Back in my college days, I worked at the library at Iowa State University.
Each day, I’d receive a small stack of government publications, and my job was to put them in the correct place on the shelves, deep in the musty dungeon of a basement.
I loved it.
It’s not that I was particularly fascinated by the latest prints of U.S. Senate hearings, but it gave me the chance to walk past the various sections of the library and stand in awe at all those books (I tended to take the long route, meandering through the building’s five floors of thousands upon thousands of books).
I loved that they were organized by topic. Head over to the anthropology section, and you’d find a good dozen subcategories, from linguistic anthropology to cultural anthropology and obscure field studies in remote parts of the world. Quantum mechanics was apparently a thing that existed, and there were also entire sections about botany, esoteric philosophies, global literature, industrial design, music, and — okay, you’ve been to a library and know how it is, so I’ll stop there.
So much knowledge.
It made me feel incredibly — I’m not sure dumb is the right word, but I felt humbled and honored to walk amidst all that knowledge. Collectively, there must have been billions of hours of thought and study all around me.
I would often rent five or six books in a single go, and I’d work through the first chapter of half of them, at least until I got distracted by another five or six books that continued to pull me down a thousand intellectual pursuits over and over again. My list kept growing bigger and bigger than a single lifetime would ever allow. Sometimes I’d journey to Amazon.com and read the reviews and discussions that followed rather than the books.
How do you manage so much information?
Writing about reading, without the list
Today, I have that same passion for books of various disciplines, and time still puts me in my place and reminds me I’ll never read them all. It happens every new year; I jump into my list of books and try storm through as many as I can. And every year, I feel daunted by the disparity between my to-read and have-read list.
Now I’m doing things a little differently.
First, I’m letting go of the list — partially due to a couple books that were on my list, but I’ll get to that soon. Sure, I’ll keep adding to the list, but why focus more on that than the value received from books I’ve already read, or even better, whatever I’m currently reading? It’s like traveling around the world to see a hundred new countries and incessantly feeling stressed about the places you haven’t seen.
That brings me to another point about that cliche we’ve all heard about living in the present, but I’ll get to that soon too (as I sit here writing about the future … ).
Second, I’m going to start writing about the books I’m reading. I think about someone like Maria Popova of Brainpickings.com, who apparently reads two or three zillion books a year and writes about all of them in beautiful, meaningful fashion. I’ve also heard stories of people who claim to have transformed their lives by reading an entire book every day for an entire year. There’s that annoying guy who pops up in Youtube ads with a fancy car behind him and a shelf full of books. Then there’s this guy I follow on Quora. And that’s all I can think of, but there are probably more.
Writing about each book forces you to reflect on what could have been a simple checkbox on a list.
So that’s what I’m gonna do. You may find this interesting. You might not. Or you might ignore it. Full disclosure: I’m doing it more for me than for you, but I’d love to have you follow along on the journey if that’s your jam.
The thing I won’t be doing is writing book reviews. You know how they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? Here’s a crazy idea: how about not judging it by its content either? Don’t get me wrong — there are definitely bad books out there, just like there are bad movies, bad waffles, etc., but the judgment itself should never be the point. Rather, it’s to consider another perspective, to empathize with the experiences of others, to learn something new. Some have a predictable plot; some are terribly organized, boring, and difficult to follow. That’s all fine. If it gets me thinking, it’s a good book (and I have yet to find a book that doesn’t accomplish this; maybe that will change now that I’ll be writing about each one along the way).
SO, when I say I’m going to start writing about books, I mean I’m going to start writing about things books make me think about.
Sit tight if you’d like to see where it takes me.
The first one: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson (which probably isn’t what you’d expect … ).