Paul Cook

Fewer, better books

March 05, 2019

 

Bookshelf full of books

There’s a saying that quantity has a quality all its own. Sometimes that’s true.

But often it isn’t.

For instance, how many of us have discovered that having 2000 friends on Facebook doesn’t mean we have 2000 friends in real life?

At some point, you find yourself with little to no connection to your newsfeed. You can scroll for hours, and come across few updates you care about.

The quantity of connections has destroyed their quality.

Books can be the same way.

I heard Naval Ravikant say,

I don’t want to read everything. I just want to read the 100 great books over and over again.

Knowledge Project

I haven’t always followed that advice nor even understood it, but I think I’m getting close.

Despise the free PDF

No more $0.99 Kindle books. They could be free and you still shouldn’t read them. It’s not about the money, it’s about the time.

What’s more valuable? A book of hastily strung together blog posts, or a book that has survived for thousands of years like On the Shortness of Life.

If you can’t tell the difference then you may need to get your soul checked.

Robert Greene has a law of power, “despise the free lunch,” but I say, “despise the free PDF.”

Marketers are preying on your basest instincts: the desire to get something for nothing.

There’s no such thing, you always pay. More than just paying with your email, you’re paying with your time, and it’s not a fair exchange of goods as you can never manufacture more time.

There’s always more money, but never more time.

Of the making of books there is no end

Too often we’re fooled by the latest business book: the blurbs on the back, the interviews on podcasts, appearances on morning shows, etc.

We think all signs point to a good book, but is that true?

How many of them last?

How many of them make an impact that ripples beyond tomorrow?

The 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards talked about light without heat. That’s what so many of these books are. They burn brightly, but they bring no one any benefit. They catch fire and are gone having warmed no one’s soul.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Refuse to be fooled by an industry where the majority of books are marketing ploys or vanity projects.

Refuse to be fooled by an industry that is a tool for people to increase their consulting fees or get more paid speaking gigs.

Of course, not every book is like that. Certainly, books are published every year that are well worth the time and energy to read and digest.

But how can you tell? What rubrics can you use?

How to find the right books

Three suggestions:

  1. Let time filter
  2. Listen to those you trust
  3. Less articles, more books

1. Let time filter

The Stoics have endured 2000 years. How long do you think most of the New York Times Bestsellers will? Most will be footnotes in a decade.

Where do you think they’ll be in 100 years? What about in a 1000?

Choose the books that have already endured. How to Win Friends and Influence People has become a classic of the self-help genre, and it was written in the 1930s. That should tell you that there’s actually something there.

Which self-help book published in 2019 will be selling copies in 2099?

It’s important to remember the filter of time because otherwise you’re in danger of getting caught up in the hype of what’s current, and lost in the buzz.

What you don’t want to happen is to be trapped into using your time to determine if a book is worth reading or not.

Which do you think would be a better use of time: picking up the latest book on how to be happy or to pick up the work of Seneca, someone who was writing on how to be content when Nero was emperor of Rome?

Throw the other book out and read Seneca.

2. Listen to those you trust

There are people whose opinions you trust, people who have succeeded in life and have books they credit with helping them succeed. Listen to them.

See what they recommend, and then take and read.

Our online lives are controlled by algorithms. What does an algorithm know of a good book? Amazon can only tell you that people who bought that book also bought those books.

While you might find some things of value that way you may also be led to The Secret. As much as Silicon Valley wants you to believe that their algorithms are all knowing, they aren’t.

They can’t triangulate what book will inspire you. They can’t determine what book will stir your heart.

But you can look to other’s you respect, who can point to books that have inspired them.

I find places like Twitter to be great for that. Follow interesting people who share fascinating ideas, and often you’ll find worthwhile books intermixed.

3. Fewer articles, more books

This is a tip from Morgan Housel who said:

A few years ago I made a decision to read more books and fewer articles.

Books, Housel says, are an automatic filter over articles. He shares the following anecdote to illustrate:

Publishing an article can be done between meals on a sunny weekend. You can do it in your spare time, spur of the moment, without deep thought or commitment. It can be completed in a shorter period of time than it takes to clear away a bad mood, or the burst of optimism you get when the weather’s nice. This raises the risk that your words reflect how you feel more than what you think. A radio-show producer once asked if I’d share my six-month market outlook. I told him I didn’t have one. He said that was fine: We weren’t going on air for an hour, so I had time to make one. In one hour! Confucius said you can’t open a book without learning something. He never read an insta-take blog.

Motley Fool

Articles are ephemeral. Books by their very nature are built to last.

Measure your days

The days are long, but the years are short. Time is a finite resource that we never get back.

We’ve been trained to believe we should seek the best bargains, but with time this is never the case. Yes, perhaps you want to get a bargain on your clothes, house, or car, but you will never recover the loss of your time.

Have more respect for your future self. They will never get back the hours you wasted today.

We must leverage all that we can, and part of that means leveraging our time by reading the highest quality works we can.

Use the 80/20 rule. What are the 20% of books that will give me 80% of the results I am seeking?

I guarantee you it won’t be through a PDF a marketer is using as a lead magnet.

Whenever you are offered something for nothing remember there is always a hidden cost, always a catch.

Seek out the quality, not the quantity. Anything else is a vanity metric.