Last Updated on October 18, 2021
Think before you speak. Read before you think.Fran Lebowitz
I read widely. I am old enough to have grown up without the internet and so reading books was peak entertainment when I was young. Reading still is one of my favorites activities and is how I do most of my learning.
I mostly read books. Blogs and podcasts are nice for time sensitive info, but I find that books/audiobooks generally are better quality.
The library was the most exciting place to go after school when I was young. I haven’t asked my parents if I went there out of choice or if it was some kind of free childcare. I would hang out wander the shelves and read for hours! It must have been formative because I still love reading now. I have incredible gratitude for the libraries. Thank you Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries and the Mitchell Shire Libraries, and the governments who kept up your funding.
I love deep diving into a topic and reading is the best way to do it. I think deep down the other reason I read so much because I’m always trying to get smarter, or maybe to avoid being dumb (terrifying to me).
I think I have a similar condition to Anne Lamott:
I devoured books like a person taking vitamins, afraid that otherwise I would remain this gelatinous narcissist, with no possibility of ever becoming thoughtful, of ever being taken seriously.Bird By Bird
The level of a book
One thing I’ve thought about quite a bit throughout my reading journey is the “level” of a books content. Some of the best books – philosophy texts in particular – are very hard to read.
There are scales that score reading level, such as Flesch–Kincaid readability tests. If you check out a service like Readable, you can test the level directly from the browsers.
How to improve your reading ability
Reading ability is not just about speed, it’s about being able to persevere with more difficult texts.
However, if you do aspire to read some heavy stuff, you might have to work your way there slowly. It’s ok to start with pop-psychology Gladwell on your way to Kahneman. Often the journalist written books are a good introduction to a heavy topic and worth reading before going to the academic text. I was thinking of building a recommender app to help with book selection and book progression. (If you have thoughts about this let me know.)
My influential books
The right book at the right time
I like that idea that it’s not about the right book, it’s about the right book at the right time. Sometimes you read something and you are just ready for something to click or have an ah-ha moment, it was the right time for that book. It also reminds me of that idea
The teacher comes when the student is ready
Here are some work-in-progress lists of books that had a big influence on my thinking.
The timelessness of philosophy lends itself well to a book. Here’s some of the books that had a big impact on my worldview, and here’s a work-in-progress reverse chronological order list here:
- The Denial of Death
- Skin in the Game
- Letters from a Stoic
- On the Shortness of Life
- The Black Swan. For modern philosophy I love all Taleb’s stuff (although it could easily belong in my probability section below). I started with The Black Swan – it blew my mind when I first read it. It drastically changed my perception of time and history and life. All of his books are must-read though.
- Ethics. A bit heavier, but a classic.
On the lighter side – (lighter to read, still heavy themes):
More on philosophy here.
I’m fairly obsessed with behavioral economics.
- Thinking Fast & Slow. A top three all time favorite.·
- The Art of Thinking Clearly. If Thinking Fast & Slow is too heavy then try this one first.
- Thinking and Deciding. This is hard going but excellent.
- The Righteous Mind. This is epic and really changed my understanding of society.
I’ve read a lot on business and leadership in the past. I don’t read this genre as much these days. A few classics:
- The Goal. I a still a sucker for the business fiction genre though. Often the narrative is clunky as the poor author must sprinkle the education into the story, but it’s worth it. If I even end up writing a book it will probably be some kind of educational fiction.
- The Phoenix Project
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
True business stories
- Bad Blood
- Moneyball. I like the stats worship, but it’s a great story in it’s own right. The movie is very watchable.
- The Big Short
More on business here.
Probability & statistics
I have a lot more to add here, but here’s two of my favorites:
There are very few timeless books in this category. I get more of my tech info from blogs and twitter so it’s more timely. That said, I loved:
- The Art of Invisibility
- The Inmates Are Running The Asylum
- Don’t Make Me Think
- Permanent Record
- Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker
More on technology here.
Health & Fitness
I read a fair bit about health. I have written about those books on these pages:
True survival stories
About a third of what I read is fiction. Mostly sci-fi, or something with a philosophical bent. I’ve tried to read the classics lately.
- Animal Farm. Anything George Orwell wrote, but particularly 1984 and Animal Farm.
- The Stranger. I also love anything Albert Camus wrote, but particularly The Stranger. The philosophical themes that Camus explores really resonate with me.
- Einstein’s Dreams
For lighter fiction reads, some of my favorites are:
Also I am getting into short stories, these are some of my all time favorites:
- The Last Question (Youtube, free online version)
- The Yellow Wallpaper
What I’m currently reading
If it’s a good book – you can’t wait to finish it. If it’s a great book – you wish you’ll never finish it!