We’ve all been there. At the bookstore looking for a book to read.
On one side of the store is the safe bet. The best-selling books that everyone else is reading. These are (generally) mediocre books that time hasn’t yet filtered for us. When time casts its shadow, most of these will fall away into the night. And yet we read them anyway. Why? Because one of the six principles of persuasion is social proof. Not only does this often waste time and money, but it gums our brains. If we’re reading what everyone else is reading, it’s harder to think differently about problems, decisions, or life.
This excerpt from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami perfectly encapsulates a core truth about reading.
And so we became friends. This happened in October.
The better I got to know Nagasawa, the stranger he seemed. I had met a lot of strange people in my day, but none as strange as Nagasawa. He was a far more voracious reader than I, but he made it a rule never to touch a book by any author who had not been dead at least thirty years. “That’s the only kind of book I can trust,” he said.
“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature,” he added, “but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”
“What kind of authors do you like?” I asked, speaking in respectful tones to this man two years my senior. “Balzac, Dante, Joseph Conrad, Dickens,” he answered without hesitation.
“Not exactly fashionable.”
“That’s why I read them. If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That’s the world of hicks and slobs. Real people would be ashamed of themselves doing that. Haven’t you noticed, Watanabe? You and I are the only real ones in the dorm. The other guys are crap.”
This took me off guard. “How can you say that?”
“’ Cause it’s true. I know. I can see it. It’s like we have marks on our foreheads. …”
Reading is a great way to give yourself an advantage, but only if you’re smart about it. Reading the words is the easy part. Thinking about what you’re reading and how you’re reading, that’s where the edge comes from.