The Reading Habit

booksYou may have noticed that I include what I’m currently reading in the right hand column of this blog and it changes pretty regularly. I have a reputation for reading lots of books. My coworker Dave teases me that I always have a book recommendation to follow up on a conversation we are having.

Other people have also observed that I read a lot of books. They ask how I’ve been able to do so. I assume that is because they too want to start reading (or simply read more).

It’s actually pretty simple to start reading, but like many things in life being simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Read What You Love, Not What You Want to Like

elaine-war and peaceIf you want to develop a personal reading habit, it’s much easier to do so with an entertaining page-turner like The Hunger Games that you can’t put down than War and Peace, otherwise known as War! What is it Good For? (abSOlutely Nothing! HUH! per Elaine Benes)

Be honest with yourself. If you find something boring or hard to get through, then stop reading it! My sister complained to me recently that she’s slogging through the back half of The Conte of Monte Cristo and it’s taking her months to finish. I can relate because I did the same thing back in 2006. I was reading that book mainly because it’s considered a ‘classic’. I felt I SHOULD read it because it would somehow make me smarter. In hindsight that was stupid because I didn’t like the book.

It’s a mistake to pick a book mainly because you think it will make you smarter (and in turn make you look smarter to others). Instead, you should pick something you genuinely find interesting.

stephen hawkingPeople might be briefly impressed if they notice you are reading A Brief History of Time (it took me 2 months to read Stephen Hawking’s 256 pages), but they’ll forget about that soon after.

Conversely, people will remember you enthusiastically referencing and recommending Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. (384 pages in 5 days. It’s excellent. Seriously! Everyone should read it!) The latter is going to make you look smarter to others because you are authentically interested in the topic.

I propose as a simple rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t recommend the book you’re reading to a friend within 1 week of starting it, then put the book down and move on to something else. Life is too short to do otherwise.

There is a misconception when it comes to reading that you should finish what you’ve started.  That’s a good habit for some things, but it’s a silly notion for reading.

It’s not a reflection on you if you don’t finish that book. Sometimes you’re just not in the right mood. You can always pick the book back up later. I did that with The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. First attempt: ‘meh. Second attempt: really interesting and I’d totally recommend it.

My point is, it’s more important to read something (whatever that may be) than continuing to read THIS book to its bitter end. The latter gets you in the habit of procrastinating and reading less, which is not the point.

Finding Time to Read

The simple answer to finding time to read is to turn off the TV, stop compulsively checking emails, and stay off Facebook, but that’s not a useful starting point because all of those things are simply too tempting in the moment when you’re sitting at home after work. At least that was the case for me in early adulthood. The only times I consistently read was when I was on business trips. That was because there wasn’t much else to do in the airport or on the plane with no access to TV or internet. (Luckily, there was no on flight wifi back then.)

metra416_101603_chicago-1Things changed when I started taking the train to work instead of driving. The ride was 50 minutes long, so that gave me more than 1.5 hours of MeTime (i.e. no TV or internet) 5 days a week. I filled that time with reading books, because there wasn’t much else to do. The next best options were talking to strangers (yikes!) and staring aimlessly out the window (boring!).

Reading became one of my default behavior during the 8 years I took the train, to the point where I craved it and actively looked for more time to devote for it.

You are probably asking, “how does this help me?! I have to drive to work because there isn’t public transportation, and even if there were it would not take 50 minutes. And I’m sure as hell not going 30 minutes out of my way just to read!”

Fair enough, but there are simple ways to carve out time to make regular reading time in your life. For example, on the weekend you could walk to the nearest Starbucks and read there while slowly drinking your morning coffee. (Be sure to leave your phone and computer at home.) I’m a fixture at my local coffee shop, the Park Ave Café, on both Saturday and Sunday. It’s where I get the bulk of my weekend reading done.

books-and-beerIf you’re not a morning and/or coffee person you can also read at a quiet bar in the middle of the day. I’ll admit that a bar is a counterintuitive place to read a book, but with the right bar and the right time of day it’s great. I’m notorious at my local watering hole to go in for a late lunch and read on my kindle while drinking a few pints. The bartenders don’t mind, they’re busy getting ready for happy hour and I’m an easy customer. Frankly, it’s fun to read with a mild buzz, very Hemingway’esque.

Regardless of the outside place you choose to read, if you’ve pick a page turner that you can’t put down you’ll be spending more time reading than you expected. It will also spillover into reading at home because it’s much easier to turn the TV or computer off (or not turn either on in the first place) if you’re deep into a great book. And when you’re done with that book you’ll be excited to read the next one on your list. That’s what can be great about reading. Reading books that you’re enthusiastic about begets more reading. It’s a self-reinforcing positive habit. When you read one book you find out about 10 more books to read next.

To summarize, if you want to start reading (or read more effectively) follow this simple 4 step process:

  1. Pick a page-turner book that you think you’ll like (not should like)
  2. Go to your safe place for reading away from home and don’t bring your phone or computer
  3. Start reading
  4. 1 week later ask yourself, would I recommend this book to a friend?
    • No – Quit and go back to step 1
    • Yes – Keep reading until finished and go back to step 1

It’s worth noting that I intentionally put no as the first answer. Your default should be to put a book down and move on. It’s a subtle but important distinction to reinforce that you should only read what you love.

I mean seriously, any literate person can follow this process. I hope it works for you. Reading is something everyone should do. It not only makes you smarter, but also makes you more interested in the world around you. That makes you more interesting and attractive to others. So get going on this now and stop wasting time on this silly blog.

Young-person-reading-001

Thanks for reading!

Don

P.S. It should come as no surprise that I’ve read every book mentioned in the post.  Except for War! What Is It Good For?!  I couldn’t resist the Seinfeld reference.  I have read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  That was a torturous few months.

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