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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reading? Yes. Book? No.

I'm spending as much time as possible on educating and informing myself. Through blogs, columns, articles, podcasts and documentaries. But the sort of satisfaction derived from turning the last page of a book is missing. Books, supposedly, provide depth & breadth on a subject. The author's years of experience and expertise on the subject is juiced, bottled and ready for the reader to be consumed. That satisfaction is usually not derived from any number of 500-word pieces featured in Time.

When it comes to making a choice, I've been choosing articles and podcasts over a book because at the end of the said time, I'd know quite a bit about a lot more topics than a lot more about just one topic. And the advantage with these new media outlets is that most of the time they're dealing with trendy topics - be it the Toyota recall or Tiger Woods or the dysfunctional nature of U.S political culture - in addition to being in the know, they also contribute for a good lunch time chatter.

This instant gratification has come at a cost. Reading books was one of the main instigators of my thirst for knowledge. That cannot be comprehensively quenched by what is comparably a twitter feed to a New Yorker article. A great book does great service to the mind. I have a huge list of books in my wish list and I just realized the pointlessness of it. To think that that would always be my wish list instead of serving in my knowledge arsenal is so depressing.

So today I'm making a public promise of sorts to read at least a book a month, and provide a decent... I don't want to call it a review... but what I take home from the book. As with movies, I will not sit through something if I think it will not be worth my time. To begin with I'll try Fooled By Randomness by Taleb. I've tried his much acclaimed Black Swan and I found his tone a bit domineering and preachy. Irritated, I closed the book. Since then I've heard the title referenced at many places by people I respect. As I decided to reopen, I was told to reach for his first book and the Swan would just start flowing easily from FBR.

Part of making this book-reading an announcement is to apply that extra pressure on myself so that I cut down on some of my useless browsing. Any of my three loyal readers can feel free to ask for updates after a month. So, here's to re-establishing my dying habit.

6 comments:

Varaha said...

A little more fiction will make the reading merrier - Tolstoy, Tagore, James Ellroy, Khushwant Singh, Herman Hesse, Mulk Raj Anand, Gorky, Susan Sontag...

Cheers
Varaha

Prasad Venkataramana said...

I don't know why but I'm drifting away from fiction. May be it's my intellectual insecurity that I need to step up my efforts in 'getting there'. But still I'd like to read McEwan and Coetzee any day - they're just amazing.

Thanks for your list - can you suggest just 2 titles in fiction?

Freehit said...

I've taken to reading physical books (easy on the eyes) after a while too, doing 5 in 5 months. That's a lot considering that I've done practically nothing since I-don't-know-when. And I'm doing fiction with a vengeance. My (unsolicited) $0.02: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

Prabhu S said...

I enjoyed reading 'Black Swan' though I couldn't entirely grasp things. Should re-read it. 'Fooled by Randomness' is more or less on the same lines as 'Black Swan'..

Prasad Venkataramana said...

Siva,
I'm not sure if I want to read Hosseini after his 'Kite Runnner'. After a beautiful and balanced opening it gradually descended into a mushy Bollywood drama. But I sure appreciate your recommendation. My unsolicited advise: read all you want now. Once become a father you'll be reading a different genre.

Prabhu,
I don't blame you - I have taken masters level courses in random signals/stochastics processes and I still find probabilistic equations painful.

Vidya said...

I have been blaming it on everybody and everything for not reading regularly! And after a long gap, picked up 'A Passage to India' and it has helped me break the 'reader's block':-) Awaiting your 'book' posts:-)