Recently I was having a conversation with someone and we got on the topic of books and what we had read recently. We’ve all had this conversation many times, but it struck me that lately many people suffer from the same conundrum – too many books and not enough time. In addition to the stack of unread paperback and hardcover books on my nightstand, I also have a Kindle full of great reading.
I have read many of these books, but many others I have merely started to read before getting distracted and moving onto something else. I also have a stack of magazines (paper and digital), dozens of online publications and blogs, white papers and analyst reports, newspapers, and the daily missives of my friends on Facebook and my extended network on Twitter.
I read for many reasons – to gain knowledge, to get perspective, to escape into another world or time, to keep up with my profession, to laugh, to think, to live. I love to read, but I now wonder if my reading might be more satisfying if it were more purposeful.
What does that mean – more purposeful? What I’m thinking about is picking a small number of issues, topics or themes and focus my reading in those areas. Exploring the depth of an idea might interesting.
Today I could be accused of being a mile wide and an inch deep when it comes to my literary interests. In itself that is probably not a horrible thing. My interests are broad and that probably makes it easier for me to engage in superficially interesting conversations with many different people. I say “superficially interesting” because my knowledge and perspective on many of these topics is often exhausted in a matter of minutes. If I meet someone with a deep passion for a particular interest we hold in common, my surface-level exploration won’t allow me to sustain an extended and thoughtful conversation on the matter. That’s not totally true, I guess, because that encounter becomes a great opportunity for me to learn from the other. But I would have less to contribute.
I also wonder if I should substitute writing more for reading less. It would likely be a positive development if I were to write more, create more, and otherwise get out and engage more fully with the world. It would stand to reason that my writing should follow my reading in terms of focus. As I gain deeper knowledge and understanding of a particular topic, my writing would hopefully reflect that and be more thought-provoking as a result.
Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
— Albert Einstein
Now I just need to figure out where my focus should be…