I have never let my schooling interfere with my education - Mark Twain
As a lifetime believer in the value of education (not schooling) its hard for me to understand why some of us don't read. I am reading for as long as I can remember. And as far as I know, when I started reading no one in my family was doing it. I just slipped into it. Maybe it was because I wasn't interested in anything else - such as sports. But whatever the reason, in today's world reading can no longer be thought of as a hobby or a chore but as an essential part of life.
Its almost every week I meet someone who complains that he wants to read and has tried several times but never caught on to it. Some say its because of time constraint (I know it must be very difficult for guys with kids and families), others say its due to the lack of energy and some even say its because they feel sleepy as soon as they open a book (my answer to them is "you are very lucky, some people have to take pills for this").
Then there is another category of people who downright admonish reading. Their argument is that their direct experience is enough to understand the world or they have travelled the world extensively and have seen things that arm chair readers like me wouldn't have even imagined.
No matter what your reasons for not being able to read are, keep in mind thatthere are a thousand reasons not to do anything, but even one reason to do something is enough. This is as true for taking up physical exercise and following a balanced diet as it is for anything else.
If you think about it, what you are actually missing is a reason to read.
For me reading is about learning and learning is about giving a context to your life. So how do we learn?
The only way to learn is to experience something. Most of these experiences, at least the ones that shape our core personality are our direct experiences. What we have seen or experienced directly. Our childhood, our place of birth, our families, our neighbours, our education, our friends, our successes and our failures - all are a part of our personal operating system - our decision making and our experience engine. Our personal operating system helps us understand and navigate the world.
But is our direct experience sufficient to prepare us for all that life will throw at us?
Reading exposes you to diverse experiences
Our life no matter how adventurous or star studded is insufficient to cover all aspects of reality. It is also impossible for us to experience everything that the world has to offer.
When you read you expose yourself to another person's life and their experiences. It gives you insights on an alternate perspective, a different story and a different point of view. You get access to the realms of reality that you didn’t know exist. This is very important because then you have a lot more raw material to play with. The more perspectives you have the more creative you will become, because now you have a lot more blocks to build new things with. You also know a lot more ways to connect the dots.
Reading gives you a deeper understanding of the world
The only downside of the internet is that it has ushered in an era of the professional amateur. People who confuse their ability to search something online and resolve an argument, with "their" intelligence. Richard Feynman said,"There is a difference between knowing something and knowing the name of something." What he means is that while you might have heard or even read a bit about AI (artificial intelligence), you won't be able to do anything useful with this knowledge - apart from getting an ego boost in front of people who haven't even heard the term - unless you go deeper in the subject. And you can go deeper into the subject only by effort intensive activities such as mindful reading(more below), rigorous research and experimentation with the end result of contributing something positive to your environment. Reading lets you learn from other's mistakes
When you read you get to know what works in what situations without having to fail yourself and then learn from your failure. So you save yourself several failures by learning from others. Unless you are a global figure, it will be impossible for you to meet so many people. But reading the right books will expose you to diverse mindsets. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try new things or be wary of failures; rather it means that when you try new things you will have the foresight to avoid at least the common mistakes. If you read you will also have more creative ways to attack a problem, much more than someone who doesn’t read as he is limited by his lack of knowledge and reliance on direct experience.
Reading makes you a good writer
When you read about diverse topics or themes, you are exposed to different styles of writing. For instance in fiction, the writing style of Lee Child is very different from that of Stephen King. When you are exposed to a variety of styles you inadvertently start understanding different ways to present an idea. This clarifies your thought process and makes your thinking more lucid.
Reading makes you smarter (but only if you can apply your learning)
There is no use reading especially non-fiction if you can't remember your learning and then apply it in real life. I call this mindful reading, where you are understanding the subject matter and thinking about applying at least the core learning from the book in real life - as opposed to reading as fast as you can so you can pick up the next book and tell your friends that I read 4 books a month.
Everyone follows a different process to ensure mindful reading. This is what I do. I have borrowed this idea from Tim Ferriss, here's a more detailed post on this technique:
I take down catch phrases at the back of every book I read with a page no. that points to the paragraph I would want to refer later. Here’s a snapshot from a book I read recently:
Then I create a simple spreadsheet, that looks like this:
To make things simpler you can also have notes from all the non-fiction you read in a single file with a simple index system in Google docs. You can refer it whenever you find time.
I know it sounds like a lot of work but I can assure you it’s worth the effort.
There are millions of books out there how do I know what to read?
For a beginner here's what you can do:
Make a list of things you are curious about or read a lot about online
Find the subject matter experts and the books they have written in this domain
Check their rating and read the reviews on Goodreads. Also check out a few chapters on Amazon or Flipkart
Get recommendations from your close friends who are readers
Here are a few books I suggest everyone should read.