Reading Revolution

To me there is no better way to relax than to curl up with a good book. As a child I’d read anything – even a milk carton – I was that thrilled with my new found reading skills. I still think strong reading skills are important for a person to develop good analytical skills and personal empathy. But not everyone has the time and I suspect more people spend time reading their phones than reading a book.

I resisted having a kindle for a long time because I love the experience of reading a physical book, but the kindle has some advantages: I can carry a few hundred books in the space of one physical novel, there is a fair bit of free content out there (thank you Gutenberg), and I can read Dutch books with the help of a convenient online dictionary. The big downside for me is I can’t share or pass on books, yes Amazon makes it technically possible but most publishers don’t allow it. For a while it seemed that e-readers would spell the end of physical books but there seems to have been a turnaround, with the sales of ebooks dropping, as the sales of physical books rises.

I don’t think people are necessarily reading less, but they might be reading differently, here are some developments in reading formats.

Serial Box

An old idea repackaged for today’s technology. Episodes of a series are released each week and you can switch between reading text or listening to audio without losing your place in the story. Some content is existing books repackaged, but the Serial Box is heading into creating original content, the first episode is free to whet your appetite, and a few classic books are issued as a free series – I’ve started with The Woman in White as a trial. You can hear more on a recent Recode Decode podcast.

Sleep Stories

If you’ve ever thought “just one more chapter” and then woken up at 2am with arm cramp and the light on this might be for you. Each Sleep Story is constructed with enough drama to keep you focused on the story but not so much that you’ll stay awake. The readers are chosen for their soothing voices, it’s a joy, even the three minute explanation on the site had me drifting off.

As a free alternative, try listening to a podcast in a language you don’t speak. I find Welsh very pleasing and restful.

Audio books

One advantage of reading is you can’t do anything else except read. If that sounds like a disadvantage for you then audiobooks are the answer. There are a range of services out there, mostly subscription based. I admit I don’t go in for audio books as I tend to loose focus and have to replay whole chapters. I have the same problem with podcasts longer than 30 minutes. But a friend who does really long travel, like 8 hours of driving, for her job finds them brilliant. In a way this is also an old idea upgraded with technology, books were serialised on the radio, this is just radio on demand.

Whatever technology we’re using, we still are looking for good stories.

Image via pixabay 

New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I’ve made three. It’s been a couple of tough years filled with change and I finally feel more settled with a company I respect and a comfortable home, so it’s time to challenge myself again! Here are my three challenges for this year.

1 Say Yes To Scary Stuff

Seek out and say yes to opportunities to speak at conferences or write for professional sites. I always get a lot out of doing this, and saying yes to one often leads to more opportunities. I’ve connected with a group of friends and we’re going to encourage and mentor each other to step up and take these opportunities.

2 Be More Creative

My job and my hobbies lead me to spend a lot of time staring at screens, and I want to have more fun and be more creative.

I want to get back to crafting, when I’m not looking at a screen I like knitting, sewing and fabric art. I want to complete at least four craft projects this year. One is something for a friend’s baby, that shouldn’t take long!

I’ve started a new Instagram account called 101 Good Things, where I make very bad drawings of things that make me happy. It’s a nice combination of making me notice the happy moments and have some fun trying to draw it. I am really bad at drawing hands, there may be improvement over the year.  Not sure whether I’ll stop when I get to 101.

Back in 2010 I reviewed Caffeine for the Creative Mind but rediscovered while unpacking, it’s 250 exercises to help you be more creative. I’m going to test the exercises and see what works. I may even post some of them here.

3 Read More Books from More Diverse Writers

I didn’t read enough last year, and I missed it. This year I want to read more, and from more diverse writers. A friend of mine posted this list, from R. O. Kwon, and I’ve added about 10 books from it to my wish list. I received an amazon voucher for Christmas but it’s not going to cover it!

  • by a writer who identifies as LGBTQI
  • a classic (not a re-read)
  • a poetry anthology
  • a Booker or Pulitzer prize-winning writer
  • by a writer from Africa
  • by a writer from China
  • by a writer from another Asian country
  • by a writer from a country I haven’t visited

I’ve started Middlemarch, so that’s the classic covered, I’ll take recommendations for the other options.

 

Let’s see how well I do – I’ll review at the beginning of December.

Great Summer Reading List 2017

Hurrah for summer! You’ll pack up your swimsuit, sunblock and sunglasses but what will you take to read? Here are my picks.

Leadership

(1) Weird Ideas that Work, I love the title, and I’m enjoying the combination of counter-intuitive ideas that turn out to be practical.  One chapter is devoted to “find some happy people and get them to fight”, which sounds like a recipe for disaster but it’s about building creative conflict – which is positive and useful. (This is not a new book, and the edition I have has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. )

Sustainability

(2) The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, is a frightening look at the real changes happening in our environment, from a fungus that is killing off frogs, to a decline in bat numbers, and our warming oceans. You can whet your appetite with an article in the New Yorker from the writer.

Business

(3) Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, explores just how well Google knows us, and is written by an ex-GooglerSeth Stephens-Davidowitz. While we might post a lot to social media we post the good news, the real story of our lives is revealed in our searches.

(4) Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, looks at why one artist (Monet) becomes famous, and another (Caillebotte) didn’t. Apparently luck has something to do with it.

(5) The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change, Bharat Anand examines the different strategic approaches taken by publishers in the digital world. 

Biography

(6) Not exactly a biography, but certainly a hero’s tale The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts , by Joshua Hammer, tells the story of smuggling ancient books and texts out of Timbuktu after the Al Qaeda took control.  I haven’t read it yet but the National Geographic article about it makes me hope someone’s bought the movie rights and plans to star Mahershala Ali.

(7) Part memoir, part self-help guide; I am looking forward to Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. She is someone to admire, who has managed to not only be her own person but to put roles on screen that reflect ourselves.

(8) One of my favourite reads in the last year was Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble which tells the harrowing story of Dan Lyons’ year in a startup in an amusing way while explaining what might be wrong with the startup and VC ecosystem.  

Personal Effectiveness

(9) Insight by Tasha Eurich, a psychologist, who looks at whether we’re self-aware or deluding ourselves, and what we can do about it. Sounds interesting in a slightly scary way.

Fiction

Summer should be all about the serious things so here’s a fiction option to consider;

(10) I am so happy that Arundhati Roy has returned to writing with the The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and I can’t wait to read it.

Don’t like my recommendations? Try Bill Gates’s.

Image: Summer Read  |  LWYang  |  CC BY 2.0

10 Books to Read on your Summer Break

It’s time to run away on your summer break, finally you’ll get time to read, what should you pick?

Leadership

(1) I will be reading Leadership BS, by Jeffrey Pfeffer. Which promises some ways of rethinking leadership.

(2) If you’re trying to re-think how you manage your team, then Why Work Sucks will take you through the concepts of a results only work environment – there are things there you can implement when you get back from summer.

(3) Your own leadership style comes out of your own attitudes The Art of Possibility is my favourite book to focus on personal leadership.

Innovation

(4) I’ll be reading How to Fly a Horse: The Secret of Creation, Invention and Discovery, a refreshing look at creativity.

Business

(5) I’ll be reading Industries of the Future, by Alec Ross. It seems to be a mashup of predicting trends and business applications.

(6) I want to read Phishing for Phools, reviews vary with some economists deriding it and some business people applauding it.

(7) The last business book I read (and reviewed) was Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, which challenges our current monetary system and looks at some alternative models for the future of business.

Biography

(8) I want to read the biography of Elon Musk, although I usually am wary of biographies of living people. Musk is such a fascinating entrepreneur for me, he seems driven to solve the world’s challenges as opposed to building a better widget.

Personal Effectiveness

(9) I want to read The Happiness Track, I’ve thought a lot about the way we work and the demands we put on ourselves. I’m hoping this book challenges the ideas behind our current cultural definition of success.

Fiction

(10) If you’re more into fiction – I’m halfway through The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, one of my favourite writers. The BBC has a list of ten books to read that’s making me itch for a bookstore trip.

Happy reading and happy summer.

Image: Summer Read  |  LWYang  |  CC BY 2.0

World Book Day

I love books, reading is one of my favourite things to do, so I’ll be celebrating World Book and Copyright Day on Saturday installed on my couch doing some serious reading. It’s not surprising that I love books, our house when I was growing up was full of books, they filled a surprising number of boxes when we moved house. When I say surprising I mean that it surprised the moving men who asked my mother “have you read all these”. She has, mostly.

So why are books important?

They’re a source of information, the ultimate in “long form” content. The content can go deeper, offer alternative theories, and expound an argument in a way that a blog post or article never will. A common criticism is that books are “out of date” by they time they’re published, it’s a fair call in some subjects, but there are books I value and return to a decade after they were published. No article has ever had that impact.

Books, particularly fiction, are a source of escape, the cheapest way to travel to new worlds.  It’s a form of escapism that’s legal and (relatively) cheap. It’s also good for your brain, reading fiction improves your brain connectivity and increases empathy. Regular reading reduces stress, and it can be a useful distractor in times of stress.

Books are one of my favourite decorating ideas, and research shows that children from homes with books do better academically. And there’s a long accepted link between literacy and a country’s development, so much so that Mao changed the written form of the language to make it easier to learn.

What about digital?

I was a hold out on the digital front, preferring the reading experience of paper. But I caved and bought a kindle a few years ago, and was converted, and oh the convenience – I can carry the four books I’ll read on a long haul flight, or the 12 books I’m using for research and work anywhere. I usually read more than one book at a time, and now I can carry all with me.

Lots of people love the feel and smell of books and swear they’ll never change and there’s some research out there suggesting that retention from reading paper is higher. But it is possible to love both, it’s the content that’s the magic.

Postscript; it’s the official World Book Day tomorrow, but it is celebrated in March in many countries as it fits better with the school year.

Image: Some of the books on the shelves in my house; the business books section.

RIP Books?

Seth Godin’s announcement earlier this week that he will no longer write books got me thinking. He, and others have commented on the demise  of the publishing industry, how the traditional form of a book is dead. They damn it with that word “traditional”, as if it belongs in another era and has no relevance today. As a book lover who buys hundreds of books each year every time the death of books is announced it’s a little stab to my heart.

It’s not a new claim, it’s something I’ve heard for more than 10 years. Since everything is now online I can offer articles from Kevin Kelley c2006, from Jeff Jarvis c2006, and from Michael Hyatt c2007.

The justifications come down to;

  • the advance of technology; we now have devices (including the horridly named iPad) where on screen reading is becoming a pleasurable experience
  • the advance of technology part 2; we now use information in a link/search/metadata world online and when it comes to knowledge that’s how we increasingly want to receive it.
  • the one way nature; the author tells us something, we don’t get to respond
  • they “depend on blockbuster economics”; because books are expensive to produce (compared to pixels) you need to sell a lot of them.

Much is made of the market revolution caused by iTunes, and it’s true that the music industry has been transformed. A few purists still worship at the vinyl shrine but it’s a shrinking group, and most of them have an iPod for weekdays. Are paper books doomed to become the province of purists, will booklovers become some sort of weird geek cult?

I’m not sure.

I like Seth Godin, I enjoy his blog. It’s bite-sized inspiration. Something I can dip in and out of. Fantastic. But I have been spectacularly underwhelmed by his recent books and the problem is me. When I pick up a business book I’m looking for depth; I want to read the longer case studies, I want the detail, I want to digest and think about what’s been written. I want to learn and to ponder how what I’ve learnt can help me in my work/writing/life.

When I go to a blog I’m looking for a snack, preferably a piquant one.

When I go to a book I want the full meal, and don’t hold back on the sauce.

With the rise of technologies and devices that make reading digital content more pleasurable this may not be a case of reading from paper, but I do still want depth on subjects, I want to hear from experts. I can see we’re mid-revolution – or rather mid-evolution in the way we consume content, but I suspect there is room for both bite-sized commentary of blogs and the in-depth analysis of experts.

And as good as the devices become I can’t imagine curling up in bed with one.

image Fried Spring Rolls /Mithril/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Size does matter: Kindle gets bigger

Amazon launched a new kindle last week, bigger and better than before. The bigger screen size will improve readability and graphics display, but it’s not just the size of the device that’s grown.

The selection of content has also grown; It was launched with 90,000 books, had 230,000 in February and now has around 275,000. It’s also become a favourite way to get newspapers with significant partnerships developed with New York Times, Washingtion Post and the Boston Globe. Partnerships textbook publishers and pilots with universities will also help sales – not to mention the state of student’s backs.

But perhaps the most dramatic change of all is in the sales figures. Where there is a Kindle version 35% of purchasers choose it.

I can see all the reasons for using an electronic book reader – and here I should point out that as I’m in Europe Kindle is not available so my experience is limited to using a Sony reader in a Waterstone’s store. It’s small, portable and you can store a lot of content on it. With the wireless delivery you can pick up newspapers at the moment of publication without leaving your home. There’s some discussion about it making life easier for those who need to carry a lot of documents – this argument I don’t buy, Kindle doesn’t let you work on the documents and I don’t think it offers any advantage over having a laptop and a passable internet connection.

CM200905_kindle2.pngI just don’t like it.

I love reading, I love books. I like the feel of them, I don’t even care if they’re old or new. I grew up with them and have always lived with books. A house without books isn’t a home, it’s a hotel room.

I suspect this might be the piece of technology that reveals my inner luddite.

images kindle via pixabay, book from darwinbell via flickr