Conrad Aidan Muan

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On Reading

Dec 29, 2022

Reading, in my opinion, is the best way to experience another life. If you're reading Fiction, this is obvious. In non-fiction it's not so obvious. But in a way, you're sort of experiencing a part of the author's life. For example, A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley is a how-to guide on studying math and science. It's probably found in a self-help section or reference section at a book store. It's hard to imagine, but we're experiencing a slice of her life when reading her book. We're reading her research, her motivations and her biases distilled onto those pages.

Stephen King in his memoir On Writing defined writing as literal "Telepathy":

We're not even in the same year together, let alone in the same room... except we are together. We're close.

We're having a meeting of the minds.

[...] We've engaged in an act of telepathy. No mythy-mountain shit; real telepathy

Reading is the same. It's also a bit of time travel. We experience what the author experienced in the past. It's magic. I fucking love it.

Reading in sips

The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows

  • On Writing by Stephen King

"I don't have time to read!" - I disagree, internet stranger. You can read a page. You can listen for five minutes.

Audio books work for me (especially if it's fiction) so if I'm in the car, or in the gym, or doing chores, I'm probably listening to a good book. I understand that audio books aren't for everyone. It's hard for some to pay attention especially if they dislike the narrator. And that's ok. It's not uncommon for me to tap on the "15s back" button multiple times in the Audible app because I wasn't actively listening to a section.

E-books are great for when I loaf around. Everyone loafs. And if you're like me, you're likely using that loafing time doomscrolling on your phone: politics, news, culture wars, a literal war, a pandemic - that's enough of that. I started popping open a book and reading a page of two instead.

Having the Kindle App on my phone was a great escape hatch from this depressing world into another depressing world (might I recommend The Expanse series of novels by James S. A. Corey).

Physical books are great when they're left wide open (as opposed to sitting closed on a shelf). I have a book holder and it's always holding a book open. It's usually placed on the kitchen table or on my desk in my office. This little tool has so much utility. I don't need to actively find my book then leaf through to a marked page and then start reading.

With a book holder, it's ready. Just look at it, and read.

A book holder with a book ready on my desk

Sometimes I read a page or two and then leave it. Sometimes, I pick up it up and finish the entire chapter. But if I haven't finished the book, I put it back in its holder saving my spot for the next time.

A book holder I found on Amazon

This is actually kinda hard

Reading in sips requires a bit of training. It's hard to recall what the author wrote if all you read was a page the day before. (This was my experience when I read through Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Dark Money by Jane Mayer)

I think this is when you need to take a big gulp instead. I found that physically frowning got me through entire chapters whereas I would have just read a page or two (frowning activates your system 2 brain, thank you very much Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman).

You can also put the book down. Ain't nobody forcing you to finish something you don't want. There's a bit of mischievous joy in closing a book unfinished and opening another.

Setting a habit

Above all, read a little bit everyday. If I read for 5 minutes, I count it as a win and so should you. Once I built a habit around reading, it was hard not to read. (No, I haven't read that book yet but I think I already get the gist of it.)