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.
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