Why Be Picky?
We might live to 100, or we might die tomorrow. Either way, we can choose to spend our days mindlessly passing time or intentionally working toward achieving our potential. I want to be able to look from my deathbed and know that I lived my life in pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
Choosing What to Read
If you casually asked me what I like to read, I would answer: "books about productivity, habits, mindfulness, health, and leadership." I could spend the rest of my life only reading new books in these categories alone. This is because I get a little dopamine rush when I discover a new habit, tip, or hack to my daily routine. However, I've realized that I get only a marginal benefit from reading books on these same topics repeatedly.
At the end of 2019, I asked myself, "What are the books I want to read before I die?" Not a single book written in the last 30 years came to mind.
This simple question changed the paradigm I use select books. Instead of asking, "What do I want to read now?" I ask myself, "What do I want to read most?”
I wanted to read true classics. Literary works that have been read for generations, and will be read long after I'm gone. Notably, the list of books I wanted to read consisted almost entirely of fiction.
The non-fiction books I typically read have clear action items and takeaways. Some even have little worksheets with checklists. Classic fiction does not. The "takeaway" is the journey you are taken on through the emotional development of the characters.
Overcoming the Obstacles
I was excited to dive into these classics, but wondered “Why haven’t I been reading these books already?”
Here were the obstacles I had faced previously.
- Classic books are intimidating. I’ve looked at 800+ page books my whole life with a feeling that “I don’t have what it takes to read that.”
- Classic books are (often) harder to read. They often leverage a larger depth of vocabulary and are written less like "blog posts" with short chapters and easy readability.
My solution to these obstacles was simple: create daily habits that would allow me to accomplish my reading goals.
24 classic books per year breaks down to 2 books per month. From there, I breakdown each book into the number of chapters I need to read each day to finish the book. For example, I’m currently reading Crime and Punishment, which has 576 pages, and 39 chapters. However, if I break this down into a daily habit, I only need to read a little more than a chapter per day to finish the book within 30 days. Instead of worrying about reading the whole book, I just concern myself with finishing one chapter per day.
What I've Learned
I'm halfway through reading the 24 classic works I set out to finish this year. Many of these books are now some of my all-time favorites.
I still love non-fiction books, but I've learned to look at them through a different lens. I'm now far less interested in reading the latest-and-greatest-self-help-book-that-will-change-your-life because I've already read dozens of books like that, many of which I've forgotten entirely. However, the classics I’ve read this year are timeless stories that I can take with me for the rest of my life.
Don't get me wrong, I still am reading lots of non-fiction books, but I have to fit those in between the intentional reading that I planned for myself the previous year.
Now, every time I pick up a book, I ask myself “Is this something want to remember 70 years from now?”