Reflections on my Reading Journey from a 23-year-old Tech Nerd

This year, I transformed myself into a regular non-fiction reader, reading 21 books all for $0. This was quite a feat considering I read maybe 15 books for pleasure/educational reasons in the past 4 years combined (granted I was doing a good amount of reading for school). I’ve learned a lot through the process as well as the books I chose to read, which ranged from self-help bestsellers to autobiographies by my favorite comedians to entrepreneurship books.

For those looking to set a reading goal for 2019, here are 4 key lessons and thoughts.

Screenshot from my Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge

Experiment to perfect your very own reading habits

Building good habits is hard (easier if you read The Power of Habit), and I knew the classic “reading before bed” shenanigan wouldn’t work with my strong sleep inclinations. So, I decided my first attempt to become a regular reader would be changing my commuting routine, during which I normally would scroll social media and listen to music. My weekday commute in SF adds up to ~40 minutes/day, and I also thought I would learn to read on an ad-hoc basis while riding public transit at other times. I executed the plan well for the first few months, but then ended up losing steam when I started WFH and biking more often. So, I tried to incorporate reading around mild exercise activities (keystone habits)— like reading and walking around Golden Gate Park on the weekends and reading while stretching or doing physical therapy — versus just my commute. This approach of building reading habits around relaxation rewards was more successful for me.

Reading should be done primarily for enjoyment and learning rather than accomplishment.

I know this might seem fairly obvious and also counterintuitive to setting a reading goal, but this was something I struggled to balance. When I started, I set a BHAG (“Big Hairy Audacious Goal” — from Built to Last) of reading 26 books, which I arbitrarily chose as a feasible goal of reading 1 book every 2 weeks (doesn’t seem too audacious right? ha I was wrong). Even though I executed fairly well on the commute and relaxation habits I described previously, and also read a fair amount on vacations, plane rides, and other occasions, I fell short of my goal (21/26 books). A few months before the end of the year when I realized I was not on pace to meet the goal, I had a choice to make — do I try to crank out a bunch of shorter books, or do I stick to my reading list and try to commit more time? I thought back to my original intentions, and realized I should prefer quality over quantity of books. I ended up taking more away from my last 6 books than my first 15 combined, taking more breaks while reading to reflect and also voluntarily reading more outside of my habit loops.

Curating a Good List — Read books recommended and written for a specific purpose.

When I first put together my reading list for the year, I can’t remember exactly what I searched, but I started Googling things like “best non-fiction books for entrepreneurs” and “best books about ed-tech”, and then cross referenced best sellers from various lists. I also looked at Obama’s reading list from 2017, added Jeff Bezos’ two most influential books (Remains of the Day and Built to Last), and took recommendations from various friends, family members, colleagues, and my monthly corporate book club. Overall, I found that I had a greater chance (100%) of enjoying and learning from books recommended to me for specific reasons versus books I pulled from lists (~50%/50%). For example, my mom recommended Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime for a (paraphrasing) “comedic and fascinating historical portrayal of growing up in South Africa under Apartheid”, and Jeff Bezos said he learned about regret from Remains of the Day. I enjoyed both of these books much more than Wishful Drinking from Obama’s list, and Weapons of Math Destruction from my Google searches related to ed-tech. That’s not to say that I haven’t had good takeaway lessons from books I’ve pulled from lists (The Third Wave is one such example where I’d recommend for a historical analysis of AOL and commentary on factors required for the First (i.e. AOL, Microsoft), Second (i.e. Facebook, Google, Amazon), and Third Wave (i.e. Uber/Lyft, IoT related companies) of technology companies to succeed) — however, they can be hit or miss. I’ve drastically improved my ability to find good books mostly from discussing with others and keeping a running list. My list currently includes Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Becoming (pumped for this! hopefully better than Barack’s reading list), 12 Rules for Life, Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, Sam Walton, The Personal MBA, The Lean Startup, From the Corner of the Oval, Catching the Big Fish, The Fish that Ate the Whale (fish metaphors are trendy apparently?), The Micronutrient Miracle, Seth Siegel’s new book: Troubled Water: Why Our Drinking Water is Getting More Contaminated — and What It’s Doing to Us, and books by Joan Dideon (referenced in Abbi Jacobson’s book) — all but 1 recommended for specific reasons.

Frugal reading is possible (for $0 if necessary!)

Before this year, I can’t remember ever owning a library card (except for maybe elementary school?). My roommate, a library connoisseur, thankfully helped me out with my cluelessness; however, since she’s more of a printed copy gal, I did have to do a bit of research to figure out my best frugal eBook approach. Luckily, the San Francisco Public Library system has an app (adding to the list of little things that make me love San Francisco!) called Libby, and it integrates with your Kindle account to download eBook and audiobook rentals from various libraries. The only downsides are 1) some books are not available, and 2) managing holds and checkouts requires quite the task management skills, and 3) sometimes, you have to wait up to 8 weeks for a book. I’ve debated getting a Kindle Unlimited subscription and/or Audible subscription, but I think for now I’ll stick with my frugal approach!

Closing Remarks

Aspiring to improve my reading has been a fruitful new year’s resolution (apparently those do exist). For 2019, I plan to continue to refine. For starters — in line with the first 2 lessons around habits and reading intentions— I’m not going to set an exact quantity goal. Rather, I’ll metric myself based on lessons learned (snappy sentence per book + better annotations) and habits grown (1–2 more + better success with existing habits) — though I think achieving over 50 books next year would be an accomplishment (gotta set BHAGs, right Jim Collins?). I’ll stick with my reading while lightly exercising and while commuting habits, and I’m also going to try adding a weekly habit of reading for 1–2 hours on a certain weeknight and/or weekend.

The progress from 2018 was just a first step in my reading journey — there’s always room to improve. I’m aspiring to up my note taking, list curating, and habit creating games for 2019, and I’ve got some ideas to get started including 1) Kindle notes and annotations 2) joining more book clubs, 3) becoming more active on Goodreads, and 4) garnering more book recommendations from various circles. So, I’d love to hear any recommendations you have, and also I’d love to hear your thoughts and learn from your reading journey! Thanks for reading/suffering through my reflections — I hope some of it was useful, and happy reading to you all for 2019 🤓😝.