Reading, along with writing and speaking are the areas I have been investing in the most over the last couple of years. All three are essential to a person’s stature and they all connect with each other somehow.
You can’t write well without getting ideas and being influenced by great authors, journalists, and bloggers, therefore, reading is essential to a writer.
You can’t speak in a precise and eloquent manner if you don’t read the required material that can help you evolve your vocabulary and syntax, therefore, reading is essential to a speaker.
Nowadays, our affinity for reading has become more prevalent than ever. The ease of access to various sources allows us to dissect information faster and branch out into many interesting topics.
Despite the lucrative abundance that this situation entails, there is, however, a caveat. The constant influx of book recommendations feels kind of overwhelming. You start reading a book and by the time you reach page 20, you get another recommendation and then another one and then another one. Before you know it, you are overwhelmed with “fear of missing out” and stress of being left behind.
I know your problems.
My advice to you is actually pretty simple and straightforward: Don’t stress so much about it and don’t inundate your reading list.
Choose a book that was suggested by a trustworthy person and stick to it until you move on to the next.
I personally try to commit to a book a week. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t really stress out about it. I view reading as something pleasurable and not as something mandatory. The more you put pressure on something, the less enjoyable it becomes.
This strategy has served me well over the years and has helped me increase dramatically the level of knowledge I possess in different topics as well as improve my argumentation capacity when I deal with opposing views.
This time, I am going to keep the reading list for this summer to a minimum by suggesting three books I find very important and also very relevant to the conundrums we have been facing lately as species.
At the end of the article I will also express my views on speed-reading, so stick around.
And the weak suffer what they must?
Fellow Greek thinker, economist and former Greek Minister of Finance Yianis Varoufakis made his comeback this year with this great book.
And the weak suffer what they must is an allegoric question originating from the following quote: “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
This quote is mentioned in the Melian Dialogue passage in Thucydides’s Peloponnesian War. In short, the story goes like this:
The Peloponnesian War was the biggest civil war in Ancient Greek history between the two dominant forces at the time, Athens and Sparta. Melos is a small island in the Aegean Sea that wanted to remain neutral during the war, but the Athenians argued that if they accept their neutrality, they would look weak. Eventually, the Melians decided not to submit and fight for their independence. The Melian Dialogue is a great representation of the dynamics and thinking practices between people in power and people in a weak position.
Varoufakis uses the quote as the title of his book to describe the current situation in Europe. The Greeks (along with other “weak” European countries) are considered modern Melians that need to suffer what they must in order to ensure the stability of the European dream.
Varoufakis is a very smart economist and skeptic who has experienced the disastrous effects of the EU policies from EU’s conception till this very day.
In his book, he explains in detail the history of the European Union, why it started, how it started and how it reached today’s point. He scrutinizes all the problematic concepts that affect the stability of the region, he argues that a country’s surplus is another country’s deficit and explains in detail the major problems that this idea encompasses.
A must read for anyone who wants to understand in depth the current status quo in Europe and wants to take a sneak peak into the not so bright future.
Tribe – On homecoming and belonging
I came across this book while I was skimming through Jack Donovan’s blog. Sebastian Junger is a renowned author, journalist and documentary filmmaker.
I have written before about the need to belong here. I still feel that need not being met on a constant basis and Sebastian Junger helped me expand the why even more.
Tribe is a short but intriguing read. Junger starts by laying out a very important fact about American history. Before the American revolution, there were countless cases of English settlers that joined Indian societies, but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal societies have been very attractive to Westerners for hundreds of years and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past as a communal species.
Another characteristic example of that attraction is online communities. Nowadays, we see the power of tribal living in the ease in which people tend to join online communities in an attempt to satisfy this incredibly important need.
The Amazon description summarizes the essence of this book perfectly:
“Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, TRIBE explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning.”
The Gene: An intimate history
This book is a #1 New York Times bestseller and a very important read. Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. He spent most of his life in discovering new cancer drugs by using innovative biological methods. If fact, his previous book, “The Emperor of All Maladies” is the best biography of cancer ever written.
“The Gene” is an attempt to chronicle the history of the human genome and introduce us to the importance and the future of genetics. Mukherjee explains that understanding the gene, can help us treat human diseases, but also reveal deep secrets about our human identity.
The book is exceptionally written in a way that combines storytelling, science, history and politics. It is written in a way that can be comprehended without a scientific background and it kind of urges the reader to research further the areas he covers.
“The Gene” rightfully belongs in the same tier as “Sapiens” because both provide a lot of insightful information and both illuminate a variety of critical conundrums in a very impactful way.
My views on speed-reading
Speed-reading has been a widely debatable topic among thinkers of all magnitudes. Especially two guys I enjoy reading, Ryan Holiday and Scott Young, have expressed their opinions thoroughly here and here. I agree with most of their points, however, I would like to give a brief intro to the topic and eventually propose my own strategy when it comes to getting the most out of reading.
But let’s first take a look at how it all started.
In 2008 Tim Ferriss published his first book “The 4-hour work week.” Back then it was considered the most revolutionary work on efficiency and personal optimization ever written. I remember reading it and being flabbergasted by the things he would propose. Today, I still find it an interesting read, but in all seriousness working 4 hours a week is not a serious proposal. Don’t get me wrong. Most of Ferriss’s suggestions are still great, but in an evolving marketplace most of those ideas have become outdated and can’t find serious application. 1
But I am digressing here. In “The 4-hour work week” Ferriss devotes a short section on speed-reading. More specifically, he proposes a little exercise in Chapter 6 called “How to Read 200% Faster in 10 Minutes.” The basic premise of the exercise is that you should begin each line focusing on the third word in from the first word, and end each line focusing on the third word in from the last word.
“Once upon a time, an information addict decided to detox.”
This helps you make use of your peripheral vision and you eventually read by trying to make sense of the context.
I have tried this method extensively and my verdict is that it serves a very shallow reading process. You are able to kind of understand what the topic is all about, but you only absorb some basic information and nothing more.
Since then, this idea attracted many people and some of them decided to employ technology to refine it. Especially, the speed-reading app spritz is the most widely known for it’s efficiency and wide applicability.
Now, I want to explain that although I am not a big fan of speed-reading, I do use it in specific cases.
I actually have this strategy, where I divide reading into two distinctive categories: Deep reading and Shallow reading.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius should be read in an isolated small room. This process is all your need to solidify the essence of stoicism.
— Quintessential Mind (@theQSLmind) March 6, 2016
Deep reading is the kind of reading that requires complete immersion in the reading process in order to maximize the benefits of a source.
I use it mainly with quality books and essays in order to allow myself to be absorbed by the writer’s narrative. Deep reading is my attempt to initiate an emotional and intellectual connection with the writer in order to decode the meaning behind every single word he uses.
This is a very intense and gratifying process that speed-reading can’t offer under any circumstances.
Deep reading acts as a form of meditation that shuts down all external stimuli and your world is re-crafted by the symbols, pictures, and messages that the writer tries to communicate. This process is beneficial in a plethora of ways as it can help you:
- Improve your concentration
- Improve your vocabulary and writing style
- Dissect and internalize complex concepts and ideas
- Offer a safe haven from the hectic daily life.
Shallow reading is used to signify the reading that can help you get basic information from different sources without the need to go deep.
Speed reading and especially apps like spritz can help you immensely with that process.
I personally use it extensively when I have to read articles or blog posts that cover areas I am already familiar with or various news topics.
Spritz is actually great in that respect because you can add a browser extension and it automatically reads the words to you based on the speed you prefer.
My strategy is really effective and it has served me really well over the years, so I think it can serve you too.
I propose that you spend more time deep reading because the benefits are more lucrative. You will also make a habit out of it and understand the way it can actually change your life for the best.
The books I suggested above belong surely to the deep reading category. If you read for 1 hour every day you will be able to finish them within a month.
Reading for 1 hour every day is also one of the 30 challenges proposed in “30 Challenges – 30 Days – Zero Excuses.” If you have an excess of free time left this summer I would strongly advise you to attempt some of the challenges. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
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