I have always had an autodidactic bent. I think it comes from my father. My father had 4,000 books in our garage growing up and was always reading. I remember how he used to love going to book stores, a trait I also inherited. On one trip to a rather large book store (before the days of Amazon.com), I remember we bought so many books that the back of our 91 Ford Escort leaned low to the ground as we drove away.
My personal motto has been to "Always Be Learning." To this end, after graduating college I set a goal, to read a book a month. That was over ten years ago. It is a goal that I have largely kept. It has served as an internal measure for how busy I am. When I get to busy to read, I find that my creativity stifled and that I am working to much.
Books represent a lot of things to me, but mostly they act as a flywheel. A flywheel for ideas and a grinding stone to sharpen my thinking.
I have spent most of my career as a software developer. Despite this, I was a big hold out for printed books. Partly because I could get used books so much cheaper than digital and partly because I like to know where I am in a book relative to the end.
The bad parts of books are the space they take up and moving them. My father has moved many times cross country (think enough books to fill up a large u-haul and that was before furniture). My best friend also had a decent size collection of books (he moved a lot). My youngest brother seems to move his 1000 book collection about every 6 months.
After all of these moves combined with the refinements in digital readers I am now a fan of digital books. The key refinements were full text search, the ability to cut and paste, the ability to see all of my highlights collected on a single page and access to my library anywhere via my phone or computer. My exception to digital books are book that are heavily visual, because publishers just don't execute them well on digital devices.
Types of Books
In his classic book, How to Read a Book (a must read), Mortimer Adler places books into three categories: informational books, good books and great books. Informational books are about well information. They do not challange your view of the work, rather they inform. Good books shift your view of the world or a topic. Great books are books that continue the shift your view of the world everytime you pick them up. A good book will seem dull upon returning to it years later. A great book will remain sharp an engauging. It will seemling continue to change and stay one step ahead of you.
Adler also outlines three levels of reading. The first is an inspectional reading or the high level skim. After this phase you decide if a book is worth reading. The second level is a deep analytical reading. During this reading you are able to clearly articulate the arguments that the author is mounting. The final level is a syntopical reading. At this level the reader takes the arguments extracted from multiple books and compares and contrast them with one another. The goal is to be able to allow the ideas to with each other. This level represents a higher level of understanding of the subject matter.
Over the years books have provided me the vocabulary to formulate and express a framework for my work as an entrepreneur. To better refine this framework I find myself gravitating to informational books. These books are the basic informational books I read when I first embarked on my reading journey. Rather books that help me to understand a good lay of the land (50,000 foot view) combined with books that have more detail view as needed.
My goal of reading a book a month was never about reading a book. It was about a personal commitment to always be learning. To this end over the past year if I am honest, I have not kept pace with reading a book a month. Instead I have replaced reading with audio books. I use the same method for picking my books, but I can now get through them much quicker.
With audio books I find myself listening to a book a week. The average book I listen to is about 10 hours. I have a wife, 3 kids, work at a startup and am trying to start my own. Upon learning this people ask how do I find the time to read and listen to so many books. The answer is 3 speed. I listen to most of the books at the 3x setting. The audible app has a great 3x setting. The app controls the pitch to keep the voices from sounding like chipmunks. Thus I only need about 3-4 hours a week to ingest a book. I find the time to listen during my walk to and from work and before bed.
The follow up question is how do you retain the information. The answer is two fold. First I am an auditory learner. Second, retention has never been a primary goal of mine. The main goal is to always be learning. I have found that books are a great source of learning. Authors tend to think more about ideas before writing a book than a blog post.
The pace is frantic, but my ear has grown used to the fast speed. I have listened to seven books in the first seven weeks of the 2015. I am interested to see if I can find enough books worth listen to this year to make it an even 50.
If you have any good book recommendations please be sure to tweet them at me. My favorite topics are startups, business and technology.