Daniel Pink. I mean, their nonfiction credibility is through the roof. If there’s any book club to join, this is the one. After all, I own each of the four’s books.

 

How it works: The curators pick the best nonfiction works of the year for the club to read together, one book a month. It’s a subscription service, so you can either get the quarterly mailing of the hardcover books, ebooks, or just the bonus materials. The bonus materials are author interviews by the curators, video lectures, and a closed Facebook group for discussions. There are also live Q&A sessions with the authors. For every subscription, book donations to students in under-resourced communities are made.

 

It’s all top notch. People post really thoughtful reflections and questions on the Facebook group. And the books are brand-new releases. We’re currently reading The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle.

 

If you’re a nonfiction lover, definitely check it out.

 

2. Business, Books, and Brews Meetup

 

This meetup in Boulder is awesome. What could be better than talking about books in a coffee shop for 1.5 hours? Everyone seems to be so pleased with finding the group and having an outlet to geek out about business books.

 

Our next meetup will be on Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (who is mentioned three times already in this post). If you’re in the Boulder area, come join us!

 

3. My Reading Interview Podcast

 

It tickles me that I have to start a podcast to get to talk about books to long-time friends. So millennial. But these interviews are fantastic because it’s difficult to have an extended, focused conversation about books and reading when 1) they live far away, and 2) kids may interrupt in-person conversations.

 

There are self-motivated learners everywhere. Famous people get a lot of podcast airtime, but really, gems of insights are always nearby from people we interact everyday. I want to uncover these gems, somehow.

 

If you enjoy listening to conversations about books, check out my Reading Interview Series!

 

I actually have not decided whether to keep going indefinitely, or make this a finite project. I told myself to try 6 episodes first and then decide. If you have feedback or comments, please let me know!

 

How do you find ways to talk about what you read?

 

How to Get Audiobook Discounts Using Whispersync

How to Get Audiobook Discounts Using Whispersync

This article contains tips on how to take advantage of the Whispersync for Voice feature by Amazon and get audiobook discounts. I’ll also show you how to add Whispersync to your Kindle books. If you’re an Amazon consumer, particularly Kindle ebooks and audiobooks consumer (i.e., Audible members), you’re probably familiar with or at least have heard about Whispersync.

 

The Amazon audiobook service is called Audible, and to read more about Audible membership and how to save money during sign up or after you’ve subscribed to Audible, read this article: How to Save Money on Audible Membership. You can try the membership service for free for 30 days and get 2 free audiobooks (you can keep them no matter what).

 

Try Audible for 30 Days and Get Two Free Audiobooks

 

Whispersync is a neat feature that lets you synchronize the location of your latest read in the Kindle ebook and audiobook when you have both versions of the same title in your library. Many ebooks, though not all, offered by Amazon are Whispersync for Voice-ready enabled, allowing you to pick up where you left off from the audio or ebook version. It’s great because it combines the flexibility of the audiobook, like being able to multitask while listening to a book, and the handiness of highlights and writing notes on the Kindle ebooks.

 

Now, why would you want to buy both the ebook and audiobook versions of the same title? One reason is for the discounts!

 

When you buy either an audiobook or a Kindle ebook that is Whispersync for Voice-ready, Amazon will likely give you an offer to buy the other version at a heavily discounted price. Sometimes, the total price for this combination will be lower than the original price of either the audio or ebook version.

 

I usually prefer ebooks, since I like to go back to certain sections of the book, get quotes, etc., which would be difficult with the audio version. A few times, I’ve found out that buying the audiobook first, then taking advantage of the Whispersync offer, I get a lower total amount spent and I have both the ebook and audiobook versions in my library.

 

Here’s an example on how to do it, screenshots included.

 

How to Add Whispersync to Your Kindle Books and Get Audiobook Discounts

 

Example: I did this recently with Trevor Noah’s book, Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. With raving reviews, this book turns out to be a perfect example on why it’s great to have the ebook and audiobook versions. Trevor is both hilarious and insightful. He’s a comedian from South Africa and a brilliant storyteller. He’s currently heading the satirical news show The Daily Show, which he inherited from the legendary Jon Stewart.

 

Trevor was born during apartheid and grew up in the complex post-apartheid South Africa. His life stories are out of this world. Noah narrates the audiobook version, which is awesome, since he fully characterizes the people he mentions in the book. So, not only you get to listen to the words as he intended them to sound, you’ll also get the full affectation and the true pronunciations of the numerous languages that he masters. He even says “Volkswagen” the proper way.

 

This is the Amazon page for the Kindle book. It’s priced at $14.99.

Trevor Noah: Born A Crime

 

 

 

 

 

If you see on the right of the image, beneath the 1-Click purchase button, there is a box that you can check that says “Add Audible narration to your purchase.” In this case, the additional cost of the Audible narration is $4.99. To get both the ebook and audiobook, check this box.

Add Audible Narration

 

If you see the original price of the audiobook alone, it’s listed at $21.95. So if you actually go the ebook + audiobook route, your total is $14.99 + $4.99 = $19.98, which is less than the audiobook alone. Of course, there will be taxes applied to your purchase, but the taxes will exist in both cases. Note that if you have an Audible membership, you may get the 30% discount on any purchased audiobook, so this comparison wouldn’t apply. In any case, the additional cost of having both versions in your library is marginal.

Trevor Noah: Born A Crime Audiobook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Notes

One thing that happened to me when I purchased this book was the notification that the credit card on record in my Amazon account and Audible account has to be the same. I think if they were the same, the purchase of both versions could be done simultaneously.

 

I actually had some Amazon credit that I could use to buy the Kindle ebook, so I went through the steps to purchase the ebook first, using my credit. Then I went to my Audible account, and it knew that I had purchased the ebook, so the audiobook was priced at $4.99. I then purchased the audiobook version using the credit card I had on the Audible account.

 

Kindle book purchase:

 

 

 

 

 

Audiobook purchase:

 

This means that if you have some Amazon credit (e.g., from gift cards, etc.), you cannot use this to purchase audiobooks, since the audiobooks are sold on the Audible website, with separate accounts. Just a heads up.

You can explore more titles and use this trick to see if you can get good deals on audiobooks. Many ebook titles, especially the classics, are free on Amazon. Once you’ve “bought” them and have the ebooks in your account, the audiobook offer becomes very cheap. To find Whispersync deals, or to scan through your ebook library to see the Whispersync discount offer, go to this page.

 

 

 

 

You can see the links there for deals or “Add Audible Narration to Books You Own”. The last link there will scan all of the ebooks you’ve owned and list the prices to add Audible narration.

 

Hope this is useful for you, and enjoy reading and listening!

 

Want ideas on which audiobooks to start listening to? Check out my favorite books from 2015, 2016, and 2017.

 

Other how-to articles on Audible Membership

How to Save Money on Audible Membership

 

Reading Interview Episode 1: Justin Kim

Reading Interview Episode 1: Justin Kim

Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Reading Interview Series, where I chat with bookworms, avid readers and learners, to unpack their reading habits and philosophy.

 

My first guest is Justin Kim. Justin Kim is a public speaker and minister for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. His official title is Assistant Director of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church, as well as the Editor of Collegiate Quarterly, a religious publication for young adults. He graduated from a Roman Catholic high school, a Jewish-sponsored university, and has dialogued with many denominations.

 

In this conversation, we talked about how he digests books, how he uses audiobooks, reading in first and second languages, parenting and reading, reading for students and graduate students, how he finds time to read, using emotion as a tool for learning, and much more. I enjoyed it tremendously and I hope you will too.
 

Visit Justin’s Blog, beforethink.org. Connect on Twitter: @justinkimjk

 

 

Mentioned Books, Authors, and Links
How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler
Encyclopedia of Britannica
The Bible
Ellen G. White
The Big Five
John Stott
Philip K. Dick
J. R. R. Tolkien
Curious George
Little Blue Truck

 

Minute Markers:
Current work at the General Conference of  Seventh-day Adventist Church [1:53]
People’s behavior towards digital vs. print publications [4:42]
How he started reading and loving to read [7:00]
On collecting series [8:40]
How the genres he reads change over time [10:29]
Learning reading and writing skills in college [12:12]
On the book, How to Read a Book, and the multiple ways to read a book [14:57]
Whether he reads cover to cover [18:45]
Reading in first and second languages [19:27]
The types of books he reads now [23:04]
How to improve the mind’s life: reading 7 types of books [23:50]
What he is reading right now [25:34]
How he finds titles to read [26:24]
Books vs. ebooks [28:20]
On audiobooks [30:29]
The power of narratives [32:40]
How many books he goes through per month [33:33]
How he remembers what he read [34:53]
On lending books to other people [38:11]
On using public libraries and borrowing audiobooks [40:19]
How he arranges his bookshelves [43:47]
What he reads for entertainment [47:53]
The relationship between science fiction and systematic theology [48:47]
How he finds time to read [53:02]
Parenting and reading [55:23]
Selecting children’s books [59:33]
Favorite children’s books [01:02:00]
What he wants to get better at in terms of reading [01:04:14]
Important skills for students and graduate students [01:05:45]
Books he would give to a younger version of himself [01:06:13]
What people should read [01:07:25]

 

Attributions

 

*Amazon Product links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!

 

Uncle Tungsten: Oliver Sacks on Leaving Childhood Fascination

Uncle Tungsten: Oliver Sacks on Leaving Childhood Fascination

In Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Childhood, Oliver Sacks recounted memories of his younger years being fascinated and consumed by chemistry. Under the familial apprenticeships of his chemist uncles, he enjoyed the exploration of a scientific field with all the joy and wonder a boy could experience in his favorite playthings. Except that for Sacks, his toys were chemicals, including metals and radioactive materials that were much more accessible to the general population in the 1940s.

 

As a chemistry fan myself, I was actually jealous of the hands-on experiments he could do for fun, at home. Not very many college educated chemists would have half of what he got to do as a child. He got to know each element of the periodic table simply out of curiosity and joy.

 

At the end of the book, however, Sacks asked these profound questions on what happened as he entered adolescence. Somehow, his fascination with chemistry faded. I think we can probably resonate on the experience of growing up, and letting go of a childhood fascination.

 

But now all this had changed: other interests were crowding in, exciting me, seducing me, pulling me in different ways. Life had become broader, richer, in a way, but it was also shallower, too. That calm deep center, my former passion, was no longer there. Adolescence had rushed upon me, like a typhoon, buffeting me with insatiable longings. At school I had left the undemanding classics “side,” and moved to the pressured science side instead. I had been spoiled, in a sense, by my two uncles, and the freedom and spontaneity of my apprenticeship. Now, at school, I was forced to sit in classes, to take notes and exams, to use textbooks that were flat, impersonal, deadly. What had been fun, delight, when I did it in my own way became an aversion, an ordeal, when I had to do it to order. What had been a holy subject for me, full of poetry, was being rendered prosaic, profane.

 

Was it, then, the end of chemistry? My own intellectual limitations? Adolescence? School? Was it the inevitable course, the natural history, of enthusiasm, that it burns hotly, brightly, like a star, for a while, and then, exhausting itself, gutters out, is gone? Was it that I had found, at least in the physical world and in physical science, the sense of stability and order I so desperately needed, so that I could now relax, feel less obsessed, move on? Or was it, perhaps, more simply, that I was growing up, and that “growing up” makes one forget the lyrical, mystical perceptions of childhood, the glory and the freshness of which Wordsworth wrote, so that they fade into the light of common day?

 

This change, Sacks felt, happened when he was fourteen years old. Between then and the writing of Uncle Tungsten, many decades passed, and of course, Sacks became a neurologist, author, polymath. While he ended the last essay with these sobering questions, he gave a hopeful afterword. Many decades after his passion for chemistry faded, he found it again, triggered by a friend who sent him a poster of the periodic table with a picture of each element and a little bar of tungsten, his childhood favorite element. With that, a flood of memories overcame him and his old love for chemistry was unearthed. One of the last essays Sacks wrote before he died was about his love for the elements of the periodic table. You can find this essay in Gratitude.

 

I love the contrast Sacks made between learning out of joy vs. necessity, and how one is more poetic, lyrical, the other prosaic and dull. Do you have a childhood fascination that faded away too?

 

Image credit: freeimage.com
Hamilton: How Genius Work Happens

Hamilton: How Genius Work Happens

Hamilton: The Revolution is the third post in a series on Individuality. Read the first and second.

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. If you hear someone saying these famed words with a beat, then you’ve come across someone who has been bitten by the Hamilton bug. I’m talking about Hamilton, the Broadway musical that is making waves in the theatre world with ripples in contemporary American culture.

 

As someone whose day job is as far away as it can be from the Arts, I am immensely fascinated by the artist’s mind. How do artists create? How do they think? What thought process occurs when they work? What is it like to operate with the right brain in dominance?

 

These questions, of course, are decidedly left-brained, which, I suspect, miss the whole essence of artistic endeavors. It seems to me that the Arts involve more nonlinear processes, merging divergent thoughts and feelings that may at some point converge into a masterpiece. The actual work from the blank canvas to a painting may take a short time, but the process of creation has likely started long before that moment of inspiration.

 

Which is why I’m crazy about one of my latest reads, Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, that unveils a little of the creative process, the story of how this revolutionary Broadway musical came about. There’s a marvelous story of individuality here.

 

Individuality: An Asset in Creative Endeavors

 

Hamilton is about the life of Alexander Hamilton, the guy on the $10 bill (of which I was completely ignorant before this musical), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the first Secretary of the Treasury. It traces his life during the American Revolution and the early years of the nation, to his death.

 

Sounds like a bland historical statement? Yes. But, Hamilton is anything but boring.

 

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer and creator of the musical, said in an interview, “We take it as a given that hip-hop music is the music of the revolution.” That’s right. This is a hip-hop musical, a sound that is not typical Broadway. It’s fast-paced, energetic, delivering high words-per-minute density that covers vast amount of information in mere minutes. Cabinet debates are performed as rap battles, with contemporary language that makes these idealized Founding Fathers accessible to the 21st century audience.

 

“This is my brain and unless I express it, it’s only going to stay in my brain. It’s more about personal expression than imposing a will on the world. It’s more about…if I don’t get this idea out of my head and on to paper, it dies with me.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda

 

Lin-Manuel is a master wordsmith. There are 4 dozens of songs in this musical, much more than typical Broadway shows, and he wrote them all. I love the story of how it began, how he connected Founding Father to hip-hop.

 

About to go on vacation in 2008 from his first musical, In the Heights, he picked up Ron Chernow’s doorstopper book, the biography of Alexander Hamilton. (What kind of person does that? A nerd. Read about Lin’s relationship with books here.) Within a few chapters, something clicked in his mind: this was a hip-hop story. Needless to say, not very many could make this kind of connection! Hamilton, an outsider, an immigrant, wrote his way out of his doomed life in the Caribbean, rose with ambition through his skills with words, and helped build the country. This connection was so obvious to him that he Googled whether anyone had done a musical on Hamilton. (That would be a no.)

 

As I went through the creation story in the book, it became abundantly clear that Lin was probably the only person on the planet whose brain could birth this breakthrough musical. The marriage of an avid reader, history learner, writer, hip-hop connoisseur, rapper, freestyler, and musical buff in his personhood, plus the friends who collaborated with him, are what made this possible. If that’s not a story of individuality, I don’t know what is.

 

Lin said something profound about individuality in the last 1 minute of this interview.

The book Hamilton: The Revolution traverses the 7 years between Lin’s first moments of inspiration in 2008 to the show opening on Broadway in August 2015. It tells the stories of how the songs came about and what inspired them. The complete libretto is reproduced here (on gorgeous papers) with Lin’s annotations, plus snapshots of his notebook pages when he first wrote the lyrics. In other words, it’s a little peek into his brilliant mind. It also tells the stories of the many collaborators that built the masterpiece, that even though Lin’s name has the strongest association with the musical, the revolution did not happen just because of one person.

 

Need more reasons to read Hamilton: The Revolution? Keep reading.

 

Lessons on History

 

The biggest reason why I love this book is because of its profound insights on history. It does not treat history as a list of facts, but as stories. Stories of people, real people with real ambitions, emotions, and flaws. The Revolution here is meant to refer both to the American Revolution of the 18th century and the show itself, “a musical that changes the way that Broadway sounds, that alters who gets to tell the story of our founding.”

 

The book touches upon the fallacies through which we see history, how in hindsight revolutions may look obvious and inevitable, but in fact at the moment, they were “unprecedented and all but impossible to imagine ahead of time.” It’s hindsight bias. There’s also our faulty memory and how unreliable it is in reproducing sequence of events, something they experienced in putting this book together. If we couldn’t keep our recent facts right, how are we expecting something from 240 years ago to be entirely solid.

 

The book is a precious record of the experiences of the artists today as they are living through them. It is contemporary, and thus can capture thoughts and feelings more accurately. We know how hard it is to piece together something from the past, to capture the atmosphere and essence of the events, even in the presence of evidence. In a way, this book too is a piece of history.

 

Lessons on Collaborations

 

Even though Lin wrote the musical, the creation of Hamilton involved many bright minds. Genius work is often a collaborative effort. My favorite story is of Alex Lacamoire who was in charge of orchestrating the music, tweaking each part of the 10-person band to get the music exactly right and tell the story as best as they can. I’ve been listening to the cast album for a few days now, and I am simply blown away by the incredibly layered composition of the music.

 

There was also the stage director, stressing over little details to reproduce 18th century New York. These are things that the audience may never notice, but contribute to the feel and atmosphere of the stage, which help the actors get into their stories more.

 

With each piece, the revolution becomes less of a mythical story into a story of community, of hard work, and of ingenuity. There are iterations, false starts, and revelatory moments. But most of all, it’s a composite of individuals, with distinct individuality and gifts, pushing for something that has never been done before.

 

Quoting Lin in the video above:

“I think that’s what we do as artists. What’s the thing that only I can contribute? It’s not about the confidence to like, “Hello, world, here is this idea that never existed.” It’s… This is my brain and unless I express it, it’s only going to stay in my brain. It’s more about personal expression than imposing a will on the world. It’s more about…if I don’t get this idea out of my head and on to paper, it dies with me.” – Lin Manuel Miranda

 

Previous posts in this series on Individuality:

Individuality: What Makes You, You

Individuality and Creativity: A Christian Perspective

See also this NYT article: Why ‘Hamilton’ Has Heat

 

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