On Re-Reading and The Book Quantity Trap

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It seems like more people are reading actual books these days. Admittedly, I have no data to back this up outside of my observations of friends in-person and on social media. However, more people I know are posting reading lists, book reviews, and photos of their physical library.

I love this trend! I’m a big believer in the power of continued learning. Books are one way (and my preferred method) of learning. There is a trap lurking though.

It’s easy to quantify the number of books we read in a year. As with anything else quantifiable, the total number emerges as some sort of status symbol.

We hear stories of people like Bill Gates powering through 50 books a year or see photos of authors like Ryan Holiday sharing the stacks of books he reads in a week. Well-intentioned sites like GoodReads (which I love!) challenge us to set reading goals for the year.

Instead of actually absorbing the contents of the book or choosing lengthier books that go deep on a particular topic, we optimize for speed and quantity. If I’m being honest, this is probably why I’ve neglected to take on War and Peace!

Recently, I stumbled across two quotes that caused me to think about what and how I’m reading.

A good book gets better at the second reading. A great book at the third. Any book not worth rereading isn’t worth reading.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

and this one I found via Naval:

Aiming at less than 100 solid books. Anything beyond that is madness. I’m after educated execution, not recreational consumption.

@illacertus on Twitter

Last year, I re-read 4 books and certainly absorbed more than the first time through. This year, I’ll re-read a few more including a book that I’ve read every single year for the last several years – On the Shortness of Life. At this point, I’ve earmarked nearly every page.

Reading is amazing. Just remember why you’re reading in the first place! It’s better to go deep on a handful of books than to skim a whole library.

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