In spite of my skepticism about the value of goal-setting, in January 2020 I set a goal of reading 50 books. I fell short and only read 25, but 25 books is more than double my normal volume so it’s a failure I’m comfortable with.
Here’s how I approached it: I didn’t spend additional time reading, or use speed reading techniques (these are books I wanted to “absorb”). I simply prioritized books over online reading.
My reading schedule: I start my day by reading books for 15-30 minutes, and by 9:00 PM shut off screens and read books until I go to bed. If there is opportunity to, I let myself get distracted by family conversations and card games during this before-bed period. When I’m in bed I’ll read again until I feel the sleep coming on. On Sunday’s, typically a relaxed day for me, I indulge in a couple extra hours of daytime reading.
To minimize the temptation of online reading I deleted (again) my apps for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Apple News, but it seems I am weak-willed when it comes to escaping the whirlpool effect of these platforms so later in the year I deactivated those accounts.
Paul Graham in his essay How to Think for Yourself observed that, “there are some kinds of work that you can’t do well without thinking differently from your peers . . . it’s not enough just to be correct. Your ideas have to be both correct and novel. ” It makes sense that having novel ideas is valuable, and that to think differently from others you need to consume different content than them. Change the inputs to change the outputs.
Nassim Taleb was hitting on this when he philosophized: “A prophet is not someone with special visions, just someone blind to most of what others see.” To have insights unique to your culture, cultivate a degree of blindness to what your culture is consuming and actively avoid it.
I had these concepts in mind when I planned my 2020 reading strategy, and I drastically improved the quality and uniqueness of the content I consumed in 2020 with these two heuristics:
- Prioritize books over other forms of media, especially online media.
- Prioritize older books over newer books.
These two rules of thumb have inherent quality filters: exponentially more work goes into quality assurance when publishing a book in comparison to an online article, and if a book can remain in print for 50, 100, 200+ years, there is likely good reason for that (the Lindy Effect). I codified #1 via my reading schedule, and #2 by dedicating my morning reading block to study of the bible, and by avoiding the current bestseller lists.
Highlights for me were:
- Fiction: Lonesome Dove. 858 pages and I still did not want this classic Western to end.
- Religion: The Bhagavad Gita. This religious philosophy is greatly influencing the modern self-help/improvement movement, and I suspect most are unaware of the extent of this. Honorable mention in both the religion and philosophy category (and maybe fiction as well?) goes to, “The Pilgrim’s Regress” by C.S Lewis. What a clever story. I’d like to read it again when I have more knowledge on well-known philosophers.
- Philosophy: Soren Kierkegaard’s “Training in Christianity”. I enjoyed witnessing the birth of existentialism. His invitation to a life of suffering provided me with much to think about.
- Business: “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby. Way too short, perhaps the most fun and affirming business book ever. Honorable mention goes to “Never Split the Difference” – I loved the unfathomable hostage negotiation stories.
- Biography: Maria Campbell’s “Halfbreed”. Much of Maria’s life as a Metis woman in Canada was in my own backyard, and recently. It is relevant to our current cultural moment and the discussions on race and gender. Surprisingly light-hearted throughout.
Bonus: I also started using Goodreads to track my reading largely because they provide this infographic to display your annual reading stats. This is a form of social media I can get behind, so if you aren’t already a Goodreads user, get in there and friend me so I can steal some book ideas from you!