How to Improve Your Reading Taste
Without being pretentious
This is a recorded Twitter Space with Jim Clair. Jim blogs at jimclair.com/ and has one of those rare newsletters that I look forward to and read all the way to the end. In this episode, we talk about:
Why do you want to improve your reading taste? Just like you don’t want to have a diet that consists mostly of candy, you want a better diet for your mind. Nothing wrong with candy, and we don’t want to look down on it, but if you want to improve your thinking, you must improve your reading habits. You are also forming the ceiling for your children’s reading habits. Books are almost magic. You can read the thoughts of someone 1000 years ago and dive into the
What is a good book that requires a better palette? Something that has shaped how generations have thought, that has had an impact, that has stood the test of time. We speak against the relativism of the modern day. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s bad. Don’t let your terrible taste deprive you of something wonderful. There is some objectivity that we must submit to. Some books may be a slog, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means you have to develop your own cognitive endurance.
You don’t have to be intimidated by better books. A lot of the better books are accessible and readable. They didn’t have such a wide-ranging effect because they were obscure. Many were accessible to the common man. Some of Plato’s dialogues, for example, are easy to read and follow (though thinking through them is another matter). A good translation of The Odyssey is a page-turner.
How do you improve your taste? Like training a muscle, you want to ease into it. Don’t try squatting 500 lbs when you’ve never been inside a gym. It’s ok to do a few bodyweight squats. “Read what you love until you love to read.” We talk about some of the books that gradually led us to better tastes. Both of us read Calvin and Hobbes. One of our best pieces of advice when reading fiction: enjoy it. That should go without saying, but many people read only to glean lessons and treat the story as a husk to be discarded. C.S. Lewis recommends you read one old book for every two new books you read. Which old books do you read? Swim upstream. Who do you already like reading? What are their influences? What are you personally curious about? Don’t drink from the firehose too soon. Be patient. And be prepared to spend some money.
Recommended reading from the podcast:
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