I Consumed 321 Books the Last Two Years and This is What I Learned, Part II: How I Used the DoD Library and Other Reading Resources

Author talking with Steve Forbes during a meet-and-greet | Photo submitted by Chad T. Manske, Brig Gen (Ret), USAF
Author talking with Steve Forbes during a meet-and-greet | Photo submitted by Chad T. Manske, Brig Gen (Ret), USAF

I Consumed 321 Books the Last Two Years and This is What I Learned, Part II: How I Used the DoD Library and Other Reading Resources

by Chad T. Manske, Brig Gen (Ret), USAF
Stripes Europe

If you missed Part I, read here.

So, how do I consume so many books without breaking the bank (and our bookshelves at home)? Here is where I spill some secrets. Remember I mentioned going to the library as a kid in Part I? You can still do that as an adult, or, if you’ve become digitally savvy, use your library card credentials to check out and consume e-books or audiobooks! I’ve had a county library card for years, and my library has numerous branches, giving me access to a larger collection of works. I also have a Department of Defense library card, also with a big collection. Each card and collection often complement one another. If I can’t find a book in one, I often find it in the other. Additionally, if you are serving in the military or a veteran, each service chief’s reading lists are in the DoD library for easy check-out, which is very convenient. In the event my libraries don’t have a specific book, I can recommend they purchase it, and I’ve found about a 50 percent success rate in doing so. How cool is that?! There are numerous other settings you can personalize through the online website or the Libby app, available for iPhone or Android.

In addition to these sources, if there are books neither of my libraries has, I may find them on Amazon or Abe Books. You can either purchase new or used books on these sites suitable for any size budget. I have found Abe Books particularly useful in locating rare or very hard-to-find works. Audible, an audiobook subsidiary of Amazon, is also a great source specifically for audiobooks, though I don’t personally use them much. Here is a fascinating discovery I made earlier this year that blew my mind and expanded my book consumption. Like me, you may already use Amazon’s Alexa to control devices in your home and other functions. I discovered that Alexa can ‘read’ books from your library (many times they are directly linked to an Amazon collection) from your Kindle app! Mind blown! Within the Alexa app, just navigate to Entertainment and scroll down to either your Kindle or Audible library and find your checked-out book and have Alexa ‘play’ it. It will be read in Alexa’s familiar voice. Here’s what else, like other audiobook applications, you can have Alexa read it at faster speeds than normal! Mind blown again! A couple of cool things about the Kindle app worth mentioning is that if you use it across multiple devices, it will always ask you if you want to sync your progress to the most recent page when you open it. Additionally, the Kindle app on your phone is eminently portable. So, when you have time to kill and nothing else to do, open the app and start consuming!

I am also on daily email lists for eBooks and audiobooks through the likes of Book Bub, Simon and Schuster, Pixel of Ink, and Chirp. There are many other sources out there, too, but I don’t regularly use them. Some include Project Gutenberg, Open Library, LibriVox, and the Digital Public Library of America. Not only do the daily emails keep me informed about books on sale, they are also catered to your interests and the kinds of genres you prefer.

Goodreads is another great source. I use it to not only find books, but to see recommendations by others, write reviews and summaries of books I’ve consumed, and more things related to books! Through their application, you can comment on reviews and share reviews on your social media platforms (one of my favorite things to do). There are myriad of other applications in Goodreads to browse and determine what interests you. It also has an annual reading challenge where you can establish a goal for the year and monitor your progress against it. Another benefit of using Goodreads, Amazon, or other similar apps is they have algorithms that pick up your reading interests and suggest other books to read.

Speaking of book reviews, many outlets offer free books in exchange for a written review. If you like to write and organize your thoughts, this could open up another avenue of free books.

Some of the outlets I partner with include DoDReads. A U.S. Navy field grade officer started this program several years ago, partnering with publishers to provide free books in exchange for reviews as a way to enhance military leadership skills. Another avenue for free books in exchange for reviews I use as a former Airman is Air University. I have been reviewing books with them for years and have enjoyed the ongoing relationship. If you want a deep dive into this concept, check out some of these opportunities.

If what you’ve read here so far seems overwhelming, yet you’re still keen on being a reader, here’s a thought on how to do so methodically and strategically. I recommend an excellent book I read a couple of years ago with a great first chapter about how to get started. It is The Leader’s Bookshelf by retired United States Navy Admiral James Stavridis and R. Manning Ancell. As the description for the book notes, it “provides sound advice on how to build an extensive library, lists other books worth reading to improve leadership skills, and analyzes how leaders use what they read to achieve their goals.” I personally found the advice exceptional.

Getting what you want out of reading should be a deliberate exercise. When I read a physical book or through my Kindle app, I can make notations and bookmark specific areas I want to revisit later. This helps me remember things I may want to cover in a review or summary, something I want to follow up on later, or something that really resonates with me worth noting. Audio listening is a little trickier in this regard, and I don’t have a good method of doing so other than jotting something down on paper when it is convenient. Reading is also deliberate in that you must carve time out of otherwise busy days to do it. Many people say they don’t have this kind of time, however, I am a busy executive and always can find the time.

Research suggests that active weekly readers live longer than non-regular readers. It is the sustained focus and cognitive skills required when reading something other than periodicals or articles that are the basis for this research. The brain’s continued development is enhanced by such exercises and the benefit derived. And it doesn’t matter whether you read fiction or nonfiction, however, some research indicates reading fiction leads to greater empathy and critical thinking in the reader.

A lot of debate swirls around about whether to read a physical book or its electronic version. It depends on personal preference, however, I find I can rhythmically get through content faster electronically. When I am speed reading electronically, I just tap the screen or a button and keep going, versus flipping the page and losing some of the rhythm, speed, and train of thought. As well, reading a large unruly-sized book over time can be physically demanding and cause me to lose focus. No one way is better than another!

Finally, despite all the ways I’ve described to find new books to read, I find my methods lack full visibility to my interests. What I mean by that, is even though I can use various apps to tag and alert me to specific authors and genres of new releases, some books slip through my blind spot. I supplement my handicap with regular trips to bookstores like Barnes & Noble. Walking the stacks triggers things in my mind and when I see a new release, for example, I see if the book is available for check-out in my digital library or some other resource before paying the full retail price.

Reading can be a great way to pass time, live longer, escape reality, learn more, and unlock your imagination to new possibilities. And though reading may not be for everyone, I am grateful that you stayed with me and read this far!

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