How to Get More Pleasure and Fulfillment Out of Your Reading – Alan Jacobs on The Art of Manliness, Hosted By Brett McKay

Check out the Art of Manliness Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • In addition to reading the classics, every now and then, make sure you read for fun
  • You’re often better off re-reading your favorite books instead of constantly searching for new material
    • Besides, with the best books, you’ll never be able to extract all of the important information during your first pass-through
    • Also, rereading a book is an exercise in self-understanding; as you go through life, the way you interpret a book changes
  • Don’t read to get through a book; read to enjoy a book
  • Advice that will never steer you wrong: Read what interests you, not what interests others
  • You don’t have to finish every book you start—there’s no value in forcing yourself to read something you’re not enjoying

Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Alan Jacobs (@ayjay) is a Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University
  • Host: Brett McKay (@brettmckay)

Don’t Only Read the Great Works of Art; Read for Fun

  • Alan considers How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer Alder a great book, but found the author’s demands counterproductive
  • Reading a great book requires a lot of energy
    • “Great works of art ask a lot of us … Sometimes, you ought to read ‘Harry Potter’ instead of Shakespeare because you need a break.”Alan Jacobs
      • A good analogy to this is eating healthy: Broccoli is great, but it can’t be the only thing you eat—you need some sweets (pleasure)
      • “It’s okay to read things that are for fun because if you’re only reading to eat your intellectual broccoli, that’s going to wear on you, and after a while, you’re going to say, ‘Who needs that?’” 
  • Alan’s favorite writer is W.H. Auden
    • In one of his essays, W.H. explains that masterpieces aren’t a daily affair; just as you wouldn’t eat a 7-course meal every night, don’t feel the need to read a masterpiece of a book every day 

Don’t Turn Reading Into a Chore

  • Often, people stop their reading habit when it becomes too strenuous and/or demanding
    • (Only reading intellectually-stimulating nonfiction further facilitates this)
  • Instead of reading what’s on someone else’s 100 must-read books’ list, follow your curiosity and interests
    • Alan expands: ”Follow that which really draws your spirit and your soul”
  • There’s a big difference between wanting to read a book and wanting to say you’ve read a book
    • The former is about reading what you love; the latter relates to self-image

Aim for Quality, Not Quantity (It’s Okay to Reread Your Favorite Books)

  • You’re often better off re-reading your favorite books instead of constantly searching for new material
    • Besides, with the best books, you’ll never be able to extract all of the important information during your first pass-through
    • Also, rereading a book is an exercise in self-understanding; as you go through the different life stages, the way you interpret a book changes
  • Don’t read to get through a book; read to enjoy a book
    • If you’re aiming to read a high quantity of books read instead of a small number of quality books, “Maybe you should reconsider your life choices … What are you chasing?” – Alan Jacobs
  • The people who read 50-100+ books a year don’t utilize a secret reading technique; reading is simply their job (i.e., podcasters, authors, and professors, for instance, all have to read for work)

What Should You Read Next?

  • If you’re looking for a good book recommendation, look upstream; if you love a particular author’s books, find out what they’ve recommended in the past
  • Never read a book to “cross it off the list
    • “It’s the ‘crossing books off the list’ that’s the death of pleasure in reading—that’s the thing I most want to warn people away from” – Alan Jacobs
  • Advice that will never steer you wrong: Read what interests you, not what interests others

Kindle & Note-Taking Advice

  • Alan prefers to read on a Kindle, but occasionally, he’ll read physical books as well
    • Alan stresses the importance of using a Kindle device, not the phone app—when you use the phone app, you’re always two clicks away from Instagram, leaving you prone to distractions
  • Highlighting doesn’t help you retain information, but it does help you locate it later in the future
  • Alan’s note-taking process:
    • If he finds a passage that’s:  
      • Brilliant, he’ll put a star next to it
      • Surprising, he’ll jot down an exclamation mark 
      • Possibly not true, he’ll note it with a question mark
      • Absolutely false, he’ll write “BS”
    • (Alan also uses sticky notes to mark off passages he needs to find later)
  • Avoiding looking at a Kindle book’s popular highlights—most are in the first 15 pages—because a high percentage of people start books but don’t finish then

Speed Reading 

  • Speed reading doesn’t really work—there are limits to what our eyes can do
  • If you want to “speed read” an article, read the first and last paragraph; the first paragraph usually outlines the piece while the last paragraph contains a concise summary
    • (Or, read the first sentence of each paragraph)
  • If you want to improve your reading skills, check out How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer Alder

It’s OKAY to Quit Books

  • You don’t have to finish every book you start—there’s no value in forcing yourself to read something you’re not enjoying
  • Many books aren’t “bad” per se; they’re just not right for you

Additional Notes

  • Let kids read what they want—this helps them build a positive association with reading
    • If they want to read cartoons instead of classic books, great!
    • (You should also set a positive example for your kids by cultivating a reading yourself habit)
Art of Manliness : , , ,
Notes By Alex Wiec

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