Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rethinking my Reading

I was busy for the last few weeks taking on short-term assignments, and hence the long gap between posts. I will try and pace myself better in the future.

One of the (many) reasons I gave up a full time job was that I wasn't satisfied with the amount of my reading. I loved the idea of having lots of free time to read. Looking at the New Arrivals section in libraries and bookstores, I felt that there was a huge river of knowledge to be consumed, but that I was doing so in thimblefuls. Also, I always read a book cover to cover, without skipping paragraphs, and this meant that I was reading far less than what I desired. I began to feel that if only I had more time, I could do justice to all the wonderful new books that keep getting published.

After I left my corporate job and had quite a bit of autonomy over my time, I was reading more, yes. But the river didn't seem any lesser just because I was consuming with cups instead of thimbles. In fact, with each book I discovered more books that I wanted to read, and all of this resulted inevitably in disappointment.

This post is about a couple of small shifts in my thinking that helped me rethink my approach to Reading.

I got the first idea from Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution blog. Tyler, a polymath I respect and admire, seems to endorse a 'snacking' approach to books and to food and to much else. In fact he seemed to be doing this even to movies, peeking into many of them in one visit to the multiplex.

It occurred to me that there was no rule saying that I had to read a book fully. So I eventually gave myself permission to browse books. When I know that I simply cannot afford the time to read a book, I will read just its table of contents, slowly. The way a book (of non-fiction) is structured can itself convey quite a bit. I then read small sections that sound interesting and satisfy myself.

And the second shift in my thinking was to focus instead, at the books that I do manage to read. This is still very much a work in progress for me. I am training myself not to view all new and interesting-sounding books as a huge to-be-done list, but to instead look at the books that I do manage to read. I am still working on this one, but it has definitely helped take off some of the disappointment I used to feel about my reading.

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