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The WHY and HOW of reading books

Jun 24, 2018 Success, Sunday Nation

Half the year is gone. How goes the book-reading? I’ll soon be opening book number 35, so I’m well ahead of schedule. How are you doing?

I hope you’re still up for the #50BooksIn2018 challenge. A quick recap: why a numerical target? Because humans respond to quantified challenges. Why 50 books? That’s the stretch target for committed bibliophiles. You can also pick a lower tier: 25 books in the year, or just 12. Your call. Most people can’t read 50 books in a year. But almost anyone can (and should) read 12.

Allow me to use today’s column to issue a reminder on WHY and HOW to read books.

The “why” part of the equation was put very well by Isaac Asimov, years ago:

“Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It’s a space­ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you – and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.”

So apt. And I could add a further reason to Dr Asimov’s list: read books if you want to be able to write like he did there – clearly and compellingly.

I can confirm that so far in 2018 I have: read two superb novels by African authors about troubled marriages and twists of fate; understood more deeply why we all need to be worried about the world’s new tech titans; visited a troubled post-apocalyptic world; understood how humans discovered the gene, and how our DNA drives our destinies; burst out laughing; and rejoiced in some ancient wisdom about the meaning of our brief lives.

In other words, I have done everything the good doctor said I would: gone back and forth in time; learnt new lessons; been entertained and regaled; made new friends; and become better at my work. All without leaving my room. And THAT is why you should read more books. Pick your number (50, 25 or 12) and just do it.

Since I started this challenge, many of you have reached out to say: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak! To which I say: the spirit is not willing enough. If it were, you would pick up the book and get going. We all get done the things we really want to do. The rest join the “nice-to-do” pile. So stop procrastinating, and start delivering. For your own sake, not for anyone else’s. Like exercise and good eating, reading good books is good for you. You won’t regret it once you’ve started doing it. The only regret you’ll have is why you wasted so much time in the past…

Some of you still say you need a method, though. So here’s a quick and simple one. Put aside twenty minutes, just twenty minutes, every day for book-reading. That’s all. Not thirty minutes, not an hour. Twenty minutes, period. Pick out those twenty minutes carefully, and stick to them. Start reading your book. After twenty minutes, stop. Do this every day, and you will have hit the base target of 12 books in the year, one per month. Try it and see.

Does that book you’re trying to read still look daunting? Put it down, and come back to it another time. Use a different book to get started, perhaps a lighter, shorter, more familiar one. Just get into the habit first. Develop your reading muscle gradually, and do the heavy lifting later. Like with every exercise regime, start with the lighter stuff, and build yourself up. Read first for enjoyment, and you may find yourself reading for self-improvement later on.

Are we good, then? You read for the sheer joy of reading, and if not for joy then for expanding your mind. You read books because the real benefit comes when you stay with an author for a period and follow a story or argument or thesis through to its conclusion, rather than merely flitting through short, scattered pieces.

You read by making the time (less time than you might imagine); by being disciplined; by setting priorities; by following a regular rhythm. Tell me about your book adventures on Twitter. #50BooksIn2018. Happy reading.

(Sunday Nation, 24 June 2018)

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