My Best Reading Year Ever

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2016 was the year that I really discovered books.

It wasn’t that I didn’t read before. I read in the usual places–on planes during cross-country flights, on trains while commuting, and at home in bed, knocking out a couple of pages while half-awake. And of course I listened to my fair share of audiobooks. All of that reading (and listening) gave me a great deal of satisfaction, which manifest itself in ego-boosting, affirmations like: “You’re a smart guy. You read books.”

But things changed early in the year. I had just finished the long, round-trip drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco and had spent the entire 12 hours in the car listening to Thinking Fast and Slow. The book had come highly recommended and listening while driving made me feel productive. I was using my time efficiently!

However, after returning home, a discouraging reality set in. I had listened to a good portion of the book, and I couldn’t tell you a thing about it. Nothing. Major themes, key ideas–I couldn’t even tell you the title without half-wondering whether I had butchered it beyond recognition. The words had flowed in one ear and out the other, barely pausing to register on what sits between. I was the ultimate passive reader, just checking off titles instead of truly weighing and considering.

Anytime I've made a change in my life, I can usually pinpoint the source of motivation. But determining what gave the motivation its intensity is more difficult. I can tell you I was really bothered by my sorry state of reading and the motivation to change this was profound.

I went to Barnes and Noble and purchased a physical copy of Thinking Fast and Slow, because I wanted the book that day. If audiobooks didn’t work for me, then I was going to go full analog, back to paper and ink. Shortly afterwards, I went on a week-long vacation to visit my friend Jeff in Hawaii, and over that week, I read carefully and methodically. I looked up words I didn’t know. I marked concepts and ideas that both interested and confused me. I reread passages to ensure I fully grasped concepts, premises, and findings. I deconstructed the book and made it my own. At the end of the process, multi-colored sticky notes were exploding from the pages.

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I went through thousands of sticky notes this year.

Once I was done reading, I started writing. I wrote down quotes that I liked. I wrote down thoughts that impressed me and definitions that I wanted to remember. I summarized each chapter and then summarized the whole book. I even recorded an audio summary that I uploaded to YouTube, with the thought that I could listen to it when my recall of the book began to fade.

And the whole crazy process seems to have worked.

Thinking Fast and Slow was the first book I’ve read in years, where I could tell you what the basic premise was. I could tell you the difference between quick gut-reactions, and slow, more methodical reasoning. I could cite examples and quotes from the book I found valuable. I could explain the various cognitive biases listed in the book. In short, the book was mine. I had made it a part of me. I weighed and considered, and took what I wanted and pondered what challenged my thinking.

Since that week in March, I’ve read 37 books, all physical copies. For each book, I took detailed notes and recorded an audio summary. While I'm happy I've read a lot this year, I'm most proud of the fact that my new reading process has proved repeatable. I can approach a subject I’m interested in or a work I want to understand, throw myself at it, and come out with a deep understanding. Even areas that were intimidating and honestly, that I thought were beyond my understanding, now seem within reach.

So what did I learn in 2016?

I’ve learned how to truly read books again.

I’ve learned to make my life more antifragile.

I've learned how to better identify errors of judgement and choice.

I’ve learned the value of educating myself.

I’ve learned the importance of standing on my own legs.

I’ve learned the value of meaning.

I’ve learned that everything that happens in life is the best possible thing (or that I wish that to be true).

I’ve learned that history is not determinstic.

I’ve learned about the dangers of cargo cult thinking, and the importance of being curious.

I’ve learned about the chaos of the mind, and the power of finding flow in all aspects of life.

I’ve learned about the marvels of hard work.

I’ve learned how to better manage my time, capture thoughts, and free up room to exercise creativity.

I’ve read some amazing memoirs.

I’ve learned a thing or two about writing.

I’ve learned about negotiation, game theory, and optimal stopping problems.

I’ve pondered questions of life and death.

2016 was my best reading year ever. And I’m commited to make 2017 even better.