The Mihir Chronicles

On Books

July 07, 2020

I love books, and especially reading a physical book. Some argue books are great while others argue against it. I belong in the camp who advocate for reading books deeper and broader. But I also understand the limitation of books as a learning medium because great books are rare.

Books weren't a thing during my early childhood. The only books I recall were the picture books. I was driven by art rather than words. Institutional learning made me hate books and texts. Anything that had to do with reading for schoolwork, I started running away from it. This pattern remained consistent until college.

But this changed once formal education ended. My love for reading began once I stopped reading for school. Schools and exams made learning into competition.

Visiting local book stores and libraries turned into fun since I no longer had to worry about grades. I picked up hard copies. Unstructured learning started taking its own path.

Books also became my friend out of necessity. Growing up with a single parent, I was constantly seeking for advice that I couldn't get at home. Relying on books was the only way at that moment. Books allowed me to learn from somebody that I looked up to, but didn't have access to.

Reading has now become meditative. In my downtime, I started reading because it didn't feel like work to me. Reading became an obsession. Reading has helped me reconcile all my emotions because getting lost in words, stories and wisdom of others is a thrill. Obsessive curious mind makes reading frictionless because curiosity is constantly pulling me. I don't know how to put the brakes on.

Magic formula on reading...not so much

  • There is a lot of wisdom on virtue signaling around reading books. That is not why I read. I read books to find solitude.
  • I have picked books as a source of consumption. It is no different from consuming TV shows. Books play multiple roles as a learning medium and as an entertainment source.
  • I do not have any formula on reading x number of books. I prefer to read 1 book a month if time allows.
  • I always carry a book or two with me and a pencil to take notes with.
  • I am okay with reading books that I do not retain much. However, the books that suck me in deeply, I take heavy notes on and publish them on this site.
  • I read deeply and broadly.
  • I am okay to abandon unfinished reading without feeling guilty.
  • I also read contextually, meaning, when I am studying a specific topic, I'll read relevant books to that topic.
  • I like to collect books for no reason other than the fact that I get joy from its physical presence.
  • I get lucky sometimes with an autograph on a book. It brings a lot of joy. Collecting signed books is never planned.
  • I mostly purchase used books.

A system approach to building a habit around reading

Simple rules to building your own reading habits:

  • First, just read. Reading Aristotle on a tablet or a hard cover book doesn't matter. No matter how much technology will evolve, reading will remain an elemental human hunger. I prefer physical books, but I read on kindle. It doesn't matter. Just read.
  • Second, feel the content before you go deeper. For every book I read, I put down five books. Read the title, table of contents, preface, editor notes and introduction. Read through couple chapters and if you are still engaged, continue moving forward. If you are resisting and can't go any further, move on to something else. Some good books have value spread evenly throughout the book. Many not so good books have value front-loaded and the rest is mostly repetition and anecdotes.
  • Third, always ask questions. What is the author saying? Why is the author saying that? Is it a fact or an opinion? Pay attention to how sentences and paragraphs are constructed. How are some arguments and conclusions being made? Are conclusions being made opinionated or fact-based?
  • Fourth, use commonplace book. Start by writing a short summary of each chapter and transcribing meaningful passages and phrases. Sit on those notes to think deeply. Use commonplace book to expand your vocabulary by listing those new words down. Without these summaries and note-taking system, you will forget a lot of the lessons learned. I don't have a great memory so the system I built helps me revisit those lessons.
  • Fifth, the more you read, the more you will start to appreciate books you have read in the past. An old book that you rated 5/10 will now become 8 or 9 out of 10. This is a clear way of seeing how knowledge compounds. You will also start to see common patterns that are universal all around you. Lessons from philosophy, physiology, physics, psychology, biology, business, etc. are everywhere. Everything is related and connected.
  • Sixth, read books that have aged well. Most books are bad. Classics such as The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith or On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. These books have been around for a century and will most likely be around for another 100 years. Focus on re-reading great books. It is more likely than not, you will stumble upon something you originally missed.
  • Seventh, beware of sunk cost fallacy and opportunity cost. You may feel guilty of spending time and money on books that you are unable to finish. It's not something you should get worked up on. A $10 or $20 book can change your life in a meaningful way. This book then is an investment, not a cost.

Personal thoughts on reading collected overtime

  • Let go of the unwritten rules and just read.
  • Learning is more effective when we are emotionally connected. Consuming information is not the same as learning information. To understand what you are reading requires Galileo like patience. Read. Pause. Ponder on what we just read. Revisit. Write book summaries. Share those summaries with others. And if that doesn't work, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or post about it on public forums. Writing book reports or reviews increases retention of the material.
  • When I first started reading, I wanted to read x amount of books per year. An underlying desire was to impress others. I learned how flawed that thinking was because I wasn't learning anything. Now, I read without any objective goals. If I am reading to learn then I ensure I am processing what I am reading by taking notes.
  • If I don't enjoy reading something or if I am reading aimlessly to consume information, I will put that book aside and move on to something else.
  • Eliminate passive reading. Some of the misconception which I still run into today is highlighting every passage in the book. Or pretending to read, but not understanding what I am reading. Or stuck on a book for a long period of time.
  • An active reader does not read passively, but uses the arguments made by an author for critical thinking and deeper understanding. An active reader asks questions by considering motivation of writer's arguments and assumptions. An active reader avoids passive reading like a plague. The goal is not to read as much as possible and soak up all the information to satisfy instant gratification. The goal is to gain as much as wisdom as possible because knowledge compounds.
  • What constitutes good reading to you?
  • Ask questions and interrogate the text. What's wrong with this assertion, if anything? Does the text go on to address any problems I can see? If it does, is that satisfying? Do others see this problem? If not, what did I miss? Is this confidently-stated premise or postulate reasonable? If not, can the argument stand without it? Why is this character in this story? What's the structural reason this scene exists? If it seems pointless, but this work is very well-regarded, I'm probably missing something—what might that be? Does it have thematic or textural import that I'm failing to spot, and so, perhaps, missing much of the message of the work?
  • Some might argue reading long-form books is virtuous. Why not podcasts or audio? The effort put into a book is infinitely more significant than a long-form conversation. The depth of processing and synthesis is more in reading than listening. Both listening and reading are tools in an arsenal of learning, but it is critical to know why one is superior over the other.
  • Systematic education is not an equalizer. This is because it made me run away. But reading is. Reading equalizes every mind by fixing every hole in every person's broken sky. Reading is a journey to find great books. You start with not so great books and then slowly start climbing the intellectual ladder. I started out with self-help or academically acclaimed books. Over time, I started noticing all the advice shared in those books are the same...told differently. Then, I moved on to physics, biology, business, engineering, etc. I didn't care for these disciplines in school, but now I do. In school, you are supposed to finish something you are disengaged in. While reading freely, you can move on to something else if you are no longer interested. You are taught to finish a book. Schools ingrain this type of ideology. Society values higher education from prestige universities. But it costs $1 in late fees at a local library than accumulating thousands in tuition debt. Reading is inexpensive so go to your local library and check out some books. Abraham Lincoln didn't have any formal education from Harvard or Yale. He walked several miles to borrow books. He grew up reading Shakespeare and Milton soaking up the simple majesty of their words, stories and wisdom.
  • Becoming a better reader is going to help you become a better writer and vice-versa. That is the real payoff. Reading decrease our sense of isolation.
  • Take caution against media articles attributing success or wealth to reading. For example, Warren Buffett's famous saying—“I just sit in my office and read all day.” Media gets the causality wrong. It's not like successful people became so rich by reading. They were doers which is most likely the cause to wealth creation. Reading is good, but doing is better.
  • An author goes out and talks to people, and finds the information that hasn't made its way onto paper.
  • Find good books. Read it deliberately, with an active mind. Act on that material. Develop relationships with peers. Let it change your life.
  • Another analogy is professional sports “watching film.” As a professional athlete, you need to be constantly watch film, so you know how other players are playing and what they're doing. However, at some point you also need to be on the court practicing and playing games so you can use that knowledge for something productive. Being too obsessed with reading would be like a pro athlete who only watches film and never plays the game. At some point, you have to be play the game. Otherwise, you're no different than just an obsessive sports fan.
  • Having physical books gives children around home easy access to lots of good books at or slightly above their current reading/maturity level. This intentional signaling is good for kids to build their passion for books. Digital books cannot do that.
  • Just like eating a lot doesn't make you a gourmand if all you are eating is junk food, reading a lot doesn't make you intellectual if all you're reading is mindless pulp.
  • Sturgeon's law states that 90% of everything is crap. Books are no exception.
  • The brain is wired with language. Our inner monologues are most commonly speaking to ourselves using words. Reading is similar to meditation in that it's about you are controlling your thoughts, putting focus into what you are reading.
  • One advantage of books is that the information density is so much higher than in other mediums. This allows more room for breadth, depth and nuance. This is challenging to accomplish using mediums such as podcasts, lectures or tutorials.
  • Reading 500 pages a day is performative reading. It is a cheap replacement for real learning. Take caution against online content which is often a low-quality and highly commercial in nature.
  • Slow reading is much more useful than read “pages per day” or “books per year.” Read to enjoy instead of following rules defined by others.


I read more than other kids; I luxuriated in books. Books were my refuge. – Anne Lamott

To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting. — Edmund Burke

Reading science, math, and philosophy one hour per day will likely put you at the upper echelon of human success within seven years. — Naval

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. — Albert Einstein

Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius. — Edward Gibbon

To my mind there are no advantages and many disadvantages in lectures compared with reading. – Charles Darwin

Libraries are bastions of democracy and oxygen for the mind. — Maria Popova

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. 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

Your ability to speak clearly is enhanced by reading (not listening) to books and by writing and journaling in complete sentences. Texting, voice dictation and audio books are wonderful but degrade articulation. Conversely, structured writing aids structured speech. — Andrew D. Huberman

Reading about x doesn't just teach you about x; it also teaches you how to write. Would that matter? If we replaced reading, would anyone need to be good at writing? The reason it would matter is that writing is not just a way to convey ideas, but also a way to have them. A good writer doesn't just think, and then write down what he thought, as a sort of transcript. A good writer will almost always discover new things in the process of writing. And there is, as far as I know, no substitute for this kind of discovery. Talking about your ideas with other people is a good way to develop them. But even after doing this, you'll find you still discover new things when you sit down to write. There is a kind of thinking that can only be done by writing. There are of course kinds of thinking that can be done without writing. If you don't need to go too deeply into a problem, you can solve it without writing. If you're thinking about how two pieces of machinery should fit together, writing about it probably won't help much. And when a problem can be described formally, you can sometimes solve it in your head. But if you need to solve a complicated, ill-defined problem, it will almost always help to write about it. Which in turn means that someone who's not good at writing will almost always be at a disadvantage in solving such problems. You can't think well without writing well, and you can't write well without reading well. And I mean that last "well" in both senses. You have to be good at reading, and read good things. People who just want information may find other ways to get it. But people who want to have ideas can't afford to. — Paul Graham

It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written. — Stephen King

You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. — Stephen King

If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the tools to write. — Stephen King

Reading is the creative center of a writer's life. — Stephen King

I'm a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, most fiction. I don't read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. — Stephen King

Books are a uniquely portable magic. — Stephen King

I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else. — Neil Gaiman

Books that can be summarized are not worth reading. – N. N. Taleb

Whether you’re looking for a distraction or just spending a lot more time at home, you can’t beat reading a book. — Bill Gates

Every book teaches me something new or helps me see things differently. I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to read. Reading fuels a sense of curiosity about the world, which I think helped drive me forward in my career and in the work that I do now with my foundation. — Bill Gates

Your ability to comprehend and retain what you read drops off dramatically after an hour or so. Therefore, you should read a book in several short sessions of one to two hours apiece, rather than one long marathon. In between, your unconscious mind will process some of what you've read. — Paul N Edwards

Never stop reading. History doesn’t repeat but it does rhyme. — Seth Klarman

I have learned more from reading than from formal education. — Roy Neuberger

I don’t think you can get to be a really good investor over a broad range without doing a massive amount of reading. — Charlie Munger

Investing is one of the few things you can learn on your own. You can learn investing by reading books. I went to business school to learn how to be a good investor. When I got to Harvard, I discovered there wasn't a course on investing. I decided to open my first self-study program. — Bill Ackman

Frank Betz, who was Carret’s personal assistant in the Eighties, recalled that he read voraciously – not just corporate reports and newspapers but also books on philosophy, history, economics and biographies.

I have always found it much better just to sit and do your own reading. When I talked to people it would muddy my thinking. I was much more successful just sitting back, reading, and figuring things out. — Jim Rogers

Ideas come to me from all sources, principally from reading and talking. I don’t discriminate how they come, as long as they are good ideas. You can recognize good ideas by reading a great deal and also by studying a lot of companies and constantly learning from intelligent people – hopefully more intelligent than you are, especially in their field. I try to read as much as I can. — Li Lu

I think its helps to read broadly, what good does it do to know everything about one little thing if you don't know how it fits into the world, and how the world is going to effect it. — Howard Marks

If you read widely, you can learn from people whose ideas merit publishing. Some of the most important for me were Charley Ellis's great article "The Losers Game", A Short History of Financial Euphoria, by John Kenneth Galbraith and Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Fooled by Randomness. Each did a great deal to shape my thinking. — Howard Marks

I’ve mainly learned by reading myself. So I don’t think I have any original ideas. Certainly, I talk about reading [Benjamin] Graham. I’ve read Phil Fisher. So I’ve gotten a lot of ideas myself from reading. — Warren Buffett

Curiosity is the engine of civilization. If I were to elaborate it would be to say read, read, read and don't forget to talk to people, really talk, listening with attention and have conversations, on whatever topic, that are an exchange of thoughts. Keep the reading broad, beyond just the professional. This helps to develop one's sense of perspective in all matters. — Peter Cundill

Being a successful investor you need to be hungry, intellectually curious, interested, read all the time. Read a lot of newspapers. You need a certain level of randomness in order to connect things that might give you an insight into where a business is going in five years that somebody else might not see. — Ted Weschler

Further reading