Books-a-Million

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"Books-a-Million"

Ezra Klein says he doesn’t think books have had that much influence on his thinking:

These books meant a lot to me, but they were much less influential in my thinking — particularly in my current thinking — than a variety of texts that carry consider less physical heft. Years spent reading the Washington Monthly, American Prospect and New Republic transformed me from someone interested in politics into someone interested in policy. So, too, did bloggers like, well, Matthew Yglesias, Kevin Drum and Tyler Cowen. In fact, Cowen, Brad DeLong, Mark Thoma and a variety of other economics bloggers also get credit for familiarizing me with a type of basic economic analysis that’s consistently present in my approach to new issues. [...]

Going forward, I wonder how common canons like mine will become. Twenty years ago, someone with my interests would’ve spent a lot more time reading books because blogs simply didn’t exist yet. Magazines were around, but the advent of the Web led to daily content, so I’ve also spent more time reading those. But I can’t deny it: So much as I love my favorite books, the biggest influences in my thinking have been the continuous intellectual relationships I’ve had with blogs, periodicals and other people. Books aren’t even that close.

Obviously, the rise of more “things that aren’t books” is going to lead to a reduction in book-reading. But if I look back at my list of books that influenced my thinking—and I encourage everyone to check out the comments section, we have a nice long thread that I’ve been participating in—these aren’t books that influenced my thinking “on the issues” the way blog posts and magazine articles do nearly so much as they’re books that influenced my thinking about my thinking. Like: What’s important? What’s it worth doing in life? What questions are a waste of time? What kinds of mistakes have I been making?

I feel like this is going to be the kind of thing books are still important for, simply because they’re more intense experiences. A solo encounter with a major work is a big deal in a way that sporadic engagement with blogs isn’t. Which is just to say that I hope and think digital media will mostly crowd out relatively low-value book-reading experiences and still leave room for some of the big deal reads.

That said, next week I do want to do a followup with ten books that specifically influenced how I think about American politics.

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