Posts Tagged ‘reading’

The 8 books that changed my world in 2016

Monday, January 9th, 2017 | Books, Thoughts

I read a bunch of brilliant books in 2016. Too many to list here, though you can find them by browsing the Books category of my blog. Really good stuff like The Hard Thing About Hard Things and Zero to One have not made this list. The River Cottage Fish Book reminded me of my love of fish. Amazing fiction like The End of Eternity is missing too. But these books, have changed the way I look at the world.

Predictably Irrational

I kind of knew what this would be about before I opened it. But Dan Ariely provides a series of useful and real-world examples of irrationality in everyday life that you cannot help but see it in your own life. If anything, this book really deserves a second read so I can take it all in, measure my life against it and make improvements.

TED Talks: The Official TEDGuide to Public Speaking

I already consider myself quite a good public speaker and this book covered no new ground for me. However, it did change my opinion on one thing: speed of delivery. At Toastmasters, I am constantly telling people to slow down. When you slow down, your speech is easier to understand, the audience has better comprehension it forces you to say less and therefore makes the speech more effective. However, Anderson points out that you only need this enhanced comprehension at complicated parts of the speech: the rest of the time people can comprehend words faster than you can say them. So, if you have good enough content, speak a little faster.

The Paradox of Choice

More choice makes people less happy. I see this everywhere in my own life. I need new trainers. Sports Direct’s 4-story mega shop in Leeds city centre has around 1,000 different options. Yet I cannot find the perfect pair. Why? Too much choice! It raises my expectations of finding the perfect pair, which I never do. The same with restaurants: selecting from a huge menu is irritating and tiring. Give people a sensible amount of choice.

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

We know from Steven Pinker that parenting only makes up a small part of a child’s nurture-based personality. The rest is external environment. Bryan Caplan points out that this means you do not need to be crazy-obsessive-parent. In fact, if you relax, you will enjoy parenting a lot more and your child will enjoy their childhood at lot more.

The Village Effect

Social connections are the biggest indicator of longevity. Literally, not having a strong social network will kill you. It will take years off your life. Community is worth fighting for because it makes us happier and healthier.

Mindfulness

I completed the entire programme from A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world before moving on to Headspace. I have not stuck with either because I find it really boring. However, it has convinced me that I need to spend more time focusing on enjoying now in whatever form that might be.

The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt’s book is worth reading for the central analogy alone: that we are made up of an elephant and a rider. The intelligent, rational rider can direct the body as much as it wants. But, when the elephant gets spooked, there is very little the rider can do to calm it down.

Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes

Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich list of a bunch of ways that we fall victim to our own biases. Chief among them for me was “mental accounting”. There is no such thing as bonus money: a pound is a pound. Every purchase has to be considered in the rational light of day, even if I have just won some money.

Reasons to read fiction

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016 | Thoughts

book-with-tulip

If you are a massive over-thinker like I am, you may well spend a lot of time thinking about extracting the maximum utility out of your reading time. If I invest the 10+ hours in a book, I want to know what measurable outcomes I will get out of it.

On the face of it, fiction does not seem to stack up. If I read a non-fiction book I will learn things and become smarter. With fiction, the path is less clear. However, if you too feel this way, there are some good reasons to get stuck in to a good story.

It’s fun

Books can be a bit of a slog. I like starting and finishing a book, but the middle can sometimes be a bit of a drag. This can occur with any book, but on the whole I think good fiction books drag less often. Instead of considering every book for its knowledge, you could just read because it is enjoyable. Time well wasted.

Stories are memorable

Good fiction often has a take-home message, and a moral. Non-fiction does too, but it can be hard to remember plain facts and figures. Stories on the other hand, are very memorable. Humans seem to be wired to sharing stories and we remember them much better than we remember stats. Non-fiction may have more knowledge on paper, but once you have forgotten most of it the gap is a lot smaller.

Part of the reason could be that fiction is often more emotional. A textbook on the Great Depression is unlikely to teach me more than John Steinbeck did in The Grapes of Wrath because he really makes you feel the pain and frustration of those travelling west, chasing the hollow dream they had been sold.

It can explore ideas

In fiction, you can explore ideas that you cannot explore in non-fiction. You can also take ideas further and come up with contrived scenarios. George Orwell explored the dark side of communism through Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. Star Trek explored the ethics of AI through Commander Data in a far more involving way than a simple thought experiment ever could.

You get references

In Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century Thomas Piketty discusses theories of economics using analogies from the writing of Jane Austen. It was a great way to explain the point, but if you hadn’t read Jane Austen it may have been totally lost on you. I wrote about this last year in a post entitled The Benefits of Austen.

They pop up in all sorts of places. There is a Gary Jules song named Umbilical Town in which he sings about Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment. It is a beautiful song anyway, but understanding the background only makes it better.

Smart people have read classics

Are you so shallow that you want to be seen as well-educated among your peer group? I certainly am. How about seeming clever in front of your children? Again, yes. Why not read some Russian literature and be ready to spring into conversation with “that wasn’t my interpretation of Tolstoy!”

Reading list complete

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016 | Life, Thoughts

books-1-1422241

A little under three years ago I formally compiled myself a reading list of all the books that I had been recommended or thought I really should read. I came up with a hundred or so, and began the challenge.

Along the way I picked up a hundred or so more. New books were recommended to be, often by the bookings that I was reading. A times my list actually grew faster than I should shrink it. I reviewed or commented on almost all of them on my blog.

Now though, I’m done! After 33 month’s hard work, I’ve got through them all. I never have to read again!

I probably will of course. In fact, I’ve already made a start on a Dirk Gently novel that I made a half-hearted attempt to read a decade ago and never really finished. No doubt my list will soon begin filling up again, but for now I am going to celebrate the victory.

This seems an appropriate time for some mildly interesting reflections.

I am not really a big reader. In fact I would go so far as to say that I do not enjoy reading. It’s feels like a big statement to make, especially given my social circle is mostly well educated. It feels a bit like admitting to being a smoker. My dirty habit of not reading.

Of course, I actually do read. But do I do it for for pleasure, or because I am a victim of peer pressure, reading because society expects me to read and because I do not want to be labelled as stupid. As peer pressure goes, being compelled to improve oneself by reading is probably one of the better ones, but I take great pride in regularly failing to conform.

In many ways, reading feels like a habit, or something you have to get into. I remember when we first got Sky One. At the time, the channel showed a lot of Star Trek. I wasn’t that interested in Star Trek at the time, but I told myself I wasn’t missing several hours of science fiction every day, so I forced myself to watch it until I liked it. Now I love Star Trek. But you need that initial time to get to know the characters, understand the universe, and fall in love with the premise. Even Discworld requires some buy-in time.

I suspect that reading in general may be the same. I feel much more favourable about it now that I read on a regular basis, then I did when I read a book occasionally.

I now find Waterstones a trap. I used to happily browse their shelves, occasionally buying a book on computing. Now I go in there and see all these books that I feel I should read, even though I know I will never be able to read most of them. In some ways, it makes me feel a tinge of sadness that there is so much great literature out there that one human being can only hope to read a small portion of it.

I am firmly sold on the idea of ebooks. I was never a hold-out for physical books anyway, but the advantages of electronic formats are many. I still buy plenty of physical books, especially cookbooks or music books, but mostly I buy ebooks.

My favourite books

Sunday, June 7th, 2015 | Books

books-array

Have you ever wondered what my favourite and most influential books are? The answer is to that question is almost certainly no. However, I was making a similar list for books I might want to re-read if I ever get somewhere near finishing my reading list, and decided it would be nice to stick it on my website too.

My list of favourite books.

Ulysses

Friday, August 31st, 2012 | Books, Distractions

Being in Dublin and going round the generically tourist bits, you can’t help but notice there is a lot of stuff about James Joyce – he is one of the major literary figures in the country’s history after all.

So having some time to kill while we waited for our flight back, I decided to attempt to read Ulysses. I use the word attempt not to suggest I was trying to read it all in one sitting, but to suggest I was seeing if I could read it at all. After all, Elina had said she struggled, and her language skills are significantly beyond my own.

I’ve so far made it through the first part, of which there are three, but the first is much shorter. Even that has been hard going – I had to head over to Wikipedia at regular intervals to check my understanding matched up with theirs! I seem to be roughly following though, so all is well.