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Life, Condensed

We have talked before about different reasons why people read. I jokingly said it is to be the most interesting person in the room. I have talked about leisure, I have talked about education and even to boost your ability to write. I want to come at the question differently today.

Read to answer a simple question. What do you want to know about?

Recently (a few years back) I was watching a bird hop around in the snow. It huddled there in a locally barren landscape, crusted over with sun melt and wind freeze, and puffed itself up like a Michelin bird. But its naked featherless feet were just there for the winter to assault. I decided I didn’t know enough about birds.

I want to paint two different pictures at this point. First, a world where I didn’t have the opportunity to go read about my answer. I would have to hypothesize about how bird could possibly not freeze its little feet off. I would undoubtedly need to collect specimens. This is something I am constitutionally incapable of, so I would need postmortem birds. Time consuming. I would need to study for years on the subject to get to a decent working hypothesis.

In the second world I look up the question. I find a brief answer online, and think, I would like to know more than what fits on the back of a cocktail napkin here. Let’s check their references and read a book. So, I did.

Before I was alive, people wondered the same question, and they spent their entire lives answering it, and billions of other questions. That is the power of a book. A book is a condensation or distillation of a life. We live sixty or seventy years as an adult, accumulate knowledge and then we can pass it to infinite generations beyond us, so that they do not need to go where we have already gone. They can go further. I mean this in all writing though my focus here is in nonfiction. Writing enables us to argue with ourselves, with the great minds of the past, and to pit them against one another.

What do you want to know about?

How do birds navigate through trees at speed? How many emotions do dogs have? Does your cat like you? When do your children’s memories first start to form? What is the best way to convince a person that your opinion is not crazy, or maybe even right? How do I knit? How can I maintain a bike? What kind of plants can be grown in acidic full shade?

These are fun questions and I guarantee whole books exist on all of them.

What do you want to know about and learn? What have you always wondered? What’s stopping you from grabbing a book, and figuring it out?

Go read the condensation of another person’s life.

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