Bookshelf Investing: A Drew Yates Re-post

Here is a repost of a Drew Yates article I found EXTREMELY useful. Unfortunately most of his old posts seem to be forever lost. It is an unfortunate fact that the great blog post I have read are hidden jems that must be dug for. I need to make a habit of copying them on occasion because, all to often, they disappear when their author looses interest and moves on. This is one of the useful top-10 lists I have read and I hope (that by saving it here) it will be useful for a long time to come.

On Books, Top 10 Rules For Investing In Bookshelves

Your bookshelf is like your knowledge portfolio. By investing in yourself, you can become a more interesting, intelligent, creative, and happier person while education improving your judgement and learning new skills. Here are my top ten points for managing your education by investing in your bookself.

1. Buy books for who you’d like to be, not who you are.

Why only buy books about what you already know? Don’t feel guilty about books you own that you haven’t read yet, don’t quite understand, or don’t quite fit your persona. Surround yourself with what you want to know. Achieve by osmosis.

2. You can’t know what you don’t know. Diversify!

Never underestimate the value of learning what you don’t know. Buy books in topics that have “no interest in.” Maybe you are wrong. Inject some randomness in your life.

Excercise: Minute Compass

Try this: stand in the center of the bookstore with your back to the door and check your watch. Turn and face the direction your minute hand points. Buy and read one book in that direction.

3. Understand your investment profile

A book you bought but didn’t read is $20 lost. A book you read but didn’t like or learn from is $20 and maybe a few hours lost. A book you read and learned from is priceless. So: a calculated risk of $20, or never learning anything new? You can’t even begin to understand what you’re missing when you don’t know what you don’t know.

It’s much easier to start reading a book you have than a book you don’t have.

Unless you have urgent expenses, invest generously. This is true for all investments.

4. Give your favorite books away.

Ideas are like currency. They only have value when shared.

Real power today lies at society’s “information hubs.” What better to demonstrate your informational worth than to give books? You can alway rebuy books if you need them. Don’t bother asking people to return your books. That’s tacky. Let them keep it as a token of your thoughtfulness, advice, and generosity. Maybe they will pass that book along to their friends with a shining review, too! That’s the ulitmate compliment.

Not: Used books are NOT GIFTS. Gifting something you are “done with” as is fantastically tacky and cheap. Besides, traditional gifts are more tokens of sacrifice and obligation than tokens of good-will and thoughtfulness. How else could you explain all those $10 gift certificates from your extended family and coworkers?

5. Buy books cheap, but don’t be cheap.

Investing in books are one of those rare opportunities where it pays to be a spontanious shopper. If you suddenly have the motivation to learn, don’t squander it to save five dollars! Naturally, don’t spend more than you have to. But like the morons who drive around town for the cheapest gas, it doesn’t pay to waste time to save a couple dollars. Well, actually it pays a couple dollars. Unless you’re 11, you probably could spend your time better.

Also, most good technical books can usually only be found new. Good technical books are kept as references, and people resell back books they don’t think they’ll use again. Also, most technical books have a shelf-life of only a few years. The only technical books at a value book store will probably be outdated and mediocre.

Cheap, readily available books, like classical literature, are usually at the library or internet for free, anyways.

6. Be Wary of Textbooks. Many Textbooks Suck.

Be suspecious of any book that marketed to undergraduates. If the publisher doesn’t take pride in their work and churns frivolous editions, why should you take pride in owning a copy? In my experience, most required engineering books are terrible. If you’re a computer science student, forget buying the textbook, just use the Internet.

Note: this varies per university. If you are savvy enough to judge books, you can often judge the quality of a university department by the quality of the required reading. Andrew in the comments also noted that many very specialized texts can only be found at universities.

7. Ask Bookstore Employees for Advice

Most bookstore employees like books. Unfortunately, they are usually stuck playing the Warehouse Index game for impatient customers. Make your bookstore employees happy. Ask for their advice. They will know which books are well-liked and which are trash, and they might know which publishers print the best quality books. Ask employees which books they like. And then buy what they like. You might even make some interesting friends this way.

Side note: never harass retail employees. Be nice. Really, whatever your problem is, it’s almost guarunteed not be the fault of anyone around you can talk to. Worse, have you ever known an employee to make exceptions for a jerk? Rarely. If you have a problem with a store, complain with your wallet (or your blog ;) ), never to employees.

8. Throw away bad books.

You probably own some books that were disappointing or technical books that are outdated. Throw them away. There’s nothing to be learned by hording trash knowledge. In fact, make trashing books symbolic of your intellectual health. You can’t fill a full cup.

9. Non-fiction is usually a better investment

Non-fiction has an obligation (you hope) to be true. Most fiction, like movies, only mean to be entertaining, not to make you think. If you want to read fiction, avoid books you would expect to find at your grocery store. Also, most science fiction and fantasy books are rarely good “investments.” Watch Star Wars, read Lord of the Rings, and be done with it.

10. If somebody recommends a book, STOP, note the title, and buy it immediately

Your investment will stagnate if you don’t do this. Make this a habit. Don’t try and rationalize this away. Shut up and do it. Somebody you respect has chosen to share very valuable knowledge with you and you have an obligation to due diligance. Even if you don’t like their recommendation, you have learned something important about the person who recommended it. To not do this, I think, is crude and insulting.

In fact, you should take notes whenever anyone is describing something they care about, whether it’s people they think you should know, books that they enjoy, or places they enjoy visiting. Not only is this flattering, but it’s honest and smart. What better way to prove your legitimate interest in somebody’s opinion than writing them down… and then backing your word with your wallet? Not even $20 in beer could be as well spent.

Note: don’t be obnoxious about taking notes. Just write down the author and title. People don’t want to feel like professors in casual conversation.