Who to read to get smarter

 In general: read the work of people who don't agree with popular opinion, or with your opinion. Not because I want you to become a radical but because even if the popular opinion is right, looking at it as if it was wrong will make you smarter--and you don't have to agree with the writer to benefit. 

 The first way this makes you smarter is that it has a physiological effect on the brain, literally re-wiring it with new neuronal connections.

 The second is that it tends to lead to new ideas. The formula is Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis. You take a perspective, you add the opposite perspective, and you get a new perspective. This kind of writing or journalism is often called contrarian, and there are magazines like Salon.com that specialize in it. 

Some current writers who are good at this include:
  • Nicholas Carr: Writes about human development, particularly computers and business. His contrarian tome is "Does IT Matter?", but his personal blog spends time rebutting urban theories like Accidentalism and Serendipity, too.
  • William Safire: A political columnist for The New York Times, also wrote the Sunday column On Language

Absurdist literature

 A connection between Franz Kafka and improved mental skills--specifically pattern detection--was uncovered in a study conducted by the University of California and the University of British Columbia. They prepared two versions of a Kafka story--one modified to enhance its absurdity, the other modified to smooth-out the narrative and make it easier to understand--and had two groups of students perform simple pattern discovery tasks after reading either one or the other. Those who read the absurd version, which dissolved into non-sequiteurs and unrelated illustrations, performed better at the task than those who read the "easy" version that had meaningful illustrations and clearer prose. Reading a story that was difficult to understand made the brain work harder at extracting meaning, and the benefit of exercise carried over to other tasks.

 Absurdism is also used in cinema. Try movies by David Lynch and David Cronenberg.