You’re invited: a project for the next quarter-century!

Today marks the first day of my second quarter-century! To celebrate, I’m inviting friends (+ Romans and countrymen) to read and/or do something new together. Below is a list of 20 books + 5 habits I’m hoping to get started on, and I would love for you to join for any or all.

How to join:

  • Read this post for details and context
  • Select a few books and/or habits to take on
  • Fill out this Form to let me know what you’re interested in
  • Stay tuned!
Early in my first quarter-century, I developed a commitment to independent thinking with the help of a classic children’s game, “Penguin Says” (4th birthday, 1996)

THE BASICS

What?
I’m asking you — family, friends, friends of friends, followers, fans, etc. — to sign up to read and/or commit to something new with me. Ideally, we’ll find interesting ways to share what we’re learning and doing, and the list of books + habits started here will grow over time.

Admittedly, many of the mechanics are still up in the air, but a few examples of potential outcomes/activities include: new topics for your everyday conversations (guaranteed), mountaintop book discussions (likely), achieving immortality (possible).

Why? (2 truths and a lie style)

  1. I’m a firm believer that, like breaking bread or riding a tandem bike, engaging with new ideas of significance and attempting self-improvement are activities better done with company.
  2. Having participated in my fair share of failed book clubs and new hobbies, I am eager to find better ways to learn and grow with people I like.
  3. My social network is overwhelmingly abuzz with the leaders of tomorrow clamoring to read The Great Books (and other great books) together.

When?
Never one for hard and fast deadlines, I’ve decided to make the timeframe for this project overall a blend of aspirational, achievable, and arbitrary. This lands us somewhere between 18 months from today and the turn of my next quarter-century for completion.

We’ll have shorter-term goals in the interim, with the specific schedule being driven in large part by people’s responses. Within the next two weeks (before 1/25), I’ll report back on the first book we’ll start, any early attempts at these new habits, a few reflections on your responses, and the plan for what’s ahead.

How?
Lots TBD here, but the first step is gauging interest! Take a look at the list of books and habits below, then fill out this Form to let me know if you’d like to participate in some way.

I’m hopeful (though only clooooose to certain) that there will be a nonzero number of people that join — but in case you’re on the fence, consider this a final assurance from me to you that it’s going to be epic.


BOOKS

As mentioned above, endless possibilities for what’s to come!

With an ever-growing personal reading list, assembling this one was an exercise in narrowing, rather than expanding, the field of interest. I’ve started with four categories of books that I think will lend themselves to this kind of experiment:

  1. Long, complex books that will be far more enjoyable if read and discussed with others (classics or intimidating texts that I think require shared reflection)
  2. Books by or about influential philosophers/thinkers that many of us probably know only little about (101 intro texts for a number of individuals whose contributions will be fun to learn more about)
  3. Science, sci-fi, and technology-related books that will help make sense of the world we’re living in or give us tools/vocabulary to imagine alternatives (a few of the most recent or most noteworthy texts on scientific topics and themes that many of us don’t encounter in our day-to-day lives)
  4. Favorites I’m eager to re-read and share with friends (not much more to it!)

Within each category, there’s a bit of context and my initial thoughts on sequencing. As mentioned above, I’ll determine the real schedule based on a careful compromise between people’s preferences and my life schedule.

For guidance, each title has an estimated total reading length in parentheses (based on an average reading speed and a tool from our friends at http://www.readinglength.com/).

Long, complex books that will be far more enjoyable if read and discussed with others: I’ve wanted to read a number of these for a while but haven’t found the time (an excuse that could forever lead to avoiding the dense Russian literature I do, in fact, want to read!), and others are newer additions. Be forewarned that these will likely require the most substantial time commitment, though we can pace reasonably. I’m inclined to start with Pagden (especially as ‘post-truth’ theories re-open some seemingly-settled questions about Enlightenment values) or Parfit…but am excited to jump into any of them.

Books by or about influential philosophers/thinkers that many of us probably know only little about: This section could be at least 100x longer, but these are top of my list at the moment. I’ll probably suggest starting with the book on Montaigne (written by an author whose most recent book on existentialist thinkers was one of my favorites of 2016) or Arendt (whose societal role as a philosopher and observer feels particularly interesting today).

Science, sci-fi, and technology-related books that will help make sense of the world we’re living in or give us tools/vocabulary to imagine alternatives: Hopefully these will have a different sort of explanatory power than most of the fiction or philosophy above. The selections here cover a range of topics (artificial intelligence, basic quantum theory, modern physics) but should all be very accessible to non-scientists. I would be equally happy to start with any but am likely to try to cover Bostrom in the first few months of the year.

Favorites I’m eager to re-read and share with friends: From top to bottom…recent favorite book, favorite Shakespeare play, favorite childhood book, first favorite philosophical text, and favorite middle school book. Amped to revisit all of these and will probably encourage Hesse on the earlier side.


HABITS

See habit 2— competing impulses of “the climber” and “the counter” !

I originally planned to include only books (which would’ve given me room for 5 more on the list!) but ultimately felt that including habits could make the project more accessible for many and more meaningful for all. For each habit, I’ve tried to articulate its broadest form, rather than any specific expression, so that people can opt in to the habit without necessarily building it in the exact way I plan to. I have a couple of early ideas about how to work toward each but hope to see if people try out different approaches or sub-goals.

  • Increase production:consumption ratio (of content and knowledge)
    Like most people, I consume a ton of content (podcasts, books, movies, snapchats, etc.) but produce much less. In light of that, I was recently struck by this quote from Emerson, which felt like a wake-up call: “Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books.” Lest I become meek or a young man like those described, I am going to try to produce/create more myself, starting with more frequent writing and re-learning basic laws of electricity through drawing circuits.
  • Privilege “climbing” over “counting” in fitness endeavors
    As illustrated in the cartoon above, there are different ways of approaching fitness, exercise, and physical challenges. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call the two pictured here “the climber” (motivated by getting to the summit) and “the counter” (motivated by crushing the game on Fitbit). While both approaches have their merits and are better than staying off the mountain altogether, it feels easy today to get lost in the metrics of “the counter” at the expense of the joy and wonder of being “the climber.” And yet, among the many benefits of regular exercise (what up endorphins!), perhaps the most valuable is the ability it gives you to take on new adventures. While still participating in workout classes and bootcamps aplenty, I’m going to be more deliberate about seeking out fitness challenges that evoke “the climber” in me, starting with signing up for the GranFondo cycling event in September and figuring out which of the seven summits to climb next!
  • Volunteer in a more sustained way for something that matters
    Since graduation, I’ve dabbled with various organizations and social change opportunities but haven’t found a steady, meaningful volunteer or community-building role. This seems to be a common phenomenon for friends and colleagues, many of whom had more significant service commitments as students. I will continue to explore opportunities within the specific communities I care about and will join Crisis Text Line, a 24/7 text hotline for people in crisis, as a crisis counselor later this year. Learn more about their organization/impact and how to volunteer here.
  • Consistently identify and integrate new religious, spiritual, or mental practices
    This is a habit I’m already pretty good about, but that I love so much it’s worth naming and promoting here. Whether learning to meditate daily, constructing new crossword puzzles instead of completing existing ones, experimenting with different approaches to morning prayer, or spending an hour outdoors before the work day begins, I’ve found that playing with new practices to grow cognitively and spiritually is the best way to keep spirits high. For now, I’m going to figure out a way to build on this habit by renewing a commitment to Shabbat — setting some sort of mental rhythm for that 25-hour period in the week that feels distinct from the rest.
  • Actively support and hold others accountable to the goals they set for themselves
    We need not review the literature here to agree that human-to-human support and accountability are often helpful when it comes to actually achieving new goals — somehow making it less easy to forget, blow off, or feel daunted by whatever it is we are trying to work on. While much of this project is about some personal goals I’ve set (that will hopefully be shared by friends!), I’m also hoping to be better about actively supporting the independent goals you set in the months/years to come. This could take multiple forms over time (e.g., personal pump-up calls!!!), but I’m starting by asking you to share any goals in the works that might benefit from a friendly reminder or check-in every now and then.

Pondering new habits

WRAP-UP

Sincerest thank you to everyone that has made my first quarter-century extraordinary. It’s a blessing and a privilege to have so many people that make me feel loved, encourage me to be better, and importantly, won’t make fun of me for this new project.

Of course, please let me know if you want to discuss any of this or figure out how to participate, and we will make it happen — especially if we haven’t caught up in a while or you are confused about what’s actually going on here. Call me, beep me, text me, tweet me.

Once more, Google Form here. Off to the races!