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THE LAZY BODHISATTVA
By Chade-Meng Tan
Whiplash: How To Survive Our Faster Future by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe – Not sure. The authors lay out nine concepts that define the age we live in. The concepts are set up to be provocative with a “this vs. that” format. All of the concepts are good. Pull over Push. Systems over Objects. Some of the stories are interesting, but it is not always clear how they support the main concept. I am not sure the main concepts are always compellingly explained as important. The book is certainly a nod to the MIT Media Lab and I like hearing about the Lab more than I expected. The book though was a mixed bag for me. Could.
Dear Data: A Friendship in 52 Weeks of Postcards by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec – This book collects the mail interchange of two data designers over the course of a year. Each week, they asked a question, collected data and created a representation to send to the other. The postcards feel more artistic than graphic. Watching the project evolve and seeing their follow-up commentary adds the right amount of context. The book is fun and inspiring. Should.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, Narrated by John Lee – I was looking for a book to match with my trip to India in January. The title won the Booker Prize in 2008 and it kept showing up on my radar around books about India and books about entrepreneurship. I chose to go with the audiobook edition, which worked very well given the book is written in first person (and that I can’t read in cars). The protagonist, Balram Halwai, is writing a letter to the Premier of China about his life story and what the Premier could learn from an entrepreneur like himself. The 21st century description of the caste system, bribery, loyalty, and globalization in India resonated with him. I could see glimmers of what Adiga describes. Strangely, the core of the story felt a little hollow to me but the circumstances that drove the story forward were fascinating. Should.
Life of the Buddha by Ashvaghosha, Translated by Patrick Olivelle – This is an epic poem of the Buddha’s life that was likely written in the first century CE. The official translation runs from his birth through the enlightenment. It is a good, but formal version of the story. Should.
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet – Book Two by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and Laura Martin – The story continue and T’Challa fights to see what is going on in his crumbling country and starts to see what must be done to save it. Must.
Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven – I needed to read the original run to be ready for the movie. It’s dark and sad, but it’s Wolverine and it suits him. Must.
A little over a year has passed since Amazon opened its first physical retail location in Seattle. The retailer has since opened two more locations in San Diego and Portland.
Over the last four months, I have had the opportunity to visit all three locations and if there is a trend to watch in book publishing, this is one worth watching.
Hailed for their success in creating the infinite bookshelf, Amazon takes a different approach in their physical spaces. The stores have a small footprint (3500-8000 square feet) and all of their inventory is positioned with the covers facing out, giving customers the ability to clearly see what is available in the store. These decisions mean their stores stock between 3000 and 5000 titles, versus 100,000+ titles in a typical Barnes & Noble superstore. Instead of the long tail of obscure, their selection presents a small concentration of big sellers.
While the selection is small, Amazon is using their vast storehouse of data across the store. Various shelves in the store highlighted books that were top sellers in the city, books with ratings of 4.8 stars and higher, and “if you like this, you will like that selections,” similar to what you find on Amazon’s product pages.
Each book in the store includes a shelf display with more collected information: the number of reviews, the average customer rating for the book, a reader review from their site. I’d guess that sales rank in the local area also contributed to their stocking algorithm.
For example, The Phoenix Project, a book near and dear to my heart, has always sold well through online retailers and in ebook formats.The Phoenix Project has over 1,600 reviews with an average rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars. It was quite a surprise to find the book available in Amazon Books’ Seattle and Portland locations. This is the first time I had ever seen the book in a book retail location. The book sells well in the Pacific Northwest given the number of technology companies here and the fact that IT Revolution is based in Portland. Interestingly, The Phoenix Project wasn’t available in San Diego’s smaller store.
With the stores called Amazon Books, bound volumes are the central focus, taking up around seventy five percent of the floor space. The stores also prominently display the company’s flagship electronics. Kindle e-readers of all shapes and sizes sit alongside their colorful Fire tablet cousins. Employees encourage customers to try the Alexas and Echoes microphoned speakers. A collection of batteries, cables and memory cards round out the devices section.
Amazon also makes sure to leverage the existing relationships they have with online customers in the physical stores. When you check-out, the clerk asks if you have a Prime account. If you say yes, they can confirm your account with a credit card number you have saved in your profile and your purchase prices are the same as you would find on their website. If you say no, the clerk offers a discounted price on Prime membership. Declining the offer means you pay the retail price for all of your selections.
Overall, their approach is interesting, but I wonder a little where these new stores fit among the choices for book buying between the near complete availabilty of Amazon.com and the high fidelity experience of Powell’s in Portland or a Barnes & Noble superstore. The Amazon Books stores are somewhere in between–an interesting place to discover new books but the small selection makes it hard to depend on finding the book that needed to purchase.
It would be nice to know if a title I searched for online was available at my local Amazon store. My hometown bookstore Powell’s makes the location of their inventory visible on their website.
Amazon has officially announced five more stores in cities like Chicago, Boston, and New York. Reports say they could open as many as 100 locations around the U.S.
Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen – In this 2011 book, Collins’ points his research practice at emerging companies. The question was how do start-up deal with the uncertainity, chaos and luck during their first decade. Collins with Morten Hansen use the paired approach, comparing 10X companies to their less successful comparables. They found a steady pace, small bets before big ones, consistent strategy, and a healthy dose of “productive paranoia”. The sum of the findings advocates greater discpline and how that discpline creates shapes outcomes in a world with luck, both good and bad. Must.
Ms. Marvel Volume 6 – The book continues its amazing run. Things get more complicated and the consequences more severe. This book takes place during Civil War II event and the influence comes in and goes back out. Must.
I am fascinated by all the different forms and shapes that notebooks can take. A critical choice is what ink based guidance the designer will offer the writer. It is easy and common to offer a blank page, but we seem to prefer a set of markings to organize our work. Sometimes, the markings serve a general purpose of alignment and coordinates. Other times, the forms are specific to the task. And sometimes, they are just whimsical.
In 2010, Seth Godin asked people to make a list of what they shipped`. I did the exercise in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. I have come to believe that this is a important exercise, especially for entrepreneuers to see what they have accomplished.
The most important thing that happened this year was my wife Amy Buckley graduating from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine with a Master’s Degree in Oriental Medicine. I am so proud of her for completing this segement of your journey towards helping heal others.
What did I ship this year?
- 250,000th copy of The Phoenix Project in the marketplace.
- Launched the follow-up flagship book The DevOps Handbook and have amazing early traction.
- Hosted DevOps Enterprise Summit events in San Francisco and London.
- Doubled the size of the team at IT Revolution.
- Co-founded a new company with three amazing people.
- Released the third edition of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.
- Monthly reviews of the books I am reading (69 books read this year)
- Supported the completion of a new campus for Dharma Rain Zen Center.
- Spent week in Italy with Amy.
And I helped 24 Kickstarter projects make their way into the world.
The Revenge of Analog by David Sax – This is a strange one. On the one hand, this book was written for me. I collect Moleskines and Field Notes. I bought a Poloroid camera so I could try out Impossible Film went it came on the market. I supported a number of board games that have been launched through Kickstarter. Our Holiday card in 2014 was eight pages of newsprint from Newspaper Club. Sax does a good job reporting this continuing phenonomen of indie, on-demand, analog creation–old forms finding new life with improved or revived technologies. The trouble was that I knew many of these stories well. I subscribed to Stack. I purchase Monocle. I’ve scouted the Amazon Books stores. I am not sure I could have written it, but it needed a little more (and I can’t believe I am saying this) fanboy amazement at what has happened and what more is possible. Could if you already get analog, Should if you want to understand.
Long Story Short by Margot Leitman – I like short books on storytelling, but this one didn’t click for me. The stories from students in Leitman’s classes were interesting but I am not sure her approach to the mechanics of storytelling gave me a new take. Could.
The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly – I have been reading Kelly’s work for a long time. We chose Out of Control for The 100 Best. There were a few high points but this one didn’t have enough surprises for me. It felt a little too abstract, some of the concepts were mushing in how they could overlap and that I had heard these many of these riffs before. Sadly, Could.
Hellboy Volume 1 by Mike Mignola and John Bryne – This is a collection of the first two story arcs of Hellboy. We get the origin story and lots of people tell him he is not doing what he was meant to do. I have always wanted to read this title and I wasn’t disappointed. Must.
Special YA Edition from Ethan Sattersten
My son Ethan is a reader. Since he started tracking in June, he has finished 50 books. I asked him to share his favorite series of the year.
Keeper of the Lost Cities Series by Shannon Messenger -Sophie is a normal human girl in high school at the age of 12 with Yale trying to accept her. Normal, right? But Sophie can hear minds and one day she meets a boy named Fitz whose minds she can’t hear. Sophie is sucked into a worlddo different than her own. She also isn’t who she thinks she is. I love books that have two things: adventure/fight scenes and mystical legends with a twist (courtesy of the author). This series has a lore that will make you crave the next book. Must – books in the Series include Keepers of the Lost Cities, Exile, Everblaze, Neverseen, Lodestar and two more planned but unreleased titles.
Keys To The Kingdom Series by Garth Nix – This is the story of Arthur, a kid who is given a key by Mr. Monday. The strange events start to occur. I don’t want to spoil it (and it’s hard to explain anyway). I like these books because of the epic battles and reality bending physics. That WORTH IT. I kinda play up the book series I love, so bear with my fan boying. Check it out! MUST – books in the Series include Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday, and Lord Sunday.
Skulduggery Pleasant Series by Derek Landy – Stephanie Egley is an average 12 year old living in Ireland until her uncle’s unusual death. At the reading of his will, , she inherits all of her uncle’s royalties and riches, and Stephanie meets a strange man wrapped in a scarf. From there, her life and destiny are changed forever. This story known as The Dead Bestseller brings you to a world that could easily be a single plot for every typical hero arc there ever was or will be, all in this seven book series. Warning: There are many deaths in these books of important characters or not) Should – books in the Series include Skulduggery Pleasant, Playing with Fire, The Faceless Ones, Dark Days, Mortal Coil, Death Bringer, Kingdom of the Wicked, Last Stand of Dead Men, The Dying of the Light, and a planned release in 2017.
I prepared this report for a seminary class I took at Dharma Rain Zen Center and found the topic so fascinating I wanted to share it futher.
In 2015, James Lawrence completed a feat in endurance sports. Lawrence, who is also know as the Iron Cowboy, completed fifty Ironman marathons across fifty states in 50 days. Each day, he swam, biked and ran 141 miles and in the roughly two months, he covered over 7,000 miles.
Take a moment and note your reaction to that story. Do you believe me? Do you think it was a waste of time? Do you wonder why anyone would do that? I appreciate all of those reactions, but I want to tell you another story that may seem even more unbelievable.
There is a Buddhist temple in Japan where monks walk 24,000 miles as a part of a religious practice to clarify the mind and spirit. The practice is called the kaihogyo – “practice of circling the mountains.” The participants are more commonly referred to as The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei.
The mountain itself is a mandala.
Practice self-reflection intently amid
the undefiled stones, trees, streams and vegetation,
losing yourself in the great body of the Supreme Buddha.
That passage is attributed to Sõ-õ, the patriach of the kaihogyo. Sõ-õ was a Tendai monk who lived in the 9th century C.E. and spent years in ascetic practice in the mountains located outside modern day Kyoto.
Sõ-õ had a strong affinity for the Fudõ, a deity drawn from early Indian buddhism into early sects of Buddhism in Japan. Fudo in Japanese means “Immovable” and he is often depicited in an intense pose with a sword and rope; his job to cut through ignorance and bind those ruled by their violent passions.
According to his biography, the diety appeared to Sõ-õ during one of his aestic pilgrimages in waterfall surrounded by raging fire. Sõ-õ jumped into the waterfall to embrace and instead emerged with a log from a katsura tree. It is believed that he crafted the log into the three images of Fudo, one for each of the temples he founded. Sõ-õ also reportedly gained profound inspiration from the story of the Never Disparaging Monk in the Lotus Sutra, the story of a monk who professes his belief in humankind, only to persecuted by those same people.
Sõ-õ was not doing anything unusual in his practice. Buddhist texts from the eighth century in India and China stated that, “Mountain pilgrimages on sacred peaks is the best of practices.” Academic research has found that Tendai monks pursued mountain pilgrimages in search of mystic powers and enlightenment during So-o’s time. Pilgrimages on Mount Hiei formalized in the following years among across the three main temples and many associated temples. Rules for the kaihogyo further solidified with a standardization of dress and routes. By the 14th century, the length of the course, the number of days and the nine day fast are detailed in religious texts, all practices resemble the kaihogyo as it is practiced today.
The 24,000 miles of the kaihogyo is completed over 1000 days and those 1000 days are spread out over seven years. As you start to do the math in your head, it may seem simpler or easier to complete. Let me end that idea.
In Year One, there is 100 days of walking. The official season for the kaihogyo runs from March 28th to July 5th. The course is roughly 19 miles. The gyoja, a title given to monks undertaking the challenge, awaken at 1am and are on the trail by 2am. They walk mostly in the dark by the light of a lantern. As a daily pilgrimage, the gyoja makes over 250 stops playing respects to places through the temple complex at Enryaku-ji – ponds, trees, bamboo groves, patriachs of Tendai. The monk continually chants a mantra to Fudo:
Homage to the all-pervading Vajras!
O Violent One of great wrath!
Destroy! hûm trat hâm mâm.
The gyoja (and yes, so far they have been male) returns five to six hours later. They have breakfast, do soji (morning work), hold service at noon, and work on the temple grounds the rest of the day before going to sleep around 8pm to start the cycle again the early morning hours.
Those 19 miles are hard for me to visualize and it’s even harder to internalize what that cycle would be like day after day. Given the topography of the area, the gyoja also deal with a 1400 foot change in elevation with a descent through the various stops and a return ascent as they finish the course each day.
Many monks do these first 100 days. Completing this first phase is a requirement for all monks who wish to serve as abbots at the temples at Enryaku-ji. That means five to ten monks complete this leg of kaihogyo each year, but most stop there. A very small percentage of monks continue on with the kaihogyo.
For those who do continue, Year Two and Year Three have the same 100 day segments of 19 miles. In Year Four and Year Five, the gyoja continue to walk the 19 mile course but they walk for 200 days, finishing their commitments in early October rather than July.
The final day of Year Five marks the 700th day of the kaihogyo and the first day of the doiri, an extreme nine day retreat. During this time, the gyoja goes without food, water, rest or sleep. Two attendants are with him the entire time to ensure the monk abides by the commitment. The monk will chant the same mantra from his walks 100,000 times.
The doiri is considered a turning point in the kaihogyo. The first 700 days are meant for self-benefitting practice, devoting practice to gaining enlightenment for oneself. The final 300 days shift toward others-benefitting practice; leading others and oneself to enlightenment.
In the sixth year there is 100 days of walking but the distance is 34 miles, almost twice the distance of the main pilgrimage.
In the final year, the seventh year, the gyoja will walk for 200 days. The first 100 days are the most difficult. The segment is known as the “Omawari” and the monk walks for 52 miles each day. The route takes him deep into Kyoto, visiting many temples, religious sites, and benefactors that support his practice financially. The route takes 18 hours to walk. The monks sleeps for a few hours, rises again and retraces the path back to the home temple.
The final 100 days are like the 100 days the gyoja starts with. He walks 18 miles on the main pilgrimage route around Mount Hiei. On the 1000th day, he finishes without ceremony or celebration, though there are often television crews and admirers lining the route to see the completion of the kaihogyo.
The intensity of the 1000 days of kaihogyo is inseparable from the what Fudo represents to the monk. Nothing must deter the gyoja from the task. They must cut through the delusions of what is possible. The lay confraternity of over 200 people that supports the Mt. Hiei kaihogyo take their name from the japanese word sokusho or “ending/stopping obstacles.”
Monks participating in the kaihogyo are consider a living form of Fudo. The unusually shaped hat, or higasa, is considered to be Fudo Myoo himself and is treated with the highest respect. The monk carries with him a rope and daggar much like the diety, though they receive emphasis because of their other purpose: tools for the monk to end his life if he fails at any point to complete the kaihogyo.
Death is more than a threat to the gyoja and he is reminded every day of the kaihogyo. Rather than traditional black robes, the kaihogyo monks wear white, the color representing death in Japanese culture. A coin is placed in the higasa to be used the monk should die and need ferry passage across the mythological sanzu river, separating life from death. As Ajari Tanno Kakudo describes:
“I dress in the clothes of the dead. I put on my sandals in the house. The Japanese never wear shoes indoors. So, putting them on inside means you’ve no intention of returning. At a funeral, the corpse has its shoes put on inside the house. This means that every day I leave on a pilgrimage of no return.”
Hakozaki Bunno wrote this haiku to his student Sakai Yusai after he narrowly survived an attack from a wild boar during his kaihogyo:
The path of practice:
Where will be
My final resting place?
Quotations from Daigyomon Ajari
“If you are not afraid of death, you can achieve anything. Put your life on the line and great enlightenment will be yours.” – Hakozaki Bunno
“It is only when a person is completely determined to achieve something that he can being to realize his inner power.” – Utsumi Shunsho
“You learn how to see your real self. You learn to understand what is important and what isn’t.” – Genshin Fujunami
“To others it seems to be about pain and suffering, But I get really great joy and satisfaction. Every day I return feeling alive and well.” -Tanno Kakudo
“The message I wish to convey is, please, live each day as if it is your entire life. If you start something today, nish it today; tomorrow is another world. Life live positively.” -Sakai Yusai
“The hope is in each of us. It’s no longer in the govern- ment, or world powers, but in each individual — we, you and I, are the hope.” – Uehara Gyosho
“Everybody thinks they’re living on their own without help from others. This is not possible. I really think that others have done something for me, and I have a feeling of gratefulness to other people.” – Endo Mitsunaga
Print Version of My Research
- Finn, Adharanand. “What I Learned when I met the monk who ran 1,000 marathons.” The Guardian, March 31, 2015.
- Ganci, Dave. “The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei.” Trailrunner Magazine, March 2003.
- “Japanese Monks Endure With a Vow of Patience.” The Associated Press, June 10, 2007.
- Kuhn, Anthony. “Monk’s Enlightenment Begins With A Marathon Walk.” NPR Morning Edition, May 11, 2010.
- Ludvik, Catherine, “In Service of the Kaihogyo Practitioners of Mt. Hiei.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 2006 Vol 33/1:115-142.
- Marathon Monks, Produced by ABC Australia, November 2004.
- Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei, Directed by Christopher J. Hayden, Documentary Educational Resources, 2002.
- Nakanishi, Sherry. “A Mantra for Ajari.” Kyoto Journal, July 2004.
Rhodes, Robert F. “The Kaihogyo Practice of Mt. Hiei.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1987 Vol 14:2-3.
- Schmid, Holly. “The Spiritual Athlete’s Path to Enlightenment.” Ultra Marathon Running, December 11, 1996.
- Stevens, John. Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei. Book, Echo Point Books & Media, 1988.
Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton – This book is full of intriguing places off the beaten path. If the book is for you, you’ll find those few stops you have been to and so many more that you’ll need to visit. Such a lovely collection. Must.
Resilience by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy – This one has been sitting in my reading pile for a while. I love the topic of resilience. The authors touch on all sort of interesting hot buttons – mindfulness, prisoner’s dilimina, swarming – but the book doesn’t hold together enough around the big idea. Could.
Travel The Planet Overland by Graeme and Luisa Bell – This book came out of the travels that the Bells made all over the planet in their Land Rover and they created a Kickstarter project to publish the book. I couldn’t say no. The book designed to convey advice about vehicle choice, essential gear, how to make money and food that works best for long-term overland travel. Could.
Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth – This is a wonderful book about traveling through Japan with food as the central focus. I traveled to Japan in 2014 and visited some of the places that Booth reports on, but he does so much more. The book made me realize how much Japanese food culture has moved into Western food culture – sushi, tempura, miso, soy sauce, sake, unami. Each of those serves as an essay topic along with along with several other stops including modern day pearl divers, poisonous fugu fish and the dualing schools of Japanese cooking. The writing style is simple and clear; Booth’s attitude is fun and mildly adventrous. This book is a Should for most people, and if you love Japan, it is a Must.
Trees Volume 2 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard – The storyline gets stale. It moves away from the mystery and gets all muddled up in other motivations of a few characters. It confuses me. I am putting this series down. Skip.
Doctor Strange – I honestly don’t know how Marvel continues to produce one great movie after another. I know part of it is being careful to produce across a growing set of genres. I also know they are careful to do too much or reuse plot devices across their movies. As for Doctor Strange, their version of magic is interesting and like in Thor, they show how it intersects with the observable world. Must.
Moana – Walt Disney Animation continues to put out amazing stories. Moana is fun, touching and leads with another great female role model (they even poke fun at the whole Disney princess thing). We took the whole family and everyone loved it. Must.
I read across this story about Moleskines at Notebookstories. The excerpt is pulled from The Revenge of Analog by David Sax :
During the summer of 1995, [Moleskine’s now-VP of Brand Equity and Communications Maria] Sebregondi was sailing off the coast of Tunisia on the yacht of her friend Fabio Rosciglione. He consulted with the distribution company Modo & Modo, owned by another friend, Francesco Franceschi, which distributed design items and T-shirts around Italy. One night over dinner, under a sky bursting with stars, Franceschi started to talk about what kind of products Modo & Modo could manufacture on its own, rather than importing the designs of others.
The conversation shifted to a question about who would buy those goods, and then to the changing nature of the world, which had just emerged from the Cold War into the heady dawn of globalization. International travel was not only less restricted but more accessible, thanks to low-cost airlines. Technology, including inexpensive cellular phones, websites and email, allowed independent thinkers to become entrepreneurs and pursue their dreams unbound by geography. Speaking late into the night, the three realized that a new global creative class was emerging, driven by curiosity and passion. Sebregondi proposed that Modo & Modo create a toolkit for this individual, whom she labelled a “Contemporary Nomad.”
Back in Italy, Sebregondi thought about what this nomad’s kit would hold. There would be a great bag, a versatile T-shirt, the perfect pen and maybe a utility knife. At the time, she was reading the book The Songlines by British travel writer Bruce Chatwin, an embodiment of her prototypical consumer. In one of the book’s essays, Chatwin wrote about his preferred notebooks, which he bought in a particular stationery shop in Paris. “In France, these notebooks are known as carnets moleskines,” Chatwin wrote, “‘moleskine,’ in this case, being its black oilcloth binding.” The last time he returned to Paris, Chatwin discovered, to his great horror, that the family firm in Tours that had made his beloved notebooks was now out of business and the carnets moleskines were no more.
A great bag, a versatile T-shirt, the perfect pen, a utility knife…and a notebook.
That is such a great description of an enterpreneur looking for a customer, getting a clear view of who they are, and figuring out what they need.
Do not believe in anything simply because you heard it.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in tradition because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and reflection, when you find that anything conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
-A retelling of the Buddha’s Kalama Sutta
Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt – I can remember reading the original 2001 HBR article while I was in business school. I loved it and its idea of simplifying decisions with a short list of effective rules. The book is an extension of the article 15 years later and this felt like a good idea with too many pages. The best of the book can be found in chapter 5, where the authors give solid examples for using simple rules in business context. Sprinkled throughout the book there are other interesting anecdotes about how simple rules create better outcomes, but they are too far between. Could.
The Best Interface Is No Interface by Golden Krishna – Skip. I didn’t want to say that about this book. The topic is great. The design is interesting. The trouble is that the book suffers from too much rant, not enough hope, and the need for a wider variety of interesting examples that describe non-obvious solutions to today’s problems with interfaces.
A Book About Love by Jonah Lehrer – I learned things reading this one (yes, I was wrong about letting kids cry to learn to soothe themselves; very bad idea). I loved spending time thinking about relationships, effort and the stories we tell ourselves. At other points, Lehrer inserts himself into the narrative in very poignant, jolting ways. He uses literary authors and characters to open some chapters. It felt weird. Overall I wanted something smoother. Move quickly and you will likely find interesting and useful things to think about. The best I can offer is a Could.
Ms. Marvel Volume 5: Super Famous by Wilson, Miyazawa, Leon, and Alphona – This book continues its great run. Ms. Marvel somehow keeps bumping into bad time baddies in Jersey City. Family and friends are changing too. It’s a lot for our main character to keep up with and she sometimes makes decisions that make things worse. Her job is to work it all out. Must.
East of West: Volume Six by Jonathon Hickman and Nick Dragotta – This far into the series it gets hard to talk it about with giving away the story. Just keep reading this one. It is great. Must.
I got thinking about audio again and the power of hearing directly from an author.
I remember having Tom Peters’ The Excellence Challenge on cassette and listing to it over and over in the tape deck of my 1982 Cutlass Cierra. Each segment is 10-15 minutes and filled with Tom’s energy and excitement. He was imploring you to think different and do different. I had to track down a set of the tapes on Ebay early this year, because you can’t find them anywhere anymore (now if I can just find a cassette deck…).
That got me about thinking about how often authors read the audio edition of their book. Many books never sell enough or have the potential to sell enough copies that warrants a the production of an audiobook (but that is changing).
In that small slice that do make it, I am surprised how often books are narrated by someone else. Maybe I shouldn’t be. With audiobooks, we judge the book and the performance. To take the role of narrator, you need to be able to perform the book. That is not a given with all authors, but in the space of business and popular non-fiction, so many have active careers as public speakers. Not narrating your audiobook feels like a missed opportunity.
There are exceptions too. When we decided to produce a audiobook version of The Phoenix Project, we brought in a professional narrator. Performing a novel is very different animal from performing a narrative. Pat Lencioni does the same thing on his fables.
I decided to make a list of the popular non-fiction audiobooks narrated by their authors. This is not comprehensive list but if you like the energy of the author sharing their work, here are some suggestions.
Popular Non-Fiction Audiobooks Narrated by Their Authors
- Jon Acuff
- Chris Anderson
- Shawn Anchor
- Brene Brown
- Jim Collins
- Stephen M.R. Covey
- Stephen R. Covey
- Stephen Dubner
- Angela Duckworth
- Steve Farber
- Carmine Gallo
- Elizabeth Gilbert
- Jeffery Gitomer
- Malcolm Gladwell
- Seth Godin
- Sally Hoghead
- Lewis Howes
- Tony Hseih
- Jeff Jarvis
- Josh Kaufman
- Pat Lencioni
- John Maxwell
- Tom Peters
- Dan Pink
- Joshua Cooper Ramo
- Dave Ramsey
- Eric Ries
- Gretchen Rubin
- Simon Sinek
- Zig Ziglar
I was pretty wrong the first time. I admit it.
Audio has become a growth category for publishing and a growth category for the overall media world. Audible has said publicly that 2015 growth was 40% year over year. Association of American Publishers is quoting similar numbers for audiobook downloads.
My friends at Berrett-Koehler told me at their Author Marketing Retreat that everything they are publishing as a book is also being produced as an audiobook. That is an amazing shift because traditionally only a small slice of books got converted.
The general rule of thumb is that audiobooks will sell about 10% of what the print book does. Given the fixed cost of narration and production, the dollars didn’t work. What has changed is audiobooks can be produced more inexpensively and there are many more outlets, in particular on the digital side, for audio to be distributed.
With that kind of growth, authors in the world of business and non-fiction are using audio in many different ways to experiment with new projects and expand their audience.
Many authors, like Tim Ferris, Gretchen Rubin, Dave Ramsey and the Freakonomics guys have picked up audio as another broadcast medium as a way to extend the coverage of their previous works. These authors have adopted audio like they did blogging, Twitter, and Instagram before it. Podcasting works as an effective form of marketing as shows they host alongside a co-host or interviewee.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History and Steven Johnson’s Wonderland are also authors using limited edition podcasts to extend the stories with a more narrative driven format. Their episodes are produced as native for audio and sound like they could be on NPR. Gladwell did original reporting for his 10 part series. With three episodes released, Johnson tells stories from his upcoming book.
This latter approach to how authors are using audio is getting close to what I have been hoping for. I even may have been a little right.
The original form of the art is usually the best. This American Life and RadioLab are conceived to be listened to; reading the manuscript is not the same. Movies derived from books always lack the depth of the prose. I wonder if an audiobook original would be more successful? Has there been any audiobook originals?
Maybe someone has been listening.
My first exhibit of the original audiobook #AskGaryVee by the loquacious and enuthastic Gary Vaynerchuk. Following on the his popular 500 episode run of WineLibrary.tv, his new video show is built with the same spontaneity but this time, for the realm of business folks working the hustle. He pulls questions from twitter and answer them in a live stream of consciousness on the show. The video format that allowed him to easily transfer the content from the show to a bestselling book to an audiobook. The last is most interesting to me.
The audiobook version doesn’t begin right. Gary reads the introduction with a slow, forced cadence. It feels off because it’s not how we hear Gary anywhere else. The magic starts when they turn to the questions from the show and he answers them in the improv style delivery where Gary best operates. I wish the whole audiobook was delivered that way. This is what I wanted on the Crush It! audiobook when it promised additional material not found in the book. While I also have other problems with how the answers are broken up across tracks and the lack of track labels, this audiobook starts to feel like its own stand-alone product produced for audio consumption.
Seth Godin’s Leap First and Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability are even better examples that capture the energy of a live moment recorded. Both of these recordings were done in front of a live audience and you can sense that. Something happens in that space. Their publisher SoundsTrue has a long history of recording the talks of spiritual leaders speaking to groups. With these talks, you feel like you are sitting there listening. The talks are conceived with the intention of being delivered as spoken word, not written word or a presentation with slides. Sadly, they are the only business self-help titles on the site.
There is more opportunity here. I can feel it in my bones.
Grit by Angela Duckworth -This is my favorite book of 2016, hands-down. Duckworth theory is that effort is the key to achievement because it builds skills AND contributes to achievement. Our desire to engage in continued effort comes from passion and perseverance. Her narrative delightfully balances research, case studies and memoir. Her own research is rich and interesting, but even more so as she connects the dots with other researchers like Carol Dweck, Anders Ericsson, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and others. I’ll be writing a longer summary of the book soon, but until then this is a MUST.
Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze – Coates is telling a big story in the newest reboot of Black Panther. What makes the story special is that everyone is right but no one agrees. What happens when your superpowers can’t save what you love most? Must.