A Simple And Powerful Way To Learn


I have a hard time remembering much about my childhood. Maybe I’ve taken too many knocks to the head or maybe I started trying various chemicals too early in life or maybe a combination of the two. Whatever. I find it amazing that other people can remember so many details of their youth many decades later. My memories are vague.

I think when I was a 10 or 12 years old I read a series of books called The Hardy Boys. If I remember I think these brothers were young detectives and went around solving Scooby-Doo type crimes. I read several of those books I think. I was fascinated with the myth of King Arthur. I read several of those books. Somehow I was introduced to the Dune series and read three or four of those books. As a kid all I read was fiction.

In high school I was turned on to Hunter S. Thompson. I started with the book every Hunter fan started with, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. I was hooked. Hunter S. Thompson became my hero. I read all his other books. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on with the books about politics.

As a fan of the Grateful Dead I started reading autobiographies about the Dead and other rock ‘n roll bands from the 60’s. These books complimented my Hunter S. Thompson bent.

Then I hit a patch were I stopped reading. I look back on this period and I wonder why. It comes down to this: I couldn’t find anything interesting to read.

I read only one book in college. It was the textbook for an early American literature class. I don’t remember the name of the book, only the subject. The stories were written by the European missionaries “settling” the new continent and they were all horror stories. They detailed the atrocities of the Europeans as they invaded and pillaged the Native Americans of the New World. The stories were raw, authentic, and uncomfortable to read. That Early American Literature class was the only class in the 4 years I went to college that was worth my time.

I spent every moment away from the classroom I could climbing and hiking in the mountains. I forgot about reading. Without realizing what was happening I was stagnating. No reading meant no exposure to new ideas and learning. This went on for over a decade. A lost decade.

In the summer of 2009 I packed my car full of shit and left North Carolina headed to Napa Valley, California. I was terrified. The economy was in the shitter. I was moving to a place far away with no job and no place to stay. I experienced my first mid-life crisis.

I read 3 books the first week I left North Carolina. Reading calmed me down, it helped to sooth my fears. I wanted to read more. I ran into my same old problem, I couldn’t find anything interesting to read. I was desperate and scared, I had to keep reading. I kept looking for books.

I’ve always been drawn to adventure. It’s been the story of my life. I had a short climbing career in college and I missed the sport. I started looking in the library for books on climbing. I hit the jackpot. The history of climbing is filled with stories of adventure, terror, and interesting people. I spent months reading about the greatest climbers and adventures in history.

Then I began to wear out the genre. I was having my old problem of not finding interesting books to read. Out of nowhere the solution appeared. Or maybe out of somewhere the solution appeared. I don’t know or I can’t remember. Maybe someone told me to do this or maybe I stumbled upon this myself.


That was the solution to my lifelong problem. I needed to make a list of books to read. I realized in all the awesome climbing books I read, the climbers would reference books that inspired them to go climb big mountains. I started writing these books down. Once I finished the book I was reading, I went to my list and ordered the next book. Voila! I solved my lifelong problem with a simple list.

The original List was a piece of legal paper. This wasn’t the best idea. I kept misplacing the darn thing. I’d search all over, find it, order a book, and cross it off the List once I was done reading it. The paper would get old and messy and I’d have to transfer the List to a new piece of paper.

This was my best technique for years. I became frustrated with the piece of paper and its shortcomings. One day I realized I lived in the computer age with Excel spreadsheets and electricity and stuff. It hit me, put the list on an Excel spreadsheet! What a simple idea.
I’m lazy and slow. A year later I forced myself to stop thinking and start doing. I sat down and made a simple spreadsheet with the title and the author’s name. My List was growing faster than I could read and mark the titles off.

I was so impressed with my List I began telling all my friends about it. Most didn’t think my List was as awesome as I did. Some liked the idea and would ask me to recommend books. I could name a few of the books I’d read but I realized I had a problem. I couldn’t remember all the awesome books I’d read. Once I read the books I marked them off the List and later, deleted them off the spreadsheet.

The List evolved.

I began to keep the books I’d finished reading on the list. I color coded the titles. If I read the book the color was red. If I hadn’t, the color was black. Simple.

Now if anyone asks for a recommendation I can go to my list and give them several titles. The list continues to evolve. I have added genres such as fiction, non-fiction, business, philosophy, and adventure. I can sort the list in several different ways.

Sometimes I just stare at the list. It gives me pride. I know, there are dangers to pride. I’m writing this whole post because I have a lot of pride about my List. But I think there are many more benefits to keeping a reading list than there are negatives.


It costs nothing but a little time and thought. You can tweak your list however you want. The effort is worth it, your reading list will make you a smarter human being.

There is power in a reading list. A reading list can show you patterns of your interests that you didn’t realize you had. It is a store of knowledge, like your brain, or a bank.

You can look back at your list and you will be looking back on your life. You will realize you spent a good portion of your life reading. This is time you can be proud off, this is time well spent. You will be able to add value to others if you are asked to recommend books because you will have a deep well to choose from.

If you ever need a recommendation for a good book let me know, I have a List.

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