From Reading To Writing And Beyond
In 2019, I read 40 books, and only ~5 of them were audiobooks. In 2023, I read 11 books and 7 of them were audiobooks. Suffice it to say, my reading habits have changed dramatically. It’s very clear that COVID was the trend disruption.
For a few years there, I was reading ~30-40 books per year, and I attribute a lot of that to having a pretty consistent 30-40 minute commute each way. Once I started working from home, I lost that reading time. And I never ended up finding another space for it in my life.
For a long time, I was focused on the volume of reading. Granted, I’d like to say that my precipitous drop off has been due to a focus on quality of reading, but that really isn’t true.
Before I start reflecting on the change in my reading habits, its first important to clearly state how important reading is to me. In particular, as a parent, reading hits home.
I enjoy every time I see my kids reading. Everywhere we go, every day out we have, I try to make a stop at a bookstore. I’m not too sharp, smart, or smooth, but the best I can do is expose my kids to as many ideas as possible.
“The majority of my reading falls into three buckets: (1) What I read for my investing work, which is usually deal-related and so I avoid talking about. (2) What I read as part of managing Contrary Research, which you can always read here. (3) What I read so that I can include it in whatever I'm writing about that week. So I read plenty each week. But I feel a hunger for ideas and concepts that I glance, but never conceive. I want to read more, not so I can tally more books on my "Books I Read" list at the end of the year. I want to read more because I can feel categories of limitations in my own understanding.
But my conclusion continues to be not that I’m fine with what I’m reading. Its that I still need to find more room in my life to read more and more. My favorite strategy is what Ryan Holiday has to say about reading:
“You should always have a book with you. Always. People often assume something about me: that I’m a speed reader. It’s the most common email I get. They see all the books I recommend every month in my reading newsletter and assume I must have some secret. They want to know my trick for reading so fast. The truth is, even though I read hundreds of books each year, I actually read quite slow. In fact, I read deliberately slow. But what I also do is read all the time. I am always carrying a book with me. Every time I get a second, I crack it open. I don’t install games on my phone—that’s time for reading. When I’m eating, on a plane, in a waiting room, or sitting in traffic in an Uber—I read. There’s no trick, no secret, no shortcut. I like B.H. Liddell Hart’s old line that sometimes the longest way around is the shortest way home. If you put the time in, you get the results.”
So, while I lick my wounds and reflect on how to make more room for reading, I still wanted to reflect on some of the themes this year.
Every year as I’ve looked back on what I’ve read, I keep getting reminded of this Twitter interaction I had in 2020.
In 2020, I didn’t read a single fiction book. In 2021, to rectify that, I finally gave in to my brother’s recommendation that I check out Brandon Sanderson. And boy, did I fall in love. I read 15 books in 2021, and 6 of them were Brandon Sanderson books. Since then, I’ve read 16 books by Sanderson. Granted, all of them audiobooks.
In particular, fantasy was a specific choice. I was really just trying to expose myself to more fiction. But previously, in 2019, my brother and I had a book club called “The Fiction of Future” where would read near-future science fiction. Fantasy is unique in that it strips away any of the pragmatic realism. Instead, it crystalizes the human experience. The stories of people with values, characteristics, and quirks.
I’ve enjoyed having a healthy diet of fiction in my repertoire. Going forward, I’m going to try and expand that pool of fiction back into more science fiction and some of the categories I’ve read in the past.
What books are left after you take out all the fiction, there isn’t much. But between Talent, The Power Law, and The Navalmanack, you start see these crystallized lessons from practitioners. I’ve written before about the professionalization of startups:
“If you step back and look at the breadth of startup experience that people have today you'll start to appreciate two things. First, it's impressive the kinds of incredible experience people have now built up. And second, we're really just getting into the first generation of that experience being widespread.”
I’m a big fan of instances where these exceptional people put pen to paper to capture the learned experience they’ve collected. Regardless of the discipline, there’s a superpower in learning from other people’s experiences. Especially their mistakes.
The Books I Read This Year
One of the characters gets a lot more backstory into an abusive up-bringing and a difficult family. There’s such a wealth of context wrapped up in someone’s childhood. As I’ve started my own family, and started to think about my upbringing, and what I bring from that family to this one, you realize how impactful that lived experience is, whether you like it or not.
I remember years ago learning about this concept called “word prints.” Effectively, its this idea that someone’s writing style can be as distinguishable as an actual finger print. I’ve never seen the discipline applied to fiction writing, but that could be interesting.
When you think about what makes a good writer, I think being able to craft completely different characters, all of whom you buy into? That’s a super power.
I’ve seen some great jokes about the Ship of Theseus recently. Thinking about this idea of how something “turns over” over the course of its life. People are the same. Not just skin cells, but lived expereinces.
This book was a fascinating exploration of someone who returns to their previous life and attempts to reconcile how the person they were and the person they’ve become are the same.
After having spent a LOT of time in The Stormlight Archive this year, it was nice to come back to the Mistborn world.
One of the elements of world building, to my untrained mind, is the ability to jump around in time and still feel anchored in the world you’ve created. Whether you’re jumping 10, 50, or 1,000 years into the future, you still feel the knowing pangs of familiarity when reading a story.
I always enjoy hearing the systematic breakdown someone can provide when they’ve been steeped in a discipline.
This was no exception. Certainly two different perspectives, but valuable nonetheless.
Pretty interesting exploration of power, destiny, and a chance to use a small story to touch on some much larger forces that are at play in Sanderson’s writing.
More than any other Brandon Sanderson book I’ve read, this felt like a deep exploration of metaphysics.
In Latter-Day Saint theology, there is a complex concept of divine intelligent matter that makes up the universe. I couldn’t help but feel like Sanderson was using his rich fictional world to explore a similar concept.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been systematically chronicling its history.
The early history of the church is much more well known. I’ve really enjoyed the breakdown into other sections of history.
My wife and I got to read this one together, which isn’t something we get to do too often. It was a real throwback since its been ~10 years since I first read the Hunger Games.
That last time Camden and I read a book together and then immediately saw the movie was when we read Ready Player One. As always, we preferred the book.
I’ve been super inspired watching Eric Jorgenson’s journey and career unfold.
He recently “manifested” his dream job, and that job is bringing more books like his Almanack series to life.
For someone as prolific as Naval, it was great to have a synopsized overview of his thoughts and frameworks.