“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” – Mark Twain
Looking back on 2020, I keep saying to myself “if this isn’t the year I get X done, I’ll never get it done.” If this isn’t the year I get in shape, I read more, I write more, I start a podcast, whatever it is with the new found time from not commuting, traveling, going to dinners or happy hours, then I will never find the time.
The first few months of the pandemic, I could hardly focus on reading a book. It was a weird feeling; the uncertainty seemed to trounce any sort of focus for a month or two. Now as the world begins opening back up — daycare being a big one — regularity commences.
This is not the first time I’ve written about my desire and ambitions to read more but two different tidbits I’ve come across have spurred me into action again and re-prioritized my time. First, are the two tidbits because they are inspiring. Second, how I’m attempting to do more but leaving structure.
Inspired to Re-Prioritize Reading
1: This interview with former basketball coach, George Raveling.
After watching the short video, I re-realized that reading and even having access to books are opportunities that should not get wasted.
2. The Naval Almanack recently published (PDF) places a large emphasis on reading but also reiterates the importance of books over “little dopamine snacks throughout the day” of social media. He goes on by saying:
For me, giving up reading was a tragedy. I grew up on books, then I switched to blogs, then I switched to Twitter and Facebook, and I realized I wasn’t actually learning anything. I was just taking little dopamine snacks all day long. I was getting my little 140-character burst of dopamine. I would Tweet, then look to see who retweeted my Tweet. It’s a fun and wonderful thing, but it’s a game I was playing. I realized I had to go back to reading books. I knew it was a very hard problem because my brain had now been trained to spend time on Facebook, Twitter, and these other bite-sized pieces.
I came up with this hack where I started treating books as throwaway blog posts or bite-sized tweets or posts. I felt no obligation to finish any book. Now, when someone mentions a book to me, I buy it. At any given time, I’m reading somewhere between ten and twenty books. I’m flipping through them. If the book is getting a little boring, I’ll skip ahead. Sometimes, I start reading a book in the middle because some paragraph caught my eye. I’ll just continue from there, and I feel no obligation whatsoever to finish the book. All of a sudden, books are back into my reading library. That’s great, because there is ancient wisdom in books.
Naval gave up on books because like many of us at some point, we’re reading a book, get stuck and then don’t go back to reading that book. Two big takeaways (of many) from Naval’s Almanack are the following.
One: you don’t need to finish books. This is really hard for me. When I start a book, I want to check the box I finished, but I now realize there are so many books, I’ll never be able to read all of them and definitely wouldn’t be able to read all of them in totality.
Two: read multiple books at a time. If I read multiple books at a time, I find my interest gravitating and fluctuating towards what is going in my life. My life and interests go faster than I can read. The insight and optionality of going back to it when I am interested in that topic again takes some of the weird anxiety I get for not finishing a book. Another side note: after doing this for a few months, I’ve oddly enjoyed reading different types of books at different times of the day. For example, a light-hearted biography is different from Faulkner, Beecher-Stowe, Dubois, Hemingway — where I read to absorb how they write.
Reading without order and following what pulls me is way more productive that grinding through a boring part of book I’ll likely shelve.
I feel the addiction to social media Naval talks about however there are some very smart people producing quality content for free. The irony is I found the Almanack on Twitter.
How I’m Reading More:
- I make it very easy to read around the house. This is done in two ways: first, I leave books around places I sit in the house. One is always open on my desk and three others are scattered around the house (wife loves this). Two, I keep my Kindle on me as much as possible. My love for that device grows due to the ease of highlighting passages, as well as the free samples of books. I’ve downloaded more samples of books than full books in the last 30 days.
- When a physical Kindle or book is not available, the Kindle iPhone app was pushed in front of all other apps that take up my time. The “little dopamine snacks” are far and few between if you prioritize your Kindle app on your phone.
- Reading begets reading. Whenever I read, I come across more books to read. Instead of saying “I hope to read that one day,” I just get a sample of the book right then and now it’s on my options of books to read.
Overall, I’ve turned my reading process from nice and tidy to frenzied and scattered, but net I’m reading much more because I am always interested in what I’m reading. Framing them as blog posts made a lot of sense to me.
Here are some examples of what I’m reading now:
39% The Fish that Ate the Whale
46% Uncle Tom’s Cabin
15% Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations
100% The Old Man and the Sea
56% Secrets of Sand Hill Road
4% into The Act of Creation
63% Churchill’s Great Contemporaries
16% Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
100% Th!nk Like a Publisher
41% Faulkner’s Short Stories
27% Aesop Fables
100% Robinson Crusoe
100% Barbarians at the Gate
How Innovation Works
The Rational Optimist
Richard Feyman’s Six Easy Pieces on Physics
Oxford University’s A Very Short Introduction to Literary Theory
Oxford University’s A Very Short Introduction to US Constitution
Leaving Atlanta – Tayari Jones
If I can reallocate 30-60 minutes a day to reading books, the compound effects will be worth it.