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Inter Caetera

Two simple tips to read more books

Reading is the single most effective way of self-investment there is. Picking the correct books and reading them comprehensively can rapidly outgrow the knowledge acquired from scrolling HackerNews, reading tech-related articles or sometimes even formal education.

It’s difficult to force yourself to read. That’s why these two simple tips are here to help you get into the habit of reading and investing in yourself.

The magic number

The first tip is less a tip and more just pointing out of a fact. Look at your bookshelf and see how many pages there are in each book. Pick up some of the volumes, look at the final page and note down the number.

In my case, the result of this experiment was an average of about 370 pages and I’m sure it’s going to be roughly the same for you. That number is very close to the number of days in the year (that’s 365(+1) for the forgetful ones of you).

What this means is that as long as you read one page a day, in a year you will get through one book.

That might not sound particularly amazing, but, as I’m sure you’ll notice, this scales. If you read two pages, in a year you’ll get through two books. If you read five, you’ll get through five.

And if you read twenty pages, in a year you’ll get through twenty books. That’s a lot. Do you know many people who read twenty books a year? Probably not, but when put like that, it seems so very simple!

There are many articles with advice on how to read more, but no argument spoke to me why I should force myself to read every day more than this one.

Sequencing

What if you already know how to read, but don’t know what to read? Here’s an excerpt from my reading list in 2019 to give you a clue:

  • Robert C. Martin, Clean Code
  • Anna Komnene, The Alexiad
  • Robert C. Martin, The Clean Coder
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
  • Drew Neil, Practical Vim
  • Luke Rhinehart, The Dice Man
  • Chris Voss, Never Split The Difference
  • Victoria Coren Mitchell, For Richer, For Poorer

Can you spot the system?

I’ll help you out if you didn’t - it’s very simple. There’s one programming book for each non-programming book.

It’s a bit more complicated than that (“how is Chris Voss’s book about negotiation a programming book?” I hear you ask), but strictly speaking the rule is read one book that directly progresses your career and one book about something else.

There is more nuance and once you understand why the rules are like they are, you can start thinking about breaking them or modifying them to suit you better, but for the first few just stick to the script. There’s a very good reason why this works as well as it does.

This system has worked very well for me for the past two years. In combination with the previous tip, this leads to reading ten programming books and ten non-programming books in a year. It’s a wonderfully efficient system.

You might ask, of course, why not read just exclusively books about your career? To that I answer - because life is not all about work. That’s the primary reason, however the second one is that it broadens your horizons. I got wonderful programming advice from Nicomachean Ethics, and I got great philosophy advice from Uncle Bob’s programming books. You can make the most unexpected of connections by reading different things.

One of the primary, underlying pieces of advice in Nicomachean Ethics is that moderation is king. Depth of knowledge without breadth is inapplicable, and breadth of knowledge without depth is useless. The tips I pointed out above will, I hope, help you achieve moderation in what and how much you read so that you will be a better craftsman, and a better person as well.

Inter Caetera

Inter Caetera is a blog focused on web development, quality, philosophy, religion and the humanities. Follow the updates on Twitter @inter_caetera