Three Books In Three Days

I'm as frustrated as I've ever been with the lack of quality and lack of depth in nearly all internet-based news, opinion and information. It's murdering my attention span, and it's slowly but surely making me into a moron.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto a striking post at the In Over Your Head blog: How To Read 7 Books in 7 Days.

This post deeply resonated with me, and author Julien Smith is exactly right: if we all keep feeding ourselves bite-size mental candy and eschewing longer-form learning, well, we are gonna get dumber by the day.

Then again, reading seven books in seven days seemed... I don't know, a bit too monumental. So I chose an easier first step: reading three books in three days, which I'd say is an aggressive but reasonable goal for anyone who has other demands on their time.

And I did it. I read three books in three days--and lived to tell about it. And as a bonus, I learned a new way to run, a new way to eat, and a new way to think. Not bad for a mere three day's work!

In fact, this three day reading experiment was such a success that I thought I'd ask readers to try one of their own: choose three thought-provoking books of moderate length (clearly, we're not talking War and Peace here), and plow through them in a more-intense-than-normal three days of reading. Then, report back in the comments on how it went. Readers, what do you think?

Here's what I read:

Day 1: The Flinch by Julien Smith

Hey, why not start out with a book by the the same dude who gave me this three books/three days idea in the first place? Julien Smith's book The Flinch--which is free in e-book format by the way--is a metaphor about training yourself to run toward things you'd normally run from.

Literally speaking, of course, a flinch is a physical reaction to a negative stimulus. Think what you'd do if you jumped into a cold shower, or if something jumped up and frightened you. A flinch can be psychological too: it can take the form of an urge to judge others, an urge to not do something to avoid rejection, or an urge to dismiss new ideas.

Example: Read three books in three days? Three?? No way. Who has time for that?

That's a textbook flinch, paired nicely with an ego-validating rationalization. Note to self: when you have this kind of response to something, you should notice it--and then do that thing anyway.

Our flinching reflex has an obvious evolutionary origin: millennia ago, it protected us from predators and danger. Today, however, our flinch instinct merely "protects" us from life's richest experiences. It stops you from introducing yourself to that attractive girl (or boy) over there. It encourages you to avoid stressful or potentially embarrassing experiences like public speaking or learning a new language. Worst of all, it trains you to avoid new experiences. In other words, the real danger in the modern era comes from avoiding the things that make us flinch.

This author is really onto something here--perhaps more than he even realizes. And at just 193 pages, his book is a rapid and good read. Perfect for Day 1 of my trial.

Day 2: Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis

Readers: as much as I recommend The Flinch, I recommend Wheat Belly even more. This book is a provocative look at the interaction between the obesity epidemic and the proliferation of wheat-based foods throughout the Western diet.

There's a lot to think about in this unusual book, much (but not all) of it well-substantiated with clinical studies, solid evidence, and the author's own anecdotal experiences managing patients in his cardiology clinic. I walked away from this book with serious second thoughts about the amount of wheat and other gluten-based carbohydrates in my diet. I'll post an extended review of this book next week here at CK, and I've also asked the author if he would be willing to do an interview with me. (He agreed, so stay tuned!). In the meantime, I strongly recommend this book to critical thinking CK readers.

Day 3: ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running by Danny Dreyer

Finally, on day three of my reading trial, I learned a totally new way to run. Readers might remember a recent Friday Links post referring to Chi Running, and I'd recommend this book to anyone who would like to run, but struggles with knee pain (like I do), or other running-related physical issues.

Chi Running explains how tiny shifts in positioning and form can make your running far more efficient and far less stressful on your body. The result: easier runs and fewer injuries. I've been applying the concepts in this book to my own running, and I've found them both effective and surprisingly easy to implement. In fact, I'd say the biggest challenge for me with this book has been dealing with the psychological shock of how much faster I'm running as a result of such seemingly minor adjustments.

There's a lot to this book, including chapters on psychological aspects of running, how to approach running with a process-based mindset rather than a goal-based mindset, how to listen to your body, how to optimize your diet for running, and how to rid yourself of negative judgment and mind-identification. All in all, this was an exceptional book, and it revolutionized how I think about running.

Readers, if you were to do a three days/three books reading trial, what books would you consider?

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chacha1 said...

Well, I've gotta confess that I read a book a day, for stretches of several days at a time, several times a year. My reading at this pace is not, however, generally very substantial! It's genre fiction.

I do try to feed my brain something nutritious at regular intervals. But at an annual average of plus or minus 144 books per year, long-form reading is not something I feel I need to make a *higher* priority, if you know what I mean. :-)

Daniel said...

You leave my reading habits in the dust Chacha!


Laura said...

I just read "Wheat Belly" a few weeks ago and found it really interesting - but it was SO out there that it was hard to know what to believe. I'm really curious to read your take, Daniel!

I set an annual goal for myself of reading 100 books a year. This year I'm a bit behind at the moment, but your post is a good reminder that it wouldn't take long to catch up if I set my mind to it and made it a priority!

KB said...

I've been considering _Wheat Belly_, and your remarks have tipped me over to read it... as soon as I finish YMOYL and blog about it. So, you know, May of next year when I'm off work for a minute again. :)

Sally said...

I haven't read Wheat Belly and I won't read it. Here's why:

Nearly 20 years ago I developed some health problems. I started following a dietary program guaranteed to help reverse those problems and lose weight as well. From the beginning, I was a little skeptical -- it just didn't seem "right" to me, but then I wasn't the expert. Right?

One of the things the creator of that program taught his followers was to be critical of those whose teachings were contrary to what he taught. Look for the research to back up their claims, look for who sponsored the research and so on. It's amazing how many programs refer to research, but don't cite it. And the good doctor was right, most research promoting "x" as a healthy food was sponsored by groups who have something to gain by selling "x."

I started using what he taught us to do on his teachings. What an eye opener! I found that almost none of the research he used actually promoted what he taught. The little that did was designed to prove it -- and they conveniently omitted anything that didn't prove their theory right (and there was a lot). Additionally, this man (and a few others who promote similar programs) has always said that when the science proves him wrong, he will change what he teaches. The science has proved him wrong. Actually, his premise was never right -- and the teaching hasn't changed one bit.

This particular man makes himself very available to his fans. He can be emailed at any time and he will respond. However, if a follower is having problems, his response is always "just follow the program as written and it will work." Except it doesn't work for everyone!

The funny (to me, anyway) thing is that I use something learned from his program in my low-cost way of eating.

In the same way a stopped clock is right twice a day, I do think there are some things about which this man is right. I'm also sure that some people are helped by his plan. And I'm sure the same holds true for the author of Wheat Belly. But I generally consciously avoid any books, plans or programs that are developed by someone -- even if the science appears to validate what they teach.

By the way, I could guess what Wheat Belly was about, but I knew nothing about it. So, I checked it out at Amazon and I googled it. I found this:

Daniel said...

Thanks Sally, and I hear you. His book is clearly polemical, and I'll address that aspect of it in my full review next week. I'll be interested in your thoughts and reactions.