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Read one book or many at a time?

Should we read one book or many at a time? I’ll tell you what my experience has been, hoping that it may help you experiment and see what works best for you.

As an English as a second language teenager, I started to read one fiction book after another for many years. That is, I’d read daily, and as soon I finished one book, I’d start the next one.

Fast forward to 2016, when I shared how I was catching up with my book reading. At that time, I said “I have the bad habit of starting to read several books and then taking a long time to finish (I just finished a book that I started to read 3 years ago!)”

Why did I refer to that habit as bad? Because it takes a long time to finish? So what?

I’ve since realized that I can finish reading a book within a timeframe if needed; when I’m in a book club, or taking a course that has deadlines for the reading assignments. For all other books, I just take my time. No need to hurry.

I picked up Tribe of Mentors in 2018, and finished it in 2022! At some point I’ll skim over it again, reflecting on highlights and notes I wrote for the book.

Be always reading

But back to reading many books at a time. I keep doing that. It’s a habit. Not a bad one.

Mark Manson brings up that up as one of his tips on how to read faster: read more than one book at a time.

For the record: I don’t necessarily want to read faster. I want to be always reading.

I try to choose books that are very different from each other; e.g., a technical book and soft skills book.

Sometimes I do end up starting books that turn out to have some overlap. That’s ok; I take note of that, often exploring differences between the different authors’ perspectives, or where they overlap.

What I’m reading at the moment

As I write this post, these are the books I’m actively (daily) reading at the moment:

These are the ones I read a few pages every week:

And this is one I read a few pages every month (I started it in 2017. No rush.):

Whatwhenhow

I’ve been somewhat specific about what time of the day I read each book, and even which format (printed, ebook, audiobook).

The “morning” books are usually the ones I’m reading as part of a book club and I want to take more notes and reflect more on what I read, so I can have better conversations with the groups. I favor printed copies for these.

The “evening” ones are easy-reads that won’t get my mind too engaged with, otherwise, I’m not letting my mind rest while I sleep.

When I’m reading technical books, I favor reading those in the morning, so to stretch my brain, getting it active for the day. Again, I don’t want to feed the mind with complicated stuff right before going to bed; I used to do that, but not anymore.

I have been marking up the book with highlighters and writing notes directly on the pages and on stickies. When I finish the book, I go through it again, processing my notes, connecting them to other thoughts, which helps me wrap up books that take me a while to get through.

A conversation with multiple people

Here’s another way I’ve been thinking about this practice of reading multiple books at a time.

Say we walk into a party, strike conversation with someone, and 15 minutes later realize we couldn’t quite connect. Should we stick talking with that person through the end of the party? Maybe we should thank the person for the chat and politely check out.

Or maybe we did connect with the person and can tell we could easily spend hours chatting, but, we also notice that there are a few more people we’d like to connect with at that party. How about we exchange contact information, write down a few words to remember the context of the conversation, and then go chat with the other people?

We can approach books as conversations with their authors. Start the conversation, and if we’re having a good time, keep it going (or write some thoughts down and come back to it later).

But if it’s dragging and we feel it’s going nowhere, put… it… down!

We do NOT have to finish every book we start.

Sometimes I do feel like giving up on a book, but if it was highly recommended, I may stick with it a little longer, asking myself why I’m not enjoying it: is it the author’s tone, their analogies with which I can’t connect, too many points I heavily disagree with?

Whatever the case, I may find out I am the problem, and can think of ways to change my perspective in how I’m approaching my reading of such book.

So be always talking to many people. Be always reading.

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Favorite Books I’ve Read in 2022

Here are my favorites books read in 2022, in no particular order.

A Complaint Free World

In 2022, Improving has started a company-wide initiative called Come Together to “bring Improvers closer, no matter the distance.” Each month had a theme; for instance, January was wellbeing), and April was spirituality. For the latter, one Improver decided to extend the experience by running a book club, and the book chosen was Will Bowen’s A Complaint Free World. That book had been on my radar for a while, so I was glad to join the club.

The book has made me rethink some things:

  • Criticism and sarcasm? Both are a form of complaint.
  • Venting out frustrations? Not a great thing to do.
  • Yelling at an automated voice system? Not great, either, bud.

I took lots of notes and will likely condense some of them into a blog post. For now, here’s one of my favorite quotes on the book:

The squeaky wheel may get the grease. But if it squeaks too much, it ends up getting replaced.

The Untethered Soul

As we wrapped up the book club on A Complaint Free World, the group enjoyed it so much we decided we wanted to run another club on a similar group. After tossing some ideas around, we’ve landed on Michael A. Singer’s The Untethered Soul.

Easy read. I finished it quickly. We’re taking it easy with the book club, having the meetings without rushing it.

I’m glad we’ve picked up this book after the previous one, as it helped me look at similar ideas through different perspectives.

Chapter 12, Taking down the walls, is my absolute favorite. I could see that chapter turned into a movie. Or at least that’s how effective the author was at making me visualize what his words describe.

I wish I could draw that visualization. Since I can’t, I’ll drop an image here to remind me of it.

Atomic Habits

I started reading James Clear’s blog posts a few years before Atomic Habits was published. Some of his posts on identity building and related topics resonated with me, I followed some of his tips, and it made a difference. I read the book as soon as it came out, and it was a great refresher for the content I had already consumed. I either gifted or recommended the book to many people, and a good number of them came back to say they loved it.

Then, a group of Improvers showed interest in reading the book. What do we do then? Book club!

This was one of my favorite book clubs. We had a nicely-sized group, with folks joining from many of our offices.

It was great to hear about the habits different people were trying to either stop or start, their challenges, and also see some us getting teaming up as accountability partners.

Going through the book again while discussing it with such an engaged group of people was absolutely great.

And as it has become a tradition: we’ve wrapped up the club with many of us giving lightning talks to share our main takeaways, offered to another group of Improvers who were interested in hearing it.

Telling you, Improvers are a different breed. It’s part of our culture.

How to Live

How to Live was one of my favorite books in 2021:

It has been only 2 months or so since I’ve read the book, and I’m planning on reading it again very soon

And I did. I started on January 1st.

The 2nd time through was even better. I highlighted different passages, wrote down new notes on old passages, pondered more.

I’ll drop here two of my favorite passages.

On Learning

Teaching and learning are telepathy.
We can connect across oceans and centuries.
Words written by someone long ago and far away can penetrate your mind.
Share what you learn so it can be received by others, even when you are long gone.

On Making Memories

To enjoy your past is to live twice.
Nostalgia is memories minus the pain.
Turn your experiences into stories.

Last year I’ve also run into this great interview with Derek, in which at some point he talks about How to Live. I enjoyed listening because he helped me visualize some points I had missed when I read the book.

Anything You Want

Another re-read. Another one by Derek Sivers. I got an email letting me know the 3rd edition of Anything You Want – 40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur was out. I remember I enjoyed reading the 1st edition several years ago, so I figured it was a good time to revisit it. Also, I love Derek’s writing style and approach to book publishing, so I support him and hope he keeps putting out great content.

This book is a very quick read, filled with great gems. Here’s a couple of my favorites:

Starting with no money is an advantage. You don’t need money to start helping people.

And this one:

Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.

How to Write One Song

Up until I’ve read this book, I don’t think the following words had ever come out of my mouth: “I’m a songwriter”, despite having written many songs.

An Improver mentioned this book to me and I decided to check it out. As I read through it, I thought “hey, I’ve been doing most of those things for years!” So there, I am a songwriter!

Reading the book and trying out some of the techniques was a fun. A few lyrics for my most recent song, “From a Distance”, came out of that.

Since many Improvers ask me about my songwriting process, I created and taught a 3-hour class last year to teach them, focusing on writing lyrics, with some of the activities borrowed from this book. That was a ton of fun! One of the attendees took on the challenge and wrote his own lyrics for “From a Distance“, and we’ll be co-creating a Part 2 for that class, to share with others the lessons we both learned: him writing his first lyrics, and me getting to see my own creation interpreted and heard through a different perspective.

How to be Perfect

I got a little bit obsessed about the TV Series The Good Place. To this date, I watched its 4 seasons 3 times!

A comedy show that talks about philosophy? Does that work? Well, that one worked for me. And its series finale is my favorite one to date.

When I heard that the show’s creator, Michael Schur, was publishing a book to talk what he learned about philosophy and how he used it in the show, I knew I had to read it. I did, and enjoyed it.

My favorite part about the book is the author’s take on happiness and flourishing:

I prefer “flourishing,” because that feels like a bigger deal than “happiness.” We’re talking about the ultimate objective for humans here, and a flourishing person sounds like she’s more fulfilled, complete, and impressive than a “happy” person. There are many times when I’m happy, but I don’t feel like I’m flourishing, really.

Here’s Michael Schur’s “How Ethics Can Help You Make Better Decisions” TED Talk, where he goes over what triggered him to look into philosophy and eventually creating a TV show about it. Fascinating how we can turn our experiences around and make great things out of it.

Specification by Example

This book have been on my radar for a long time. I recommend it to anybody interested in Behavior-Driven Development, Given-When-Then (aka, Gherkin), and related practices.

The Design of Everyday Things

The book Badass: Making Users Awesome was among my favorites both in 2020 and 2021. Lessons learned from the book and applied to my work even inspired me to create a new “UX for Devs” type of talk (here’s a link to a recent presentation).

That book had also recommended several other books, and I decided to pick one of them next: The Design of Everyday Things. And guess what we did at Improving? Yup, book club!

Great attendance and great mix: half of the attendees were developers (including two devs from my own team), and the other half were UX designers. This mix was perfect for different perspectives and experiences to be shared. Having some of my teammates participate was also excellent, as we got to practice lessons learned together, building a common vocabulary, and sharing with the rest of our team.

I took a ton of notes on this one and keep going back to them to further refine my thoughts on what I learned.

Denny Kruep, one of my teammates who participated in the book club, will be presenting lessons learned from his perspective: Improving Software Design with Everyday Things. This is a free virtual talk happening January 18th, at 12pm CSTClick here to register and know more.

The Inner Game of Tennis

This is a great book, not just for those who play tennis; its lessons are valuable to anybody who wants to learn anything, and also to those who enjoy teaching others.

I’ve been playing tennis once a week for a couple of years now, as well as riding my motorcycle at the track almost every weekend. I’m applying lessons I’ve learned from this book to both sports and seeing good results. It’s also making me rethink how I normally teach and coach others, not just in sports, but on anything, really.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

I’d guess a lot of people do and a lot people don’t pick up this book because of its title. I’m not generally offended by language used like that, so I had to pick up this book after getting a good number of recommendations for it.

In nutshell: this book is about deciding what to care about. That simple.

And I like the humor.

Here’s a good video summary by the author himself. Disclaimer: Mark Mason does drop F-bombs.

Working Effective with Legacy Code

I’ve read this book when it first came out and have been recommending it to several developers over the years. I felt a need to read the book again and decide whether I should keep recommending it. Short answer: yes.

And how did I do it? You guessed it right: book club!

The book has aged well for the most part, which speaks a lot to a programming book published so long ago.

Many lessons have stuck with me after all these years and I still apply the techniques almost on a daily basis. Some had been internalized so deeply I forgot I had picked up from this book.

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