Read less, not more. Bringing one inspired book into the heart of your life is far more valuable than leaving one hundred on the periphery of your experience. Read only those books that inspire a conversation with your being. It doesn’t matter if it is fiction or non-fiction. And it doesn’t matter what the topic is. Only allow books that inspires something that feel intuitively valuable and meaningful into your life. And, without hesitation, read it many times.
The productivity hacks are now chuckling at these words. Perhaps, the creativity hacks too.
Some say that reading more increases creativity, or at least, the potential to be more creative. There are voracious readers out there that claim to read a book a week or, even more impressively, one hundred or more books per year. They sometimes reveal pictures of their personal libraries with hundreds, if not thousands, of books on their shelves.
It’s quite impressive. Or is it, in the end, a waste of time?
None of this is to say that reading isn’t important. I will always read books. It is a fundamentally important activity whether it be to discover new ideas to work with or to enjoy an engaging story. But reading a book has nothing to do with being more productive, knowledgeable, intelligent, or creative. However, when it becomes an Olympic sport, it becomes a bastion of triviality.
Yes, there is the increasing the mental raw materials argument. The more you put in your mind, so they say, the more you must work with. And, worse, the more knowledgeable you are. And, far worse, the more creative you can be. All of this is nonsense.
The notion of reading large numbers of books offers the expert an air of credibility. It gives credence to the assumption of “knowing” enough to be perceived by others as an authority in this or that. And if you read enough, they advise, you too can become an expert who can formulate self-help ideas from the hundreds of thousands of pages you will need to read. It takes 10,000 books to do this, or is it 10,000 hours?
The problem is that there is no knowledge in a book. What you see when you are reading is not knowledge. A book contains symbols that portray the thoughts and ideas of another person. Knowledge is something you must create on the frontiers of experience.
It is possible to read too much, to read excessively, and to read obsessively. As you collect mountains of books, and notes about those books, and, of course, cue card quotations from those books, you inhabit an abstract level.
The idea of reading a lot finds its way into many listicles (articles that take the form of a list) outlining the ten most important ways you can increase your creativity. The intention of a listicle is to provide you with a distillation of essential ideas, according to someone else whose authority is partially supported by quantity of books read. Ironically, manufacturing a listicle is inherently uncreative so the advice we receive about how to become more creative arrives as conventional fodder.
The more you read, the less you are likely to know.
And then come all the quotes on cue cards. And then the listicles of the ten quotes that can inspire you to be… (fill in the blank). All these quotes come to you by way of the Olympian reader’s system of cue cards, meticulously organized and alphabetized so they can be easily accessed. Perhaps they are cross-referenced and indexed by theme or topic. A distillation of hundreds of books into catchphrases that provide a glimpse into someone else’s work.
You too may, one day, be able to join the productivity minions club.
Now we can access summaries of books on the Internet, which has become a viable business. A book summary is an interpretation of what is important in a book written by another person. In reading a summary, you become the reader of someone else’s reading of a book. But, presumably, you can “comprehend” the most important ideas in the book so you can cover more alphabetic ground. If you read ten book summaries per day, take notes to generates a summary of the summary, and include quotes on cue cards when you can, you are now able to “read” ten books per day or 3,500 per year.
Sometimes, the Olympian book-reader becomes a thinly disguised commercial for other people’s work.
Then, after all those pages read, notes taken, and cue cards readied, comes the connection to now; that is, advice scraped from hundreds of books and how it can help you in the here and now. They break things down into bits and pieces, find some patterns, and then use them to create a sense of authority. And they may also retrieve something forgotten in the past, like Stoicism, and give it a modern flair. This is how an analyst works attempts to make all this time spent reading relevant.
Reading is wrongly assumed to be a pathway to knowledge. Now does it increase the depth of breadth of your creativity. There is no knowledge in a book. When you read a book, you will only find words leading to ideas not of your own making.
You do not create knowledge by reading. You create knowledge the experiential milieu of your own directly felt experiences in life.
Knowledge and creativity originate deep within your own unique experiential milieu. A book may be part of the milieu, but it is the relationship of what you read to how you work with the confluence of your life that matters. In other words, your directly- felt embodied experience of being alive is the underlying ground for knowledge, creativity, and meaning.
In a book, you will find raw material waiting for you to fashion it into something creative, important, or meaningful. To create knowledge, you integrate your subjective experiences with what you read. Being creative hinges on having deep conversation with the frontiers of your own experience, not on how much you have read.
Reading is a very serious matter. Don’t read lists. Ignore all the quotes. Avoid summaries. Read only that which inspires potential for living within you and spend time working with it in your life. You will become more knowledgeable. And more creative. These are the books you will revisit, cherish, and bring to life in your own way.
What do you really know that you can call your own,
That comes from your own unique experiential milieu
Where you have lived
Laughed, loved, and cried
Where you have felt deep belonging
It is here
In the most intimate spaces of your life
That the words you read
Will become a conversation
Read less, live more.