Saturday, January 12, 2013

Musings on Reading

I've gone through several cycles of reading in my life. I remember back in primary school, when I would borrow a book at recess, finish it during lessons, then borrow another book to bring home at lunch. I would read at meals, in the bus/car, while walking along the road ... everything my parents warned me not to do, but somehow survived.

Then there was secondary school, when my life was taken over by computer games like Dune 2. And with a spanking new top-of-the-line 14.4kbps modem, I was sucked into the world of Doom ][ and online gaming. I didn't read much more than the year's recommended book list.

There was a revival in my last year at university, when I completed by engineering degree and in my folly decided to do a masters in the humanities. I had no idea that professors could be so sadistic as to make you read an entire book on constructivist theory and expect you to discuss it, all within a week. (And that is just a day in the life of one class.) 

I read a lot that year, then locked all the books away.

Working life crowded out any desire to read. What little time I had left was much better spent having adventures or hanging out with friends. Books could wait, so they always did.

But over time, I realised that the knowledge I had gained from the books often proved useful either at work, or in other various pursuits I was involved in. Whether it was designing a database, writing a research essay (without doing real research), or even arguing why it was important to pursue continuing education opportunities, I would find ideas I had read in the past coming to mind when I needed them. And a simple Google search would usually fill in the gaps in my memory.

I'd also discovered that being smart doesn't get you very far if you don't have facts or knowledge to back you up. The strongest argument can be overturned by introducing a new piece of information. So the best way to prepare myself for the world was to have a good breadth of knowledge.

And so I started reading again.

I also learned to read a bit smarter. Timothy Ferriss advised in The Four Hour Work Week to stop reading the newspaper. It's a waste of time - if there is something important people will tell you. I fully agree with that. Newspapers just contain snippets of information and useless data. If you want something thoughtful, at least read a magazine, which tries to string together the facts for you along with some useful analysis. But the best things are books. Just imagine how much effort it takes someone to write a book, compared with a news article, a blog post or a facebook status. Clever people put months or years of thought into presenting their knowledge to you on a platter, all you need to do is turn the pages. 

Another trick I learned is when to read. My reading habit had plummeted because there always seemed to be something more urgent/fun than sitting down with a book (which could always wait). So I switched to audiobooks, which I would listen to when running or behind the wheel. I find it's a much better way to utilise exercise or travel time that would otherwise be spent idly listening to music. I also do a bit of reading on the Kindle, just before bed when the lights are out and my mind is winding down. That's what works for me, the key is to figure what works for you.

Well, that's my philosophy on reading and learning. And now just for fun, here are the best of the books I enjoyed in 2012, which I think everyone should read. (Yes, even single people can read books on marriage.) I'm not going to write any reviews, but I will sort of ranked them based loosely on the criteria of providing useful knowledge as well as enjoyable to read.

And most importantly, recommendations of good books for 2013 are welcome! (Some of the books below were kindly recommended by friends about this time last year.)
  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
  2. How Will You Measure Your Life? - Clayton M. Christensen
  3. The Meaning of Marriage - Timothy Keller
  4. In The Plex - Steven Levy
  5. The Company (A Novel of the CIA) - Robert Littell
  6. Real Marriage - Mark and Grace Driscoll
  7. Made to Stick - Chip and Dan Heath
  8. Confront and Conceal - David E. Sanger
  9. Inside Apple - Adam Lashinsky
  10. Ghost in the Wires - Kevin Mitnick
  11. Grace-Based Parenting - Tim Kimmel