How books can open your mind | Lisa Bu | Summary and Q&A

May 31, 2013
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How books can open your mind | Lisa Bu


This content is about the speaker's journey from aspiring gymnast to finding purpose and happiness through books and comparative reading.

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Key Insights

  • 💪 Despite facing challenges and societal pressure, the speaker pursued her dream to become a Chinese opera singer, showing determination and resilience in the face of adversity.
  • 📚 Books played a crucial role in the speaker's life, providing guidance, inspiration, and a sense of connection to others. They served as a source of knowledge and wisdom that helped shape her perspective and decision-making.
  • ⚖️ Comparative reading, a practice commonly used in academics, has proven to be beneficial in the speaker's daily life. By comparing different books and perspectives, she gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for various subjects and cultures.
  • 🌍 The speaker's encounter with a new culture opened her eyes to different viewpoints and challenged her ingrained beliefs. This realization emphasized the importance of considering different perspectives and not assuming one's own worldview as the only valid one.
  • 🌟 Dreams aren't solely about achieving them; they also serve to connect us with our passions, happiness, and a sense of purpose. Even if a dream is shattered, it can still offer valuable lessons and an opportunity for personal growth.
  • 👦 The speaker's relationship with her parents was strengthened through the concept of "honoring" rather than "obeying." This shift allowed her to navigate conflicting cultural expectations and find a way to reconnect with her parents on her terms.
  • 💫 Books provide a sense of empowerment and help combat loneliness and powerlessness. They offer a window to the past and present, connecting us to a larger community of individuals who have shared similar experiences or wisdom.
  • 📖 Translating books into different languages can offer new insights and perspectives. It allows readers to bridge cultural gaps and deepen their understanding of different languages, societies, and ways of thinking.


Transcriber: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Morton Bast So I was trained to become a gymnast for two years in Hunan, China in the 1970s. When I was in the first grade, the government wanted to transfer me to a school for athletes, all expenses paid. But my tiger mother said, "No." My parents wanted me to become an engineer like them. After surviving the Cul... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What was the narrator's dream when they were young?

The narrator's dream when they were young was to become a Chinese opera singer.

Q: Why did the adults in the narrator's life not support their dream?

The adults in the narrator's life did not support their dream of becoming a Chinese opera singer because they did not believe the narrator was serious and felt that pursuing a safe and well-paid job was more important.

Q: How did the narrator find inspiration and guidance when no one around them could teach them?

When no one around them could teach them, the narrator turned to books for inspiration and guidance. They found role models of independent women, learned efficiency, and gained insights into different cultures through their reading.

Q: How did the narrator use the Bible's fifth commandment to improve their relationship with their parents?

The narrator used the fifth commandment of the Bible, "You shall honor your father and mother," as a tool to climb out of the guilt trap imposed by Confucian tradition and to restart their relationship with their parents.

Q: What is comparative reading and why did the narrator adopt this practice?

Comparative reading is the practice of reading books in pairs or comparing the same stories in different genres or from different cultures. The narrator adopted this practice because it offers a more complete understanding of a topic and helps connect different perspectives and insights.

Q: How did reading books in different languages enrich the narrator's understanding?

Reading favorite books in two languages allowed the narrator to gain new insights and better understand cultural nuances and translations. Through reading in different languages, the narrator discovered that "happiness" in Chinese literally means "fast joy" and that "bride" in Chinese literally means "new mother."

Q: What purpose does a dream serve according to the narrator?

According to the narrator, the purpose of a dream is not only to come true but also to connect us with where dreams, passion, and happiness originate. Even if a dream is shattered, it can still fulfill this purpose and bring clarity and a sense of purpose to one's life.


In this video, the speaker shares her experience of pursuing her dreams and finding inspiration through books. She recounts her journey of wanting to become a Chinese opera singer but being discouraged by adults around her. Despite facing obstacles, she turned to books for guidance and inspiration. She discusses the power of comparative reading, learning from different cultures, a new definition of "honor," and the ways books have connected her with people from the past and present. Ultimately, she emphasizes that even if dreams are shattered, they can still serve the purpose of bringing us in touch with our passions and happiness.

Questions & Answers

Q: What was the speaker's dream when she was young and how did she try to pursue it?

The speaker's dream was to become a Chinese opera singer. She tried everything she could to go to opera school, even writing to the school principal and a radio show host for support. However, no adults believed in her dream, and she was deemed too old to be trained at the age of 15.

Q: Why did the speaker's parents want her to become an engineer instead of pursuing her dream?

The speaker's parents, after surviving the Cultural Revolution, believed in the importance of having a safe and well-paid job. They wanted their daughter to become an engineer like them, prioritizing financial stability over her personal passion for becoming an opera singer.

Q: How did the speaker cope with the disappointment of not being able to pursue her dream?

After realizing that she would not be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a Chinese opera singer, the speaker was determined to find another calling. She turned to books for guidance and inspiration, seeking knowledge and advice from various sources.

Q: How did the speaker use books as a tool to overcome Confucian guilt and improve her relationship with her parents?

The speaker came across the fifth commandment in the Bible, which instructed her to honor her father and mother. This notion of "honor" gave her a fresh perspective, different from the traditional idea of obedience. By practicing comparative reading and studying different cultures, she was able to climb out of the Confucian guilt trap and restart her relationship with her parents.

Q: What is the speaker's view on comparative reading and why does she believe it is important?

The speaker views comparative reading as a powerful tool that offers a deeper and more complete understanding of various topics. She points out that it is a standard practice in the academic world and mentions research fields such as comparative religion and comparative literature. The practice of comparing and contrasting helps scholars gain insights, and the speaker suggests that it can be beneficial to apply this approach in daily life as well.

Q: How did encountering a new culture during her time in the U.S. influence the speaker's reading habits?

Encountering a new culture in the United States sparked the speaker's habit of comparative reading. She realized that different cultures have different perspectives and views, which can enrich one's understanding of a topic. This led her to start reading books in pairs, comparing stories, people's experiences, and similar themes across different genres and cultures.

Q: How did reading books in different languages contribute to the speaker's understanding?

Reading books in different languages, especially if one is fluent in both, can provide a unique experience and deepen one's understanding. The speaker gives an example of reading her favorite books in both English and Chinese, finding that some phrases or concepts don't directly translate but offer valuable insights. This process allows for a broader perspective and prevents being "lost in translation."

Q: How has reading books helped the speaker connect with people from the past and present?

Books have served as a magical portal for the speaker to connect with people from different time periods and cultures. They have allowed her to feel a sense of companionship and understanding, eliminating feelings of loneliness and powerlessness. Through books, she has gained insights into the lives and experiences of others, fostering a deeper appreciation for human resilience and the power of dreams.

Q: What does the speaker believe is the purpose of a dream, even if it doesn't come true?

The speaker believes that the purpose of a dream is not solely its realization but rather the journey it takes us on. A dream can connect us with our passions, happiness, and sense of purpose, even if it ultimately remains unfulfilled. The speaker emphasizes that a shattered dream can still offer valuable personal growth and self-discovery.

Q: How does the speaker conclude her talk and what message does she leave the audience with?

The speaker concludes by expressing her gratitude to books and their transformative power in her life. She highlights the joy, purpose, and clarity that books have brought her. The speaker encourages the audience to always have books as companions, believing that they can provide guidance, inspiration, and connection to others.


The speaker's talk emphasizes the importance of pursuing our dreams and finding inspiration in unexpected places. She emphasizes that dreams, even if shattered, can lead us to discover our passions and find happiness. The transformative power of books is a recurring theme throughout her speech, as she shares how literature has guided her, provided solace, and connected her with people from different cultures and time periods. Comparative reading is praised as a tool for gaining a deeper understanding of the world and fostering personal growth. Ultimately, the speaker's message encourages the audience to cherish books and the limitless possibilities they offer.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The speaker wanted to become a Chinese opera singer, but faced opposition from adults and eventually realized her dream would never come true.

  • She turned to books as a source of inspiration and guidance, finding role models and learning valuable lessons from various works.

  • Comparative reading became a habit for the speaker, allowing her to gain a deeper understanding of different cultures, perspectives, and topics. Books became a means of connection and empowerment for her.

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