Tag Archives: literature

Six Things I Learned While Recording the Audiobook for Better Than Before

This week, I’ve been recording the audiob0ok for Better Than Before. I did this once before, for The Happiness Project, and once again, it was an interesting, unsettling process.

Here’s what I learned about myself and my book:

1. I can’t stand the sound of my own voice. Whenever they replayed aloud something I’d read, I had to leave the room.

2. My fear of finding typos was largely unnecessary. I found a few minor typos: in two places, a missing m-dash in front of an author attribution at the beginning of a chapter, and one reversed single-quote mark. If you buy the book, see if you can spot these. (Newsflash: my editor says we may be able to fix these, in the nick of time! Stay tuned.)

3. I have a growly stomach, even when I’m not hungry. Several times, I had to re-read a sentence because “stomach noises” could be heard. But turns out that I’m not the only one with a loud stomach. Look in the photo. See how I’m sitting with a pillow in front of my stomach? They keep the pillow there, for just this reason.

4. I have a hard time saying the phrase “video arcade.” Video arcade. Video arcade. Video arcade.

5. I’ve been mispronouncing the name “Archilochus” my whole life. Not that it comes up very often. But still. (If you’re thinking, “Gretchen, why did you mention Archilochus?” it’s because I quote the line that I love: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

6. Something happened when I read the b0ok aloud: loss of meaning. This is an uncomfortable stage that I pass through with every book, at the end of the process. I’m reading the book, and I start thinking, “This writing makes no sense. This book is a string of non sequiturs. How will anyone have any idea what I’m talking about?” But other people seem to understand the book just fine. Just as my name starts to sound like gibberish, if I say it over and over, I guess that on the 100th reading of a book, it starts to dissolve into nothingness. I have to trust myself, that what I wrote makes sense.

Many listeners wrote to me to say that they were disappointed that I didn’t read the audiobook of Happier at Home. I didn’t do that book myself — though I’d read The Happiness Project — because someone convinced me that listeners enjoy the experience more when a book is read by a professional. But in my case, at least, it seems as though many people preferred to hear me read it.

I enjoy doing the recording myself. It feels so…professional.

Do you listen to audiobooks? I read somewhere that most audiobooks are listened to in the car, but that people are starting to listen to them in more places. My younger daughter loves audiobooks; she listens to them before she goes to sleep.

Revealed! Book Club Choices for December.

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

· one outstanding book about happiness or habits

· one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

· one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD, BN.com, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or visit the library! Drumroll…

An outstanding book about happiness or habits:

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

The Official Preppy Handbook edited by Lisa Birnbach 

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links. I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds.

Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get that free monthly book-club newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.

In any event, I assure you that, for all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Switch by Chip and Dan Heath; The Animal Family, by Randall Jarrell; A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean. So good!

One last note: if you’re buying books as holiday gifts, let me self-promotingly suggest…

The Happiness Project: #1 New York Times bestseller, on the list for more than two years. Read an excerpt; buy here.

Happier at Home: New York Times bestseller; my sister says this is my best book. Read an excerpt; buy here.

Plus I can’t resist making a plug for Better Than Before, my book about how we change our habits, which is now available for pre-order.

If you’re inclined to buy it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d pre-order.

Pre-orders build support for a book, by creating buzz among booksellers, the media, and the publisher. Pre-orders really matterBuy from your favorite indie (Rainy Day Books is my fabulous hometown indie), tell your library you’d like to read it, or go here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, iBooks.

End of commercial. Happy December, and happy reading.

 
 

Guess: What Are the “Two Types of Perfect,” According to B. J. Novak?

“In my opinion, there are two types of perfect. The first is the type that seems so obvious and intuitive to you and everyone else that in a perfect world it would simply be considered standard; but, in reality, in our flawed world, what should be considered standard is actually so rare that it has to be elevated to the level of ‘perfect.’ This is the type of perfect that makes you and most other people think, ‘Why isn’t everything like this? Why is it so hard to find…’ a black V-neck cotton sweater, or a casual non-chain restaurant with comfortable booths, etc.–‘that is just exactly the way everyone knows something like this should be?’ ‘Perfect,’ we all say with relief when we finally find something like this that is exactly as it should be. ‘Perfect. Why was this so hard to find?’

“The other type of perfect is the type you never could have expected and then could never replicate.”

— B. J. Novak, “Sophia,” in One More Thing

I can’t resist quoting, too, from the last paragraph of Novak’s Acknowledgements. I thought this was so lovely. He has two pages thanking various people, including Mindy Kaling of course (I always think of these two together), and concludes:

“Josh Funk and Hunter Fraser: we haven’t been in touch in years, but you made me feel like the funniest kid in the world. I would stay up late on school nights to write things to try to make you laugh the next day in class, and you inspired the one piece of writing that I’ve ever felt qualified to give: write for the kid sitting next to you.”

This beautiful acknowledgement made me think of many things, but in particular, it reminded me that we never know how our actions and our words will affect other people. These two guys! Their enthusiasm may have been a crucial catalyst for Novak’s career.

 

What Habits Are Best for Creativity?

When I tell people that I’ve been working on Better Than Before, my book about habit change, many people ask, “What habits are best for creativity? What habits help people think creatively — and also, actually produce?

Often, people make the case for adopting a particular habit by pointing to a renowned figure who practiced that habit, with great success. For instance…

Maybe we should live a life of quiet predictability, like Charles Darwin.

Or maybe we should indulge in boozy revelry, like Toulouse-Lautrec.

Maybe we should wake up early, like Haruki Murakami.

Or maybe we should work late into the night, like Tom Stoppard.

Maybe it’s okay to procrastinate endlessly, like William James.

Or maybe it’s better to work regular hours, like Anthony Trollope.

Should we work in silence, like Gustav Mahler?

Or amidst a bustle of activity, like Jane Austen?

Maybe it’s helpful to drink a lot of alcohol, like Fried­rich Schiller.

Or a lot of coffee, like Kierkegaard.

Are we better off produc­ing work for many hours a day, like H. L. Mencken?

Or maybe for just thirty minutes a day, like Gertrude Stein.

The sad fact is, there’s no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all solution—not for ourselves, and not for the peo­ple around us.

We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.

In his fascinating book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, from which these examples are drawn, Mason Currey exhaustively examines the work habits of 161 writers, composers, artists, scientists, and philos­ophers.

These examples make one thing perfectly clear about creative habits: while brilliant people vary tre­mendously in the specific habits they follow, they all know very well what habits work for them, and they go to enormous lengths to maintain those habits.

I used to tell everyone that working slowly and steadily was the best way to produce creative work. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to encourage everyone to get up early, to work in the morning. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to say that it was better to work in a reasonably quiet, calm environment. Because that’s what works for me.

But as I worked on Better Than Before, it became increasingly clear to me that the opposite habits work better for some people.

I’m a Marathoner, but some people are Sprinters.

I’m a Lark, but some people are Owls.

I’m a Simplicity-Lover, but other people are Abundance-Lovers.

We have to think about ourselves. It’s helpful to ask, “When have I worked well in the past? What did my habits look like then – and how can I replicate them?” Maybe you work more creatively with a team – or by yourself. Maybe you need deadlines – or maybe you feel strangled by deadlines. Maybe you like working on several projects at once — or you prefer to focus on one project at a time.

With habits, as with happiness, the secret is to figure out ourselves. When we shape our habits to suit our own nature, our own interests, and our own values, we set ourselves up for success.

How about you? What habits contribute or detract from your creativity?

Revealed! Book Club Choices for November.

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

· one outstanding book about happiness or habits

· one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

· one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD, BN.com, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or visit the library! Drumroll…

An outstanding book about happiness or habits:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

The Animal Family, by Randall Jarrell

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links.

I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds.

Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get that free monthly book-club newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.

In any event, I assure you that, for all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking; Spyri’s Heidi; and Agassi’s Open. So good!

Also, in book-related news, I can’t help mentioning that Better Than Before, my book about how we change our habits, is now available for pre-order.

If you’re inclined to buy it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d pre-order.

Pre-orders build support for a book, by creating buzz among booksellers, the media, and the publisher. Pre-orders really matterBuy from your favorite indie (Rainy Day Books is my fabulous hometown indie), tell your library you’d like to read it, or go here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, iBooks.

End of commercial. Happy November, and happy reading.