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How to Read Fewer Books

The maximalist philosophy of reading

The maximalist philosophy of reading

The modern world equates the intelligent person will the well-read person. It's difficult to think of anyone arriving at any worthy insights without having read an impressive number of books.

But despite the pressure to read through multiple awarded and fascinating books, we might pause and reflect on an interesting aspect of the pre-modern world: Reading was important, but it never put people under any pressure to read very much at all. It was more important to read a few books very well and not waste time on a great number of volumes.

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Weeping Over Life
Weeping Over Life

‘What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.’ - Seneca.

This dark remark gets to the heart of Stoicism, which says we get weepy and angry not on...

Peccatum Originale - Original Sin

St Augustine was deeply interested in finding explanations for the evident tragic disorder of the world.

Augustine contemplated the idea that human nature is inherently damaged because, in the Garden of Eden, Eve sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Her guilt was passed down to all people. As a metaphor for why the world is in a mess, Augustine implies that we should not expect too much from the human race.

Being Less Intimidated By Powerful People

‘Kings and Philosophers shit, and so do ladies’. This is a blunt phrase of 16th-century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne.

He wanted to let us feel closer to and less intimidated by people whose life might seem very impressive. Montaigne attempted to free us from uncertainty and shyness from thinking too much of others and too little of ourselves.

Talking horizontally and encouraging honesty
Talking horizontally and encouraging honesty

Sigmund Freud discovered that there is a remarkable difference between what people will tell you when they are sitting up and looking at you in the eye, and what they will say to you when they ...

When we feel discouraged to speak

We perhaps don't realise that seeing another person's face can discourage us from speaking the truth. We may hold back and edit our presentation in the light of their reactions.

With Sigmund Freud's example in mind, we should find our own forms of horizontal conversation. After dinner, we might suggest that we all go and lie down somewhere and become newly conscious of voices and nuances when we don't have to look at others' expressions.

Buildings talk to us
Buildings talk to us

A rarely remarked upon feature of buildings is that they tell us something about themselves and its broader view of the world.

The Mauritshuis, a museum in the Hague compl...

Buildings don't say the same things

Some buildings can be loud or impatient. In Madrid, there's a large residential block that speaks of being bored with convention. The building is not necessarily new, but certainly up for fun.

Then there are buildings covered with dreary graffiti that talks of lacking hope for the future and of just giving up.

Buildings affect our self-conception

Buildings have a great influence over our self-conception. Very often, we don't have a stable sense of our value or society. On some days, things can feel tolerable, and we have faith in our fellow humans. But on other days, we sense our mood dropping. We wonder about the cruelty of people.

Crucially for our state of mind is the architecture that can help push us either in a positive or a negative direction. Buildings that speaks of forgiveness, gentleness and modesty can make the world feel benevolent. If we are stuck in streets that talk to us sharply about shame, about being a nobody, these messages can amplify the worst on our inner world.