0320 – reading is good

Moving on. I’ve been reading books again.

In relatively quick succession this year, I’ve read William Gibson’s Neuromancer (interesting to see how much influence it’s had on things like The Matrix), Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan (cover to cover), Antifragile (I kept going until I felt like I got the point, and then wanted to move on to other things– but a great read nevertheless), Business (some random guy’s book about a bunch of people… forgettable stuff), Who Moved My Cheese (A simple, powerful classic– wish I read it years ago), Jay Griffith’s A Sideways Look At Time (A little bit annoying at times but as a whole pretty mind-bending stuff about the nature of time). I’m also reading “First, Break All The Rules” (about business, management, entrepreneurship, career), The Box (about container shipping), The Game (about pickup artistry) and a few other books here and there. Been re-reading Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground (didn’t finish it the first time around, not sure if I’m going to finish it right away). I’m eyeing Totto-chan, which was a book from my childhood, and a couple of other books. I read a book about a cyclist from Malaysia who cycled around the world. I’ve made a tentative list of books to read next, which include a biography of Abdul Kalam and several other things.

I love it. I’ve missed books so much. I deeply enjoy how each book is an experience lovingly crafted by a writer, and how in that experience you get to experience the writer’s mind. Writers tend to reuse certain words, quote certain people, have a certain style, a certain ebb-and-flow, and it’s just magical to have that experience. I had a theory about why I stopped reading books as intensely as I used to when I was a child– which was that Life had gotten more interesting than books, and that I needed to collect some Life Experience in order to contextualize the books that i had read, to corroborate my own experience against the writers that I had read. I’m now starting to feel the whole thing come full circle– I’ve had a bunch of experiences, and I’ve done a bunch of reading online, and now I’d like to dig deeper into larger reading experiences. In Antifragile, Taleb shares his definition of “book”– a book being a complete reading experience, as intended by the author. So Antifragile isn’t a single book, it’s a series of books tied together. It’s interesting how people don’t talk more about this. Or maybe they do, and I’ve simply not been privvy to those conversations.

I just finished reading A Sideways Look At Time, and it opened my mind to thinking about how we take mainstream, westernized attitudes towards time for granted. The very fact that we call this the year 2015– it’s 2015 since Jesus Christ, a Christian measurement. The fact that we have clocks that are more precise than the Earth itself, the fact that we have Greenwich Meridian Time, and the way we choose to split our days and weeks and the way we manage our festivals and carnivals, the difference between a holiday (holy day) and a vacation (to vacate, escape from time), the way some perspectives are hard and linear (phallic, Christian, masculine, “civilized”, industrialized, mechanical, solar) and others are softer and more cyclic (pagan, earthy, natural, wet, feminine, carnivals, seasonal, menstrual, lunar). The tyranny of clocktime and schedules and meetings (it’s interesting to juxtapose Taleb’s perspectives with Griffiths’, I enjoy imagining them having a conversation– which is one of the best parts of reading many books). I find myself thinking about how much of what makes me uncomfortable about reality, and what makes me feel like some sort of awkward misfit might simply be due to the fact that I live in a City-State and civilization and culture that follows very strict, linear times (school, military), and how I might perhaps be more wired to live on my own cycles, my own idiosyncratic times. I know that I don’t currently possess the power and leverage to live my life according to my own capricious scheduling, but reading about how recent Industrialized time has been gives me comfort. It makes me realize that the way we do things isn’t necessarily the right or best way. It’s simply the cold, clinical way that has triumphed over the warm, flexible way. And we often fall into the trap of thinking that just because something prevailed, it’s necessarily “better”. Only the paranoid and warlike survive, but being paranoid and warlike is its own punishment. The triumph of the hard masculine is its own punishment. You aren’t punished for your sterile attitudes, you’re punished by them. And so it goes.

I will probably have to reread many of these books to get more utility out of them, but as of right now I’m not too obsessed with trying to maximize literal utility. Rather, I’m trying to sustain the practice of reading, to recognize that the act itself is fundamentally enriching, nourishing. I have been feeling a little malnourished lately, in multiple senses of the word. Part of it was a lack of exercise, and I think I’ve managed to start remedying that. Should’ve done it earlier, but oh well. We should always have done everything earlier. The challenge is to not beat ourselves up over it, but to be mindful and to pay attention so that we can make better decisions moving forward.

What do I want to read next? I said that I have a tentative list, but I don’t want to be systematically following that plan in a rigorous fashion. I’m reading The Game whenever I’m in the toilet (too much information?), which is a nice tempo to have. I don’t binge on it. I keep some books nearby, and I shuffle through them to see if anything catches my attention. A part of me is saying “go through books and finish them”, which I think is good, but I don’t want to force myself to go through books I don’t enjoy. Either way, reading is good. More.

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