Why We Read

I was standing on the sidewalk next to a pizza truck — basically a 800 degrees oven on wheels — waiting for the pizza I ordered. I overheard another customer chatting with the Pizzaiolo. He had recently started making pizza at home and wanted some tips from the expert. The Pizzaiolo mentioned a book called American Pie. It's a book about the author's search for the best pizza in the world. I, of course, looked it up and added it to my queue.

From this book, I learned about a bakery that happened to be in my city. After I visited Liguria bakery once, I became a regular there. There was often a line out the door. They only make a certain quantity and once they run out they close the store. They sold Focaccia bread and only that — sea salt, rosemary and garlic, green onion, black olive, jalapeno and cheese,  and even 'pizza' flavor. I learned to make my own Focaccia recently. Inspired by the fact that I no longer live close to this bakery. Over the last year I've iterated on making my own pizza crust as well as various no-knead breads. And I distinctly recall the seed for these experiments was planted while I read American Pie.


We read for many different reasons and the reasons change over time. I've read because it was assigned in school. I've read for entertainment before bed. I've read to take part in book club discussions. I've read to learn the theory behind a practice or skill I want to master. I've read because I wanted to be able to say I read certain number of books every year, and I've read because the book was popular and I wanted to see for myself. In addion to fueling my serendipity engine, these are my current reasons for reading.

Current Reasons for Reading

  1. To be exposed to perceptions that are outside my bubbles.
  2. To learn about people, how they interact with one another and how they work. I spent 2019 consuming a lot of business, entrepreneurship, and startup books. At some point the content of those books felt repetitive yet not actionable. I decided to go one level up and start by understanding people (that is my theme for 2020).
  3. To give my brain good inputs to create the right type of thoughts. I read to put myself in the right mood before doing my deep work.

Over time I've evolved my attitude around reading and books. I also continue to do experiments with my reading method so I am sure my thinking will continue to change. Here is what's on my current experiement list.

Reading Experiments

-- Read the same text first thing in the morning, something I find inspirational. Anything that would put me in a desired frame of mind. Then log my mood and quality of thought that day.

-- Reread the same book multiple times over a period of many years and log my takeaways each time. Observe how they change or not over time.

-- Buy more paper books and write in them. There is a mental hurdle to get over here for me. Somehow I've come to believe that books are almost sacred and writing in them would be sacrilege. That is not very rational*

Things I Changed my Mind About

-- I changed my mind about the idea of finishing books. I wrote about how my reading method has evolved over time from finishing books to slow reading, rereading and parsing.

-- I didn't use to bother learning anything about the author before choosing to read a book — who they are, why they bothered to write this particular book. I didn't even note the name of the author sometimes. Unless I make a conscience effort to seek out authors outside my bubbles, I'll end up consuming a pretty non-diverse set of perspectives by default. I observed this blind spot so I'm working on correcting now.  

Other Reflections on my Relationship with Reading and Books

-- The first thing I do when I move to a new city is open an account with the local library. I have special relationship with library cards.

-- I don't currently value owning books or displaying bookshelves. Bookshelves collect dust. If I've already read a book by borrowing from the library and it's not a book I intend to read again I see no use of having it on my bookshelf.

-- I was voted "bookworm" in part of my high school superlatives. I didn't know that was thing until then.

-- I have a librarian in the family. I spent a number of afternoons in the library as a child.

-- I have learned to love Audiobooks over the last few years as my dedicated reading time continues to shrink.

-- There are periods of time in my life when I don't read at all, for a period of 3 or 4 months at a time. This is not intentional but it's a pattern I've observed. I am not sure why this is. Perhaps my brain is processing and incorporating stuff I've read. When I don't feel like it I don't force it, I soon come to a point where I miss reading daily and then I start again!

This bring me to the thread about tracking books. How valuable is it to track the book title, author, and other meta data along like you started and finished the book? I am not sure yet.

Tracking Books

When Goodreads first came out some 15 years ago, I was super excited. I signed up, added all the books titles I could recall from my school days, and started following my reader friends. My interest in this type of tracking as fizzled out over time.

What I want to track is how books come into my life and how they're interleaved with other events in my life. I want to know who recommended a book to me, who I ended up recommending the book to. What other reading was inspired by this book. Did I look up a specific person or place or take a particular action because of a book. Did the book change my mind about something. This type of book log would be interesting to read at the end of my life.

I know with reading serendipity awaits. Who knows, someone may read this and look up the pizza book or go find the Focaccia bakery! If so enjoy some warm delicious sea salt or 'pizza' Focaccia for me 🥖🍕

*As I write this, my brain was working out "why is this?" and the it came up with this answer - it's because most of the books I've consumed in my life have been libray books, aha!

Show Comments