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Reminder: why you should read more books

Jan 15, 2023 Success, Sunday Nation

Another year, another set of books to look forward to! That thought is what adds buzz to my New Year, every year.

Good for you, I hear you say. You do you—enjoy! But wait, you know what’s coming. I’m about to holler one of my periodic reminders telling you all to read more books. Why do I do this, when we are all different? Indeed I highlighted the singularity of all our brains here just recently. Most people are not eager book-readers; avid bibliophily is clearly a minority pursuit.

And yet I regularly harangue ye all to read more books. Why do I do it? Because of the benefits, people! Let me give you a quick recap of what they are.

First, reading a book is great exercise for the brain. It stimulates the pathways, gets the neurons firing. Having to imagine things and reason after reading a set of words is hard—but it’s good for us. It keeps our minds fit when young; and wards off cognitive decline when older. Having been exposed to many viewpoints through deep reading improves critical thinking.

Second, book-reading is meditative, and therefore a stress-buster. Calm and considered reading puts us into a reflective state.

Third, book-reading improves everyone’s vocabulary and grammar. When we are regular readers, we know more words, and can structure better sentences. Clear and compelling writing, as I have argued here many times, is a superpower. The ability to communicate with clarity and persuasion lies behind many a success story. You will write better and speak better if you read better—and that will make you stand out from the crowd.

Next, exposing ourselves to different viewpoints and cultures and arguments via reading increases our openness as humans. Modern social media is having the reverse effect—it is sending us running back to “tribal” cocoons for safety. We exist in echo chambers, where the same worldview is repeated again and again, vociferously and angrily. Reading a wide range of books provides a nice antidote. It allows us to observe the thinking and behaviour of others, without becoming part of them. It keeps us open to thoughts that come from outside our lived experiences. We can travel the world, go back in history, plunge into the future—without leaving our chairs!

A fifth benefit: reading about the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of others makes us more empathetic. To be an armchair observer of family matters, love affairs, power struggles, falls and redemptions—that is pure gold, because human success comes from understanding humans better. Fortunately, master novelists have written perspicacious and nuanced accounts of the lives of others, giving their readers deep dives into the human experience. Read them to know people better.

Number six: reading takes you out of yourself, and connects you to the greater mass of humanity. We can all get a little too lost in our own lives, a little too self-absorbed, a little too engrossed in our own challenges. Reading more brings perspective and wisdom: that we are not alone in what we feel; that many others face even greater tribulations; that meaning will not come from merely being ourselves. It clarifies the contributions we might all make to the bigger deal of our lives.

Lastly: reading books is an act of self-care! It gives you “you time”; it is a healthy way to self-isolate, because you remain connected to the throb and vibe of humanity even in solitude. Oh, and guess what? It even helps you sleep better. A recent study found that device time just before bedtime leads to mental agitation and sleeplessness, whereas reading a book for even a few minutes before sleeping has the opposite effect by stimulating the brain’s limbic system in more constructive ways, before shutting down for the day.

There you are: seven great reasons to read more books this year. Will you take up the challenge? The reason I push this on everyone is that I believe every single one of us benefits by reading more books—even in small doses. Even if you’re not a booklover by nature, give it a gentle go: set yourself a modest target of just one book every month, or even less.

Your next question will be the one I am always asked, to this day: how do I do it? Let me give you the same answer. Try this: pick up a book you actually want to read, and then read just ten pages every day. Just ten, no more. That will take you only twenty minutes or so—and come on, we all have twenty minutes we can devote to something important. Stick to the task, though—read the ten pages without fail. In a month, a whole book will be read. And if you persist, your reading muscle will get stronger, and you may find yourself reading many, many excellent books every year.

Start now! Look for a good book, read just ten pages…

(Sunday Nation, 15 January 2023)

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