My 3 rules about reading

I read a fair amount of books. The time commitment is hard for me as I’m not the fastest reader in the world, but I have an insatiable desire to learn new things and there’s nothing like a good book to exercise your mind and expose you to new ideas. Here are a few of the rules I’ve developed to help me figure out what to read and make the most of my time.

1) I don’t read anything that isn’t recommended to me

Amazon has literally millions of books available. I figured out a long time ago that I needed some filter to decide what to read. For me, that filter is my friends and their recommendations. I’m lucky to have a large group of smart people around me whose opinions I trust. There are one or two authors who I will read everything they write regardless, but other than that, I make few exceptions to this rule and so far it has worked out well for me. I always have a steady backlog of books to read. If you have any recommendations, let me know!

2) It’s okay to leave a book unfinished

If a book doesn’t capture my attention within the first chapter or two, I have no problem dropping it. I view my time as my most valuable asset. I’m not going to keep reading something just to say I finished it. I’ve also found that a lot of authors say everything they have to say in the first half of the book and then spend the second half rehashing all the same points as they strive to hit a certain word count. The minute I recognize this is happening, I set the book down and move on to the next one. I don’t leave books unfinished very often, but having a rule around this helps me not feel guilty about it when it does happen.

3) I give away every book I read

Moving sucks. Moving with massive stacks of books sucks worse. I’ve made it a habit to give away every book that I read once I’m done with it. Not only does it make moving easier, it gives me a fun way to share what I’m learning with my friends. I give away about half my books on twitter and the other half I give to specific people that come to mind as I’m reading through them. That said, I’m starting to read more on my iPad so that might put a dent in my book give-aways.

I’m currently reading Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Dan Heath and I’m enjoying it a lot. This one was recommended to me by Rob Lafave and a lot of the ideas in the book have really resonated with me. While the book is about understanding the mechanics of change, I’ve found a lot of the concepts apply to software design as well. For example, Heath talks a lot about decision paralysis and how we tend to freeze up when we’re given too many choices. One of the tactics we can use to overcome this is to make the decision before we have to make the decision by setting up overarching principles that guide our decision making. It’s fascinating stuff. If you’re looking for a good book, check it out.

  • Like the 3 rules! It was an epiphany for me to realize in my 30"s that I didn't have to finish bad/boring books. Intrigued by the giveaway rule too. Hard to fathom, though, since loved books are like tiny children nesting throughout my house. Still, I like the concept and will give it a try.

    Let me know how Switch finishes out. Sounds like a good one to add to my list 🙂

  • If you like that you'll enjoy Paradox of Choice as well – not as well written or witty, but a deeper discussion about the problems inherent in an overabundance of choices.

  • eli

    Try Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin (audiobook version)

    • Thanks for the recommendation. Looks interesting. Added to my queue.

  • deannabe

    Good rules. I'm not quite there with being able to put a bad book down and not finish it, but I am trying to implement this rule. And my version of #3 is that I like to frequent the library so I do not have too many books to move either. Heard good things about Switch too and would love to be next in your chain of passing that book on if it's not already earmarked for someone else. I promise to pass it forward when I'm done. 🙂

    • I used the library for a long time too, but found there was often a long wait for the books I wanted to read. I have already given Switch away but I bet there's something else in my stack you would like. 🙂

  • messel

    I've been giving away books for years, awesome habit! I finally got rid of all my old gaming books (hundreds) and their in the trunk of my car now ready to be dropped off at a nearby gaming store. Almost every technical book, algorithmic book, or fun book that comes my way gets stashed on my kindle ebook account, a pdf on dropbox, or now iOS apps.

    Favorite trends/futurist tech book:
    Kevin Kelly's New Rules for the New Economy, preorded his next book created from the Technium, What Technology Wants

    All time favorite fantasy book:
    The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazney (I read the series separately then got this awesome compilation of both series).

    The books I'm actively reading or have read recently. My backlog is growing much faster than I can read them (some of the books on my list):
    Design Patterns in Ruby
    CouchDB the definitive guide
    Javascript the good parts
    Seth Godin's work, idea Virus, everyone is an expert, Tribes, Zen Unicorn,
    Four Steps to Epiphany
    The Search
    Don't Make me Think

    Fun stuff that I read and affected who I am over the past few years:
    Awakening The Buddha Within
    The Art of happiness
    Peace in Every Step
    How to Get Rich

    Other fun fiction books:
    Pandora's star and the sequel
    Ender's Game sequel
    The Dark tower series (didn't finish)
    The Wheel of Time (didn't finish, stopped book before last)

    Stuff I haven't read yet but purchased/downloaded (in the queue):
    Viral Loop
    Getting Real
    The innovators dilemma
    The Age of Spiritual machines
    Cognitive surplus
    I live in the future, here's how it works
    The Rails Way (great reference), Why's Poignant Guide, The book of ruby
    Beginning Scala, Scala By Example
    Byte of Python, Think Python, Dive into Python, Learn Python the Hardway (can you tell I'd love a chance to learn more about python programming)

    older stuff ( I blame wikipedia for getting me going on these):
    Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs
    The Critique of Practical Reason
    Politics: a treatise on government
    An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the wealth of nations
    How to make friends and influence people

    The only book I've released/written (based on my first few months blogging)
    3 Steps to Satisfaction
    Hopefully soon to be released, a future fantasy rpg I coauthored primarily with one friend with input from another. My coauthor is finishing the final editing while I work in a shrinking industry (systems engineer), push forward with a startup (go web apps!) and look for potential positions at active startups (love meeting people that dream big).
    Children of the Ark

    My slideshare favorites
    Startup Metrics for Pirates (nice Dave Mcclure!)
    Dean Keynote Ladis (Google Designs, Lessons and Advice building large distributed systems)
    The Interoperable Web
    Digital Intuition: Applying Common Sense Using Dimensionality Reduction (Classification, Suggestion algs, Hunch!)
    Design with Intent (more slides than cards)
    Learn to Use semantic technologies using open source tools
    Skill vs Luck in Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital: Evidence from Serial Entrepreneurs
    ubuntu pocket guide

    If anyone needs a copy of a pdf of one of the above presentations, let me know

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