Some thoughts on reading

Ben Casnocha’s blog post about how to find new books to read (sparked by a blog post by Tyler Cowen on the same topic) made me think about how I pick books to read. I tend to go through six or seven books a week, squeezing pages out of subway moments, quiet evenings and weekend afternoons, and even the occasional lunchtime read. A branch of the Toronto Public Library is just a few blocks away from the house, making it a pleasant walk now that days are long and nights are warm.

I enjoy pulling random books off library shelves, stepping out of the genres I typically read. For example, here are the results of today’s library raid:

Life: The Odds: And How to Improve Them
by Gregory Baer

I picked this up because a quick browse showed that the book managed to make numbers and statistics interesting, which is a skill I’m sure to find useful.

Read more about this book…

Drawing Comics is Easy! (Except When It’s Hard)
by Alexa Kitchen

I was curious about drawing. When I opened the book, I was won over by this:

Publisher’s note and author’s disclaimer:
The contents of this book were created in a short burst when Alexa was 7 years old. As this book goes to press she is all of 8 years old and, as a writer and artist, is now a quantum leap ahead of these early efforts. The publisher believes this book is worthly of publication or he would not have mortgaged his home and Shmoo collection to finance the 6-figure initial print run and national publicity campaign. However, the author wishes it to be known, for the record, that Drawing Comics is Easy! is "not very good" and "full of mistakes," and wishes to emphasize that her "next book will be much better."

Published by DKP, P.O.Box 2250, Amherst MA 01004-225. DKP is an acronym which the designer likes because it fits the spine dimensions much better, though at the same time, of course it also conveniently disguises the actual name of the company: Denis Kitchen Publishing Co., LLC. Thus, if you’ve been persistent enough to read this far on the indicia page fine print (which nobody does) you realize that–yes–this book has been published by Alexa’s own father’s publishing company. However suspicious, unseemly or opportunistic that disclosure may seem to some, the publisher wants it known that Alexa’s literary agent made this choice of companies objectively and at arm’s length after no doubt weighing attractive offers from Pantheon, Norton, Knopf and other competing publishers. Thus any familial connection is strictly coincidental.

Drawing Comics is Easy!

I had to bring it home and blog about it. =)

Read more about this book…

Howl’s Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones

I watched this in Japan… in Japanese… which didn’t help my comprehension much… so I figured I’d read it again to see if I could reinterpret my befuddled memories. Also, I like raiding the children’s lit section. =)

Read more about this book…

 

I always appreciate recommendations from other people. I love finding other bookworms, and I love the way our shared books give us conversational shorthand. I love finding out what other people are interested in, and books are a great way to do that. Of course, I’m thrilled whenever I can return the favor by prescribing some of my favorite books for whatever situation I come across. =)

When I was a kid, my parents used to let me pass the time in bookstores while they took care of other things. As a result, I’ve gotten pretty good at skimming through books while standing or walking around, and I’ve gotten pretty shameless about pulling ten to fifteen books off the shelf and scanning through them quickly to see if any of them are good. I usually find two or three to buy, so I guess it works out for the bookstore.

I tend to go on reading spurts, reading everything I can find in the library about a particular subject. The Toronto Public Library allows me to place holds on up to fifty items, and I often run into that limit. I use my Amazon wishlist to store other books I’m interested in–books that didn’t fit in the 50-book limit, books that haven’t been acquired by the library, and so on. One of these days, I’m going to get Amazon/Toronto Public Library integration working again. =)

When I read a book, I mark interesting segments by tucking scraps of paper between the pages. I used to dogear pages and I still occasionally do so, but I feel guilty about doing that to library books. I’m horrified by the way that other people actually scribble in library books. Augh. Anyway, after I finish the book, I encode my notes in an outlined text file, along with the page numbers. I’ve gotten my Dragon Naturally Speaking to the point where I actually enjoy dictating things to it, which is much better than typing because (a) I don’t have to lift my hands from the book, (b) I can trace lines with my finger so that I don’t get lost, and (c) I get to experience the words in another medium. Good stuff.

Every so often, I review my book notes and think about how I’ve applied the ideas, how I might apply the ideas, how the ideas relate to other things I know, and who might be able to use those ideas as well. That’s where the outline comes in handy. I can skim the outline to see which book I’d like to think about, or I can search it for keywords to find a useful quote, or I can even jump to a random spot. I’ve copied the text file to my Nintendo DS (yes, you can read text files on it), so I can even read on the go. (Next step: make an application specifically for reviewing my book notes? =) )

I’ve gotten so many benefits from my insatiable appetite for books. Richer conversations, interesting connections, improved communication skills, and an abundance of material to share… I love reading, and I hope lots of people discover the joys of reading too!

  • http://www.approachingnormal.com Larry Wright

    Made to Stick is one of the non-programming books that I’ve read lately that had a huge impact on me. It contains some very good and practical advice on communicating in ways that make what you say “stick” with people. If you’ve not read it, I would highly recommend it.

    Also, “Never Eat Alone” is excellent. I covered that on my site: http://approachingnormal.com/2007/10/27/what-i-ve-been-reading

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      I liked Made to Stick! Michael Nielsen and Jennifer Dodd both recommended that to me, and I enjoyed reading it. I think it’s about due for a re-read… =)

      I liked Never Eat Alone, too. It’s one of my favorite networking books, along with:
      – Love is the Killer App, Tim Sanders
      – Work the Pond, Darcy Rezac (despite the cheesy metaphor)
      – How to Talk to Anyone, Leil Lowndes (despite the cheesy back-cover blurbs)
      – Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, Harvey Mackay

      This reminds me of the time I put my shortlist of networking books on my business card for a networking event – the cards were much in demand! =)

  • gary

    what about the *amazon kindle* ? it looks like a good way to make
    books even more portable. also, it makes sense as way of reducing weight while traveling.

    • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

      … and once it comes to Canada, I might give it a serious thought! =) In the meantime, I’ll keep raiding the library and Project Gutenberg, and I’ll carry my book notes around on my DS… =)