Archives For November 2014

My goal is to read about 30-40 books a year.

Since my wife and I have young children, reading is difficult to achieve in our stage of life. I remember being frustrated a couple of years ago about this and wanted to find a solution to feed my mind’s curiosity.

Then I discovered audiobooks. 

People learn in different ways. I have friends who can read 50 or 60 books a year without breaking a sweat. I wish I could get to that point as a reader but I’ve discovered that I absorb information better through from the spoken word of an audiobook.

Book with HeadphonesBefore there were books, there was the beauty of the spoken word.

For thousands of years, stories were passed down from word of mouth, primarily because literacy was reserved for the elite and books were difficult to reproduce. Human history tells us that we are designed as humans to listen to others tell stories and share with the next person.

The reading purist may think I’m a heretic but my goal here is to help people discover more books through the way they can get the most out of them. I still read about 15 to 25 books a year in addition to audiobooks and I believe balance in reading is important.

I listen to audiobooks in the car on my drive to work, on long road trips, and when I work out during the week. I have hours of time that would go wasted without audiobooks, which makes me very thankful for them.

I’ve listened to many audiobooks and to be honest some are recorded with poor quality or are read by a voice that I don’t like. In those times, I stop listening and move on to the next. It’s okay to ditch one if it doesn’t work for you.

But, there are some excellent ones to choose from.

Here are five great audiobooks

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer (read by award-winning voice talent, Scott Brick)

I loved this because I was always. As the author Krakauer makes a point in his book about Pat Tillman, he seems like a Greek athlete and personality of old.

WAR by Sebastian Junger (read by the author)

I thought this book had an important story to understand, especially from the words read by author Sebastian Junger. Since he was embedded with an Army Ranger company in Afghanistan for over a year, his words would have more passion and meaning than another voice.

Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James D. Bradley (read by the author)

You all probably know that I love history books and this is one read by author James Bradley is a harrowing tale of Navy flyboys during World War II in the Pacific. With his Wisconsin accent, Bradley shares harrowing stories of these men in one of the most tragic stories you’ve never heard of from World War II.

Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden (read by John Curless)

Although written by an American, it is read by an English voice talent, John Curless, who reads the book with an Edwardian pomposity. I love listening to books written about British people. Don’t we all?

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (read by the author)

There is a cadence to the voice of Malcolm Gladwell and his soft tone brings curiosity to the listener and releases the spirit of the author’s ideas. I think business books are great to listen to for the business traveler, who is traditionally on the run.

Notice how I did not mention fiction audiobooks. I have nothing against them except for idea that I believe fiction books are meant to stretch the imagination of the reader. Last year, I listened to a few and felt like the experience would be better by traditionally reading them. I can’t imagine listening to The Lord of the Rings, Huckleberry Finn, A Wrinkle in Time, or The Chronicles of Narnia for that reason. If you find some good ones to listen to, I’d love to hear your recommendations.

Questions consider before picking the right audiobook

  • How long do you have to listen to an audiobook?
  • Do you have a road trip coming up?
  • Do you have a long commute to work?
  • Do you work out multiple times a week?
  • Do you want to listen to the author or a professional reader? Would either make it a better listening experience?
  • Is a physical CD or digital version preferable for you?

Where to get audiobooks

Physically buy them at a store:  These are often the most expensive ($20-50)

Digital editions:  Choose from iTunes, Amazon.com, ChristianBook.com, AudioBooks.com, or Audible.com ($10-$30)

Public Library: This is where I get 90% of my audiobooks because yes, they are FREE. I don’t mind owning an audiobook because I can always  check it out again.

Free audiobooks: You can download classic audiobooks Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, Joseph Conrad, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Here are two great places to download classic books free. Librivox and Open Culture.

Caution: I don’t recommend listening to a comedy audiobook while working out. I literally dropped a dumbbell on my head when working out listening to Stephen Colbert read and act out America Again.

Do you like audiobooks? 
If so, which ones have you enjoyed most and why? 

I love reading biographies.

I make an effort to read three or four biographies per year about people I have admired or wanted to learn more about.

For those who are avid readers, you may have a genre that you favor more than others. In the past two years I have made an effort to read a greater variety of books, especially by reading (or re-reading) classics and venturing into fiction. These genres are all fascinating and drive my spirit of mind. But, I keep coming back to my first love of biography.

I believe that human lives are beautiful and are meant to be studied. It’s not because I don’t care about myself. It is also not because I think people who have a book written about them (or by them) deserve to be worshiped, either. I do love hearing about their adventures and great triumphs and feel like I am along for the ride.

But, the secret to a good biography is learning that these great people we admire have made mistakes, just like us.

Historian Walter Isaacson said it best,

“When you write biographies, whether it’s about Ben Franklin or Einstein, you discover something amazing: They are human.”

I believe that God sees each of us as a biography being written. After all, He sees us for who we really are; imperfect people who need grace and an urging by his holy spirit to act. Thus, he sends us on a journey called life. Some of us have a harder journey than others. But, we are all meant to seek it for God’s greater glory and that means taking steps beyond what we could ever have imagined. I believe biographies exist to remind us that we are not alone in our struggles.

Psalm 121:8

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

I think when I watch a movie like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it reminds me that we need to do more than dream. We just need to obey God and act. And by that act comes a great journey in faith. Watch the movie and the life of Walter Mitty to understand this scene. Although the story is fictional, Mitty’s life represents a living biography. Clearly he has dreamed but it his the transformation that counts.

Start by examining your own life and how the story is meant to be told. Then read the lives of others to see how you can see your stories in theirs.

This past year, I have read the following biographies and here is a quick lesson (of many) I’ve learned from each.

Young Winston Churchill at the beginning of his journey.

Young Winston Churchill at the beginning of his journey.

Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden

  • Insight: Did you know that Churchill’s career was virtually done with at the age of 40? Did that stop him? “Never give in” were his words. And we now know him as the uniter of the English language to defeat Naziism.

Ike’s Bluff by Evan Thomas

  • Insight: Eisenhower was blamed for not being tough enough on the Soviets in the 1950s. But, it was his restraint and patience that kept the world alive.

Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer (The Odyssey of Pat Tillman) 

  • Insight: Studying the life of someone like Pat Tillman who gave up millions of dollars to join the military post-9/11 is fascinating. But, think twice of why he really served.

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird

  • Insight: Ever wondered if CIA agents were all like Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt? Think again. This is how real 20th Century CIA work was done.

 

Biographies are meant to inspire us.

They are here to compel us to move.

I dare you to pick up a biography this week.

Report back in on the journey.

Remember, Bilbo Baggins needed to go on his adventures first before his story could be told.

Go write yours.