I have found that reading books itself is not so difficult, nor is it difficult to find time to read books. The difficult part is to make reading books a _habit_. The same way going to HN and Reddit (or whatever your frequently visited site) is a habit. You unconsciously find yourself refreshing that page even though you very well know nothing new happened within the last 30 seconds.
Everyone needs to start at some place and I think instead of forcing yourself in to the habit of reading books, one should ease themselves slowly in to forming a reading habit. Someone mentioned Pomodoro technique and I would recommend that. But I would suggest against taking a mechanical approach in to reading and instead start with small chunk (15 minutes of reading time a day) and slowly built yourself up for longer reading time.
If you asked me 2 years ago if I can go through 1 hour of uninterrupted reading I would probably laugh at you. But I now find myself reading 2-3 hours of continuous reading a day without much problem (not everyday though). Getting a kindle helped to get some distraction-less reading experience.
Do it. Reading books outside your field is the best thing you can do for yourself.
My goodness. This made me stop in the tracks. I find it hard to believe that the web life style is making so much damage to people. I have always taken for granted that reading for hours is the easiest thing an educated person can do. I don't have the time now, but when I was a teenager I could read for 4, 5 hours non-stop (maybe with a snack or two). A few books grabbed my attention for a whole day. It is sad that people think it is an effort to concentrate on a single book for longer than a few minutes.
My mom tracked my reading count one summer and I clicked in at 200 books.
It's a very different sort of filtering process. Social news sites distribute the filtering load across many different people, but collapse it in time - any given person spends about 2 seconds deciding whether to up- or down-vote a story. The publishing industry collapses the filtering load across very few people (a handful of editors decide whether a book will be accepted or rejected for publication), but spreads it out over time (your editor will then work with you over a protracted period to make sure the work expresses your views as clearly and as fully as possible).
They seem to result in very different outcomes. Social news tends to promote articles that are just barely at the edge of common practice. They make you think "Oh, that's a good idea", but can't fundamentally challenge the way you think, because you don't have time to absorb a fundamentally challenging idea.
Books, however, can fundamentally change your outlook - if you let them. But the process of letting them is difficult, and you need to find the right book, and it needs to come at the right time in your cognitive development.
I think the Internet has done a great thing for making the masses of people better informed, but it still does not replace books. Partially because, on a competitive level, all of your competitors have read the same blogs as well. You need to distinguish yourself with something difficult, which ideally would come from personal experience, but books are often the next best thing.
This process (and lord knows it's a process, the book has been on my bed stand for months) has given lots of time to reflect on the person and his time, it has prompted inquiries and discussions with people better acquainted with him, the time and Britain. On a recent visit to the Imperial War Museum in London, I was able to draw on my readings, while the experience conversely expanded my horizons and my gains from reading the book.
Had this been a ten paragraph blog post, I would have gotten a re-iteration of the view that he's a hero, a central figure in post-war Britain, and particular in post-war conservatism. A comment on that blog post would probably point out the usual criticism, that the bombing of Dresden was an atrocity, that he was an unrelenting imperialist and that WWII was won by the Sovjets and the west just swooped in at the last minute to collect the prizes.
Well, I knew that. I just didn't understand it and it's implications. I still don't (and still have a few hundred pages to go), but I have a much better framework for exploring the issue.
One thing that good books can do, that I've never seen even the best blogposts do in a lasting way: they get under your skin and stay there. I read Microserfs several times in my mid- to late teens, and I'm certain the "Yes! This!" experience I got from this book forever shaped me towards entrepreneurship. I haven't read it for a decade, but the picture of sitting in someones garage passionately working on your own product is still my ideal of life.
A good handful of books have gotten under my skin in various ways, in ways that reading stuff online never did. There are many, many forgettable books, but the prize of that under-the-skin experience is enough that I keep trying. Even lacking that, getting sucked into an alternative reality is excellent entertainment.
Finally, I simply enjoy reading a book (or on my Kindle). I enjoy not having the distractions of a computer nearby.
You are also not going to use most of the things you have read/learned in the book in real life. Unless you are only reading self-help type of books.
To me relational connection is more important that "remembering" a book. For instance if you can point out "x event" in a book I have read (if it is a particularly interesting part of the book), I can give you a gist of what that x event in the book was talking about and things related to that event. I can also recall similar events in other books I have read. However if you ask me to remember a "hard number" or "hard fact" I will most likely not recall it.
"Remembering" a book seems like ridiculously thing to do unless its a programming book or you are preparing for an exam in school or work related.
You tries to remember books in casual reading?
This is an issue that I myself am grappling with. I read a lot in 2010. I probably read about 50 books. Some of them, I actively read: I kept my pen handy, underlined where appropriate and then wrote questions in the margins. If I made notes on a page, I would circle the page number; once I finished, I would flip through all of the pages with circled page numbers, and then dump all my notes into a plain text document. I would then try to assert some sort of cohesive logical structure on my dump, INTP-style, and then post it to ZacharyBurt.com.
I hate the feeling I feel when someone mentions an idea from a book I have read, me appraising it as so (fresh and different), and then me feeling that if I had to invoke that idea as part of a creative solution to a problem, it probably wouldn't have come to the forefront of my consciousness.
And of course, could I tell you the precise contents of many of those books? No. In fairness, Leonardo himself observed that genius requires spaced repetition. To that end, while reading, I have tried to build the habit of skimming ultimately irrelevant, unless needed for later reference, details. I still read them to evaluate whether they deserve a more in-depth look. But I am concerned here that my process is not ideal.
Has the reading bolstered my creativity and pattern matching ability? Probably.
Has it improved my analytic capacity? Probably, especially noticeable during the time period after I finish reading a book.
Do I remember the core lessons from each book? No.
And that's a big problem. Usually with a book I try to figure out a few different take-aways and then implement them into my life. But unless I implement them immediately and convert them into habits, I will probably lose the lessons. A challenge I face as a reader, and perhaps why I have accumulated a small following as a writer, is figuring out how to convert ideas from a book into actionable habits.
So what major life habit changes have I made in 2010?
I became vegan. That's it.
But I also made some changes to my business strategy, putting lots of money in my pocket.
And I became better at competitive sports.
I felt happy for greater intervals of time.
And my mental map of how my brain works has become more clear.
And hopefully, the books I choose to read next year will be ultimately more relevant useful and practical.
I have been planting seeds (for creative sprouting, which has paid some initial dividends). I have been also grasping for intellectual edification, trying to answer big questions that have been lurking in my head. Hopefully I will also start asking better questions instead of wasting time on the wrong questions.
Practically, I think that I could reduce each book I read into a few solid actionable ideas/suggestions. I may actually go through each of my blog's entries. If I eliminate rationale, I will be left with only results.. and people pay for results. Want to get the personal improvement of reading 50 books without having to compensate my ego by listening through my insufferable nerdy analysis? Get the PDF for $X.
I also have to figure out how I want to shift my reading strategy for 2011. Thoughts welcome.
But I want talk a little about the motivation behind reading books. I don't read books to be a genius or trying to solve a world problem or for the next big idea. I read purely out of intellectual curiosity and the pleasure of the reading experience. I also read mostly non-fiction books which I think requires a bit more mental involvement and slow reading than fictional books. I also don't speed read or skip parts.
>Do I remember the core lessons from each book? No.
>And that's a big problem. Usually with a book I try to figure out a few different take-aways and then implement them into my life. But unless I implement them immediately and convert them into habits, I will probably lose the lessons. A challenge I face as a reader, and perhaps why I have accumulated a small following as a writer, is figuring out how to convert ideas from a book into actionable habits.
I don't think there are enough original ideas out their that you will find in every single book you read that _you can apply in your life_. Specially in self-help books. If you have read 5-6 decent self-help (on time management, productivity) books chances are you have covered 95% of the important stuff out there. So instead of reading more self-help books to find something new or original (there are none, trust me) you are probably better off concentrating on the core lessons. Any more self-help books you will read will only reinforce the core ideas you already know about. You can also read them to get a different perspective of the known ideas too. I used to subscribe to every single popular self-help blog and have read most popular self-help books (before and after 2009). I also used to make rigorous notes. Over time I have fine tuned my notes and they have all comes down to three points.
Step 0: Say Calm.
Step 1: Decide what you want to do.
Step 2: Do it.
Of course this won't help everyone. But I know that those three point _really_ means. What it means to stay calm or why I should do it. What it means to emphasis on the _decision_ of what I want to do. And what it means to do something "I have decided" I will do. I don't have to remember the core messages of those books to apply the lessons I have learned.
But this is just one example on one type of books. I could use the same example to my other favorite topics "Theoretical Physics" and Neuropsychology". After reading a decent amount of theoretical physics books on cosmology even the latest book by Stephen Hawking felt like "meh". When you read 10th book on cosmology that tells you the same thing by 10 different authors in 10 different ways, at that point you are not reading to "learn something new", you are looking for a different perspective on the same thing you already know. You might not consciously "remember" all the 10 different ways to explain the same thing, but subconsciously you have 10 different ways of thinking about the same problem.
I think going out of your way to actively 'remember' what you read and trying to learn something from each book you read and apply them to your life is a wasted energy and effort (IMHO). Chances are most of them are not applicable to your life.
Just enjoy reading a book.
Get knowledge -> immediately apply habit in most effective pattern -> Get more knowledge -> immediately apply habit in most effective pattern -> Harder Better Faster Stronger
I too only read non-fiction. I would read a work of literature for pleasure. I do not want to know everything about everything but I want to know a little about everything to ensure that I know what I don't know.
I want to avoid negative Black Swans and capture positive Black Swans.
I really don't want to sound dismissive or pretentious; but thats the kind of thinking I used to have when I was a teenager. When you reach a certain age (or perhaps also gather a good amount of life experience) you soon realize what a naive way of thinking it is.
Of course everyone has their own philosophy in life. As an Active Nihilist, being "Harder Better Faster Stronger" is not important to me. Having the knowledge and knowing that "if I wanted to I could" is good enough for me.
>What good is knowing the best way to do something if you don't actively apply the knowledge?
There is no inherent "meaning", "point" or "good" in anything you do. You give your actions and choices a meaning. You chose to be "Harder Better Faster Stronger" because for some reason you find meaning in that. To me thats meaningless endeavor.
To me there is no "meaning" in reading books and gaining knowledge. I do it for the pleasure of it.
Can you really be sure that you can do something until you have demonstrated that you can?
I agree that there need not be a reason to read, but some people need there to be...
For example, here's the list of books I read in 2005:
I remember maybe a little more than half of them, and perhaps 1/6 of them fundamentally changed my thinking enough that I'd be able to remember in detail (you can quiz me on them if you want an accurate sample). However, 1/6 of 150 books is still 25 books. There seem to be a bunch of people on this thread who would love to read 25 books/year, let alone remember them in detail.
But even that is not necessary with all the books you read, as long as the ideas in those books remain somewhere in your unconscious mind. Later, when you'll be faced with a business decision, you'll just "know" what the right decision is, without having to pinpoint where you've heard that before. If you can get at least that from the books, it should be good enough and valuable for you in the long term.
Since you know you're going to take a break soon, you can't justify slacking off during work time. It's a mental hack that's simple and effective.
Posts about the technique pop up on Hacker News from time to time.
This is going to sound incredibly lazy, but I've found that a good way to keep myself off the internet during break periods (which often leads to extended breaks) is to play a game of Civilization. One turn per break and you'll be so absorbed you won't even think about HN or Reddit.
 http://sha.ddih.org/2010/09/04/pomodoro-py/ (it's rough but it works for me)
See? I've played ONE turn of Civilization, just repeated about 50 times.
But of course sometimes you also have to do the boring stuff, and then tricks like this can help.
Limiting yourself would get more work done but there is always the danger on putting your head down and plowing on in one direction only later to realize much better ideas or methods that you didn't know about in a more closed loop.
Of course there is a load of middle ground and I guess that's what most of us here try and work towards.
We won't be ruined by what we hate, but what we love. Or even worse and not even with passion - we will be ruined/placated by things just mundane and addictive enough to keep us transfixed to screens.
I find I get excited about new organizational / management techniques, but very few survive the 3 month (never mind 3 week) mark.
I've been limiting and attempting to limit my internet time for years with various techniques, tools and even building several myself. Its still an annoying struggle.
The internet has put a giant entertainment box inside every cubicle in the world and people make a lot of money to keep you distracted and entertained :).
It was painful for the first few days but now I am so much more relaxed and well-rested I am giving serious consideration to continuing this way for a bit. I also seem to be able to concentrate a great deal better than before: tested on a new (to me) Coetzee novel and a math textbook.
(And I'm allowed to pick at lion, because I do the same thing)
Can you unpack this statement? What's a 'meta' point? And why is it not an effective zinger?
That's a lot of the problem here. He's trying to stop something too broad. Instead, he should be picking the things he DOES on the internet that are stealing his time. Reading Digg/Reddit/StumbleUpon/Facebook for instance. Limit or quit those things. The internet isn't the problem any more than 'being outside' is the problem for laying on the beach too much.
I really dont go out much, because of location, there is not much to do. So me limiting my internet use amounts to working out and waching TV.......which kinda sounds like prison lol
I kinda justify things lately by learning online. For example I take classes online for various things like learning a foreign language, or playing the piano, or learning new technology etc
Now I have hard data, it's bad (about 10% on this news sites, still not tracking dependent time on linked sites) but not as bad as I thought :)
But it isn't exactly elegant.