Late 2000s…

As a 12 year old I started with J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Soon I went into detective mode with The Famous Fives and The Secret Sevens. And ended the detective fever with the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes. Soon it was the thriller craze that got to me with a LOT of Robert Ludlum books, and later by Eric Van Lustbader. Oh man, those books hit different. The Bourne series was my favourite at that time. David Baldacci was another favourite author who wrote a lot of cool Secret Service and CIA stuff. A bunch of John Grisham and Dan Brown books too made the list - Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons and the likes. I’ve also indulged myself in a bit of the wild west by Louis L’Amour and some more classics like 1984 here and there.

This is what my collection used to look like (that’s just one layer that you can see, another’s hidden in the back and I’m too scared to get there right now).

Mid 2010s…

Right about during my bachelor’s (Computer Science), I stopped reading. I got busy with a bunch of internships and the usual college routine and laziness. Textbooks were the only thing that I used to go through besides some occasional dive into documentation and MIT tutorials.

Later 2010s…

I started my career as a Data Scientist, which has now evolved to a Machine Learning Engineer role (we still debate on what we call ourselves, we do a bit of both tbh). During this while, my reading focus shifted to a bunch on blogs - mainly the ones by Eugene Yan, Chip Huyen, Lilian Weng and few more - great material in here. Also a lot of textbooks that I used to consume on my tablet and occasionally on the phone during travel.

These were the classic ML and AI textbooks with some Math and Stats. Barto & Sutton’s RL, Bishop’s Pattern Recognition, Russel and Norvig’s Artificial Intelligence, The Deep Learning book, books on numerical optimisations, game theory, information theory and the likes became the staple. These weren’t really light reads and moving from one textbook to another became taxing.

Besides this, my non-fictional interest peaked after I read Sapiens. This was followed by Homo Deus, Superintelligence, Intelligent Investor, Origin of Species, a few Stephen Hawking books and some (auto)biographies.

Early 2020s…

I started my online masters with Georgia Tech and the course work also involved a bunch of papers and textbooks as part of the suggested readings. It was getting overwhelming and I ended up not reading 🙂. It wasn’t fun anymore and I needed to make it more fun. I needed a change in routine or the way I consumed books…. and I found it, credit goes to my work place and the traffic Bangalore is known for.

The “Back to Office” (or B2O, how they liked to call it) program kicked in where we were asked to resume work from office. This meant travelling to office, which is in the heart of the traffic hell hole the city is known for. I used to ride my two-wheeler, but I tried out something different for a change and started driving my car to work (I cannot tolerate the heat, I needed the A/C).

The commute to and from office was a solid 7 hours per week (worst case) and I decided to spend this time wisely. I wasn’t too optimistic on picking up things like audio books while driving, but I experimented with some podcasts. The fun ones like Lifekit, Stuff you Should Know, Lex Fridman podcasts and a few others kept me occupied for a few weeks. I was really getting into the ‘listening while driving’ mode. It was working!

Next step in the experiment was to pick up fiction again. This was pretty scary for me since it had been almost a decade since I pulled off this stunt. The brilliant mind of my friend suggested to start the journey into fiction with The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time. It wasn’t bad at all. I enjoyed the read. So another successful experiment!

It was time to put it all together. Here’s what I ended up doing -

  1. Weekends - this was for fiction. Physical book, and a cute bookmark. Started with a classic in sci-fi, Dune. It kept the weekends refreshing, light, fun, imaginative.
  2. Weekdays, at home - this was for non-fiction and/or textbooks (usually just the “or”, couldn’t do two books yet). The non-fiction, again, was a physical copy. Usually borrowed something my friend was reading at the time. The recent one I finished was Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management track. Very nice read. I had been battling some IC vs. EM thoughts in the head, so this really helped (more on this some other time). On other days, when there are some readings from the course work due, I used to pick the relevant textbooks and papers. That consumed my day.
  3. Weekday, at work - dedicated 1 hour slot daily checking off articles and blogs that I’ve subscribed to and some papers that colleagues forward. This was pretty technical and required for the hour.
  4. Weekdays, on the road - audiobooks. An audible subscription and I was good to go. Swapped out the podcasts with audiobooks, mostly philosophy and non-fiction. I started with The Almanack Of Naval Ravikant and then got through Good Strategy and Bad Strategy. Next up, Why We Sleep.

This new routine has been refreshing and satisfying my itch to read more. It does sound overwhelming to think that I’m reading 3-4 books at a time, but the clean separation of the genre of books with the context at which I’m reading them really help compartmentalise thoughts. This has been working pretty well for me - at it since last 3 months.

I’ll probably post an update towards the end of the year to check in on where my new habit stands.