For the Love of Books

It looks like many of us are going to have a lot of time to read on our hands in the immediate future, so I want to talk about books a little bit. Reading is one of the great pleasures of life for me. When I was younger, that mostly mean fiction novels, a great escape from everyday existence. Over the last decade, I mostly read non-fiction on various topics of interest. A lot of self-defence, martial arts and psychology stuff, but also random other books. I go through big gaps where I read no fiction, and then usually I start again when I have a long flight or train ride, and catch up on books series I used to read for a while. Fiction gives me a sense of calm, relaxing pleasure. I can immerse myself in the books world in a way that few other forms of media can match (works for audio books too).

For non-fiction, it’s a little different. I can enjoy the reading itself, and the quality of the writing is a major factor in that, but I get most of my pleasure from the learning aspect of it. The amount of information we can access nowadays is mindbogglingly awesome. The internet is a big part of that, but books are probably still my favourite way to consume knowledge.

So for non-fiction, I can enjoy the reading itself, but more importantly the information. Sometimes it’s learning something new, perhaps about a domain that I have little or no experience in, or sometimes a window into the mind of a high-end expert in a field I have some minor background in. For martial arts, it’s not remotely the same as training with someone, but a genuinely informative book – as opposed to one of the “this is how much of a badass I am”/”this is the gospel of my martial cult” books – from a genuine master of their craft from anywhere in the world is a treasure. For self-defence, good quality information is a huge aspect of it, in the beginning perhaps the most impactful part for personal safety. And it’s something that people used to rely on their instructors for exclusively. Which is fine if you’re lucky enough to have an instructor who knows their stuff, but also makes you vulnerable to misinformation or propaganda, and by default limits you to your teacher’s level of knowledge.

The internet has the opposite problem, there is too much information, and a LOT of it is bad. Like really bad. Of course there are bad books as well, but there are plenty of good ones, and for so many people – myself included – the first step to looking into self-defence and asking the important questions was reading the right books. Frankly, even if you are an instructor looking to make your students safer, you could do a lot worse than picking up a good book on self-defence and including the information in your training.

It’s easy to just read stuff in your area, but if you love learning for it’s own sake, it’s worth picking up books on other areas. There is also a surprising amount of stuff that carries over between specialities, especially on the mindset side.

There are books that, while enjoyable and interesting, fall down a bit on the actionable info part. There are books that have nuggets of information in what is mostly a bunch of mediocrity. My personal pet peeve is when the authors can’t keep themselves from soap-boxing on their politics every three pages – I know the youth of today irritates you, but I got this to read about systems thinking not your views on man-buns buddy… (that was in pretty much the only self improvement book I read that I thought was actively bad).

I don’t set a lot of new years goals (I have a different end-of-year thing I do), this year I have two. One is fitness related, the other one is to finish my non-fiction reading list. The current situation might actually help with that one, small silver lining…

Now I’m a pretty fast reader, and have taken some speed reading classes to improve that further. But since the last time I made any significant progress on that front was a few years back, and to help with my goal, I recently got a new course and am working through that now. It’s interesting, because the method is slightly different to what I had previously learned, and this means initially it’s slowing me down until I get used to it (or not, in which case I’ll stick to my old one). The real benefit I’ve experienced so far is in retention of information and note-taking, both things I’ve wanted to work on.

The book I’m using to practice is also fascinating, and has so far given me one good way to describe something with training I had struggled to put into words, and one really interesting insight into a mental process (yes I’m being vague on purpose, if I get into it I’ll ramble, so I’ll save it for a later post or two). I’ve read a previous book by the same author, which was interesting but really fell down on the actionable info part, so I’m reserving judgement until I finish it.

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