Do you have your own library? We do. It’s been particularly on my mind today because I have been having to re-shelve all of it.
A couple of months ago we were moved out of our long-time offices for temporary space nearby, due to a problem that the building had with water getting inside the roof structure and running down the back of the exterior walls, between the bricks and sheetrock. The restoration contractors wrapped up last week, so we’re in the process of moving back.
Since the pandemic alone wasn’t sufficiently disruptive…
Anyway, as you have probably noticed, education is a big part of our philosophy on how to do financial planning and retirement preparation. So it likely comes as no surprise that we would be cheerleaders for reading. In the spirit of making the case for more time reading (something Warren Buffett claims to do for several hours every day, by the way), here are a few thoughts that popped into my head as I was unpacking our many-hundred volumes this morning.
WHAT A BOOK IS
I like to think of a book as a distillation of the author’s thoughts. You can’t make it all the way to writing a book without meaning to, and part of that process entails contemplative time spent on what to say and how to say it. Being in the presence of thought has a consistent way of inspiring or prompting more thought. And who among us couldn’t benefit from a little more time spent thinking?
AGREEING WITH THE AUTHOR
It is not necessary that you agree with the author’s position in order to get the benefit of exposure to the author’s thinking. I would say that a lot of my most productive thinking over the years has come when I flatly disagreed with the point an author was asserting. Being comfortable with this occurrence has an interesting practical effect: you stop worrying about whether or not the book is going to be any good. As a result, I’m whatever the term is for the opposite of a book snob. We have titles in our library that would likely prompt you to roll your eyes or cast surprised glances back in my direction. We have some that are downright goofy, replete with “wisdom” and advice that no sane person would give any credence to. But they serve a purpose. There is nothing like an articulation of the absurd or off-base to inspire one to compose a lucid summation of the actual right way to look at something. Knowing what you believe and being able to articulate it are two different things, and the humorous levels of fury which a wacky author can induce is one of the best motivations I know of for putting your own thoughts in communicable form. Also pretty good at shining light on holes in your own logic that you never realized were there. An angry reviewer is a thorough reviewer.
SUBJECT DOESN’T MATTER
The other feature about our library which you would pick up on almost right away is the breadth of topic coverage. Of course we have all of the sections you would expect, dealing with investment, business management, and so on. But you’d also find history books, literature, guides on constructing wooden boats, religion, travel, psychology and a dozen other topics. Most of the world’s big ideas do not limit themselves to the topics which we humans invent to make it easier for our minds to organize information. The Law of Diminishing Return which is discussed in the economics book is just an example of the limit functions described in the mathematics book, and the reason that the physics book says you can’t fly faster than the speed of light (when you get going really fast, mass starts increasing so rapidly that you can’t find enough energy to keep the acceleration going). The characters that Plato met on the road, or the ones Moses found at the base of the mountain, are the same ones you will be interviewing for the new position at your office. And so on. The wider your reading becomes, the more you will become aware of just how few really core ideas are out there, and how they have a way of being a player in so many different things we think about and act upon.
So that’s my PSA for reading for this week. If you are not already a frequent reader, why not take a virtual stroll through the used book section of Amazon or Ebay? Take a few shots at random. Won’t cost you a lot of money, and you don’t even have to read them cover to cover. Just open one up and see how far you get before you find the bottom of your coffee cup. Try another one the next day. Never know what you might stumble across, and there’s no way to predict the resulting mental ricochets it may set off inside your noggin. A lot of value available, for not a lot of money. In other words, a pretty good investment.
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