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🦊 Reading Slowly, Savoring the Journey
Quick Brown Fox #53 - Why reading fewer books can be more fulfilling.
Over the past year, I’ve struggled to read as many books as usual. Part of the issue, expectedly, is due to exhaustion from the pandemic and lockdowns. I don’t have as much energy to read as I used to. But I think the biggest factor is that I’m creating more, and thus have less time for consumption in general. When I reframe it that way, I’m not as peeved about the count of books I’ll have read at the end of the year.
I’ve also been trying to immerse myself more into the few books I do read, rather than just trying to get through them. This means that some books can take me up to a year or more (reading it on-and-off) to finish. I’m learning to be okay with that.
There are lots of reasons why taking your time with a book can be beneficial. For starters, some books are designed in such a way that you’ll naturally want to go in and out of them. Austin Kleon recently wrote about this, describing the contrast between books that suck you in and books that spin you out:
Some books are so enjoyable you want to savor them like a delicious meal. You don’t want them to end — you want to stretch their joy over a longer timespan. A great book feels like a good friend to me, and in that sense I usually want our friendship to last as long as possible (and to revisit it again and again, by re-reading the book).
The main downside of this approach is that I have been sharing less about the books I'm reading. This is because I've typically only shared books once I’ve finished them (I have an ongoing Twitter thread of books I've read each year as well as favorites from each year on my Bookshelf). On the surface, finishing a book seems like a reasonable filter for what we share — we want to ensure we get the full picture of the book before trying to draw conclusions from it. But many books aren't designed to be finished right away. Some are highly transformational, and they impact you from chapter one. It takes time to work through them. In these cases, I think it makes a ton of sense to share what you're learning along the way.
The best books are a vehicle for transformation, not just a capsule of information.
In the spirit of working in public, I’m going to start sharing more about books I’m currently reading (starting with today’s newsletter!). My hope is that it will encourage me to think about feelings and takeaways early in the book (and, if there aren’t any, giving myself permission to drop it and move on). Additionally, it will make it easier to discover peers who are also reading the book, or have been waiting for a sign to finally give it a go.
Let’s savor the journey of books, not just the destination.
I started this book at the beginning of the year, and was so blown away by the first chapter that I had to put it down to reflect for a while. Watts presents his ‘theory of everything’, and it is quite a proposition to ponder. The premise of this book is the singular book Alan Watts would want to give his children to educate them on how to think about life. I’m waiting to rebuild the energy needed to come back to this one.
I’ve been absorbing Watts’ wisdom in a variety of formats — his perspectives are so profound, while also being highly applicable to one's daily life. I shared earlier that I think this is going to be the year of Watts for me, but it will likely take me many years to absorb even a small portion of his works. Personally, I find that the best way to absorb Watts’ works isn’t to read and study them in detail. Instead, listen to his lectures in audio format, and let them simmer in your mind. You can find many of them for free on YouTube, in podcasts, or purchase collections of them on alanwatts.org.
The thing I love most about Alan Watts is that even when tackling heavy topics, he brings a sense of lightness and humor that makes it so enjoyable. My favorite example of this is hearing him tell the fable of the horses. It’s an incredible story with a powerful lesson, made even more special by his narration. It just hits different.
I first purchased this book years ago, and finally came back to it this year. It’s a beautifully bound book (shown below is a lovely new edition from the wonderful folks at Stripe Press, including illustrations and hand-written annotations from Jordan). It contains the journal entries of Jordan Mechner, as he embarked on the multi-year journey of writing the historic game Prince of Persia. Much like Hundred Rabbits’ book of journals from their sailing journey around the world, this is no ordinary journal collection. Each entry is concise, and together they tell a gripping story of Jordan’s illustrious life.
Aside from my nostalgic interest (I loved playing the game growing up), what drew me to the book was the creative lessons to be learned from Jordan. Not only was he working with tight creative constraints (he wrote the game in the late 80s, for an aging Apple II platform), but he designed and implemented the entire game himself. This brought countless delays, obstacles, ups and downs. But the results paid off — it turned out to be one of the greatest games ever made. At the time of its release in 1989, no game had ever delivered an experience with such smooth animation and compelling control. It was in a league of its own.
Jordan’s attention to detail and love of the craft is incredibly inspiring.
He embodies a lot of the principles I’ve always strived toward in my own software development. When you care about the little things, your users notice, and they actually feel different while using your product. It’s an amazing thing. This is best demonstrated in one of his entries from 1986, where he looks at the PC version of his prior hit game, Karateka. He had built the game for Apple machines, and was review the work from another team who was converting it over to PC:
July 31, 1986
Just looked at the “final” version PC Karateka. It seemed OK, I guessed, except for overall sluggishness, frequent disk accesses, and a few minor graphics glitches. Then I booted up the Apple version to compare… and it was so smooth it made me want to cry.
The PC version is maybe 50% of what it should be. I can’t even tell these guys what to fix… it’s a million little things, and they’re just not up to the hassle. That kind of attention to detail is why the Apple version took me two years. This version is probably the best I’ll ever get out of them.
Oddly enough, this makes me more psyched to do the new game. It reminded me why I’m good at this — of what I can do that others can’t, or won’t.
Details matter. You can differentiate yourself (and your creations) by the love and care you put in.
Every time I pick up this book, I smile. Jordan became a prodigy of sorts at a very young age — building a successful game that preceded PoP while also writing screenplays. His journals are incredibly concise, yet convey the emotional rollercoaster of his life during this period. I’ve read about a third of the book so far, and am savoring each and every entry.
I had a lot of fun doing this written interview with Erik Jones, who posed some excellent questions about my creative process. I shared thoughts on how I got started with illustration, my creative process, tools I use, favorite art I’ve made, artists that inspire me most, and advice I’d give to those looking to get started with visual creativity. There’s a lot that I was able to share — I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I think you’ll enjoy the read!
Copying Unlocks Creativity — Great thread by Dr. Neil Cohn on how copying others’ drawings is actually one of the best ways to learn and unlock creativity. Most recently, I bought one of Peter de Seve’s sketchbooks and redrew some of his characters, adding color on top of them. It was an educational exercise, and inspired me to keep going. Don’t be afraid to copy (for learning)!
A Masterpiece of Mughal Art — This is an incredible article, both in its content as well as its presentation. It takes you through the story of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and weaves the tapestry of cultures and influences in the Mughal art forms (including their famously intricate miniature art).
Birds Make You as Happy as Money — After conducting surveys with 26,000 adults across 26 European countries, researchers concluded that “diversity in nature, especially of birds, had the greatest influence on people’s moods.” I talk a lot about how much I love listening to the birds in my backyard and on walks (even wrote an essay on it — Missing the Trees for the Forest), so I certainly don’t need additional motives. But it’s great to see data backing the intuition of how much we value closeness to nature.
Tiny Bookstore — Love the concept behind this book store in Tokyo called Morioka Shoten. “It sells only one book; more precisely, multiple copies of one title that changes weekly, with a small book-inspired art exhibition on the walls.”
Until next time,