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Give your brain a little workout today

How are you doing with my annual book-reading challenge?

I found, somewhat to my surprise, that I have already clocked 50 books this year with a full four months left in the calendar. I’m not quite sure how this happened. Perhaps pushing all of you to read more books has spurred me on as well. Perhaps I have read a lot more work-related books because of some new challenges I have been exploring.

Whatever the case, I’m well ahead of schedule on the #50BooksIn2019 challenge. How are you doing?

Before you reply, there’s a question you might wish to pose. Is this even a legitimate challenge? Why should reading books be a thing for everyone? Personally, I love reading books. I benefit immensely from doing so, and can’t imagine a life without them. But so what?

Lives are different. People are different, and so are their pathways to success and meaning. We are given unique capabilities, unique intelligences, unique contexts. So why should something as particular as reading books be important? Many of those who have made their dent in the universe have done so without the benefit of bookishness. They have engaged all their other capacities and interacted fully with life. They have brought their own wisdoms, acquired through personal hands-on experience, into play.

All true. And my point in becoming a drumbeater for bibliophilia is not to impose my choices or preferences on anyone.

Consider this, though. Whilst I while away hours and hours reading books, there are those who put the time to a different use. They develop their bodies. They are regularly in the gym, working out. They are jogging and stretching. They are engaged in yogic positions and aerobic pursuits. They eat carefully and with discernment. That is their priority; that is how they expend their precious time.

If those folks came to me to convince me to join them, they would encounter great resistance, both passive and aggressive. I will not be found on a treadmill or a jogging path anytime soon. I admire those who can do this; but I do not wish to be in their number.

And yet, if I rejected the entire premise of looking after one’s body with physical exercise, I would be the fool. I will never run a marathon or bench-press any substantial weight, but doing the minimum physical activity is simply a necessity. Some daily brisk walking, some light stretching, some avoidance of a preponderance of junk food is not remarkable or virtuous – it’s just sensible.

So it is with book reading. Unless you’re a hard-nosed bookworm, I don’t ask that you read 50 books every year – or even 25. That’s for the hardcore element. The #50BooksIn2019 hashtag is just a stretch target for bibliophiles, the marathoners of long reading.

Nonetheless, even if you are averse to books and have never really picked one up since school, you will benefit from doing the bare minimum. It helps the mind to be immersed in a long read, in a single topic or story, for a period of time. It’s good exercise. It aids you in thinking a little deeper, and in broadening your perspectives.

That necessary minimum, in my humble suggestion, is 12 books per year, just one per month. If you can do that, you’ll get no further push from me. And even if you are the world’s most reluctant book reader, I have a method for you. Read just ten pages every day. No more. Stop after the tenth page. That requires just 10-20 minutes per day. You know you can find that time. But will you? There’s no compulsion. It’s a choice.

Doing at least the minimum physical exercise our bodies need helps us to gain a better quality of life, and to forestall unnecessary ailments. It’s the same with mental exercise. Thinking more deeply by engaging in long-form reading builds our neural plasticity and keeps our synapses firing. If our reading is wide enough, it aids our tolerance of different perspectives, and forestalls chauvinism and dogmatism. It makes us more open and more effective.

So that’s why. Ignore the big numbers; don’t be daunted by the big readers. Choose a good book – not one that just transfers the equivalent of junk food to the written page. Then just sit down and read your ten pages for today. Do the same tomorrow, and you may just find that even this gentlest of workouts is giving you new vigour.

(Sunday Nation, 8 September 2019)

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