If You Think Reading is Boring, You’re Doing It Wrong

They may be hand-drawn animation, or computer-generated imagery, or even real actors in a stage play or musical.

Whatever the media, there’s a powerful story – and life lessons – from the characters in Beauty and the Beast.

To Gaston, a book with no pictures might as well have blank pages.

To Belle, a good story doesn’t need pictures to be understood.

 

No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.

– Confucius


 

Need book ideas? How about trying SUMS Remix?

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Published since 2012, we have looked at over 480 books for solutions to common problems leaders face every day.

Each Wednesday on 27gen I typically take a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publish an excerpt.

>>Purchase an annual subscription to SUMS Remix here for only $48<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

 

The Words We Use: How Our Lives Create Our Language

It’s amazing how our brain can connect events separated by several years and spur us on to discover more about the world around us.

A few years ago I was consulting with a church in the Bronx, and was fascinated by the NY subway. The next year, I spent several days in a hotel in Nashville, TN that had its origins as the train station for the L&N railroad – which I traveled on as a boy to St. Louis, MO. Last fall, I flew into Baltimore and took the train from the airport to Union Station in DC, where I had a couple of days of meetings and sightseeing.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that this curiosity turned to recreational research in the world of books: histories of subways in general, the ones in New York City in particular, and histories of railroads, starting with the ones in and around New York City.

Reading the book Grand Central, two particular passages caught my eye:

Not long after the Harlem Railroad linked the teeming city of New York to country homes in Harlem, what would become the Bronx, and the Westchester and to small Hudson Valley villages, a perceptive railroad superintendent remembered only as M. Sloat noticed a new class of customer: the repeat passenger, whose to-and-fro trips to work and home represented a potential marketing bonanza. Seizing the opportunity, the railroad initiated an imaginative fare structure for tickets based on a onetime passage or even a round trip, but on unlimited rides for six months or a full year at a steep discount from the single-fare rate.

The full fare was commuted, and with one bold entrepreneurial stroke the commuter – in name, at the very least – was officially born.

Cornelius Vanderbilt (owner of the above mentioned Harlem line), the steamboat tycoon turned railroad magnate, had an on-again, off-again relationship with Daniel Drew, a devilishly clever Wall Street buccaneer.

Drew’s reputation for bloating his cattle by quenching their thirst before delivering them to market and for later outwitting Vanderbilt by diluting Erie Railroad shares would give rise to a double meaning of the term watered-down stock.

The origins of words are fascinating. Here are two terms commonly used in our vocabulary today that were taken from the 1870s. They exist because of the rapidly ascending influence of new technology and industry – the railroad.

Of course, today is a little different…

I’m just wondering – what words are we creating today from the rapidly-changing world we live in?

 

Quotes from Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, by Sam Roberts

The Secret to My Deliberate Practice of Reading

Part Three of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020


During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “The Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Regular reading of both books and magazines remains a part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for writing and publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders.

SUMS Remix is beginning its eighth year – the first two years contained a single book in each issue; the last five years include three books in each issue. If I’ve done my math correctly, that’s 453 books covered in 186 issues since the fall of 2012.

I do like to read!

I’ve recently referenced the “Four Levels of Reading” from a book by Mortimer J. Adler, and how critical they are to my deliberate practice of reading. To help understand, I’m going to illustrate some of the books I’ve read during 2019 by those four levels.

In the process, to close out this “reading week,” I’m taking you back to the very first SUMS book summary…

… because there’s no better place to start than “How to Read a Book.”


You have a mind. Now let us suppose that you also have a book that you want to read. The book consists of language written by someone for the sake of communicating. Your success in reading it is determined by the extent to which you receive everything the writer intended to communicate. – Mortimer J. Adler

 

sums-1-howtoreadabookMortimer J. Adler was an American author, educator, and philosopher who championed the repopularization of the Great Books and Great Ideas curriculum of study. A prolific scholar, he was the author or editor of more than fifty books, including editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s very fitting then, that one of his best-known works is How to Read a Book.

The art of reading is the process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from the outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations.

 

The Levels of Reading

There are four levels of reading – so called because they are cumulative in that each level includes all the others, and you can’t progress to a higher level without mastering the levels that come before. They four levels are:

  • Elementary
  • Inspectional
  • Analytical
  • Syntopical

1 – Elementary Reading – What does the book say?

In mastering this level, one learns the rudiments of the art of reading, receives basic training in reading, and acquires reading skills. Our first encounter at reading is at this level; sadly, many people never progress beyond this level.

At this level of reading, the question asked of the reader is “What does the sentence say?” While that could be conceived as a complex question, in this setting take it at its simplest sense.

The attainment of the skills of elementary reading occurred some time ago for almost everyone reading this summary. Nevertheless, we continue to experience the problems of this level of reading, no matter how capable we may be as readers.

Many readers continue to have various kinds of difficulties reading at this level. Most of the difficulties are mechanical, and can be traced back to early instruction in reading. Overcoming these difficulties usually allows us to read faster.

There are four basic stages of Elementary Reading:

  1. Reading readiness’ (early physical development)
  2. Simple reading (small vocabulary; simple skills)
  3. Expanded reading (large vocabulary; diverse subjects; enjoyment)
  4. Refined reading (understand concepts; compare different views)

Almost all of the books I get on a weekly basis from my local library are Elementary Reading. Sometimes, they intrigue me enough that I will acquire my own copy for deeper reading, but for the most part, just the pure pleasure of reading is enough.

2 – Inspectional Reading – What is the book about?

The focus of reading at this level is to get the most out of a book with in a given amount of time. When reading at this level, your aim is to examine the surface of the book, to learn everything that the surface alone can teach you – which is often a good deal.

Techniques for Inspectional Reading of a book include:

  1. Systematic skimming or pre-reading
  2. Look at the title page and preface: try to pigeonhole type of book
  3. Study table of contents: look for structure/road map for trip
  4. Check index: estimate range of terms and topics; look up some passages that seem crucial
  5. Check the dust jacket: read the publisher’s blurb
  6. Look for chapters which seem most pivotal: read opening and/or
 closing passages/pages carefully
  7. Thumb through entire book, reading a few paragraphs and/or pages
 here and there, esp. at the end, looking for the main argument(s)

Some books, whether from the library, or perusing the shelves at a bookstore, by prior experience with the author, or from a recommendation from a friend, require deeper reading – if even for only a short while.

 

3 – Analytical Reading – What does the book mean?

The third level of reading, analytical reading, is both a more complex and a more systematic activity than either of the previous two levels of reading. Analytical reading is thorough reading, complete reading, or good reading – the best you can do. The analytical reader must ask many organized questions of what he is reading.

Analytical reading is hardly ever necessary if your goal in reading is simply information or entertainment. Analytical reading is preeminently for the sake of understanding. Moving your mind from a condition of understanding less to a condition of understanding more with the aid of a book is almost impossible unless you have at least some skill in analytical reading.

Techniques for Analytical Reading include:

  1. Underlining key sentences
  2. Vertical lines to mark key sections
  3. Marginal doodads like asterisks and stars
  4. Numbers of other pages in the margin
  5. Circling key words or phrases
  6. Writing in margins, or top and bottom
  7. Structural notes – about the content of the subject
  8. Conceptual notes – about the truth and significance
  9. Dialectical notes – about the shape of the argument in the larger discussion of other people’s ideas

Many of my books are specifically acquired with the purpose of having a conversation with the author – through the process outlined above. These are for specific projects, deeper levels of interest, or candidates for the fourth level of reading. Here is part of my bookshelves in a large area of analytical reading – customer experience, to be “translated” into the area of Guest Experiences.

4 – Syntopical Reading – How does this book compare with other books?

The fourth and highest level of reading is the most complex and systematic type of reading. It makes very heavy demands on the reader, even if the materials themselves are relatively easy and unsophisticated.

Another name for this level of reading may be called comparative reading. The reader is reading many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another and to a subject about which they all revolve. Mere comparison of texts is not enough: syntopical reading involves more. With the help of the books being read, the syntopical reader is able to construct an analysis of the subject that may not be in any of the books. Syntopical reading is the most active and effortful kind of reading.

Techniques in Syntopical Reading include:

  1. Find the relevant passages
  2. Establish a common terminology
  3. Clarify the questions
  4. Define the issues
  5. Analyze the discussion and look for the truth

The final level of reading, Syntopical Reading, I break down into two categories. The first is best illustrated by SUMS Remix. After developing a problem statement, I research and read books that will provide a solution to that problem. I am searching for the “best” three for each issue – “best” being defined in some combination of recent publication, unique solutions, or something that is worth considering but comes from left field. The timeframe for this type of syntopical reading is very compressed. With a biweekly publication schedule, the research, reading, first drafts, reviews, initial design, final design, and shipping mean that at any given time, twelve books are in the pipeline for inclusion in a SUMS Remix.

The other category of Syntopical Reading I use is for longer-term projects, in which I am continually researching for both current application and future use. An example is shown below: First Place Hospitality. Other examples I could use would be a specific part of Guest Experiences, like the Journey Map; or, maybe ongoing research into the life of Walt Disney, viewed from early accounts from the 1930s-40s, as well as more recent efforts.

That’s it – the Four Levels of Reading illustrated above are the secret to my deliberate practice of reading.

Reading and the Growth of the Mind

Active reading is the asking of questions and looking for answers. Good books stretch our minds, improve our reading
 skills, and teach us about the world and ourselves. Good books make demands on us.

But there is a world beyond good books – that of great books. Good books need have no more than one meaning and one reading
. Great books, on the other hand, have many meanings and need to be read over and over again.

The test of a great book:

  1. If you were marooned on a desert island, which ten books would you select?
  2. Does the book seem to grow with you?
  3. Do you see new things every time
 you re-read it?
  4. Is the book is able to lift you over and over again?

Seek out the few books that have these values for you.

Reading well, which means reading actively, is not only good in itself, nor is it merely a means to advancement in our work or career. Reading keeps our minds alive and growing. – Mortimer J. Adler

 


 

> Part One of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020

> Part Two of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020

 


 

Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix from the past year and publishing an excerpt.

If you like those, you will probably be interested in current and/or past issues.

>> Purchase a current subscription to SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

Books and the Genius of Thomas Edison

Part Two of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020


As one of America’s foremost inventors, Thomas Edison was certainly adept at questioning the world around him.  In order to better understand the natural world, Edison was constantly developing new context by asking different questions. And the framework for formulating these challenging questions?

Edison readbroadly.

I didn’t read books – I read the library.

 Thomas Edison

Among Edison’s first steps when undertaking a new collaborative effort was zeroing in on reading material with themes aligned to the subject matter he was evaluating. This often meant plowing through textbooks and papers spanning diverse scientific topics. But he also read fiction and fantastical works that were completely unrelated to the subject of his endeavors.

Edison believed feeding his mind diverse perspectives through the written word was critical to prevent specifically shaping or tainting his perceptions in any one direction as he began his questioning process.

Thomas Edison LibraryAn ardent lover of books and newspapers, by 1887, when Edison was 40, his personal collection at his laboratory exceeded 10,000 volumes. Though seemingly small by today’s standards, it was one of the top five libraries in the world during the late nineteenth century.

Drawn from the reaches of acoustics, botany, electricity, mathematics, photography, chemistry, materials sciences, and physics, Edison shared the resources of his library with his employees, encouraging them to continually stimulate their own thinking and questioning skills.

Reflecting on his love for storytelling and the deft use of language, Edison’s library also embraced extensive works of classical Greek literature plus a vast collection of Shakespeare. He particularly valued science fiction novels by pioneering French writer Jules Verne for the flights of fantasy and freedom from logic they spurred.

We can link Edison’s reading to many of the provocative questions he asked. Diligently recording his queries and insights in the notebooks that were ever-present at his side, Edison returned to these deep, probing questions again and again. His intentional gathering of questions became a pivotal spur for experiments and hypotheses that he later introduced when working jointly with his team.

Edison’s voracious reading created a constant stream of ideas, insights, and inspiration that led him to breakthrough solutions. His never-ending quest for greater depth and breadth of knowledge helped him develop an unprecedented approach to experimentation in service of innovation.

Through reading, Edison “cross-trained” himself in multiple disciplines, using books as a pathway into new fields of endeavor. (Innovate Like Edison, Gelb and Caldicott)

Just as Edison’s hours of reading in his library sparked questions to be pursued via new hypotheses and experiments, your own reading endeavors can yield serendipitous yet brilliant questions from angles you least expect.

For Your Consideration

  • When was the last time you reached for a new hardcover book or bought an e-book?
  • How frequently do you change the types of materials you read?
  • Do you follow the same reading routine over and over again?
  • Why not experiment and select three new bloggers to track over the next month?
  • Why not take a reading retreat?
  • If you were to shift your reading list so that it looks something Edison might devise, what would be on it?

Material from this post adapted from Innovate Like Edison by Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott and Midnight Lunch, by Sarah Miller Caldicott

 

 

You Can’t Read All Day If You Don’t Start in the Morning

Part One of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020


One of my greatest passions is reading.

I developed this passion at an early age, and have continued to strengthen it over the years. In addition to being my passion, reading is also an important part of my role as Vision Room Curator at Auxano. In that role, I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix every two weeks. SUMS Remix is a modified book excerpt in which I develop a solution to a common problem faced by church leaders from 3 different books. So, preparing SUMS Remix in 2019 alone means I have gone through over 100 leadership and organization development books to arrive at the 76 used in producing 26 issues this year.

Other parts of my role requires reading current trends books, used for social media posting and content writing.

Then there’s my passion area of Guest Experience, in which I am constantly researching customer service books for application for churches. I’m building The Essential Guest Experience Library.

And, as many readers know, I am a Disney Fanatic – which extends to building a Disney library, currently over 405 volumes and growing!

Finally, there’s just the pure pleasure of reading – an almost nightly hour or two in the late evening reading a wide range of books, both brand new and classics, fiction and nonfiction.

Add those 5 categories all together, and by the end of 2019 I will have added 268 books to my library, and brought home another 110 books from the library. 

First, a disclaimer: I did not read all 378 cover to cover. With such an immense (and pleasurable) task in front of me, and knowing there is more to my job than reading, I have to resort to some method of finding out what an author is trying to say without reading the whole book. There’s dozens of that total in which I only read the “highlights,” following the methods below.

To get the most out of a book in the least amount of time, try this strategy:

  • Read the title.
  • Read the introduction
  • Read the Table of Contents
  • Flip through the material, scanning the chapter titles and subheadings. Note the words that stand out as bold, different colors, underlined, or italicized.
  • Examine the illustrations, captions, charts and diagrams. Read the pull-quotes and sidebars.
  • Scan through the index looking for buzz words that interest you.
  • Read the first chapter.
  • Flip through the book and read the first sentence of each paragraph in each chapter. In a well written and edited book, the most important sentence containing the topic is usually the first sentence of the paragraph — but not always.
  • Read the last chapter. If there is an executive summary, read it.
  • Read any other information on the cover or dust jacket.

If the book captures your attention after doing the above tasks, then by all means dive right in!

The converse is true: if a book doesn’t capture your attention after a few attempts, stop reading it. Pick out another one on the topic – there are always more waiting for you!

With that caveat in mind, my “cover-to-cover” reading for 2019 was 213 books.

For the curious, like picking your favorite child (I have four), I don’t typically make a “Best of” list for the year. I find some value in almost every book I read, and for me, that’s good enough.

I talked about that in a recent podcast with Bryan Rose. You can listen here.

While the knowledge gained from reading is important, the real benefit is from the habit of reading. When you are continually reading, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new connections it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren’t reading.

Reading is a gift that you can unselfishly give yourself, one that truly keeps on giving. Why don’t you bless yourself and those around you by reading a new book in the first weeks of 2020, and sharing its wisdom with others?

Me? Well, I’m visiting one of my favorite bookstores later this week, I’ve got three books lined up for delivery by the end of this week, and I’m headed to the library today to pick up another couple on reserve.

After all, you can’t read all day…

…if you don’t start in the morning!

 

Part Two of my “Reading Week” at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020

 

Remembering My Father, Celebrating Book Lover’s Day

Friday, August 9 would have been my father’s 92nd birthday.

It’s also Book Lover’s Day.

Those two seemingly incongruent circumstances actually have a powerful connection for me.

After suffering a major stroke on February 10, 2012, my father passed away on February 25. By the time I was able to get back to Tennessee to see him, he had lost motor functions and speech capacity. Over the few days I was there, the slow but steady decline continued.

I had last seen him during the Christmas holidays. While there, I spent some time alone at home with him. After suffering a series of strokes over the past several years, he could no longer read – but the legacy of his reading lines the bookshelves all over my boyhood home. In the quiet hours when everyone was asleep, I scanned the shelves and remembered hearing him talk about this book or that one. I pulled a few off the shelf, and opening them, was instantly transported back in time to a conversation about the subject, or to memories of the event itself.

I’ve been a reader of books since, well, before I can remember. My father was an avid reader, and he passed that passion along to me at an early age. Even though he worked 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, he often spent several hours reading at night. He insisted my mother take my brother and me to the library in the next town and check out books – every two weeks. I would get the maximum number of books, take them home, and read them – usually in the first day or two. Then it would be an impatient wait till the next library trip.

Reading is a passion I treasure, and one that I am thankful my father instilled in me.

Tomorrow it will be Book Lover’s Day – not an official holiday but one I eagerly celebrate. Book reading is a great hobby. It’s an important one, too. Employers look for it on resumes. Reading is educational, informative, and relaxing. It makes us both smarter and happier people.

Book Lovers Day is a great day to celebrate. Just grab an interesting book, find a quiet, cozy place, and crack open the cover. Celebrating Book Lovers Day in August is pleasurable on the deck, under a shady tree, poolside, or in a cozy hammock. If you fall asleep while reading, that’s okay. It’s all part of the relaxing benefits of being a book lover.

I’m also celebrating this Book Lover’s Day as a part of my vocation – Vision Room Curator and Digital Engagement Leader at Auxano. My role requires me to read – a lot – and then write book excerpts, Tweets, Facebook posts, and blogs about what I’m reading. During a recent consultation with a client, I was able to pull a half-dozen book titles off the top of my head when asked for recommendations on books about Guest Experiences. That’s part of the benefit of reading!

I love my job!

Here’s an example:

 

I call these my SUMS Remix Book Towers. Along with the current year (not pictured), these towers contain 371 books, representing 124 issues, one published every two weeks over the last five years. The format of SUMS Remix is simple: one problem statement faced by church leaders, 3 brief excepts from books that provide a solution to the problem, and 3 ready-to-use applications for leaders to try out immediately. (Click on the link above to find out more and purchase an annual subscription.)

And here’s a big announcement: we’re getting ready to release back issues of SUMS Remix! The first four years of SUMS Remix have been packaged into six digital “bookshelves,” each containing between 14-23 issues. The six bookshelf categories are: Vision; Leadership; Execution; Discipleship; Communication; and Resourcing. They will be available for purchase and instant download for $24 per bookshelf, or $18 per bookshelf if you purchase 2 or more. I’ll be announcing the launch of the prior year issues here very soon.

With a two-week production cycle, and a two-week preparation phase, at any given time I’m working on 4 SUMS Remix issues, which means there are 12 books on my front burner.

And that’s just for SUMS Remix reading…

Then there’s current reading for Auxano social media (Tweets, Instagram, and Facebook posts), preparation for Guest Experience training and consultations, other writing projects, and believe it or not, reading just for the pleasure of reading.

So, on Book Lover’s Day, and in memory of my father, I’m trying to emulate Thomas Edison, who believed that voracious reading was the key to self-improvement. He read books on a remarkable range of subjects to address his endless queries. As Edison noted, “I didn’t read a few books, I read the library.”


If you want to know more about my dad, here is the eulogy I gave at his funeral. After the funeral, while my sons and I were moving some things around his gas station, I discovered one reason I am so passionate about guest services. And read this post to find out why readers are leaders.

How are you celebrating Book Lover’s Day?

Celebrating National Doughnut Day…

In honor of National Doughnut Day, a “sweet” repost from the past, updated for today:

National Doughnut Day was established in 1938 by the Chicago Salvation Army to honor women who served doughnuts to soldiers during World War I. The holiday is traditionally celebrated on the first Friday of June.

Here’s an infographic from Fast Company magazine about today’s National Doughnut Day:

Upon closer look at the picture above – especially the statistic in the doughnut hole – it’s nice to know that I’m above average.

Seriously.

Homer Price and the Dougnut MachineLike many things in my life, this fondness all came about because of a book: “Homer Price and the Doughnut Machine.”  I have great memories of reading about Homer and Uncle Ulysses and the automatic doughnut machine. I remembered the image of doughnuts stacked to the ceiling with more coming out of the machine every minute. I’ve looked for a machine like that for a long time, but the Krispy Kreme shop is as close as I’ll come! Reading that book gave me a taste for doughnuts that continues to this day.

Thinking about Homer Price, I just happened to be near my favorite used bookstore in Charlotte – Book Buyers. On a whim, I pulled in, went to the children’s section, and there it was, just like I remembered it. With my $1 purchase, I’m going to start the day off, reading the story again – with a doughnut, of course!

There’s no “Hot Light” in my hometown, but that’s not going to stop me from celebrating…

Starting #nationaldonutday off with a bang! After helping load 75 dozen donuts from @duckdonuts into my wife’s SUV, she was off to deliver them to the tenants of her two office buildings. My reward was hot donuts and a #whitechocolatemoca from @starbucks.
#bringontheday

If you’ve still got a sweet tooth, check out this post on the secrets to Krispy Kreme’s success.