A Few Random Thoughts in Reading

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I’m a huge book nerd. I geek out over reading lists, love visiting physical bookstores when I travel, and am in the minority of people still collecting physical books in the age of Kindle. I try to start every day with 10 pages of reading, and reading a physical book is my preferred way to wind down at night.

With all of that in mind, I’ve spent far too much time over the past years thinking and reading about…reading. Here’s a smattering of thoughts on what you should read, how to start reading, where I find books, etc.

  • In my opinion, books are the best way to continue learning, and they’re a bargain for $10-$15 a piece. I’ve heard many people mention that they have an unlimited budget for books because they find them so valuable. I do have a budget, but I still spend $150-200/year on reading. The best part about books is you can almost always get them free from the library.
  • I’ve heard all the quotes from folks like General Mattis on reading: “If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.” While I personally find books valuable, I think that’s a bit extreme. I don’t think someone is incompetent if they don’t enjoy reading. There are dozens of ways to learn and grow. Books are just one way.
  • With that being said, if someone says they don’t like reading, I often imagine it’s a holdover from school when they were forced to read books from a set reading list. I think anyone can learn to love reading if they choose the right books and explore topics they find interesting.
  • You should stop reading a book if you don’t find it interesting regardless of who recommended it or what “Best Books” list it was on. I’ve heard Ryan Holiday mention the rule of 100 pages minus your age as the cutoff for when to make a judgement call on whether to continue a book. I don’t follow a set rule, but I frequently stop reading books and either set them aside for another time or decide they’re not for me.
  • I typically buy 2-3 books per month and spend $25 or less. Ideally, they’re all used, and even better if I can get them from Powell’s Books or a local bookstore. I only buy from Amazon directly if the price difference is extreme (30+% of the book).
  • If you’re struggling to find time to read, the most helpful guidance I’ve found is to start with 10 pages per day, which will add up to 12-15 books during the year, a hefty amount.
  • In general, I think it’s better to default to older books that have stood the test of time rather than always reading the latest thing that hits the shelves. A good rule of thumb I’ve heard is to not read anything that was published in the past five years.
  • I love book recommendations from friends, but there are a few people that heavily influence my reading list. This is because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything they’ve suggested in the past. Those people include Ryan Holiday (through his monthly reading email), Matt Mullenweg, and Bill Gates.
  • I naturally gravitate towards non-fiction, but I do find value in fiction as well. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is one of my favorite books of all time.
  • For recommendations, I keep an Amazon list that I add to whenever I hear about a book in conversation or in a podcast. When I’m looking to buy more books, I’ll review the list, scan the reviews for general feedback, and typically use the “Look Inside” feature to preview a few pages.
  • I have mixed feelings on audiobooks. I just don’t feel like I retain as much of the information. When tackling longer books though (like The Better Angels of Our Nature by Pinker), I like to pair up the audiobook and physical book just to keep moving at a solid pace.
  • I don’t follow any special reading hacks like reading the ending first or speed reading. I enjoy the process of reading so I have no desire to speed it up. My only “hack” is occasionally pairing physical books and audibooks as mentioned above.
  • I think there’s value in having a set list of books you re-read on a regular basis because they’re particularly impactful or formative in some way. That list for me includes On the Shortness of Life and Man’s Search for Meaning.
  • I don’t think it’s always better to read more books. I’d rather read fewer books deeply. This is something I didn’t fully understand early on, and I’d rush through books just to have a higher tally at the end of the year. I’m much more content reading a book slowly now.
  • I earmark pages, highlight, and write notes in the margins of books although I often don’t revisit my notes unless I’m specifically looking for something.

Featured image is my bookshelf, which I dream of filling up to the point it’s bursting at the seams.

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