Ninety Eight

Earlier tonight I finished re-reading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, an interesting — albeit fictional — autobiography that I had mentioned last week. This means that, as of right now, I've managed to read and finish 98 non-technical1 books that are over 200 pages in length this year. Considering there is still half a month remaining in the year, it should be possible to inhale two more.

Bookshelf (Black & White)

The very first book I remember wanting to read was sometime around 1985. It was Roger Hargreaves's Mr. Bounce, a short little book with an exceptional number of adjectives about a character who faced a number of challenges as a result of his diminuitive size and tendency to bounce into unfortunate circumstances. I borrowed this book from the library at the elementary school I attended, read it cover-to-cover later that night, and brought it back to borrow some more the very next day. While there are times when I will go for a couple of weeks without having a book in progress, it's very rare. Mr. Bounce was the beginning of a life-long fascination and connection with the written word.

Last year the types of books I would reach for started to change. Rather than grab the latest Star Trek novel or Kim Stanley Robinson tome, I'd instead invest some time into finding a book that would help me learn something new. The subjects have primarily involved technology, psychology, philosophy, history, or astrophysics. All of these are topics that can inspire some pretty complex ideas and often raise two or more questions for every answer. The primary goal of reading these sorts of books is to reduce the ever-present fear that I am an idiot. The premise is that by filling my head with information, linking ideas together into theories, and using what's been learned to solve problems, I will feel less stupid as time goes by. Unfortunately, reading non-fiction has only exacerbated the problem.

I do not like feeling stupid. I do not like being part of a discussion where I do not have the requisite knowledge to actively contribute. I do not like that voice in my head that says I've thrown away any hope of being seen as intelligent because I read too much science fiction up until the age of 352. Yes, these are internal insecurities that likely make zero logical sense but, as I reach and exceed middle age, I can't help but feel as though I should be smarter than I am.

How do smart people stay sharp? Is there something else I could be doing?

When I read about how intelligent people spend their days, I wonder if my problem boils down to time management rather than a lack of knowledge or a suboptimal intelligence quotient. These people have 24 hours every day just like I do, but seem able to do their work, spend time with others, enjoy time alone, sleep, and relax. With better time management could I do the same? Will this give me the time to slow down and act intelligently?

  1. By "non-technical", I mean books that are not specifically about a specific piece of software. That said, I have read a number of books on technologies such as SQL Server, the Linux kernel, and the Python programming language.

  2. Mind you, I still read science fiction … just not as much.