How books can open your mind

In this brief talk TED staffer Lisa Bu talks about the death of a dream, and how she found a new dream through books. Growing up in China, Bu wanted to be an opera singer. But her parents, who survived the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, had other ideas. They wanted their daughter to find a safe, well-paying job — specifically, to be an engineer like them. It didn’t matter if she liked the job or not.

No adults took her dreams of opera seriously. By age 15 she was too old to begin training. The dream ended. Searching for a new dream, she turned to books. Eventually she moved to the US.

I hope you’ll listen to her talk, which is short even by TED standards. Here I only want to highlight a few of the points she makes about books. Starting about 3:45 she talks about the value of comparative reading. Things like comparative literature or comparative religion give “scholars a more complete view of a topic… Why not do it in daily life too? … I started reading books in pairs. They can be about people involved in the same event [here she displayed the covers of biographies of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams], or friends with shared experiences [books about Katherine Graham and Warren Buffet]. I also compare the same stories in different genres [the Bible and a children’s book of Bible stories], or similar stories in different cultures, as Joseph Campbell did in his wonderful book [The Power of Myth].”

This is a great idea. I’ve done this before to get opposing views of a controversy, but what she’s doing seems broader than that.

She describes books as “a magic portal to connect with people of the past and the present,” an observation many avid readers have made before. But then she brings the talk back to the idea of the death of a dream: “I have come to believe that coming true is not the only purpose of a dream. Its most important purpose is to get us in touch with where dreams come from, where passion comes from, where happiness comes from. Even a shattered dream can do that for you.”

What I find interesting is that this is deeply connected to reading, which for her, not only revealed a different career path, but which also gave her a broader perspective from which she could reflect upon her own experiences.


2 thoughts on “How books can open your mind

    1. thecuriouspeople Post author

      From her bio I gather that she’s someone who works mostly behind the scenes at TED. I’m guessing that her colleagues heard her story and told her, “Lisa, you need to give a TED talk yourself!” On the other hand, she’s good enough that she’s probably had some previous experience in speaking.


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