Reading in piles

Tyler Cowen on the Ezra Klein podcast, as written up on Vox:

As to what he’s currently reading, Cowen is in a deep classics period. Well, classics and books on tennis. He revisited Plato’s Symposium in preparation for an interview on his own podcast, and recently read Andre Agassi’s autobiography, which Ezra also loved. Cowen is reluctant to recommend any one of the books he mentions, though, wondering, “Why listen to what I think is the book you should read?” Instead, he suggests reading “piles of books.” “Pick a pile you love and don’t obsess over any of the individual books in it.”

That’s quite similar to advice we published at HBR recently:

Focus the majority of your information consumption on a single topic for several months. Rather than letting the headline tides pull you along, pick a topic and focus your reading and viewing on that topic. In addition to the obvious benefit of making it possible for new information to build on previously consumed information, there is another important benefit, which is anchored in how our brains work. In a recent interview neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley shared from his book, The Distracted Mind, that “the highest level of performance in this domain of working memory is dictated more so by how well you filter all the irrelevant information. If you process information around you that is irrelevant to your goals, it will create interference…. Our success at filtering that] is critical for our ability to perceive information, to remember it and then to make decisions about it.” Spreading your consumption habits too thin has real consequences.

This is good advice, and something I’ve been trying to do a bit more recently. With books, you can create a literal “pile”, but I think there’s potential to create more ways to do this sort of topic-based reading more easily digitally. Sure, you can just go searching on Google based on a topic and, after some hunting, come up with a good list. And plenty of places curate articles by topic. But more could be done to help synthesize all that’s out there, rather than just listing stuff to read. This is something I’ve been tinkering with. More to come.


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