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Maladaptive Browsing for Books

June 30, 2018

Author: Bianca Yang
Email: ipacifics@gmail.com

This post is connected to my previous one on browsing and diving deep.

Every so often, I’ll feel a strong urge to look smart by reading some books. At this point, even though I have an entire browser window filled with Google searches of various books I think I should read, I’ll start browsing Reddit and HackerNews for book recommendations. This search for new books is time-consuming, because I almost immediately start filtering books by their names or my prejudices against certain authors or certain topics and will spend more time trying to find “perfect” books to replace all the ones I didn’t think were good enough.

By the time I’m done browsing, I’ve added some ridiculous number of tabs to my browser full of books I think I should read (some day). And with the number of tabs now well over 30, I’ve started to feel tempted to use summary tools like gatesnotes or Wikipedia to clean up my reading list.

Using a summary tool to replace reading books is a bad move because it trivializes the gains made from reading an entire book. The author has deliberately used the entire space of the book to make their point. You will likely spend as much effort acting like you know about a book you haven’t really read as you will on reading the tome. Summary authors may also present information incorrectly or out of context, causing you to have a flawed understanding of the author’s point. Also, what are you so rushed to do that you can’t set aside 15 minutes to an hour each day to read a book? You don’t have to finish every book you read. Read 20 pages and then dump it if you feel so inclined. Reading is an intellectual pleasure that should be carefully savored so you get the maximum benefit of an improved model of the world and improved mental state.

The proper ways to use a summary tool are to jog your memory of a book you’ve already read or to give you a sense of whether you’d be interested in reading the full book. To be clear, my gripe with summary tools are when people use them as replacements for reading the entire book. You cannot claim to understand the book when you haven’t read the entire thing. Even if you’ve read the entire thing, how do you know you’ve actually understood it? That’s a question for another post. For now, I hope you’ll go find some time to curl up with a good book and open your mind to the possibilities of the written word.