We need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever. ― Philip Pullman
My Goodreads account tells me that I’m slowly but surely clawing my way through the world’s knowledge. Yet, with my “to-read” list tripling my “read” list, it seems that by the time that I die, I will still know absolutely nothing about everything.
And I love that.
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.
― George R.R. Martin
Reading has given me an incredible depth, knowledge, and richness about Life, The Universe, and Everything that no other medium lives up to.
I often wonder why I read so much in the first place. However, I haven’t always been like this. As can be seen on my stats, I started regularly reading only in 2008.
With chronic, lifetime non-readers, I think it takes just the right book to become enlightened and converted.
For me, that book was not one, but five books:
- The Hobbit
- Lord of the Rings trilogy
I hungrily devoured them all back to back. I was never the same.
In fact, my initial 5-book plunge in 2008 was foreshadowed by my recent-at-the-time affinity with the distopian movie “V for Vendetta” and “The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion” fantasy/RPG video game.
Since these take heavy inspiration from the aforementioned books, I bought the books as an experiment to try reading again. Up until that point, no book had ever clicked with me.
Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. ― Anne Lamott
As it turns out, I was reading the wrong books.
Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it. ― Lloyd Alexander
Ah, fantasy, my favorite genre, with its life lessons, philosophical ponderings, and insight into the human condition. Fantasy ignites creativity and imagination unlike anything else in my world.
Fantasy is like traveling the world, but better. You visit a foreign place and culture with different customs, beliefs, and morals. Their world is often wildly different than our own, yet their problems are all too familiar.
It provides a nice canvas for you to examine our own problems through. It offers a different perspective.
Storytelling through fables and mythology is an age-old tradition for delivering life lessons. It just so happens that fantasy as we know it today didn’t take the book world by storm until J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
The absolute grandiose Epic Fantasy sub-genre in particular is the richest genre for anything and everything, and is my personal favorite genre, period.
There is no limit to its scope, and it often delves very deep into world building, societies, cultures, religions, and entire civilizations over vast distances of time. It examines morality, politics, philosophy, and sometimes even a unique version of their own science.
My absolute favorites in the genre are:
- The Silmarillion / Lord of the Rings Trilogy
- A Song of Ice and Fire Series
- Malazan Book of the Fallen Series
- The Kingkiller Chronicle Trilogy
Everything I stated for fantasy holds true for sci-fi. And yet, I kind of despise how the two always get lumped into one category. Yes, there are similarities. But, they’re so different.
Sci-fi to me is all about where we are going and what the possibilities are. And of course, there are always heavy philosophical leanings and insight into the human condition.
My absolute favorites in the genre are:
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
- Cat’s Cradle
Also, special mention to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, which somehow rolls space, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror all into one. Nothing has ever invoked a sense of dread at ancient iniquity and terrifying mythology like H.P. Lovecraft.
Think before you speak. Read before you think.” ― Fran Lebowitz
As the back of Ayn Rand’s novelette “Anthem” states, “Those who do not think philosophically are the helpless victims of the ideas they passively accept from others”.
Complimented with fiction, with its inspiring stories hinting at hidden truths, life lessons, and deeper meaning, philosophy hits you with these gems from another angle entirely.. with a hammer.
The true gift in philosophy is that it lifts you above the times, its fables, facts, and fictions, above the cultural influence, politics, and morals that have been pounded into you since infancy, and encourages you to think for yourself and question everything.
I am still in the primordial stages of philosophy myself; Much of the influence I have taken have been reading about philosophers and their big ideas, rather than reading their works directly. But this is to be expected from such a dense, slow-brewing, slow-release field.
The interesting thing about philosophy though, is that it is the one “genre” that is intricately woven into many other genres, from classic literature, fantasy, and sci-fi, to religion, science, and space texts.
Philosophy is everywhere.
Science & Space
There is perhaps no better a demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. ― Carl Sagan
Nothing invokes awe-inspiring reverence and humility like the beautiful infinity of the cosmos.
The Universe is the one thing that reduces our entire civilization and its history, trials, and tribulations to an insignificant mote of dust.
It is worth learning about, and exploring.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. ― Carl Sagan
My personal favorites are actually through a sci-fi medium:
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
But as for authors that distill real physics and space into magic:
- Carl Sagan
- Niel DeGrass Tyson
- Stephen Hawking
From out there on the Moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’ ― Edgar Mitchel, Apollo 14 astronaut
Just kidding, I don’t read books on politics. I get all my politics from:
The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them. ― Karl Marx
The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. ― George R.R. Martin
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem. ― Douglas Adams
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.
Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. ― Carl Sagan
This seems to make a lot of people angry.
Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes ― Edsger W. Dijkstra
Can’t be relevant here without a discussion on software development!
As much as I love other mediums of learning for software development such as screencasts, blogs, and tutorials, as always with books, they are the ultimate medium if you want rich depth.
And the industry is full of ascendants to learn from who I could never hope to live up to.
I have an endless list of software development books I can never seem to get through. I suppose software development, like philosophy, is another slow-brewing topic that requires slow digestion and much thought.
My absolute favorites here are:
- The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master
- Don’t Make Me Think
- Clean Code/The Clean Coder
The Pragmatic Programmer in particular, I cannot say enough about. That book was a game changer for my career at the time. It really helped me ascend from looking at software development as just mere programming, to looking at it as software craftsmanship.
Over the years, I have come to cherish the little morsels of infinite wisdom bestowed upon me by my favorite books. Some of these combine philosophy, fantasy, sci-fi, and space all in one.
This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. ― Douglas Adams
There is still so much to learn, to read, and to appreciate. May my journey through the books of brilliant people continue to be wild and unpredictable. May my to-read list grow out of control up until my last day!
So many books, so little time. ― Frank Zappa
And that’s why I love reading.