Reaching the end isn’t the point

Much better is to rebuild the skill entirely with a different approach, one that directly addresses your perennial snags. Instead of slowly getting better at your familiar, limited way, you embrace the awkwardness of learning an unfamiliar but stronger method, as though you’ve never done the thing before at all.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/10/how-to-level-up-instead-of-plugging-away/

In the article Cain mentions spending as much as 10 minutes in reading one page as part of his larger anecdote from which he’s drawing this lesson. Sometimes it takes me a long time to find enough tranquility in my mind just to feel ready to read. I always have so many thing on the to-do and should-do lists. By the time I get enough of the urgent items beat back into the shadows, often, another days has passed with too little reading. I should do something about that…

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Rhyming

There comes a moment in doing your reading where new work begins to rhyme. When you start to see the connections. When you understand who influenced the person you’re engaging with right now.

~ Seth Godin from, https://seths.blog/2021/09/on-doing-the-reading/

I find it difficult to figure out when to shift from empty-cup, learn-everything mode into the mastery mode. Godin’s insight about “rhyming” strikes me as a great test. In the beginning of some new learning adventure, everything is new and everything is surprising. The idea of noticing when a lot of things start to rhyme… of noticing when you can tell who or what influenced this thing you’re currently studying… that is when you notice that you have shifted into the mastery level of practice. Mastery does not—not by a long shot!—mean you are done. It’s more like the point where the airplane pivots and leaps into the sky: Now I am ready to begin my own journey.

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Reading for ‘hunh’

But if you only remember six things after reading this article, it should be the following truths about reading:

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2021/08/remember-books/

Those six points are right near the top, too. It’s a great article about reading. —about a certain kind of reading. I’m not certain what to call the type of reading, but for today “reading to learn” will do as a label. Well, there’s another type of reading which I’ll call “reading for ‘hunh‘”.

There’s deep value in a ‘hunh’. When you find one, you can be sure you have just learned something. I spend a lot of time every day reading for ‘hunh’. I cast a wide net and then haul the contents up onto the fishing boat deck. I shuffle through the contents in muck boots; you don’t want to get this arbitrary stuff really on you. Using a squee-gee I push some of it around in an only vaguely interested fashion. I’m not super-focused. I’m paying attention for sharp edges but I’m not expecting any particular outcome. If I find a ‘hunh’ it’s just that; no more and no less than something simply interesting for the time it’s in my realm of awareness. And then I drop it back on the deck. Soon enough I wash it all overboard.

What kind of reading is that?

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What he means

If you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world. But whether it is a fact about the book or a fact about the world that you have learned, you have gained nothing but information if you have exercised only your memory. You have not been enlightened. Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.

~ Mortimer Adler

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Death does not frighten me

When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reasons for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.

~ Niccolò Machiavelli

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Wonder

I’ve a system of daily reminders; of course it’s complicated.

For years now, a few of my reminders have simply been questions. I recently started writing something to go with those questions making them feel more at home with some of my other reminders and prompts which had some exposition with them when I found them. I thought it would be interesting to share what I added to this question today:

WHAT HAVE I BEEN READING? — I’ve performed this experiment countless times. Read less: nothing happens. Read more: ideas, new connections, inspiration, questions, motivation, short-cuts, wonder.

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All of humanity’s accrued knowledge

As I elaborated in last week’s episode of my podcast, Neil Postman argues that it was the introduction of mass-produced longform writing that really unleashed human potential — ushering in the modes of critical, analytical understanding that birthed both the enlightenment and the scientific revolution, the foundations of modernity. It allowed us to efficiently capture complex thought in all its nuance, then build on it, layer after layer, nudging forward human intellectual endeavor.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/06/27/on-the-exceptionalism-of-books-in-an-age-of-tweets/

I’ve often ranted against lack of attention-span, and wasted time. But Newport, and in particular some things he’s quoting and talking about from another article, make the point that all of human history is encoded in written form. Why is that so? Because it works, and it works really well.

There is a place for visual and auditory information, of course. Those tools of communication are power tools compared to writing—well, almost all writing. As I’ve said many times here though: One can have the power tools after demonstrating mastery with the manual hand-tools.

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The web is like water

There is no question that apps are here to stay, and are a superior interaction model for some uses. But the web is like water: it fills in all the gaps between things like gaming and social with exactly what any one particular user wants. And while we all might have a use for Facebook – simply because everyone is there – we all have different things that interest us when it comes to reading.

~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2014/web-still-matters-writing/

That’s from 2014, and holds up pretty well I think. That the web, “fills in all the gaps,” is insightful. Sure, the technology that defines “the Web” drives an enormous amount of stuff other than written content. But even just the smaller portion that is the written word is a huge swath of time and attention. That speaks well for us in the aggregate.

I still believe that the problem, currently, is simply that people rarely bother to figure out how things actually work. People don’t tinker and change things. Once someone gets the bug of curiosity, it’s a slippery slope from poking and prodding, to tinkering and experimenting, to building and creating; It’s a slippery slope lined entirely with reading.

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Frog or bird?

He described himself as a frog not a bird, as he enjoyed jumping from pool to pool, studying their details deeply in the mud. The bird’s-eye perspective was not for him, and he had a lifelong suspicion of grand unified theories.

~ Robbert Dijkgraaf from, https://www.quantamagazine.org/remembering-the-unstoppable-freeman-dyson-20200413/

Freeman Dyson’s, Frogs and Birds is also worth a read.

There is such an insanely huge amount of things I want to read. Web pages, PDF files, ePub documents in Kindle and Nook, and of course stacks of physical books. I read a lot, but of course I’ll barely scratch the surface of just the things I’ve actively decided I want to read. Fortunately, I’m no longer reading to reach a goal, or to finish.

My mind is but a tiny eddy of order, maintained every so briefly within the grand arc of time.

…and what fun it is to go frolicking through the works of mankind, sharing the occasional bit here with you!

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Just a chair

It’s all about the context. I find that having certain spaces where I do certain things works wonders. For example, if I want to do certain kinds of work, I sit here and all my tools are arrayed. In general, the act of showing up at the designated area and having the environment pre-set to be conducive to the activity is often enough to get my brain to shift into the mode I need.

Have you ever tried to find a chair for reading?

For about a decade I’ve had a typical Pöang chair from Ikea that I sit in to read. It’s absolutely horrible for reading. But it’s better than any chair I have in my house. So buy a chair Craig! …if only I could find one.

High enough at the back so I can rest my head. The whole chair tipped back far enough that I can completely relax and have all of my body settle into the chair. Feet flat on the floor. Padded arm rests. Arm rests high enough that when I hold the thing I’m reading it’s up at eye level.

Sorry. This quest is driving me bonkers.

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