Monday, 07 August 2017

Read a book with me over email.

For the last month, I have been doing a project, an experiment of sorts, and it has been going so well, I am involving more people. If you’d like to do this with me, just email me at francis@invisible.email.

I am reading together with my friends, one-on-one, over email.
That’s it. That’s the idea.

The way we’re doing it is that (1) my friend will pick the book. Then (2) I will send them the first section as a Slack Post, over email (example), with a prompt from me. My friend will then (3) read the section and write a response with some thoughts. Then (4) I will respond with my thoughts. If we want, (5) we can keep the discussion alive as long as we want. When we’re ready, (6) I send over the next section of the book as a separate email.

It’s as simple as that. I do all the “hard” work: buying the Ebooks, moving them to Slack Posts, organizing the email threads. Because it is asynchronous, we can go as fast or as slow as you want. Because I break down books into sections, each reading is very short, fast, easy — averaging one to three minutes! All you have to do is sit back, read, think and write.

Is the reading-together experience beautiful? No. Not as beautiful as paper. But not ugly either. Slack has built a beautiful web reader, and their formatting for Posts is very minimalist, type-forward and elegant. Although they could benefit from a Serif font option, it’s fairly powerful; and most importantly, I believe the company continues to innovate aggressively, so I hope for an even more beautiful future. Unlike Medium, you can even indent!

Is the writing-together experience beautiful? No. Writing beautiful thoughts over email is ugly, there is no way around that yet. But nothing can contaminate the beauty of thought, not even email. And I keep the threads clean.

Is the thinking-together experience beautiful? Yes. This is what is beautiful. This is the reason why you should do this. As our correspondence grows, bridges are built between our minds. This is the most active reading experience you have ever had. You will penetrate the author’s thinking in a way you never thought possible. You will explore your own thinking powerfully. Your voice will be heard as you think aloud.

Reading, writing and thinking together means our moods and daily experience will come into play. Sometimes you’ll feel like debating the author, debating me, being critical. Other times we’ll be dancing together in the poetry, inspiration and serendipity. As it comes, it will come. There is no right way to respond. The interaction is dynamic.

I believe in this experiment. Which, I suppose, discredits my scientific pretensions, because objectivity is compromised. But I believe in this experiment because reading is one of the most powerful ways to seek the truth; and we rarely do it together.

Once upon a time, learned men and women would correspond. They would send each other their own books, their own notes — and ask their friends to write them back, to tell them what they thought. In this way, they would store up their treasures in heaven — the books, the notes, the relationships were all abstract and immaterial goods, that could only be valued by those who treasured the beauty of truth, who sought it with all their heart, soul and strength. Civilization was built — our inheritance of architecture, of art, of literature, of technology, of philosophy—by such as these.

With all of our technology, we have at our disposal the means to outdo them in this, and yet instead our inboxes are full of anything but correspondence. Anything but reading, writing and thinking, together. Our experience with truth is lonely. Without encouragement from each other, we seek the truth less and less. We are less and less passionate, less and less courageous about confronting the experience of being human, of wrestling with the minds who came before, with the minds of our peers, with our own minds; and grasping what is to be grasped of the past, present and future.

Indeed, if technology gives us any leverage at all, we should be able to read, write and think new, different, better, faster, cheaper. I am simultaneously reading 25 different books! Until this experiment I could only read one book at a time.

There are natural directions for this to grow. I will soon be able to automate the actual sending of Ebooks over email. Perhaps I will be able to improve the email discussion thread management and the Slack reader experience. Once I become a bottle-neck, I could begin connect my friends so they begin reading with each other. Maybe a community of readers could form. It is possible for a multi-player mode to emerge from the two-player. Even mailing physical books is an option — a peer-to-peer library of sorts — it would be nice to have a paper companion to the digital correspondence. After all, I need something to do with all of my physical books, and I don’t believe in supporting our library system, or any institution that fails to innovate, for what is ancient is most futuristic.

I could even imagine further, that this act of thinking together would extend to thinking together about more than books; but see my note about other media at the bottom, for a flavor of sentiment.

Already, I have begun to incorporate this into the culture of our team. We are beginning to correspond together, and build these shared points of reference. In this I have to give credit to several of my team members: Corey for championing “the inter-subjective”, Keenahn for championing “doing things for reasons”, Gunar for championing “spiritual wisdom” as something to be valued and cultivated in every member of the team, Kamron for encouraging poetry as an acceptable form of business communication.

A special thanks also goes to Edward for being my first reading companion, and for giving me faith that this interaction model has promise.

I give you my Ebook library. I will read any of these books with you. Furthermore, I will buy and read any Ebook by a dead person — I love it when a friend brings a new classic into my life, this is one of the greatest gifts; so, what am I missing?

I only read the works of the living on special occasions; for example, when I know the person, or after much insistence from a friend. Or, when there is being revealed some truth that could not have been revealed earlier, for example, an insight into the nature of technology.

I am growing this collection as quickly as I can. I hope to eventually own an Ebook for every physical book I have ever owned or read.

Email me your selection, 
and we will begin learning together!

I shall do my best to keep this list up to date.
And will work on providing it as a Google Sheet.

Sorted alphabetically by Author’s First Name:

The Orestia by Aeschylus, Robert Fagles translation

Works by Alan Watts
 — This Is It
 — The Wisdom of Insecurity
 —The Way of Zen
 — The Joyous Cosmology
 — The Book 
 — Nature, Man and Woman 
 — Does It Matter? 
 — Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown
 — Behold the Spirit
 — Become What You Are
 — What is Zen?
 — What is Tao?
 — Tao of Philosophy
 — Still the Mind
 — In My Own Way
 — Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life

The Fall by Albert Camus
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Lost Japan by Alex Kerr
The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, Aubrey De Selincourt translation

Works by Ayn Rand
 — The Fountainhead
 — Atlas Shrugged
 — Anthem

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
The Consolation of Philosophy
by Boethius, Peter Walsh translation
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
The Cheat Code
by Brian Wong

Works by Buckminster Fuller
 — Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth
 — Grunch of Giants
 — Critical Path
 — My Mental Autobiography

Loving What Is by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell
The Red Book
by Carl Jung

Works by C.S. Lewis
 — Weight of Glory
 — Surprised by Joy
 — The Chronicles Of Narnia
 — The Space Trilogy

On War by Carl Von Clausewitz
A Tale Of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
The Habitual Hustler
by Corey Breier
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu and Ken Liu
The Essential Rumi
by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Works by Dan Simmons
Hyperion
 — The Fall Of Hyperion
 — Endymion
 — Rise of Endymion

Works of David Ricardo by David Ricardo
What Computers Still Can’t Do
by Hubert Dreyfus
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
The Art of Living
by Epictetus, translated by Sharon Lebell
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Bonjour tristesse
by Françoise Sagan
Selected Poems and Fragments by Friedrich Hölderlin

Works by Friedrich Nietzsche
 — The Birth Of Tragedy
 — Twilight of Idols and Anti-Christ
 — Thus Spoke Zarathustra
 — Ecce Homo
 — Beyond Good & Evil
 — The Will To Power

Man and Superman and Three Other Plays by George Bernard Shaw
1984
by George Orwell
The Shape of Things to Come
by H.G. Wells
The Gift
by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky
Peer Gynt & Brand by Henrik Ibsen, translated by Geoffrey Hill

Works by Martin Heidegger
 — What Is Called Thinking?
 — The Question Concerning Technology
 — The Turning
 — The Word Of Nietzsche: “God Is Dead”
 — The Age of the World Picture
 — Science and Reflection

Works by Henry David Thoreau
 — 
Walden
 — Civil Disobedience

Fragments by Heraclitus, translated by Brooks Haxton and James Hillman

Works by Herman Hesse
 —Demian
 —
 Narcissus & Goldmund
 — Siddhartha

Works by Homer
 — The Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles
 — The Iliad, translated by Stephen Mitchell
 — The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles
 — The Odyssey, translated by Stephen Mitchell

The Complete Odes and Epodes by Horace
All Things Shining
by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
Use of Weapons
by Iain M. Banks

Works by Isaac Asimov
 — Prelude to Foundation
— Forward the Foundation
 —Foundation
 — Foundation and Empire
 — Second Foundation
 — Foundation’s Edge
 — Foundation and Earth

Collapse by Jared Diamond
How to be the Luckiest Person Alive
by James Altucher

Works by J.R.R. Tolkien
 —The Letters
 —The Silmarillion
The Hobbit
 —The Lord of the Rings
Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth
 — The Children of Húrin
 — The Book of Lost Tales
 — Tales from the Perilous Realm
 — Beren and Luthien
 — Bilbo’s Last Song
 — Letters from Father Christmas
 — Beowulf
 — The Story Of Kullervo
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún
 — The Fall of Arthur

Works by Jack Kerouac
 — The Scripture of the Golden Eternity
 — Big Sur

The Call of the Wild, White Fang and Other Stories by Jack London

Works by John Keats
 — Poetry
 — Plays
 — Correspondence
 — Love Letters

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by Martin Greenberg
Paradise Lost by John Milton
The Acts of Kings Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers
The Gallic War by Julius Caesar
Koans
by Jura
What Technology Wants
by Kevin Kelly
The Prophet
by Khalil Gibran
Notebooks
by Leonardo da Vinci, translated by Thereza Wells
The Successful Mistake by Matthew Turner
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan
The Untethered Soul
by Michael A. Singer
Discipline & Punish
by Michel Foucault
The Complete Essays
by Michel Montaigne, translated by M.A. Screech
Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos
Saviors of God
by Nikos Kazantzakis

Works by Oscar Wilde
 — The Soul of Man Under Socialism
 — Selected Critical Prose

Works by Ovid
 — 
Metamorphoses, translated by David Raeburn
 — Heroides, translated by Harold Isbell
 — The Erotic Poems, translated by Peter Green

Love Poems by Pablo Neruda, translated by Donald D. Walsh
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Zero to One
by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
The Firm, the Market, and the Law by Ronald Coase

Works by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell
 —Letters to a Young Poet
 — The Selected Poetry

The Complete Works by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Iron John
by Robert Bly

Works by Robert Greene
 — The 48 Laws of Power
 — The 33 Strategies of War
 — Mastery

The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

Works by Sigmund Freud
 — Civilization and its Discontents
 — The Psychology of Love

The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles, translated by Robert Fagles
Zen in Plain English
by Stephan Schuhmacher
The Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell
The Second Book of the Tao by Chuang Tzu, t. by Stephen Mitchell
Gilgamesh, translated by Stephen Mitchell
Dropping Ashes on the Buddha by Seung Sahn and Stephen Mitchell
Bhagavad Gita by Stephen Mitchell
The Art of War
by Sun Tzu
The Future of Man
by Tielhard de Chardin
The Once and Future King
by T.H. White
Stories of Your Life and Others
by Ted Chiang
The Four-Hour Body
by Tim Ferris
The Upanishads
by Valerie Roebuck
I Ching
translated by Carl Jung, Van KeLaita and Richard Wilhelm
The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles and Bernard Knox
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Works by Walter Isaacson
 — Steve Jobs
 — Benjamin Franklin

The Rid Veda by Wendy Doniger
The Portable William Blake
by William Blake
The Bible
, NIV translation


Why books, again? 
Of all the forms of media, this is the least popular today.
Surely, we could be thinking-together about a lot of things. 
About Music, about News — and above all, about Movies and TV.
For these are more popular.

I say much of books as a pursuit of truth, does not make them seem desirable — I do not want you just to have a noble, a romantic, draw towards them; I want you to lust after them. For they entertain!

Books beat Movies and TV Shows at their own game; they are entertaining without being vapid, thrilling while substantive. Last year I returned Books to their rightful place as my daily entertainment stable, and Movies and TV Shows to their rightful place, as occasional, once-a-year exceptions. This has been a healthy revenge, and I encourage you to attempt the reversal; and consider why it is so difficult to accomplish.

In this moving of things to their rightful place, I have noticed that I have a desire for what is artistic, and I am more sensitive to that which is entertainment but not art. Art has the quality of revelation, and so we return to it again and again; it transcends the medium to achieve a timelessness. So if I seek Movies, I seek those that are iconic in this way. And I do so with intention. I even make lists in advance, and check them off the lists; instead of getting trapped in an algorithm.

When once one tastes art, and acquires a taste for it, an appetite develops, and grows ever-stronger. This appetite must be cultivated, for it can be so easily sidetracked by lesser things; we get more of what we feed! But once one can tell the difference between the pop books that fill shelves at stores, and the good stuff, the fine wine; well, that is what one wants.

The spirit that moves an artist never seeks to make a derivative work, for the purpose of entertaining. There is no formula. There is a transcending of formula, a moving from the depths. And from this place of inspiration comes the original work — the work that defines the genre. The work that the entertainers imitate and reduce to formula. So the great works can be recognized, they stand apart.

Even as they stand apart — they do not stand alone, they stand together. For that which is greatest is in a conversation; these works speak to each other, and if we listen, we can hear their conversation. These are the whispers of the Wood Between The Worlds; for every book contains a paracosm, even as every individual contains a simulacrum.

Literature achieves beauty and truth; it is entertaining for the same reason that it is profound — it puts you under a spell, but it is a spell cast by Mnemosyne; by the memory, the instant recognition and apprehension we intuitively possess, of that which comes from the depths of the soul, from another like us, from feeling and thought, the spirit that moves, the voice that calls.

I speak also of those who came before, who sought the truth with passion and courage. Did they seek truth alone? Nay, for truth is an aspect of a polygon. They sought the freedom that is the reward of truth; they sought beauty and power and joy— and many other things — like Faust, perhaps some sought for dark purpose. But they all found.

Even in the most dangerous thinking, even the darkest questions, even the most evil words — they are brought into the light when the canon is read as a whole. Dangerous thinking at its best threatens that which is impure in the way things are. But as for evil, what is to be feared is a man who has not read any books, or has only read one book.

Truth is extreme, by nature. Even in its balance and equilibrium, truth is extreme. So it lends itself to the radical, the revolutionary. But it is also dynamic, and organic, sometimes slow, sometimes it takes eons. But as the truth is revealed to mankind through our pursuit and questioning of it, as opposed to our doctrinal capture of it; it cannot be monopolized, even as it is revealed. So these words must come alive inside of us, their thoughts must engage our thoughts — and then we may ask ourselves, “how shall we then live?” What now calls us to think? Who shall we then be? What shall we then do? For ultimately this fire from the gods must be brought down to earth; to make what Camelot we may.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.

καὶ γνώσεσθε τὴν ἀλήθειαν, 
καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς.