“I don’t read books”, I hear myself saying that over and over for years. I don’t know what it was about reading books. Why would you read one if you didn’t have to, like for a book report or a text book?

I think I was okay with the plays, I liked Macbeth and Hamlet, as both stories and written words (what little I understood). But reading novels was, and to some degree still is, beyond me. Stone Angel had to be the most boring book I never read.

I remember this one English class (OAC English) where the teacher distributed a poem and she asked people at random how we felt about that poem. People gave their answers, answers that the teacher wanted to hear. Though the answers may have been sincere, they felt constructed, custom made and packaged to get grades. So, as what I consider punishment, I was asked to tell everyone how I felt about this poem.

“right, so I just read this, and I don’t really feel anything”
“really Adnan? do you want to read it again”
“no, I read it already, and I’m just being honest, I don’t feel anything”

It turns out that honesty does not get you good grades in English class. It’s not as if I was a total dud. I got nearly perfect grades on the Heart of Darkness quizzes and essays, my skit based on Grapes of Wrath was awesome. But I can’t be expected to manufacture feelings. You can ask me what I think the poet was trying to convey, and I’ll make things up, but don’t ask me how I feel and expect anything short of honesty.

Another time, this girl had made this thing for a project, it was a chair with rose petals on it, all enclosed in this see-through cylinder. This was supposed to symbolize a key theme from the book she was reading. I remember the English teacher saying, “See, isn’t this beautiful symbolism? And [insert girl’s name here] has only known English for [x] years”. This annoyed me much. While the symbolism may have been fabulous, how is creative thought process a subset of the English language? As if people who think in Spanish are incapable of abstract thought and symbolism, and there is a correlation between creativity and the number of years you’ve known the English language. Oh please, get over yourselves.

I’m not sure why I preface this post with that. But I did. I suppose it has to do with the type of analysis that is required in English class, at least at a high school level. Where we read so much between lines we might as well write between them. Maybe it was the highly speculative nature of this analysis that turned me off. How do we know that the role that women played in Heart of Darkness is a direct reflection of what the author thought of women? Why could the roles not have been carefully designed and crafted that way to fulfill a purpose in the novel? disconnected from the author’s personal (and supposed) prejudice? It could be either, but how can you say no when you do not know?

In either case, I didn’t read much if it wasn’t for a book report or a text book. Then during my PEY internship (2004), I bought books on Perl and read them from cover to cover. I had bought books on Java during high school, but that was for reference purposes or to learn something specific in a certain section, not for cover to cover reading.

Through out my PEY internship year I purchased a number of technical books and read them cover to cover, books on the Apache Web Server, MySQL, PHP, Code Complete, Design Patterns, XML, XSLT and a slew of other tech books. Over $1000 in books. That’s how I started reading with a cover to cover mentality. However, this was all still tech. Not that tech is bad, most people in tech don’t read tech. They think that coming out of school, they know what they need to know. Yeah, well you don’t. Go read a book. Later, while I was working part-time, I gave one of the interns Code Complete in a very “here, read this book” kind of way. In conversation with him a couple of years later he told me, “you were the biggest mentor I had, just by giving me that book”. So if you’re in tech, you’re not as clever as you think, go read a book and get over yourself.

Anyway, back to my PEY internship year. On Fridays, I still went to pray at Hart House, because that was familiar territory. On the way back to work, I dropped by at the UofT bookstore and started browsing. I happened to come across the single copy of Joel on Software. Joel on Software is a collection of blog posts Joel has made over the years. These articles range from technical material, to user interface, to writing documents, to managing people, all over the board. Joel on Software was my gateway drug into non-tech software books. I went on to pick up books like Mythical Man Month, but not at the same pace as I had picked up the tech books. (Haha, if you can find me 5 college students in your city that have read this book, I will hire at least 3 of them).

Fast forward to 2007, where I find myself in India. Books in India are much cheaper than Amazon. So I went to downtown Mumbai with a co-worker to check out the books. We found this one bookstore that had a number of books I had wanted for a while. So you can understand my excitement. So much so that my co-worker said, “there was this look in your eyes, the only time I’ve seen someone that excited was when [use your imaginations here people]”. So I bought about 11 books, however I wanted to come back again for more. So I did. I went back and picked up about 14 more. These weren’t just tech/programming books, they were also management/project management books. Books like: Peopleware, Death March [death march], Catastrophe Disentanglement.

I had to purchase another suit case just to carry the books back. Just so people understand, software development is not just about technology and geeks (a large part of it is), but it is also about people interaction and communication. Most projects fail not because of the technology, but because of the people (though let’s not kid ourselves, projects do fail because of bad technology as well). Above and beyond anything else the software industry will benefit from learning how to listen, then to write down what was heard. The problems that plague us now are the same problems that have been there for decades, but we don’t learn, because we don’t read.

Out of the 25 books, I did purchase a novel. While in India I met someone via Facebook, and she recommended a book. Finding myself in cheap book land, I figured “why not”. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I tried to read it at that point, but I couldn’t. Something wasn’t clicking, so while I was reading the book, I was not reading the book. More on this later. If you’ve read this far into this post, pat yourself on the back, stretch, take a deep breath, go make yourself some tea or coffee or water. I will also take this opportunity to make special mention of Scott Adam and his Dilbert books, the ones I’ve read so far are: The Dilbert Principle and Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel: A Guide to Outwitting Your Boss, Your Coworkers, and the Other Pants-Wearing Ferrets in Your Life. Does the latter sound like a book a certain blogger would be interested in? =)

I stacked them up in my room, the books, and thought to myself, “I probably won’t buy another book for the next two years”. I was wrong. It doesn’t stop. I can’t stop it. I’ve bought over 20 more books since I’ve come back. I find that the more books I have, the more I’m inclined to read them. I don’t read one book at a time. I will read Book A on the subway to work, and read Book B on the subway ride back home, and then Book C at home. It’s the way I get them read, cover to cover. Some may find boring the batch of books I read, and that’s fine. But understand that these books are from a different ecosystem than you are used to.

I have a huge chunk of my books at work. Every so often I will send out an email to all of staff letting them know what books I have available so that folk can borrow them. It makes me happy that people do come around to take the books, and that they read them. One of the reasons we don’t read is because it’s not always dead easy to get a book. Sure you say go to the library and pick up a book, but some folk won’t even do that. So when you make something so easy available, people will respond (this is a lesson in more than just books, when you make something more easily available then it was, you’re gaining a new audience, this is good). This book availability email happens often enough for people to call me “the library” at work. So here I go, from mr. “I don’t read books” to mr. “the library”.

Fast forward to end of 2007 and start of 2008. I went through an interesting mind shifting experience (it was for me). I was able to break patterns in my brain and free the occupied territories in my mind. Someday, I’ll write about that. But interestingly enough, I felt/feel the need to get away from all the tech and management books. I didn’t go out to buy books, I went to a book I already had. Zen. I’m reading it now, and I’m liking reading it. What didn’t click before is double-clicking now. What I don’t like is that I’m a slow reader, I need to find ways to improve this.

For the birthday, the siblings bought me an Amazon.ca gift cert. So now I’m scouring the Amazon for my next batch of books. This set will include books on design/creativity and books on improv. So I’m expanding my reading scale.

This is a good time to recommend a book, got any recommendations?

[If you got this far, go ahead and drink the tea/coffee/water you made]