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Reading List Updates, end November '10

Just finished:

Think and Grow Rich: A marvelous book, but I was having a hard time finishing it. Then I realized - the last three chapters are pretty much fluff that repeat points already covered. I skimmed the last three chapters... it starts very strong, ends weak, but I'm happy it's finally done.

The Alchemist: What a masterpiece by Paolo Cuehlo. Read it in one day, couldn't put it down. Got me thinking a lot... lots of great quick ways to think, quick heuristics and mantras in there. Really wonderful short little book with some great lessons.

If I Did It: I read OJ Simpson's autobiography on a whim when I saw a copy. It's a weird book. It's about a guy trying to be a decent husband and having his marriage fall apart. Then he kills his wife. Oh, and it's OJ Simpson, and the most famous trial/legal story of the last 20 years. Weird to read the guy's perspective... it's weird in how surreal and normal it is. A famous guy marries a beautiful 18 year old girl but they don't have a really deep or mature connection. She doesn't take well to money and stability, gets unhappy, starts acting kind of crazy in the marriage. OJ acts crazy in response. They divorce. Then he keeps hearing her partying around town and doing drugs, flips out, and kills her. Weird reading it in his own words - I lived in Los Angeles for awhile, and the first part read like a fairly normal L.A. story with a rich, famous guy making a bad choice in a young beautiful woman without much depth or character. Then it gets kind of crazy at the end. It wasn't sad so much as weird. It's sureally normal in parts, and then ends with... well, you know. I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to read it, but it's interesting for a few hours if you get a chance.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Eliezer Yudkowsky's fanfiction is exceptionally good. If you're a reader of LessWrong at all, you'll love it. If not, you still might like it. He wrote it in "serialized" format where each chapter is a mostly self-contained adventure with plot arc, and then a cohesive whole. It works well, reads well, lots of good insights. He didn't really hit his stride and tone until chapter 15 to 20... if you like Yudkowsky's normal writing, give it until chapter 20. Trust me on this - Eliezer sets up a lot of backstory and forces some humor in the early chapters, and the tone isn't quite smooth... still good, but then wow, it kicks into overdrive around chapter 20 and it's just a page-turning must-read. It's free online at fanfiction.com and you can also find pdf compilations with some googling.

Reading Speed and Comprehension

On Mental Models

As part of the whole personal-development and self-help movement, people often recommend things that are mostly one thing - easy to measure.

Reading speed is such a thing. Now I'll grant that there are probably people who are reading very slowly and they would benefit greatly from improving their reading speed up to a "normal" level. But it is my opinion that after a certain rate of words per minute, additional reading speed is at best useless, and often decreases comprehension.

I just turned over page 189 in a 230 page book. I started reading it last night, and I think I did about 20-30 pages before going to sleep. So today I've read about 160-170 pages, on a sunny Saturday, between running errands, replying to emails and eating a late lunch.

This feels like a lot of pages to me. I don't consider myself a slow reader, but I also don't usually do over 100 pages in a day, even on a lazy Saturday. This got me thinking. Why am I reading this book so fast? (For your reference, the book is "Why Work Sucks" by Ressler and Thompson, a non-fiction book).

At the same time, I've been reading Early Retirement Extreme by Fisker for the second time, and I've been on the task for a week. Half way through, I believe. It might be a slightly longer book, but it is inconceivable for me to read 160 pages of ERE a day even if I planned a marathon reading session.

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