Jason King

Guest Post: How You Can Read 200 Books In a Year?

This is a guest column from faculty member Jason King who teaches geography and math. Professor King contributes semi-regular posts to this blog.
It’s hard to make time to read for pleasure and as you age into this mad world, it doesn’t get any easier. And there’s so much to learn out there! If you’re living an ascetic life because of Covid, at least it may be possible to come out of it with a wealth of information only books can give you.

By the end of today I’ll probably have read 200 books this year.* How did I do it? I’m not blessed with excessive time, nor do I have a fortune to spend on books. Here’s what I’ve been doing since 2017 to get 150 books read a year.

  1. Try to find reading synergies in your life. If reading has to be done as a substitute for other things – you either drive to work or you read, for example – it’s always going to be hard to find time. But if you can use these as a complement your potential for reading more can increase drastically. I read when I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, when my kids are playing at the park, when I’m on a treadmill, when insomnia hits. I used to be a snob about e-Readers, but now most of my reading happens on a Kindle Paperwhite – if I had a more advanced model I’d get more distracted than I already am.
  2. Use the library. Buying 200 books would be difficult on a lot of budgets and floorplans – it would cost a ton of money and take up a lot of space, and I don’t reread books very often. I use two library apps, Hoopla and Libby, in a combination of my local library and Moraine’s library, on which I can always find something I want to read. I still buy books when I find ones that are tough to find but it’s more rare now.
  3. Audiobooks are books, too. Some snobs think that listening to audiobooks isn’t the same as reading audiobooks – the research suggests that retention and brain usage are basically the same in either medium, so I do count audiobooks. For me, opening up audiobooks as a reading option opens up a lot of time to read. I listen to audiobooks when I’m doing dishes, doing the laundry, driving to and from places, hiking, and shopping, and sometimes playing video games. If I get cut off in traffic it’s possible I lose some of the material, but I can always rewind – and, to be frank, I sometimes space out when I read paper books as well.

    Sometimes this irritates my family, when they have to ask me something twice because I couldn’t hear them the first time. 🙂
  4. If you’re listening to audiobooks, don’t be afraid to try listening to them at higher speeds. Using Hoopla and Libby allows you to listen to audiobooks at accelerated reading paces – I regularly listen to audiobooks at 2x speed, but sometimes at 2.5x or even 3x. This isn’t as awkward as it sounds – some narrators read glacially.
  5. Book selection is key. For me there’s a bunch of important aspects of picking books:
    –Many of my favorite books are contingent on time and place. Some books are great when you’re exploring an idea in your own life and reading them later on would make them feel redundant and irritating. Other books are great, but need to be read after education and experiences are cultivated. Some books I’ve tried to read when I was preoccupied or angry and my opinion of them was colored by the environment of my life. Some books should be read when an expert opinion guiding you through them.
    –If books are like food, I have found it’s good to make sure you allow yourself cheat days. Reading only classics or higher-level academic stuff gets boring, but reading only pulp fiction and easy-to-read material also feels gross after awhile. No matter what, it’s still better to eat only junk than to starve.
  6. Use a tracker to keep you honest, if you think it would help. I like tracking my books on Goodreads – it lets me log my books read, pages read, helps me set a reading goal, and can even make recommendations if you need some ideas on what to read.

I’ve included some of my favorite library books I’ve read this year. Feel free to send me questions or ideas on good books if you have any!

Deep River by Karl Marlantes (audio book, ebook)

Calypso by David Sedaris (print book)

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (audio book)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (ebook, print book)

The Counterlife by Philip Roth

  • *By the end of September 5, I read another, so I’m now at 201 for the year.

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Guest Column: Flags, Continents, & Other Filters for Understanding Our World

This is a guest column from faculty member Jason King who teaches geography and math. Professor King contributes semi-regular posts to this blog.

by Jason King

If you know what to look for, you can learn a lot about a country by looking at its flag. Take the flag of the former Soviet Union:

There are some clear motifs going on here: the use of the color red, the hammer, the sickle, and the star. For our purposes, let’s talk about the hammer, sickle, and star – the hammer referred to industrial workers, the sickle to agricultural workers, and the star referred to Communism spreading to the five continents of the world.

Wait … five continents of the world? Aren’t they forgetting some? Not according to the Soviets. (Today, the Russians normally teach there are six.)

So – America teaches there are seven continents, the Soviets taught there were five, but now there are six, There’s a saying I heard from one of my Geography professors, long ago – “all models are lies, but some models are useful.”

Most Americans (and a lot of the world in general) learn there are seven continents and five oceans
*Our seven continental model is mostly used to describe landmasses.

Most of the time our filter for understanding our planet isn’t actually the land – it’s people. Most of the time we care about the location of natural resources because people use them. Most of the time we care about climate patterns because they inform us where human beings live (and you can see a big drawback to that human-centeredness when talking about climate!) So, when talking about seven continents there are some very obvious shortcomings – cross over the Isthmus of Panama and not much changes culturally. (In fact, Panama was once a part of Colombia and was only separated to give the United States a legal ability to build the Panama Canal!) Crossing over the Sinai Delta and most people continue to speak Arabic, practice the same faiths, and have a largely shared history. Crossing over the Ural Mountains – which ain’t all that mountainous – doesn’t change much culturally at all.

Human beings usually don’t feel borders as much as transition zones. You’ll never find a sign that says “You are leaving the Midwest” – you might slowly realize that elements of Midwestern Culture have begun to wane and eventually disappear as you leave the core of the Midwest. We normally speak about human cultural borders as transition zones today. Cross the Sahara, or travel through northern Kazakhstan, or the Appalachian Mountains in Pittsburgh, and you will begin to feel elements of this change.

At first glance this looks like another way geographers justify having jobs – having a meaningless thing to argue about – but there are some very real implications in our modern era. Central Asia is currently, through a rise in Chinese economic and soft power, transitioning from being in a Russian to a Chinese sphere of influence. Turkey, set between Europe and the Middle East, has pivoted strongly towards the Middle East as it was snubbed entrance to the European Union. Before the Global War on Terror, the Afghan Civil War was largely set between factions that sought to include Afghanistan into either a Middle Eastern or an Indian sphere of influence. (Today, it appears as though it will likely fall into a Chinese orbit in the fullness of time.)

When I teach Geography here are the “continents” I teach: North America, Central America, South America, Europe, The Commonwealth of Independent States, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and Oceania. We’ve went from seven to eleven, but even then that’s just because we need some way of breaking up things into units.
So when people ask me, “How many continents are there?” I usually shrug and say, “Beats me!”

*Did you learn there were five? If you’re old like me you probably learned about the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic. Since then, we’re added one – the Southern Ocean – based mostly on currents and water temperature, rather than its relationship to landmasses around it.

So when people ask me, “How many continents are there?” I usually shrug and say, “Beats me!”

For further readings, check out these sources:
Ebook: The Soviet Union : a short history by Mark Edele

Ebook: Russia on the edge : imagined geographies and post-Soviet identity by Edith W. Clowes

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