Pratik Ratnaparkhi

Just Twenty-Three Pages a Day

Most people go through life not really getting any smarter. Why? They simply don’t put in the work required.

This included me as well.

It’s easy to come home, relax, watch Netflix or scroll endlessly watching people dance to random songs and zone out until bedtime. But that’s not going to help us get smarter.

My love for books started off with heartbreak & terrible phase of my life, as many guys hit the gym to cope with it mentally, I turned to books to seek comfort. I love the physical act of having the books on the shelves to be looked at, admired, show gratitude to, and remembered.

When I was in school, I really enjoyed having a collection of books at my study desk, and I still do. But I learned over time that for me to own a book — intellectually — I needed to own the damn book. I needed to have it close by for reference. I needed to be able to hold it, write in it and take it down, put it back over and over again. The digital editions, kindle, iBooks, etc just wouldn’t cut it.

So I decided to give up digital and started to collect the best books and read them over and over again. I’ve probably read 1/4 of my entire collection, but I keep adding, for me, that’s my real wealth.

Reading Complex Books that Require Intense Focus.

Looking at my shelves recently, I saw a book I’d wanted to read for the longest time and, in fact, had started a couple of months ago, stopping after about 90 pages to move on to more “immediate” reads. (All great books, most of which I enjoyed, but not the classics.)

It was Skin in the game by Nassim Taleb.

It is a bold book that challenges many of our long-held beliefs as a society about the risk and reward system, politics and religion, finance, and personal responsibility:

should we never listen to people who explain rather than do?
Why do companies go bust?
How is it that we have more slaves today than in Roman times?
Why does imposing democracy on other countries never work?

The answer: too many people running the world don’t have skin in the game.

It is definitely not an easy read — it is dense. I think Nassim said it came to about 550,000 words. (Which was down from his original finished draft of over a million.) It’s well written in an arrogant way but helps you to become a better thinker. A skill, that is often overlooked in today’s society.

The ability to think clearly is a privilege and not many are skilled at it, we all are fooled by the randomness around us.

When you think about reading a book like that, even taking it off the shelf seems to generate anxiety and it takes effort to consume it, it cannot be read like gentle fiction. Let’s do the math: I’m a pretty decent reader, I think I read around 200 words per minute, and when I am in the zone, I may do more. It might be plus or minus 50 words, but my guess is that’s a close estimate for a text written in modern English prose.

At 200 words per minute, a 550,000-word text will take me 2750 minutes, or about 114 hours to read. And there’s the issue: the brain doesn’t seem to like to get started on 114-hour projects, which requires your ‘System-2’ to be alert in order to meaningfully consume literature like that, and which also isn’t being paid to complete. The gap between where you are and completion is way too large. Instead, if we pick something shorter and easier. Still counts, right?

I thought about all of the other great works I wanted to get to in my lifetime. Nassim Taleb has a very meaningful collection of books, wrapped together in Incerto, All are qualified not to be an easy read to read for beginners as it requires intense focus, and sipping an espresso at Starbucks won’t help if you’re reading Nassim Taleb.

That got me thinking. How the heck does anyone get these books read? How do I become a person that’s read all these books rather than talked about them?

The solution I devised for myself is a simple one: start with 23 pages a day and move on gradually, why the odd number? because, why not? That’s it. Just commit to that, and then do it. What will 23 pages a day get you?

Let’s say that two days out of each month, you probably won’t have time to read. Plus Christmas, Family obligations, etc. That gives you 300 days a year of solid reading time. 23 pages a day for 300 days is 6,900 pages.

What I have also found is that when I commit to a minimum of 23 pages, I almost always read more. So let’s call the 6,900 pages to approx 10,000. (I only need to extend that 23 pages into 30 to get there.)

With 10,000 pages a year, at a general pace of 23/day, what can we get done?

Well, Fooled by Randomness has 368 pages. The four LBJ books are collectively 2,752 pages. Matt Ridley’s two masterpieces come in at a combined 2,160. Shane Parrish’s three books run to about 3,272 pages.

That’s 8,552 pages.

That means, in about one year, at a modest pace of 23 pages a day, I’ve chalked out 7-10 masterful works and learned an enormous amount about knowledge, wisdom, and better clarity of things around the world. In one year!

This is how great works get read. Day by day. 23 pages at a time. No excuses. Let it compound for you.

Before anyone takes this too literally, the point isn’t the number. (Although 23 pages are my literal rule.)
It could be 10 pages, 13 pages, thirty minutes, an hour, or 2,000 words.

Regardless of what unit of reading you choose, what matters is the math will still work out: In about six months, a year, or five years, you’ll see yourself smarter and better.

I often get surprised that people would choose to spend hours and literally years seeking the right mindset or idea or to get themselves better but overlook the priceless and life-changing contents of fine work by some of the best thinkers on the planet. Books allow you to filter all the noise in the world and deliver truly, life-changing content to be stored for a lifetime at a negligible cost.

Action Item:
Try this,
Pick up any book you wanted to read or would love to read. Start reading it. Read in the morning, read at lunch, read before bed, read at the work desk…it doesn’t matter. Just get your page count, day in and day out.

Allow your brain to feed on some good and valuable content which will, in turn, make you think better, and act better and allow you to broaden your circle of competence in many ways.

And then you’ll also be a person who reads the books everyone else simply talks about.

What you choose to read is up to you. I love neuroscience, behavioral psychology, and similar subjects. Sometimes, Biographies. I don’t read many novels. 

But the task no longer seems daunting, does it? All it takes is commitment and a little assiduity.

So, 41 pages or 4, let’s go get smart.

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