How to get smarter isn’t a mystery, and it’s not complex. The answer has been the same for millennia. Learn more (although it’s true these days, we now have many more insightful words delivery methods). The trick isn’t figuring out what to do, it’s getting it done.
That’s why I’m always on the lookout for great and unexpected ideas to bring more reading into our lives. Previously, I’ve discovered ideas like diverting your impulse to check out social media to further your reading goals, shaming yourself with a little math, and letting your book-buying impulses run wild. But when I came across a recent Financial Times article by Pilita Clark promising advice from “super readers”, my ears pricked up for more good advice.
Is it possible to read hundreds of books a year? Apparently yes.
The entire article is worth checking out if you’ve promised to read more in 2022. But one particular “super reader” that Clark spoke to has stuck around. “Very pale in front of Tyler Cowen,” she wrote. The economist, blogger and author “claimed that on a good night he could read ‘whole five books’.”
It seems impossible, but if you know Cowen’s blog Marginal revolution, which offers an absolute avalanche of extremely eclectic book recommendations and reviews, you know it seems to be true. How does Cowen manage to go through hundreds of books a year? Another blog, Driverless Crocodile, did us the favor of collecting much of what Cowen has said publicly about his reading habits.
While it’s unlikely that we mere mortals will manage triple-digit headlines in 2022, here are some of Cowen’s top tips for at least boosting the pace of book reading this year.
- Be ruthless. Not captivated by a particular book at some point? Then to the next. “Just stop reading, put them down,” Cowen advises. A boring introduction, poor design, or hard-to-read font is enough to convince Cowen to throw away a book. There are countless amazing books out there. Don’t settle for less than good.
Go ahead and froth. At least in the case of non-fiction, if you’re already familiar with the material, feel free to take the plunge. “When you go to read real books, you say to yourself ‘I know that, I know that, I know that,’ and you go on, and you read a lot faster. And that’s really the way to read a lot.” Cowen. (It also creates a virtuous cycle in which the more you read, the more you will know and the more you can jump.)
Read to solve problems. “The best reading is targeted reading, when trying to solve a problem, “Cowen believes. You could aim to answer a specific question, investigate a particular author, or scratch an itch in curiosity.” You want to start with a problem or a question when you read, ”he insists.
Read in clusters. This follows naturally from the point above. If you organize your reading around questions or areas of exploration, you will end up reading several books on the same subject. This allows you to “do a kind of cross-sectional mental econometrics and see which pieces are starting to fit together,” Cowen explains.
Read fiction. Putting together a stack of non-fiction titles to explore a topic is great, but don’t overlook fiction. “Reading fiction is important to understand the cross-sectional variation of humanity, to understand how difficult generalizations can be, to just get a feel for how different social pieces fit together and to get a feel for the different ones. Historical eras – and more, reading fiction is often just plain fun, ”says Cowen. Amen to that.
Read books on topics you don’t know anything about. “Every area that you laugh at you should probably read at least one book. Because the best book in that area is superb, and you won’t know what it is. So if tennis is something you I don’t know anything about it, well, read Memoirs of André Agassi. It is a wonderful book. You don’t need to know or worry about tennis, ”says Cowen.
Enjoy. “Take reading seriously, develop a passion for it and see it as part of your practice as a knowledge worker to move forward, but along the way, have fun doing it,” concludes Cowen.
Happy (and generous |) reading 2022!