reading

A typical school library houses roughly 8000 books, which coincidentally is about the same amount of books a new kindle can store.

That’s strange, isn’t it? That there exists a waterproof device capable of cataloguing the majority of human history, and it weighs less than a pancake. Let that soak for a second.

Image result for kindle paperwhite

If you loaded up a kindle to the brim and dedicated your life to reading a book on it every day until you’d finished them all, it’d keep you occupied for 21 years.

When you then consider that these 8000 titles would equate to only 0.008% of the 100 million or so books penned throughout history, it’s easy for your mind to wander into the incomprehensibility of the literary abyss.

This number doesn’t even include the 500 million newspapers sold every year, or the 840 million WordPress blog posts.

We are so saturated with information that sheer scale of what we will never be able to ingest is overwhelming.

Acknowledging this fact, accepting it, and attempting to filter through the noise anyway is all we can do.

There is too much available to justify reading anything which fails to captivate your attention. Feel no shame in reading twenty books four pages at a time, whenever you feel like it.

Get to work on your Tsundoku. Filter well friends, and enjoy.

As a general rule, I try to avoid consuming much news from traditional sources.

I prefer news which is actionable.

When I finish reading a story I like learning something which enables me to go, “Oh. In that case, I should ______.”

Good news fills in that blank with informed action which is productive, important and surprising.

But most news fills that gap with, I should be afraid.

While the targets they take aim at are different, news outlets on both sides of politics are constantly reverberating the same message;

People who are different from you are doing awful things, and you ought to be worried about it.

This message rings true whether you’re watching a bigot on Sky News dribble on about how maniacal the ‘climate cult’ is, or whether you’re watching a journalist on the ABC report a horrific case of domestic violence.

It used to be that this news happened twice each day; every morning when the paper was delivered and every evening when everyone got home from work.

Now we have a news cycle which doesn’t sleep, and our overexposure to it is cancerous.

Which is why I value journalists like Lisa Ling.

“It requires time and energy to get invested in other people’s stories, but I do in my heart of hearts believe that you emerge a better and smarter human as a result of taking that time.”
— Lisa Ling

Journalists who lean into the darkest complexities of society with empathy.

Instead of telling you who the good guy is, who the bad guy is, and why your should be upset, this type of journalism instead says;

Here are some people. This is what they’re going through. I’m going to try and help you understand.

Instead of preying on your emotional negativity bias by regurgitating oversimplified black-and-white narratives, these journalists find non-judgemental ways to understand people – usually in formats which take the necessary time to portray people as they really are; complex, illogical individuals.

It’s impossible to tell anyone’s full story in a news snippet.

We have nothing to gain through reinforcing polarising stereotypes, and everything to gain through compassionate conversation which fosters understanding.

If you haven’t encountered her work before, she’s well worth a google search.

I’ve never been a fast reader.

In fact, unless it’s an exceptional book, my attention span struggles to with written text. As most of the books I ‘read’ are audiobooks, reading quickly is just never a skill I’d invested in.

This was until a few days ago, when I stumbled across a ten minute Tim Ferris video which changed the game.

I’ve been trying out the techniques he describes for a few days, and I can’t believe nobody taught me how to do this sooner.

The tip which blew my mind has to do with taking advantage of your peripheral vision.

When we were first learning to read, we had to focus intently on the letters which made up each word. As we did this, our eyes were trained to jump from word to word as we read across the page.

Unfortunately, most of us didn’t adapt our reading style once we started to recognise words without needing to break them down letter by letter.

Now we can!

By progressively indenting your focal points further into the centre of the page, you can eventually end up only needing to focus on the central third of a chunk of text, as your peripherals allow you to read the first and last third of the page without needing to direct your focus away from the centre.

Never before had I considered that I could read words in my periphery.

I understand how strange this sounds, and I’ll admit that it does feel weird for the first few pages.

But once you adjust, you’ll find it hard to go back. My reading speed has more than doubled in less than a week.

There are a couple of other techniques to add to this one in the video below, which I highly recommend checking it out.

It’ll take ten minutes of your time, but has already saved me hours.

When we ruminate too intently on the pains our future might hold, we experience a portion of that pain in advance.

People with empathy internalise the pain of others when they witness suffering. It helps us to connect, to understand one another, and to care for eachother.

When making a decision, we usually consider the effect it might have on others. In doing so, we are essentially imagining future versions of the people our decisions may effect, allowing us to empathetically consider the potential outcomes of our actions.

We are so good at this that we usually do it intuitively.

I don’t take an online yodeling class at 1:30am because I can imagine that my neighbours (and their baby) might find it difficult to sleep in the presence of such glorious sound.

Unfortunately, there is a little glitch in this otherwise wonderfully human system; we can’t help but also imagine ourselves as a future person. We possess an inescapable and often rather concerning future self.

Anxiety is the pain we absorb while empathising with our future selves.

Harbouring a bit of this pain is sensible, but too much acts like poison.

We consider people ‘anxious’ when the pain they are experiencing in advance is disproportionate to the actual risks their furute presents.

“There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Seneca

Your anxiety is as useful as it is actionable.

If you can’t do anything to address a concern, there is zero gain in accepting preliminary pain on your future self’s behalf.

You’ll have to deal with it when your future self arrives at the worrying destination, so what sense is there in experiencing the pain twice?

Getting stuck empathising with future you is dangerous because this process feeds upons itself.

Once painful worrying becomes a habit, you might find yourself worrying about the worrying.

All of a sudden, your introspective empathy has turned toxic, and you’re so caught up inside yourself that you can barely muster the energy to look out.

Illustration by Catherine Lepange from Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind

There is no simple fix to this cycle.

It’s a grueling, often shameful, thing to break.

But it can be done.

I suggest starting with one of these:

Here’s two things which are deeply important to me;

Helping people understand what attention deficit disorders look like, how they function, and what someone lucky enough to have one can do to turn their variance into an asset.

Helping people (especially us millennial/Gen Z types) find ways to grow, learn, and reduce anxiety through the dedicated stoic practice of a meaningful pursuit (jiu-jitsu, in my case).

I’m going to be turning one of these into a book.

Perhaps I’ll even end up writing both. But for now, I need to decide which one gets to be first or I’ll bounce between the two forever.

I’m not married to a deadline yet, but I am commited to the outcome.

One book has to die for the other to thrive. If this is going to happen, I need to focus.

I need to make a choice, and I’d appreciate your help in making it.

Which book would you read first (if either)?

Which book are you more likely to champion?

Which book would you gift to a friend?

This is wildly important to me, so I’d appreciate any and all of your thoughts.

You can contact me publicly or privately.

Give me a call.

Let me buy you a coffee.

This is happening one way or the other. I want to do it justice.

How many books are sitting unread on your shelf?

I hope there are many.

Tsundoku, or ‘reading-pile’ in Japanese, is the word to describe a collection of purchased but unread books or reading materials.

Tsundoku harbours negative connotations associated with hoarding, but it shouldn’t. A pile of unread books of which you’re at least partially interested is a beautiful thing.

Tsundoko is a pile of opportunity.

Seize it.

Angel investor and philosopher Naval Ravikant reads 10-20 books at once.

How does he sustain this madness?

He gives himself permission to quit.

Naval doesn’t read books with the intention of finishing them. He reads a book for as long as it captivates him. If he tires of a book, he sets it aside.

If the first half of a book doesn’t want to make you read the second half, what’s to say it’ll be worth the same amount of time as the first?

But if he only reads what is most interesting to him, how does he ever finish anything?

He always picks another book up. He never stops reading.

He has built a habit around reading constantly. Books he puts down, he will often pick back up when he’s ready to return to it. Books he’s finished 15 times over, he’ll pick back up if it’s what he’s in the mood for.

Naval claims that the value of reading doesn’t lie in the books you read, but in the act of reading itself.

How do you build the same habit? He has a simple answer;

Read what you love until you love to read.

Naval Ravikant

Naval treats reading like I aim to treat ruckusmaking.

He gives himself the permission to ‘fail’, and continues to try until he gets what he wants.

He suggests you do the same.