On Reading Non-Fiction
The art of reading non-fiction non-linearly.
There are two kinds of readers.
First, like serially monogamous Emperor Penguins, there are serially monogamous readers. Emperor Penguins mate and remain faithful to one different partner each year until they finish rearing their chicks. Like Emperor Penguins, serially monogamous readers remain faithful to one book they reading before picking another. Let’s call them sophisticated readers.
Second, like a food enthusiast walking down the aisle at a buffet reaching out for every other dish on the menu, some readers read anything and everything within arm's reach. Imagine one who diligently reads a couple of pages on Romanticism in their lover’s home, a chapter of Laws of Human Nature working in the basement, spirals down the contents of How Not to Diet in the kitchen, impersonates a rocket engineer reading Elon Musk in the garage, giggles at My Man Jeeves in a metro station, reads Untethered Soul while waiting to check out in a grocery store, and ends the day with a couple of pages more on Romanticism back in their lover’s home. Let’s call them unsophisticated readers.
As you read what you like, you end up liking to read. When you like to read, you inevitably become an unsophisticated reader. The act of reading becomes second nature. When reading becomes second nature, you read for knowledge and insights. But all books are seldom well-written. When a poorly written book wears you down, you begin to lose interest in the book and start reading infrequently or may give up reading. These are crippled readers.
As you read what you like, you end up liking to read. When you like to read, you inevitably become an unsophisticated reader.
What if you read more than a book at a time? When one book wears you down, you have a list of other books to pick from. Pick a book that catches your attention, like picking a fancy looking dessert at a buffet. You no longer dread the boring book you have been reading for a long time.
There’s no right way to live, and there’s no right way to read. Unsophisticated reading is not crippled reading; it is an antidote for crippled reading.
The human brain is a versatile and powerful machine. The more books you begin to read at a time, the more is the need to switch contexts between books. It seems rather uncomfortable for many novice unsophisticated readers to recap and gather thoughts from the last time they read a particular book. It puts them in a bitter place. Without overwhelming ourselves, the capacity to learn and assimilate varied information increases by reading a number of books simultaneously.
As a reader, start sophisticated and become unsophisticated.
Every unsophisticated reader was once sophisticated. Mastering sophisticated reading is the greatest filter into unsophisticated reading. Like any other habit, it takes a fair amount of practice and effort to become an unsophisticated reader.
An unsophisticated reader does not stand by the metric of counting the number of books he reads in a year.
If you are not an unsophisticated reader, you truly do not enjoy reading.
Thanks to Sandeep and Erin Lamb for reading the drafts of this.