Reading is trending.The internet’s taken something uncool and given it a makeover. Reading is the new kale: worth stomaching because it’s Good For Us.So good, in fact, that we should do as much of it as we can. More is more! Everyone should be reading one book a week — no, wait, one book a day.
That’s why Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates,Barack Obama and Elon Musk are successful, after all.The more we read, the smarter we’ll get.But where do we find the time? We have to do it faster, faster, and faster still!Blog posts tell us How To Read 300% Faster In 20 minutes! Or, How To Trick Yourself Into Reading More Books!
Speed reading has become a competitive sport: a race to see who can devour the New York Times Bestseller list quickest.And according to UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield, when the brain skims, less attention and time is allocated to slower, more time-consuming processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy.
In other words, we aren’t giving ourselves enough time to grasp complexity or develop opinions of our own.Even if we assume speed reading doesn’t really work, we still need to address the real question: why would we want it to?I have nothing against reading 100 books a year — if that rate comes naturally to you.
Why do we read, anyway?
Consider three types of reading:
The first is passive. Scrolling on Facebook, flicking through a magazine in a doctor’s room, tapping away on Twitter. This reading happens to you.
The second is practical. Reading for a purpose. Because we want — or need — to learn something. At school, college, or for personal improvement.
The third is pleasurable. Not just fiction or magazines or fluffy escapism. Reading for pleasure doesn’t have a category: it’s subjective. It happens when something makes you tick: an article, a novel, an autobiography.
Reading because you want to, not because you feel you should.Thinking “Yes — this is for me.” Getting so lost that you don’t hear the door being knocked.
It’s this reading that lengthens our attention spans, expands our vocabulary, and help us squirrel away golden nuggets of information. We can’t help it — when reading is pleasurable, the content stays with us.
Elon Musk and co., attribute their success to reading because they read purposely, and apply that learning in the wider context of their careers. They didn’t plough through huge volumes of material as a box to be ticked.
As Mortimer J. Adler wrote:
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
In case you choose quality over quantity, here are a few tips that can help you to find books that can get through to you:
Try the classics…
Try dropping self-help books for a while. Most books are repackaged versions of a handful of classics. It’s worth starting with the original wisdom and going from there. Choose the best of the best in the topics that interest you. Reading a selection of these, carefully, will take you far.
Be selective;There will naturally be some books that apply to you and your life more than others. That’s ok. Curate a selection that makes sense for you.
Re-read;If you’re trying to expand your knowledge in a certain area, re-reading something that inspired and resonated with you will be more impactful than reading new books that reiterate the same.
Take notes;We retain information much better when we take notes manually.
In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott writes,
“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”
Reading is magic. It’s teleportation and telepathy.It lets us roam across space and time, oceans and continents.It lets us pick the brains of the most astonishing people on earth, access the wisdom of the past and see into the future.
Reading has many unintended consequences: we hold multiple interesting perspectives in our mind, practice listening to the opinions of others’, and accept we’re not always right.
Yes, reading educates, it increases empathy, it emboldens us. But it can also just be fun. Don’t read to make yourself successful. Read to make yourself happy.