I was scrolling through Facebook early this morning when I stumbled across an article shared by BBC Culture. I Immediately tapped on the heading and began reading. In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books – I had my suspicions of course that the article title was simply click bait and once I’d skimmed through it I would soon realise that the very details which allowed the writer to read 200 books in a year would not apply to myself nor anyone else. It turns out that reading 200 books in one year (assuming they’re books of only around 50,000 words) takes less time (417 hours) than the average American spends on social media (608 hours) and much less than they spend watching TV (1642 hours).
Those statistics are incredible. Is this the slow death of our intelligence and rational capacity? Will our attention spans soon be so short that getting through an entire book won’t be possible? I’ve been deeply concerned and somewhat derailed by the world’s current events and confused about mine and our place in it. I’ve spent a great deal of time since the US election thinking about the future of our world, both the future of our physical environment and the future of the citizens within it.
Book sales for Orwell’s 1984 have sky rocketed in recent weeks, but the author of this article claims there is a book even more important dystopian novel that deserves our attention – Huxley’s Brave New World.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”
I have the same fears about our culture and the same fears for myself. I woke Saturday morning feeling rather worse for wear from what had been a more eventful evening than planned. I immediately noticed on waking that my phone was missing from it’s usual spot beside my bed. I was deeply concerned about this. The thought that I had dropped my phone or left it in a bar somewhere filled me with dread – my life, I thought, is on the phone. I regretted the evening and I regretted this almost as much. I searched my entire apartment, panicked that I had lost it. Eventually finding it hiding in my bedsheets where I no doubt had dropped it before I slept.
The truth is, my life isn’t on that phone – there is nothing on it that truly deserves my attention – while occasionally convenient, the majority of time I spend on it is unnecessary. My health is the only truly important thing, the health and happiness of my family and friends – the way we treat others and our planet – how we spend our time – the way we connect – how we prepare for our future – those are the things that are important. I’m confused, like many others, that we can be spending so many hours staring at screens (or on things targeted for immediate gratification) that are giving us such little in return.
I’m determined to know more about our world, where we come from, how we got here and where we are going. I can’t help but think that those answers are in bookstores and libraries and not in likes, tweets or Instagram posts.
The most successful people agree. Oprah Winfrey said “Books were my path to personal freedom,” she even claimed that reading is the strongest signal for success. Yes, the strongest signal. Warren Buffet said “Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” Most of us have heard of Mark Zuckerberg’s Year of Books in which he read a book every second week, Mark Cuban spends 3 hours a day reading and Bill Gates reads 50 books a year. When people ask Elon Musk how he learned to build rockets, “I read books,” is his response.
“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”
These aren’t cherry picked examples and quotes to conveniently prove the point however – science backs it up – the wealthiest people in the world educate themselves by reading.
For someone whose lifetime ambition is to be a writer, it’s hard to imagine I’ll get there by scrolling through Facebook incessantly and only spending a couple of hours a week reading. In the words of Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” It’s not just writers who benefit from reading, how can any of us figure out the world and our place in it without books? How will we approach the future if we know so little about the past?
I’m not planning to quit social media. I still want to jump onto Facebook once-in-a-while and have a brief catch-up with what my friends are doing. I want to be informed, but not overwhelmed, I want to know more not less. I want my attention span to be longer, not shorter, my thoughts to be considered, my mind to be present and my arguments to be sound.
So here I find myself sitting in my apartment surrounded by books with another idea.
By next Lunar New Year, which occurs on February the 16th, I’ll have read one hundred books. Some for education, some for inspiration, some for entertainment and all of which to, hopefully, improve my understanding of the world.
I aim to read fiction and non-fiction, classics and best-sellers, be it history, self-improvement, comedy or tragedy.
Why one-hundred? Simple math. The books I read are generally much longer than 50,000 words and one-hundred to me is the perfect challenge – I could fail, but I could achieve it too.
To reach my goal I’m setting aside time each morning and evening to read. I’m avoiding aimless scrolling through social media. My computer will now live on my desk rather than my coffee table, my phone’s apps have been placed in a folder to make them that little bit harder to reach and I’ve logged out of my social media accounts to force me to pause before indulging.
So far I’ve compiled a list of the books currently sitting unread in my apartment – but I need more. What book would you take to a desert island? What book has inspired you, or made you look at the world a little differently? I’d love some recommendations.
The list (so far)
1. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
2. A little Life by Hanya Yanagihara ✔
3. The monk who sold his Ferrari by Robin S. Sharma ✔
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
7. On Writing by Stephen King
8. Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan ✔
9. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury ✔
10. The Moaning of Life by Karl Pilkington ✔
11. Synchro Destiny by Deepak Chopra
12. I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
13. The Power of Intention by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
14. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
15. Better than Fiction edited by Don George
16. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
17. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
18. 1Q84 by Hakura Murakami
19. Marlborough Man by Alan Scott
20. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway ✔
21. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley ✔
22. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan ✔
23. The Vegetarian by Han Kang ✔
24. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
25. The People and the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
26. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
27. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
28. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
29. The Law of Attraction by Abraham Hicks ✔
30. The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Signer
31. What Got You There Won’t Get You Here by Marshal Goldsmith
32. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
33. The Silk Thief by Deborah Challinor
34. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
35. Augustus by John Williams
36. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
37. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
38. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
39. One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
40. Perfume by Patrick Suskin
41. Tribes by Seth Godin
42. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vanyerchuk
43. Contagious: Why things catch on by Jonah Berger
44. Influence: The psychology of persuasion by Robert Cialdini
45. Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
46. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
47. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
48. How Not To Die by Dr McGregor
49. Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
50. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis ✔
51. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
52. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield ✔
53. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
54. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
55. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
56. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
57. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
58. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
59. Animal Farm by George Orwell
60. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
61. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
62. The Stand by Stephen King
63. The Shining by Stephen King
64. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
65. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
66. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
67. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
68. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larrson
69. The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
70. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
71. The China Study by Thomas Campbell
72. The Blue Zones Solution by Dan Buettner
73. The Gerson Therapy by Charlotte Gerson
74. The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham
75. Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Merchant
76. As A Man Thinketh by James Allen
77. The Diving Bell an the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
78. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
79. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
80. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krauker
81. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou
82. Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel
83. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
84. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
85. Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A Milne ✔
86: The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra ✔
87: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami ✔
88: Macbeth by Shakespeare ✔
89: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson ✔
90: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The irony that I found my inspiration on social media and am asking for recommendations on the same platform is not lost on me – the solution is often within the problem.
Until next time,