I've spend stupid amounts of money on books in my life. When I wanted to learn about a topic, I'd go to Amazon and order the top 5 to 10 books in its category. If I saw a book referenced in a few papers on science I read, I'd add it to the cart, and buy it the next time I ordered a stack of 10-20 books.
I figured it was better to have books lying around unread than to miss the opportunity to read on a topic when I was inspired. Books piled up on history, governance, economics, investing, finance, marketing, business, psychology, biographies, time management, habits, willpower, discipline, creativity, writing, selling, publishing, technology, innovation, philosophy, and, umm, lots more. Fiction too, though I didn't read fiction for a while because I thought it was a waste of time. (I was mistaken on that point.)
At least half of those books never got opened up. But it didn't matter. Books were so ridiculously underpriced compared to what they're potentially worth, that I thought it was worth it to have a copies on hand that I could break open to look something up, or check a controversial study's results. I had books on health and nutrition and biochemistry, and man, those were a nightmare contradicting each other.
I was never good at predicting what I'd want to read, so I'd keep a mix of things onhand in case I got inspired, or hit a roadblock and needed to learn more.
There were auxilliary benefits too. I must have bought Michael Gerber's "The E-Myth Revisited" at least a dozen times, because I kept giving a copy away to people who hadn't read it. Everyone who runs a small business should read that book.
That's what I miss most about traveling - my bookshelves. The Kindle is an admirable replacement, but it doesn't have the same discovery effect of thumbing through titles, opening one up, and flipping through the pages looking for something to catch my eye.
I had a home/office near the intersection of Fairfield and Marlborough Streets in Boston, and it had built in bookshelves. They were kind of low to the ground, only about waist-high, so pretty quickly there were stacks of books on top of the bookshelf. I had a small apartment... well, it was big for a studio, it had been the large living or dining room of a brownstone converted to its own unit, with a small kitchen and bathroom. I'd managed with some Japanese screens to fence my bed off, so it was invisible if you were visiting my office... it was just an office, all my personal things were behind the white and light green screens that blended into the scenery. My Mom has a good eye for this sort of thing, and my uncle was an antique dealer when he was younger, so they helped me set up my place to serve as double duty for home and office. It was more office than home, though.
And I think, though I can't be entirely sure, that having a big stack of books helps you do business. That's not why I did it, it's just something I noticed now that I had a home/office that was presentable enough to invite people to for the first time in my life. If someone walked over to my bookshelf and started going through titles, whatever deal we were putting together was almost certainly going to work. It was a very good sign when someone start digging through my books.
I spent the end of 2008 in Europe. I boxed and stored a few of my books in my parents' basement, and gave the rest away. I brought 3 or 4 books with me to read, which is really way too much to bring with you on the road. Thank goodness for the Kindle now.
When I re-settled in Los Angeles, my room was quickly re-filled with a stack of books once again. I was on a history kick, and I became probably an expert on Sengoku Japan at that time, lots of books analyzing that era of Japan's history and governance and art and warfare and strategy and swordsmanship and lots more. Books on Rome and Italy and the British Empire and America, too, along with new stacks of business books, time management, evolutionary psychology, marketing, things like that.
I don't know how much money I've spent on books, but it's a fair bit. I remember I looked at a year's Amazon history one time and saw I spent close to $5000. I was thinking, how the heck did I do that? I'd bought some camera and audio equipment, but did I really spent $3000 in books? At an average price of $15 per book, did I order 200 books? Maybe I spent more per book on average than $15, some of the books I bought were expensive. And I got books for people as gifts a lot. If someone did something cool or nice for me, I might order them a pack of all my favorite books they hadn't read - Musashi, Atlas Shrugged, E-Myth, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Overachievement, things like that. I forget the exact list - I've added lots more to my recommendations since then. Now I'd recommend Getting Things Done and The Ultimate Sales Machine on top of whatever else.
Did I mention the auxilliary benefit of books? Here's the funniest one. I was reading Technical Analysis of the Financial Markets, which is the biggest, heaviest, clunkiest, most formal and academic looking book on trading ever. That sucker felt like it weighed 15 kilos. Maybe it did.
I do lots of my reading in transit, and it was so funny going through customs with my copy of Technical Analysis. I was young, well-traveled, sometimes my hair was shaggy or fashionably highlighted, and one jacket I wore had synthetic fur trim, so I probably looked like an arms dealer or a drug dealer or something, because I got grilled at customs a lot of the time. I had stamps in my passport from the United Arab Emirates and various Communist countries, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico. So I frequently got questions.
But when I had my copy of Technical Analysis? Nope. Every time previous I'd gone to Japan I'd gotten some questions. This particular time, the customs agent says, "Ah yes, hello, what is that book?" I show him. He says, "Oh, you are interested in trading?" Me: "Just a bit." Agent: "Okay, come right in. Enjoy your visit to Japan."
He didn't even ask what I was doing visiting. That was a first. The same scene repeated in the United States, England, and other countries noted for tough customs agents. Maybe I'd just gotten older and more calm around that time so it was a placebo, but I swear that book must've shaved an average of 10 minutes off every border crossing I was making. It took me a few months to read, it's a pretty heavy book, both in weight and in forcing you to think.
But by far, the biggest reason I bought lots of books was because I figured a single idea could be worth a lot to me over the run of my life. I've gotten $1,000 ideas from a single chapter of a book. I've stayed out of bad investments that would've lost me lots of money by virtue of reading a couple books. There's books I've read now - like Getting Things Done and The Wealthiest Man in Babylon - that I can see clearly how I'd be much better off if I'd read a few years earlier. 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, too, that one's amazing. Everyone should read all of those three.
Ah, I could reminisce about books for a while, but I'll leave it at that. I'd encourage you to get lots of books if you're not doing so. Get audiobooks if you don't like to read. Get a Kindle if you're in motion a lot (it'll pay for itself quickly as you get to read all the out of copyright classics for free). And please make more book recommendations in the comments.
I got here by way of @mikecane...and I'm glad, because you could be reading my mind.
I, too, have spent ridiculous amounts of money on books.
First, "I figured it was better to have books lying around unread than to miss the opportunity to read on a topic when I was inspired. " It's easy to get inspired...it's hard, sometimes, to keep the energy going when your inspiration is so scattered that it pinwheels in no particular direction.
Second,"But by far, the biggest reason I bought lots of books was because I figured a single idea could be worth a lot to me over the run of my life. " The value is more than money...
Thanks for the suggestions and I plan to keep reading your blog.
After reading your description, I immediately ordered it on Amazon- looking forward to getting a chance to read it!
This post (and accompanying comments) is a trove of book recommendations. Thank you Sebastian (and others).
I was curious about the fiction thing too, and the answers provided above are excellent.
Snowcrash and Cryptonomicon are two of my all time favorites. Stephenson is really brilliant, very good foresight, great understanding of technology and its impact on people, and just really fun, enjoyable reads.
Haven't read Simmons, but sounds cool!
>>Books were so ridiculously underpriced compared to what they’re potentially worth.
Thank God, Someone finally said it! I'm just tired of people complaining about how expensive books are without realizing how valuable they really are.
"The Wealthiest Man in Babylon" maybe you mean, "The richest man in Babylon"?
What I recommend to you is 'The greatest secret in the world", by the same author ;)
@Miles - I too have gone through a phase where I was totally uninterested in fiction. I still am to some degree. Over the years, I have realized that fiction is really a study about human interactions: If we are put into a hypothetical situation, how would we react? And as Sebastian mentions - some ideas and concepts are easier (and more entertaining) to learn about in the context of a story. I don't know about your taste, but here are some that I enjoy and recommend: Ender's Game, A Fine Balance, The Alchemist.
@Sebastian - I've enjoyed all your book reviews. I have been a voracious reader at different points in my life - with most of the books coming from the library. The books that I can't borrow, I buy. There is something luxurious about real books, even if I am enjoying my Kindle these days.
This follows on from "On Getting More Done – Top-down, or bottom up?" - the basic idea behind that post is you can get a lot more done by either taking on a lot more responsibilities, which forces you to adjust and use your time better - this is the "top down" strategy. Alternatively, you can slowly build and reclaim time from your life, moving your time from less meaningful areas into more meaningful areas.
But let's get more specific. I read a lot of books. Most smart people want to read a lot of books, but don't find the time to do it. So, how to read more?
This is where the bottom-up approach shines. You slowly move time from less meaningful areas to more meaningful areas.
"Sebastian, I just want to read more. I don't care about this tracking stuff."
I bought Sebastian Marshall's book, Ikigai, when it first came out. His is one of very few blogs that I read regularly, so I had high expectations for the book. And, hey... even if it's not great, I like supporting people I respect.
As soon as I bought the book, I read the first chapter. It was the blog post that I mentioned in the isolation post. Oh, I thought, I guess this book is just a bunch of blog posts that I've already read. I stopped reading.
That was six months ago. These days I read about 2-3 books per week, which means that I have a really tough time keeping my reading list full. Last week I was searching through my Kindle to see if I had any half-finished books I'd forgotten about, and I decided to give Sebastian's book another shot.
Man, am I glad I did. I'm not sure I've ever read a book with lessons that can be applied so quickly for such immediate results. Ikigai is one of the top few books I've read in 2012.
The focus of the book is rational and efficient productivity. Or at least that's what I got most out of it. If you're into that sort of thing, definitely read it.
I bought Sebastian Marshall's book, Ikigai, when it first came out. His is one of very few blogs that I read regularly, so I had high expectations for the book. And, hey... even if it's not great, I like supporting people I respect. As soon as I bought the book, I read the first chapter. It was the blog post that I mentioned in the isolation post. Oh, I thought, I guess this book is just a bunch of blog posts that I've already read. I stopped reading. That was six months ago. These days I read about 2-3 books per week, which means that I have a really tough time keeping my reading list full. Last week I was searching through my Kindle to see if I had any half-finished books I'd forgotten about, and I decided to give Sebastian's book another shot. Man, am I glad I did. I'm not sure I've ever read a book with lessons that can be applied so quickly for such immediate results. Ikigai is one of the top few books I've read in 2012. The focus of the book is rational and efficient productivity. Or at least that's what I got most out of it. If you're into that sort of thing, definitely read it. I now plan my day every morning. Sebastian shares his daily planning routine, which I used as a rough template for my own. Every morning I record the time I went to bed the night before, the time I woke up, the time I brushed my teeth, the time I finish planning, and the time I finished writing a blog post (I'm writing one every single day, but not posting them all). Recording the time you finish these things is a bit of subtle genius from Sebastian. When you record the time you finish something, you tend to do it earlier. Today I woke up and had two immediate phone calls that had to be made, which pushed my whole schedule back. As soon as I saw the time, I started doing my few morning things, including writing this post. Morning used to be my least productive time of day, but now I jump right in and start producing. The rest of day planning consists of making a todo list for yourself. You're supposed to create a list that you believe can be completed to 70%, but I've completed 90-100% every day, despite trying to make the list harder each time. It's amazing how much you can get done when you have a plan and start early. I use the tasks feature of Google Calendar for my todo list. It's not amazing, but it's good enough and keeps me looking at my calendar, which makes me more likely to schedule things and see when they're happening. At the end of the day, I do a quick five minute summary, as prescribed by Sebastian. I record whether or not I flossed, reflected on the possibility of death, and played my violin. I write down my key accomplishments for the day, my top life goals, a quick analysis of the day, and my top priority for the following day. Last, I record how many minutes I wasted, how many minutes I worked on SETT, and how many minutes I spent writing. RescueTime helps me come up with a rough estimate of these things. There's a lot more than planning your day in Ikigai, but that was the big value that I got from it. He also spends a lot of time covering the same sort of strategy and philosophies that I'm a big fan of and write about here. ### The great Alaska trip starts next Saturday. A few friends and I will be riding our motorcycles to Alaska for no real reason at all.