Reading Interview Episode 3: Kendra Stanton Lee

Reading Interview Episode 3: Kendra Stanton Lee

Kendra Stanton Lee is my guest for this 3rd episode of the Reading Interview Series, where I chat with bookworms, avid readers and learners, to unpack their reading habits and philosophy. She’s a freelance writer based in Boston, but really, there’s not one thing that can describe her. She’s a teacher, writer, calligrapher, and entrepreneur. You’ll love this conversation with her. We talked about her reading life, some contemporary and important books, her writing life, and her experience with the publishing world. My personal favorite part is towards the end of the episode where we talk about intercultural relationships. Stick around to the end for that.

Connect with Kendra:

Kendra’s blog: www.kendraspondence.com
Twitter: @Kendraspondence

 

 

Mentioned Books, Authors, Podcasts, and Links
American girl books
Minute Markers:
Kendra’s life story in books [1:27]
Her approach to guide her kids to love reading [11:36]
How she discovers new books, favorite genres [15:20]
What makes her break up with a book [18:18]
Why an author’s voice is important [21:24]
Contemporary books that are important for women to read [22:36]
Why Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and her novel Americanah, rocks [22:59]
Why Between the World and Me is required reading [28:23]
The book that made a man moved away from sitting next to Kendra on the subway [33:14]
Kendra’s approach to writing; why writing is important to her [36:50]
Using daily occurrences as inspiration for writing; finding humor in life [40:50]
How she found/developed her voice in writing [45:20]
Experience with the publishing world through her book project a few years ago [47:40]
Intercultural relationships [49:09]
Why conversations on intercultural relationships/families are important [53:55]
Intercultural relationships from a faith perspective [56:24]
What raises up cultural conversations in her family [58:55]
Why messy conversations are sometimes necessary [1:00:08]

 

Attributions

Picture: Kendra Stanton Lee

 

*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!

 

Best Books of 2017: Part 2

Best Books of 2017: Part 2

It’s time for the 2nd installment of best books of 2017. This year has been an especially good reading year for me, clocking at 54 books of different varieties. Part 1 of my 2017 favorites can be found here. For the whole reading list, check out this link below:

I read a lot of great books this year, but the ones that made this list were the ones that I felt were fantastic reads.

1. Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

As a new parent, I found this book super entertaining. Gaffigan is one of my favorite comics, and these funny stories about his family of 7 (5 kids) and parenting are hilarious and refreshing, especially if you want to escape high-brow, too-intellectual topics for a while (anyone tired of politics this year?). I recommend the audio version, which Gaffigan performs himself.

 

2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Deep Work is for anyone who’s looking for tips on working in a focused way and achieve excellence in a world where we’re dinged, pinged, alerted, and notified constantly. Newport’s advice is practical, but he also recommends different productivity strategies based on the nature of your work (i.e., this is not the type of book that offers a singular method and is adamant about it).

 

 

 

3. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin

Nicely coupled with Deep Work. While Newport focuses mostly on the logistics of productivity, Waitzkin focuses on methods of mastering new skills. He taps into his deep experiences as a chess child prodigy and martial arts competitor. True to its title, the book teaches you how to surpass learning as a way to satisfy curiosity or to become more knowledgeable, into a realm of expertise where learning turns into art. I can’t recommend this book enough.

 

 

4. Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin

The discovery of gravitational waves shook the world, in a good way, when it was publicized in early 2016. The quest earned Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017. But the search for these elusive waves began many decades before and involved numerous scientists with varying personalities and quirks. Their tireless toils lead us to understand a bit more the nature of our universe. This book tells the story of this quest, one of humanity’s most noble quests, I daresay, from the beginning. A marvelous story.

5. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

These days, it’s not outrageous to make the claim that Elon Musk is probably the world’s most interesting living person. His name has become synonymous with the most outrageous and audacious projects that Silicon Valley has ever undertaken. Yet Musk’s life story told in this book makes this man even more interesting, if that is even possible. He lives a gutsy life, which is such an understatement. This book was published in 2015, yet merely two years after, it feels outdated already simply because its subject has continued moving, creating companies, and undertaking out-of-this-world projects. It’s a fantastic biography.

 

6. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder is a heartwarming story of a boy with facial differences who attends school for the first time. Making friends, being kind, facing bullies–all things character building, for kids and adults alike, are touched here. I’ll be reading this with my baby one day.

 

To see the previous best-of lists, check out these links below:

2017: Best Books of 2017 Part 1

2016: Best Books of 2016 Part 1, Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015: Best Books of 2015 Part 1, Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

What are your best reads in 2017?

Best Books of 2017: Part 1

Best Books of 2017: Part 1

It’s time for the mid-year highlights of the best reads of 2017! I’ve been having an especially voracious appetite for reading this year. Since I no longer have to commute to work, the amount of reading time in my life has multiplied. You can view the complete list of the books I’ve read in 2017 and 2016 below. Click here for Part 2 of this list.

These are my best picks from this year’s list:

1. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

This was the first book I finished in 2017. It is both hilarious and insightful. Trevor Noah, a comedian from South Africa, is a brilliant storyteller. Noah was born during apartheid, and grew up in the complex post-apartheid South Africa. His life stories are out of this world. If you can, I would recommend listening to the audiobook version. He narrates it himself, which is awesome, since he speaks many languages and does accents very well. You’ll get the full characterization of the people he mentions in the book.

Blog posts inspired by the book:

Trevor Noah’s Insights on the Power of Language

Home in Language: Why Speaking in Your Mother Tongue is So Refreshing

2. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

This concise and poignant volume is a critical view of modern society and its isolation. Junger elucidates the power and importance of living in communities, most of which is lost in our typically individualistic lives.

Blog post inspired by the book:

Tribe: Home in Community

3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is a beautiful novel that traces the lineage of two half-sisters, spanning about 300 years of Ghanaian and American history. Through the story of this split family, we are carried along through history, seeing the impact and legacy of colonization and slavery to individuals, families, and societies. Incredible work of fiction.

Blog post inspired by the book:

Home-Longing: Thoughts on Home and What It Means. A Prequel.

4. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

This is the mother book of all business and self-help books. Lots of inspiring quotes and life hacks from top performers of all fields.

5. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

If you’re into science-fiction, this is a fantastic collection of short stories. One of these stories became the basis of the acclaimed movie Arrival, starring Amy Adams. It’s great writing, combined with provoking exploration on how humanity would behave in alternate realities.

6. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis

A book by a great storyteller, on a great friendship story between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two Israeli psychologists whose work on the mind’s judgment-making processes have influenced probably everything in modern psychology. Kahneman is the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, one of my all time favorite books, where he describes the key conclusions of his and Tversky’s work. The Undoing Project is the behind-the-scenes story on how the research and collaboration took place between these two great minds.

7. Purple Hibiscus: A Novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read several of Adichie’s books this year and though I enjoyed all of them, I especially appreciated Purple Hibiscus. She portrays the inner life of the novel’s protagonist–a teenage daughter of a deeply religious and abusive man–and her complex relationship with her family very powerfully.

8. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

For a book about death, this book is a surprisingly delightful read. Doughty works in the death industry and takes us through her reflections–both humorous and serious ones–as she learns about her work in a crematory. It has just enough irreverence to be funny, but it also poses deeper questions about how modern society handles death and the dead.

To see the best-of lists from previous years, check out these links below:

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1Best Books of 2017 Part 2

2016: Best Books of 2016 Part 1, Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015: Best Books of 2015 Part 1, Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

What are your best reads in 2017 so far?

My Fall Reading List: 2016. What Are You Reading?

My Fall Reading List: 2016. What Are You Reading?

When fall arrives, my brain turns academic. Here are my picks for this Fall!

 

1. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

 

 
This 832-page of a doorstopper needs to be conquered! With me being obsessed with Hamilton, the Musical, it’s only natural and responsible to actually read the biography, the source of the musical’s inspiration.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.
 

In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America. According to historian Joseph Ellis, Alexander Hamilton is “a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all.”
 

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804. Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.

 

2. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

 


 
Gawande is one of my favorite authors. After his book, Better, inspired the Anatomy of Excellence essay–my most popular post this year–I’m determined to read every book he has written.

The modern world has given us stupendous know-how. Yet avoidable failures continue to plague us in health care, government, the law, the financial industry—in almost every realm of organized activity. And the reason is simple: the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people—consistently, correctly, safely. We train longer, specialize more, use ever-advancing technologies, and still we fail. Atul Gawande makes a compelling argument that we can do better, using the simplest of methods: the checklist. In riveting stories, he reveals what checklists can do, what they can’t, and how they could bring about striking improvements in a variety of fields, from medicine and disaster recovery to professions and businesses of all kinds. And the insights are making a difference. Already, a simple surgical checklist from the World Health Organization designed by following the ideas described here has been adopted in more than twenty countries as a standard for care and has been heralded as “the biggest clinical invention in thirty years” (The Independent).

 

3. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal

 


 
Some leadership lessons from the military.
 

What if you could combine the agility, adaptability, and cohesion of a small team with the power and resources of a giant organization?

THE OLD RULES NO LONGER APPLY . . .

When General Stanley McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2004, he quickly realized that conventional military tactics were failing. Al Qaeda in Iraq was a decentralized network that could move quickly, strike ruthlessly, then seemingly vanish into the local population. The allied forces had a huge advantage in numbers, equipment, and training—but none of that seemed to matter.

TEACHING A LEVIATHAN TO IMPROVISE
It’s no secret that in any field, small teams have many ad­vantages—they can respond quickly, communicate freely, and make decisions without layers of bureaucracy. But organizations taking onreally big challenges can’t fit in a garage. They need management practices that can scale to thousands of people.
 
General McChrystal led a hierarchical, highly disci­plined machine of thousands of men and women. But to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, his Task Force would have to acquire the enemy’s speed and flexibility. Was there a way to combine the power of the world’s mightiest military with the agility of the world’s most fearsome terrorist network? If so, could the same principles apply in civilian organizations?
 
A NEW APPROACH FOR A NEW WORLD
McChrystal and his colleagues discarded a century of conventional wisdom and remade the Task Force, in the midst of a grueling war, into something new: a network that combined extremely transparent communication with decentralized decision-making authority. The walls between silos were torn down. Leaders looked at the best practices of the smallest units and found ways to ex­tend them to thousands of people on three continents, using technology to establish a oneness that would have been impossible even a decade earlier. The Task Force became a “team of teams”—faster, flatter, more flex­ible—and beat back Al Qaeda.
 

BEYOND THE BATTLEFIELD

In this powerful book, McChrystal and his colleagues show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be rel­evant to countless businesses, nonprofits, and other or­ganizations. The world is changing faster than ever, and the smartest response for those in charge is to give small groups the freedom to experiment while driving every­one to share what they learn across the entire organiza­tion. As the authors argue through compelling examples, the team of teams strategy has worked everywhere from hospital emergency rooms to NASA. It has the potential to transform organizations large and small.

 

4. Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

 


 

“While the history books are filled with tales of obsessive visionary geniuses who remade the world in their image with sheer, almost irrational force, I’ve found that history is also made by individuals who fought their egos at every turn, who eschewed the spotlight, and who put their higher goals above their desire for recognition.” —from the prologue
 
Many of us insist the main impediment to a full, successful life is the outside world. In fact, the most common enemy lies within: our ego. Early in our careers, it impedes learning and the cultivation of talent. With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems. In failure, it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult. At every stage, ego holds us back.
 
Ego Is the Enemy draws on a vast array of stories and examples, from literature to philosophy to his­tory. We meet fascinating figures such as George Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Katharine Graham, Bill Belichick, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who all reached the highest levels of power and success by con­quering their own egos. Their strategies and tactics can be ours as well.
 
In an era that glorifies social media, reality TV, and other forms of shameless self-promotion, the battle against ego must be fought on many fronts. Armed with the lessons in this book, as Holiday writes, “you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness, and as a result, you will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve.”

 

5. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull 

 

 
Learn creativity from the world of Pixar!
 

From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, the Academy Award–winning studio behind Inside Out and Toy Story, comes an incisive book about creativity in business and leadership—sure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath. Fast Company raves that Creativity, Inc. “just might be the most thoughtful management book ever.”
 
Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”
 
For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, WALL-E, and Inside Out, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.
 
As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged a partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on leadership and management philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention, such as:
 
• Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.
• If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
• It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
• The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
• A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

 

To see the books I read this summer, check out my Summer Reading List. Also see my Best Books of 2016 (mid-year review).

 

 

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