The Power Of Reading Good Books Twice

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

About one year ago I moved from a house to an apartment. I try to keep physical possessions to a minimum and this philosophy made all my possessions fit into just one big van. My only problem was my huge bookshelf, in addition to books stored and placed at different locations, even different countries. When I put my books into the boxes, I realized I couldn’t even remember what most of them were about. In hindsight, what a wasted time of reading! Isn’t time better spent on reading books that either give you goosebumps, insight, knowledge or excitement? The greatest books have more knowledge and insights than you can absorb in one reading.

Based on this I made a promise to myself to read good books twice instead of “diworsifying” my reading list. The Lindy effect, indicating that a book’s life expectancy is proportional to its current age, can serve as a guide where to focus the reading.

Lesson: The Lindy effect can be used a useful heuristic for which books to read (and reread). Old books are still in print for a reason. 

To a certain extent it makes sense that most books will go down in history as forgotten and out of print. I believe Sturgeon’s law is a useful heuristic because most of what is going on in the world is just noise and randomness. As Charlie Munger says: “In, Out and Too difficult.”

The first books I reread was all of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s. It was a mindblowing experience. My takeaway and learning were many times more profound on the second read than the first one!

I’ll give you another example of my rereading: from the mid 90s up until 2014 I occasionally read some of Warren Buffet’s annual letters. At the time I invested mostly in mutual funds, and the letters didn’t “hit” me. I believe the main reason was that my focus was elsewhere (daytrading). In 2014 I decided to devote my time to manage my portfolio myself, and I reread all of the letters. I learned some more, but it wasn’t until 2019 (after the third reading) that I really could get a profound learning experience from them. I guess I’m either a very slow learner or simply that I needed to have a certain knowledge/experience to fully value the letters, or perhaps a combination. Buffett is older, wiser and smarter than me, but I hope to live another 45 years, so hopefully I can close some of the gap.

Lesson: rereading has a compounding effect as knowledge and experience are accumulated between readings.

I got the same impression after rereading The Intelligent Investor By Benjamin Graham, a book I read the first time in 2015, almost five years ago.

Lesson: the marginal utility of rereading good books is bigger than reading less good books. Keep reading, learning and compounding, but be selective. Don’t diversify reading too much. Read less but read twice (or more).

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