In an effort to change my reading habits for the better (which has been going great this month, by the way – one week in and I haven’t missed a day!), I’ve been doing more critical thinking about what I read.
Here’s what I’ve realized: My “reading bubble” was pretty thick. I love reading, but I’ve broadly read things by people I already agree with. I follow some smart, smart people and the stuff they write is brilliant. But the marginal benefit for reading things from people you already follow, agree with, and interact with regularly is fairly low.
Recently I picked up a book by a brilliant thinker whose work I’m very familiar with. The book is good! It’s well-written and well-researched. But since I already agreed with the premise, it’s not doing much heavy lifting in my brain. Very little about my life is going to change as a result of reading this book. I don’t mean to disparage it – and I certainly don’t mean to indicate that I “already know” everything in it or anything silly like that. Rather, to the extent that the author of this book wants to move its readers to a certain position, I’m already in that position, so the book doesn’t have much to do.
Reading those kinds of books can be really beneficial if you regularly debate that topic with others who don’t agree with the position that you and the author share. One thing that should absolutely be true in your life is this: How diligently you argue about a topic should be directly proportional to how much you know about that topic. So if you’re the kind of person that debates frequently, it’s important to stay educated on your chosen battlefields.
However, I’m not one of those people. I rarely argue. So I don’t necessarily need the book as “argument ammo.” So while the book is great, it’s just not serving my needs in terms of personal growth.
I picked up another book, however. Right from the get-go, I expected to be in disagreement with the author about a number of things. I was dreading reading it, for that reason. I don’t like to argue, even with imaginary people in my head. But in this case, the book is part of research – I am going to write a book on this topic, and you’ve got to read in order to write! Part of why I’m writing this book in the first place is that I think the existing literature on the topic is severely lacking, but you’ve got to be able to back that up – see my point above about arguing only what you know really well.
Here’s the wondrous thing I found, though – I am engaged as heck! I love reading this book! Every new thing I disagree with gives me inspiration; my mind is racing with action. I’m taking notes, looking stuff up, researching my own points in order to challenge the ones in the book, etc. In other words, I am having a blast!
I haven’t been this engaged, excited and active while reading a book in a long time. I largely read for pleasure, so I’ve made the mistake of picking books in my comfort zone. Familiar things. But as far as pleasure goes, I’m having way more fun reading a book I disagree with than I ever did reading books I agree with.
I’ll still read things I agree with, I’m sure. Some books are too good not to read, even if I agree with the conclusion already. But since my reading time is limited, there’s an opportunity cost to every page, and I think that’s going to raise the bar for books I know are already in my comfort zone; fewer will pass the cost/benefit test.
Meanwhile, I can’t wait to read more stuff I think I’ll hate. Besides, it’s always good to challenge your own beliefs and change your mind when the data calls for it, so let’s pop this bubble!