I want to write you a letter about the importance of owning a few books instead of many.
I feel that it is better to own a few books, and to re-read them over and over again, rather than own many books, and only read them once or twice.
First of all, think to yourself: if this book is the last book you’d read before you died, would you spend your valuable time on it?
For me, I only have a handful of books that I’ve re-read over and over again. If I could have a library, I’d carry fewer than 10 books. And if I were in a really dire situation, I’d only choose one book (Letters From a Stoic by Seneca).
Have you ever read an entire book, and at the end, totally forgot what you read? Happens to me all the time.
Being a forgetful person, I started to re-read a few books that I really enjoyed. Finally, what I started to learn from these books started to stick. It is like marinating a steak; you need to let it marinate for a long time for the sauce to soak in. The same is with ideas; you need to let them marinate in your mind for a long time if you want them to stick.
I read an ancient saying: you need to constantly dye sheep’s wool over and over again if you want the color to stick.
Honestly, I’ve wasted a lot of time reading business books. 99% of these business books are fluff. You can generally get the main idea or point just in the title. I wish I could get those hours back.
The same goes with 99% of the self help books I’ve read. Honestly, most of the information in these books originate from ancient philosophy. It is better to go to the source of these self help books, which include Stoic phiosophy (Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Rufus), Epicurus, Socrates, Jesus, Diogenes, Buddha.
Look at the same photo books over and over again
The same goes with photography. If you want to really gain wisdom and inspiration from the master photographers, own just a few photo books, and look at them over and over again.
My friend Kaushal Parikh inspired me when he told me he looked at Alex Webb’s “The Suffering of Light” book at least a hundred times. As for me, the photo book I’ve looked at over and over the most is Josef Koudelka’s “Exiles.”
By re-reading a photo book over and over again, you will internalize compositional techniques, soulful images, and emotion. The mistake we make is instead of letting a few great photographers and photo books marinate in our minds, we are always hungry for junk food, and constantly waste attention, energy, and time on social media.
So friend, I recommend you to buy books, not gear in life. Books are nourishment for your soul, and the life lessons you learn from books will stay with you for a lifetime. All the petty gear we buy in our life will eventually lose value, rust, or become outdated.
Let us never regret spending a single dollar on a book. But let us not fall victim to “book acquisition syndrome” and buy books for the sake of it.
Own a few books, and read them over and over again. And when you’re bored of your books, take a break from reading. Go outside, play, go on a nice walk, exercise, eat, have a coffee, play with your kids, or take photos. Then when you’re hungry to read again, go back to the books you (already) own.