October Reading List

Hi again. More books.

Most of the books I’ve read over the past few months have been fiction. As you can probably guess from my previous lists, I read a lot of non-fiction. I enjoy it but haven’t lost myself in a lot of good stories for a while.

Naturally, during the last few months, nearly all of my books have been fiction.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday 

A book about the problems our ego presents to us.

An easy way to explain this is like so: our ego makes us extremely interested and concerned about our personal image and how we’re viewed to others. As a result, we tend to focus less on the important tasks we have to focus on and more on how to protect the image we’ve built of ourselves.

It took me a while to get round to this book. I didn’t agree with a lot of it at first because I felt that he argued ego causes more problems than it actually does. However, after re-reading sections, I came to understand the book better and thought his argument was interesting.

It is when we care less for ego and more for the important things in life that we produce valuable work. Instead of always thinking about how feel. How can improve the lives of others?

Amazon.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Brilliant.

I’m very late to get to this book but damn. I loved all of it.

Towards the end of Stalin’s regime, there is a killer who targets children and murders them in horrific ways. Leo, a secret police officer, changes his ways completely in search for this person and risks his career, his life and his wife in the process.

I suck at describing books but read it. Please? Thanks.

Amazon.

One by One by Chris Carter 

Another thriller. Another great ride.

A man calls Detective Robert Hunter’s desk and asks him to go to a website. He sees a man in a glass box, restrained against a chair. The caller asks Hunter, “Fire or water? How do you want him to die?”

The whole book had me on edge and the ending was… interesting.

I also love Robert Hunter now. He’s one of those Jason Bourne type guys. Chris Carter can write a damn good crime thriller. I’ll definitely read more (thankfully, there are about 7 in the series).

Amazon.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Duckworth’s work has been getting a lot of praise among the self-improvement sphere for a while now. And for very good reason.

She studies grit. The combination of passion and perseverance. Continuing with tasks even if they get difficult or boring. In the book, she wants to understand why certain people are more ‘successful’ than others in a variety of tasks ranging from completing the brutal Beast Barracks training in the United States Military Academy to university students getting top grades. It’s not intelligence, wealth, height or any physical attribute that is the best predictor of success. It’s grit.

Her work is entertaining to read and every point she makes is well supported. However, I also admire that she’s open to admitting the shortcomings of her research and questions that can be explored further.

There’s a lot of valuable information to gain from it. Including why perseverance with goals is very helpful but less common than you’d imagine and how to foster grit in other people. I want to explore it in more detail as I think the ideas are worthy of much more consideration.

And Emilia Lahti is her student and she’s the nicest person ever.

Amazon. 


As always, thanks for reading!

Follow me on twitter @improvingslowly and like my Facebook page: Improving Slowly!

July Reading List

Suddenly, two months turns into eight. I don’t know how it happened but it did. I promise I’ve been reading though. Here are the previous reading lists:

October reading list

August reading list

Onto the current books…

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Cal writes a blog over called Study Hacks over at calnewport.com and I’ve been following his work for a few years. Over the past year or so, he’s become really interested in learning how we can focus more by employing what he calls “deep work”. He defines it as:

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.

The alternative, shallow work, is the opposite. Non-demanding tasks which are often performed while distracted and easy to replicate. The plight of every student around – writing an essay with Facebook in the background.

Originally, I thought that there cannot be much to say about concentrating really hard on really tough work for a really long time. After all, the crux of the book might be seen as ‘get rid of distractions and get to work’ but there’s much more to it. He goes through multiple tactics to increasing the amount of “deep work” you can get out of the day (it’s very limited since it’s quite tough. So don’t expect eight hours straight away) and why “deep work” is valuable both in a professional and personal sense.

After spending some time with the book and trying to increase my deep work (so I have to work less during the day), I found that it became much easier to do and resulted in a decent dissertation effort towards the end of my degree. More importantly, I found that this sort of stuff can be improved through training (and lost through the lack of it). Much like meditation.

I hope to share some of the things I’ve learned about working more efficiently but here’s one huge take away he loves to talk about – email is not important. Stop checking it so often.

If you do any kind of academic or creative work, you’ll benefit greatly from Deep Work. 

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield is my Canadian dad.

I’m not sure how that’s possible but I want it to be, so it is.

An astronaut with decades of life experience writes about how to live on earth. One hugely desirable virtue of Chris’s writing style is that he gives advice without sounding patronising and without the slightest hint of superiority over the reader. What you see is a character who is confident in his skills and abilities because of his experience in space.

Each chapter goes through a lesson he’s learned from his hours in space and showing us a moment in time where it applies. The great thing about these ‘lessons’ is how applicable they are to a multitude of problems we have in every day scenarios. He might say “prepare for the worst” in the context of crying in space (without gravity, tears don’t fall to the ground – they just ball up at the front of your eyes) or falling down a flight of stairs in front of loads of people where everyone is too far away to help but close enough to see (my tears fell to the ground perfectly. Thanks for asking).

Despite being an astronaut and being closer to the stars than most of us ever will, he seems to be very well grounded. The advice he offers is enclosed in funny and interesting stories that can entertain even the most apathetic about space.

He’s achieved a lot in his life but despite the magnitude of what he’s done, it isn’t discouraging. He inspires others to do the same.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

When I moved home, I started using the library more and came across a book called Jimmy Coates: Killer by Joe Craig. I fell in love with that book and the whole series. I’d stay up reading it and be too tired for school. When I’d write a story in class, I’d steal half my themes from the books and brand myself a literary genius.

I even emailed Joe saying that he’s awesome and can’t wait for his next book to come out. (I’m so glad I’ve stopped ending emails with “please reply, bye (a great fan)”.)

Ready Player One is probably the closest I’ve come to feeling that way again. The content isn’t similar but the pace and overall feel is just fantastic. I always wanted to know what happened next but also caught myself wanting to slow down and appreciate feeling so excited about a story again.

“Oh this chapter isn’t too short, you can read until the end. It’ll be the last one.”

The last time I lied to myself that much, I said I’d start my dissertation “today”.

Honourable mentions:

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – This book feels so nice. Seriously, go touch this book, you’ll understand what I mean. It feels brilliant. The stuff inside is also hilarious.

Empathy by Roman Krznaric

Better by Atul Gawande

Do you have any book recommendations? Share them below! 


 

I’ve remembered I have a ill-used twitter account (@improvingslowly go follow it because it’s probably great).

As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

The Low Information Diet

I used to read the news every morning and thought this was a good thing. I’m sure that at some point, I thought more people should do it because it’s important to be an ‘informed citizen’. It wasn’t just a thing I did, it was a duty.

I’m sure I got this habit from my dad. He’s woken up by the news with his radio and continues listening to it on his way to work. He’s an extremely informed person and can probably tell you anything about politics on demand.

However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve strayed from my dad in this respect. I no longer read the news every morning and don’t think it’s necessary for anything.

In fact, I want to read the news less.

This is what this post is about. Reading less news and reducing the needless amount of information we consume every day for greater clarity, focus and more happiness.

Most of the links supporting my argument will be at the end (so you don’t have an endless number of tabs open at the end).

What is the Low Information Diet?

Consuming less information.

Mainly the news but it can also include blogs, internet forums and, email and so on.

There are a number of reasons for this and I think they support the aim to consume less information on a daily basis so we can pursue other interests and be more involved in our own lives through active engagement rather than passive participation.

Removing the passive aspect of news consumption means we’ll make a more deliberate effort with the information we consume and become more likely to consume higher quality information.

Why bother?

I want to highlight a few important reasons why we should consume less news and information. I will also address a few problems people might have.

A lot of this is inspired by the essay Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet by Rolf Dobelli. I don’t agree with everything he says but that’s not terribly important.

News is harmful

It is sometimes beyond useless.

The overwhelming majority of news is negative. Studies have shown the average ratio is 17:1 or 95% negative news!

You may come to the conclusion that it’s just the way the world is.

I was part of a lecture given by two BBC News journalists where they taught us how to create compelling headlines and write stories. There was a Q&A session at the end and I asked one of the women what she thought about the lack of positive news in the media.

“Positive news doesn’t really go anywhere.”

You can create stories from a murder investigation but stories about literacy rates increasing or cured diseases tend to stop after one news reel. It may be true that positive stories and tend to lack new developments the same way a negative one would but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Since news stations (even government-funded ones like the BBC) require views, they’re far more likely to include prolonged negative stories rather than standalone positives.

This attitude is compounded at times. Myself included. The attitude of ‘positive news isn’t real news’ pervades our thinking far too often. If we hear about an explosion that’s killed 30 people but see the news reporting about plastic bag use decreasing (which has important consequences for our environment) we might think to ourselves ‘This isn’t news. Why are they wasting my time?’

It’s unfortunate because it hides the good in the world using the excuse of ‘I want truth’ which is really a veil covering needless cynicism.

Assuming the world is bad and wanting the news to confirm that belief that is not truth-seeking. It’s ego-stroking.

Being bombarded with negative news is very good at causing anxiety.

We get facts about some disaster and feel bad about it. It doesn’t affect us directly so we don’t do anything to help apart from say ‘that’s really sad’. Then we feel bad about something we can’t change.

For a lot of people, the news doesn’t inspire the amount of action that’s proportionate to the news we watch every day. So a lot of the time, we’re entertaining feelings of depressed helplessness.

It’s rarely substantial

Most of the news we read or watch isn’t substantial. They’re bound to be very short articles without much investigation. That’s the nature of first-then-fact news. These pieces are bound to just make us feel bad about an event without discussions (not assertions) about why the event happened or what progress is being made on the problem.

There are many brilliant articles and journalistic pieces out there. They take time and effort to both create and digest. The feelings they create whether positive or negative are a result of active engagement rather than a simple fact devoid of proper discussion.

You can test this yourself. Think about the number of articles and news pieces you’ve read today and count the number of things that have made a substantial effect on your day. The number is probably low. Unfortunately, if you haven’t already spent time curating your sources of information, then the ratio of useless to engaging will be skewed in the wrong direction.

Not everything you read or watch needs to be life-changing. That’s a high ask.

The aim here is to focus our attention to sources of information or activities that improve the quality of our lives and the time we spend taking part in the activity. A trip in the 24 hour news cycle is unlikely to do that.

Dobelli’s point here is important. He says it’s difficult to recognize what’s relevant but much easier to recognise what’s new. The news always offers us new things but can’t always be relevant to our own lives on a consistently enough to justify following it every day.

If something is relevant, the chances are we’ll hear about it from someone else who follows the news or from more specialised sources.

If we miss out, the world will keep on spinning and your day will keep on moving forward.

No, you won’t be boring

A fear I’ve heard expressed is that we’ll become boring if we don’t stay up to date with the news because we’ll have nothing to talk about.

It’s true that some small talk focuses on current events but I don’t think this is particularly important. There are two reasons for this:

  • News isn’t much to bond over.

It’s much more useful to take interest in the person you’re talking to rather than a news event that has a high chance of just creating pity.

  • Consuming higher quality information leads to higher quality conversation.

This does not mean academic information. If we focus on things we find really engaging (that can be reading a comic, book or watching a film etc.), we’ll be happier talking about them to other people and others will be happier to learn about them.

I’m confident that the best conversations you’ve had did not revolve around the most recent news event at the time.

If current events do come up, it means you’ll learn something new.

Don’t worry if it’s daunting to always say ‘I didn’t hear about that’ (not that there’s anything wrong with it). This information diet does not necessarily require no news at all but a deliberate reduction.

Too much information ruins our attention  

While I think the other points are important, I find this is particularly potent because it expands beyond the problems of the news.

There’s only so much time and energy we have every day to focus our attention on certain things. Bombarding ourselves with more information day every forces us to make many decisions about small things.

Nicholas Carr wrote an article expanding on this problem. A study was completed in 2007 analysing what happens to brain activity when novices to the internet begin browsing the internet for prolonged times. Their brain activity increased significantly but that didn’t automatically mean better brain activity. They were more likely to skim articles, and become more shallow thinkers.

This doesn’t mean skimming is bad. It’s a vital skill but clearly cannot become the only way we consume information. If not for the fact that slower and deeper reading leads to better comprehension, keep in mind that being engaged with activities is a key ingredient to being happy.

What can you do instead?

One complaint about the low information diet is that you might not have anything else to do. Another is that being fully engaged with activities is often tiring. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read a good book/article
  • Talk to people
  • Write a journal about your day
  • Look around and take in your surroundings (I’m serious)
  • Listen to music
  • Watch a movie or enjoyable videos (stand-up comedy is an example)

There are many things you can do which don’t require a lot of mental energy which are still enjoyable and remove us from anxiety-inducing news.

The Low Information Challenge

You might not be convinced by this.

I wasn’t at first and feared that I would lose my privilege as an informed citizen. None of that happened. I’ve strayed from this and wish to go back. Here’s a challenge that we can do:

  • No news for one day. Then a week. If you can keep on going, even better.

It will require a deliberate effort since checking the news tends to be an ingrained habit nowadays. That’s why we’re starting off small rather than diving into never reading the news again.

If that sounds too difficult or simply absurd try the softer version.

  • Restrict news consumption to 10 minutes at the end of the day

Rather than welcoming endless streams of information, we limit it on purpose.

I recommend trying going cold turkey first though. There are benefits to just not reading the news at all.

In a month, I’ll report back about how the low information challenge went. I hope you join in too!

‘til next time.


Sign up to my fortnightly newsletter for free updates on my best posts.

Share this post on Facebook or Twitter!


Further Reading:

Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet by Rolf Dobelli [PDF]

A short objection to Dobelli’s article (highlights some of the disagreements I have with Dobelli)

The Low Information Diet (Mr Money Moustache)

News is 17:1 negative – Studies like this tend to be he-said-she-said where they’re repeated ad nauseam without a source. I found one in Democracy Under Attack: How the Media Distort Policy and Politics by Malcolm Dean p.415 (he actually has it at 18:1)

Why We Love Bad News More Than Good News

Why Bad News Dominates Headlines (very good discussion about our tendency to say we want good news but read bad news)

The Power of Ignoring Mainstream News

Some Great Articles:

The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See

Lionel Messi is Impossible

How David Hume Helped Me through my Midlife Crisis

This blog I found is full of them…

If you have any recommendations, feel free to mention them below!

Black Authors Don’t Exist

I was looking through my reading list and saw there were no black or ethnic minority authors. But more importantly, there was no reason for there to be any. Why would they be if they just don’t pop up anywhere unless I look for them specifically?

Maybe they don’t exist.

Of course, that initial thought has to be false. Maybe they’re just very rare.

I did some research to find out whether I’m mistaken and simply haven’t been exposed to them. Perhaps they are much more visible than I thought.

I used two sources – Brainpickings.org and the New York Best seller list. There are brief notes on my method and the strength of possible conclusions at the end. For now, we’ll look at the demographic breakdown from these sites.

Before I continue: I’m definitely not calling anyone racist. Again: I’m not calling anyone racist.

We move on.

Brainpickings.org

One of my favourite sites ever. Maria Popova, the author, can be described as the ‘discovery engine for interestingness’. She focuses on things related to creativity, how to live the good life and much more from the large wealth of books she reads and writes about on a daily basis.

She’s probably one of the most well-read people in the world, and has a close eye to include female authors to combat what she calls “male intellectuals’ tendency to extoll almost exclusively the work of other male intellectuals”. Given this, I thought she’d offer the best chance at seeing authors who are black or ethnic minorities.

Fortunately I was correct. From the brief research done, she did provide the best chance.

Unfortunately, the number was still very low.

brainpickings demographic

Of 197 unique authors, illustrators and a few other professions, I found over 30 articles from 14th August (a very small sample size given how much she produces!), there were 21 ethnic minorities. Included in that were 7 black authors.

Those authors were: Elizabeth Alexander, China Keitetsi, Angélique Kidjo, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, and David Blair.

The male/female divide fared slightly better with 138 males and 59 females. This may seem very unequal but if you’re a regular reader of her work, you’ll find that she writes about female authors with admirable frequency. You’ll also know that she’s a great fan of Susan Sontag’s work as she came up with the most repeated mentions at 5.

Before we continue, can we sit and awe at the number of authors mentioned?

New York Best Seller List

This was more disheartening.

It is important to note it’s a simple list of books that sell the best over the course of the week. There could be 1000 black authors who sell 1 copy each and 15 non-black authors that sell 3 copies each and they’d dominate the best seller list.

The scope was from the 12th July to 23rd August.

With that being said, here are the results.

In the fiction list, there were 64 authors with 41 females and 23 males. No black authors. I broadened it to ethnic minorities and the result was still zero.

Non-fiction was slightly better. From 53 authors there were 31 males, 22 females, 8 ethnic minorities and from that 2 black authors (Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ishmael Beah).

Here is the total breakdown:

NY list demographics

 

From over 300 authors there were 29 ethnic minorities and 9 black authors.

Can’t I read whatever I want?

Yes.

I think it’s important to rid ourselves of the stigma of having to read certain types of books. Although helpful at times, I dislike lists of the type, “10 books every intelligent/smart/successful person should read” because if a person simply doesn’t want to read those books, they needn’t be deemed stupid in any sense.

I read children’s books from time to time and that doesn’t mean I’m childish. If it did, so what?

So I don’t want this to be construed as an article demanding you read black authors because they’re pushed to the side but as an invitation to extend your reading list. Some standard suggestions are:

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

If you’ve read these books in secondary school and found you disliked them, it might be helpful to try again without the pressure of having to analyse the fun out of them.

What can I conclude?

Given the scope of the research, small sample size and great complexity surrounding issues behind race, the answer is ‘not much’. Though, it does lead to useful points of discussion.

Firstly, it’s clear that black authors don’t tend to be in regular reading lists and because of that, it’s very difficult for their work to spread further compounding the problem. Black authors are definitely not in any kind of limelight when it comes to published writing. I feel this is enough to confirm suspicions that you could easily go many years without picking up a book written by an author of ethnic minority without having to look for one specifically.

When I decided to start this small amount of research, I was inspired by my own reading list. So you can ask yourself two questions:

  1. Have you read or plan to read a book by an author of any ethnic minority?
  2. Of those books, how many do not contain a theme about race?

The second question leads to more speculative territory. That being we tend to read such authors, not because they’re just regular writers but because they write important things about race. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m unsure but I’d rather it wasn’t the only reason we were drawn to them.

From the evidence here, I can’t conclude anything about why there is such a great imbalance nor can I say anything about how it can be changed or whether it needs to be. So I won’t.

What I do want from this is to draw attention to the imbalance as I think it’s worthy of discussion.

A few notes on the method.

This is the boring part.

My method wasn’t particularly precise or efficient but after reviewing it, I don’t think it takes away from my core point. Both lists were so heavily dominated by white authors that a few mistakes won’t weaken my point.

  1. Ethnic minority was modelled around the US and UK so Non-hispanic whites and White British were classed as majorities with 63.7% (2012) and 87.2% (2011) respectively.
  2. I’m not sure what I did with the Jewish population. It’s confusing as proved by this great answer on Quora.

There are bound to have been a few mistakes and there were also a few people I wasn’t sure to include as an ethnic minority. I decided to include them anyway.

Finally…

What do you think about black and ethnic minority authors? Is the lack of publicity a problem? Is there any problem here?

I’ll return to my normal personal development-esque writing later.

 

Share on Facebook or Twitter

August Reading List

If anyone wants some books to read, here are a few of the best books I’ve read in the past month or two:

  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks. 

This book gave insights into personal identity that were both unexpected and humanising.

Many people have heard of the titled case where a man has a neurological disorder which means he loses the ability to recognise faces and ends up thinking his wife is a hat. Many of the other cases presented by Sacks are sometimes as comical but more importantly, he does a brilliant job of making every person he sees a real person. It’s surprisingly easy to just see them as  the unfortunate or people with super abilities (cue all the documentaries about savants).

He gets to know his patients and views them much more holistically than a mere diagnosis or popular documentary might.

Amazon.

  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I wrote in my journal that this was a ‘funny, absurd, entertaining and astonishing depiction of war in WWII’. The more I think about the book, the more I laugh.

The book mainly follows Yossarian who doesn’t want to fly any more missions because he doesn’t want to die. Yet, everything around him seems to force him to fly more like the infamous catch-22 which means regardless of the scenario, he has to fly. For example, he’s a good pilot so is told to fly more. When he flies, he evades enemy fire with great urgency because he doesn’t want to die. Because of this, he’s seen as a good pilot that should fly more.

It may take a while to understand the humour but I found it helpful to imagine them as characters in a sitcom. Many jokes are carried across chapters with seamless ease. The characters are ridiculous and enjoyable. The style is incomparable to any book I’ve read recently.

Nothing else has made me laugh more about some of the worst parts of history.

Amazon.

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote 

This details the murder of the Clutter family in 1964, Kansas by the Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.

To describe the book, I’d call it a non-fiction story. It’s very immersive and quite easy to forget that it isn’t a complete fiction. If I had to compare this to another book I’ve read before it’d be To Kill a Mockingbird. Not for the content but for the overall feel. The court case at the end of the book was one of the best chapters of any book that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I felt as if I was sitting in the audience of the trial.

The only thing I had against the whole book was the length but that might be a comment on my concentration rather than the length.

Amazon.

A final note

I said nearly two years ago that I’m going to review Earth Abides. I never finished it. I gave it to a friend and she didn’t finish it.

That’s all I’ll say about it.

If you liked it and found it helpful, the share links are below :)

Live with Questions

Big questions. The type of question that apparently has no answer. Questions that result in debates which devolve into shouting matches. Questions that are discussed with friends in a park without noticing how serious the conversation has become.

Such questions have unfortunately been met with quick dismissal because they lack an easy answer. And the statement ‘We can’t figure it out! Stop asking about it!’ is uttered by the frustrated.

This attitude is often damaging and unhelpful. Some questions demand vigorous thought and conversation. They test patience and sanity. However, what they’re unlikely to do, is make life drastically worse for existing.

I say this because they have another function beyond being in an introductory philosophy book.

They foster powerful conversation between friends, give us a chance to exercise freedom of thought and help us learn more about ourselves, the world and the people we share it with.

They force us to live with uncertainty and find peace in it.

Take the question ‘What is the good life?’

Thinking about this question for only a few minutes opens us up to the huge possible answers you could give. To this question alone the answers have ranged from serving God to finding peace in a secular place to being virtuous to living with as much pleasure as possible. Some great minds have been trying to answer this and solve our contradictory yet equally appealing opinions for thousands of years. However, the lack of a definitive answer does not signal towards its insignificance.

In part, the value of the question comes from the process of trying to answer it, not just the answer settled on. Engaging with the questions opens us up to personal beliefs previously hidden to us which are then challenged and defended or dismissed. They can potentially change our lives simply because they’ve given us a new perspective on problems that we may never have taken seriously.

For example, we all know about avoidable poverty that persists in the world and tend to think it’s a bad thing but asking whether we’re all morally equal humans can change our opinions on whether we should give to charity. If we decide not to give to charity we can begin to develop our answer beyond a stutter and a hurry to change the topic.

Thinking about the questions, we might come closer to a satisfying answer that we may never have realised was in our grasp. But only by grappling with it for a while (or for some, their whole lives) can we do this. Everyone can be told answers to questions without any personal engagement but refusing to do some of the work ourselves stifles our gift for curiosity that should be grown instead of stifled.

If we find an answer we like, then all the better. If not, we can still enjoy the discussion. We then find that saying ‘I don’t know’ shouldn’t make us anxious. It’s a normal part of dealing with difficulty and practising some humility in the process.

It is important to note that I’m not demanding we live with every question in the world. There are many I currently have little interest in (No, I don’t know what an object is Mr van Inwagen.*) and some I have lived with for so long they aren’t invited for dinner any more. We all have different interests and some are more central to our everyday lives than others but we mustn’t dismiss them simply because of their difficulty.

To live with a question means we sometimes invite it over for some food and drinks, chat for a short while, crack a few jokes, realise you’re personifying a question for the sake of a metaphor and then, when the night is over, thank Ms Big Question for the enriching conversation. Maybe afterwards you’ll call Mr and Mrs 300-page-book for some help.

Live with questions and embrace the complexity they bring.

Live with questions and allow them to enrich your thinking.

Live with questions instead of wishing for their death.

If the questions die then the answer goes along with it and more importantly so does our thought.

***

* Peter Van Inwagen is a philosopher who has written about what objects are and determined they’re either elementary particles or living organisms.

Some other stuff:

Keeping Alive The Big Questions

Why I read

Why I read

A 13 year-old student asked me how he can start reading more. He said he’s had a library book in his room for the past two years and never opened it let alone made an attempt to finish it.

The question resonated with me because I’ve been in that situation before. Over the past five years or so, I’ve slowly lost the esteemed title of ‘book worm’. Reading fell out of favour and was replaced with videos, gaming and short articles. I still read a bit so it’s not like I’ve become completely illiterate otherwise I’m just getting really lucky writing all of this.

Back to the point, I didn’t significant value in reading books.

Yes, reading improves vocabulary, improves critical thinking and all sorts of wonderful things. However, these were all just nice things. I could probably find similar things to justify my gaming habit or even just watching videos all the time.

Books didn’t become less interesting. Other things were just more appealing. The issue, then, wasn’t with time or energy since I could find a lot of time to waste but none to read. The value I found in books was decreasing.

With this in mind, I didn’t recite statistics and I recalled something I was told before I started my philosophy degree.

You get to have a conversation with authors.

We write about them in the present tense because, even though many of them are long gone, their ideas are still engaged with and remain influential.

This spread into all areas of writing for me. By reading we get to have conversations with other people.

When we read fiction, we’re invited into the world the other person has created. They’re telling us a story that engages our imagination and curiosity.

When we read non-fiction, we’re informed, convinced or simply presented with a view you’re left to think about. While we may not engage directly with the authors, we’re able to think about the issues presented and come to a conclusion about it.

Sometimes, the story makes us happy or the argument makes us angry but the important thing is that we’re able to experience these things. There are billions of people on the earth with a variety of experiences and many have shared them with us through writing.

The added benefit of thinking about reading like this is that it’s opened me up to more genres. I’m granted access to millions of different worlds! Some people are trying to help me with the help of their own experiences. Some want me to experience the world of a crime lord. Others just want to make me laugh.

I’ve even started to grow an appreciation of children’s books! A lot of them are actually funny and entertaining. Some have good messages I’m sure I would have missed as a child. Authors and illustrators put in a lot of effort to talk to children and engage their imagination. Reading that while I’m a bit older is just fun. Simple, calming fun. There aren’t many other places you’ll find a bear being friends with an annoying duck and think it’s perfectly normal.

Every time I open a book, I begin a new conversation with someone else. This isn’t to say that all conversations are even good or useful. Not every conversation works like that in real life but that isn’t to say we’re better off talking to no one at all.

Reading means that I’ve opened my eyes to the world in front of me and, more importantly, to the people who live in it.