Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Life as an Experiment

My Life as an Experiment: One Man's Humble Quest to Improve Himself
By A.J. Jacobs

If you are looking for someone to blame for the existence of this blog, look no further than A.J. Jacobs.

I don't know Mr. Jacobs. Never met him. But he is indeed responsible for this blog (in sort of a roundabout way). For those who've never heard of A.J. Jacobs, he is a writer and radical self-experimenter. He takes it upon himself to subject himself (and his family) to all sorts of odd social experiments from uni-tasking to reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica to living his life exclusively by the rules and codes of the Bible. Then he writes about it in a funny, self-deprecating style that is both endearing and hilarious.

A.J. Jacobs is a strange guy. I suspect we'd probably get along.

Back in the fall of 2007 I was visiting my family in Canada and I happened to pick up A.J. Jacobs (then) most recent work, My Year of Living Biblically. The premise of the book was for Jacobs to spend an entire year of his life trying to adhere to each and every rule found in the Bible.

I know that these sorts of books aren't for everyone (my wife rolled her eyes at most of Jacobs' antics throughout the book) but I tend to eat this stuff up! I love a good challenge and, while sitting in the middle of a mall reading My Year of Living Biblically, I decided I was going to challenge myself as well. Nothing too radical, mind you. I'm not a writer for Esquire and therefore had to keep my insanity within the realms of my own social and professional boundaries. But I simply had to do something! Something sustained that would require constant effort.

I decided to use reading as my starting point. I had always been a voracious reader, but I could be sporadic and undisciplined going weeks or even months between books. Furthermore, since I had moved to Asia, my reading had trailed off due to a lack of good books available to me. I concluded that these were not good excuses and got on with formulating some rules for My Year of Reading, which seemed quite difficult at the time, but looking back, were actually quite pedestrian. Here are the rules I concocted for my first year of reading:

1. Must read at least 1 page per day.
2. Must start a new book on the same day I finished the previous book.
3. Must finish everything I start.
4. Only read one book at a time.
5. Read everything and anything that comes into your hands.
6. Carry the book everywhere you go (except into water or while running)

Pretty simple rules, really. I mean... one page!?!? I truly under-estimated myself.

In January 1st 2008, I picked up a copy of The Story of Ralph (a forgettable book, to say the least) and set off on a reading journey that has stretched beyond the intended year to the present day. The only problem was that they were simply too easy. I decided to revise the rules to include 25 per day and eliminate the read everything and anything rule since I found that I could afford to be a little discriminating.

By the beginning of this year (2011) the rules look like this:

1. Must read at least 50 page per day.
2. Must start a new book on the same day I finished the previous book.
3. Must finish everything I start.
4. Only read one book at a time.
5. Carry the book everywhere you go (except into water or while running)
6. Blog about each and every book.

No radical changes, but it has made it a bit more challenging. Long drives, extended visits from friends and family and busy sections of work have all threatened the rules on a few occasions but as it stands to, October 21st, 2011, I have never broken the rules.

Anyway, reading My Life as an Experiment reminded me how I got to this point and how I am eternally grateful to A.J. Jacobs for establishing a discipline to my reading I would never have otherwise endeavored to accomplish.

Oh, right... the book. My Life as an Experiment is A.J. Jacobs at his finest. The book documents ten different experiments he conducts on himself including radical honesty (no lying), radical rationality, living his life as a beautiful woman and asking What Would George Washington Do? (WWGWD?). It's a good, quick, quirky read and full of ideas for making your own life, if not better, then certainly more interesting. Check it out.

But more importantly: Thank you A.J. Jacobs.


Angling Saxon said...

I envy you your fortitude and commitment. And I've really been enjoying your reviews. Since I discovered your site (via Forumosa) I've been checking back periodically to catch up, and always find it time well spent.

While I personally appreciate the low-key below-the-radar existence of this site, I also think you deserve more exposure. Assuming you don't mind, I'll do my cyber-best to recommend your site.

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