“Read in the name of your Lord who created.
Created man from a clinging substance.
Read and your Lord is the most Generous.”
Who Reads, Anyway?
“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by just one book”
You’ve heard it all before. Give all the most illustrious names in the world and you’ll find an underlying common trait — they read. They read a lot.
As a young man US president Abraham Lincoln can be pictured as having a book in one hand and an axe in another, catching a few passages when he wasn’t working. When he didn’t have any more books to read he’d borrow from anyone who had one.
Renowned scientist Michael Faraday used to carry a book called Improvement of the Mind by Reverend Isaac Watts wherever he went and read it over and over as he followed the book’s teachings to the letter.
French military general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte brought along with him a travelling library of nearly a thousand of his favorite books during his campaigns.
Prussian King Frederick the Great carried with him works of the Stoics in his saddlebags because they helped “sustain you in misfortune”.
As an African American slave Frederick Douglass secretly taught himself to read because he believed that “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom”.
Civil rights activist Malcolm X taught himself to read with a dictionary when he was in prison. Free time meant reading in the prison library or in the isolation of his cell. When the lights went off he would sit on the floor to read where a corridor light cast a glow into his room.
The youngest US president, Theodore Roosevelt read a book a day when he was really busy. On normal days he was able to read one book before breakfast, and two or three more in the evening.
One of the most influential writers of the 20th century, Ernest Hemingway would devour three books, half a dozen newspapers and 20 magazines in a day.
What Reading Is
“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”
I guess you’ve heard the aayat from Surah Al-Alaq being quoted many times, under many different interpretations. So why the act of reading?
Well, to put it in simple terms, reading is an ideal thing to do. Something you know is good, something you should do, but not everyone does it — it’s like brushing your teeth before going to bed, or exercising.
If you’re like me, then you might remember yourself back in English class, skipping on reading texts and just reading the summaries. Easier that way isn’t it? Plus, you didn’t have the time. You were already drowned in homework. Right?
You have time. You have time for Instagram and everything else online that hunger for your attention. You even have time to read this article don’t you? Anyone with half a brain could come up with those excuses. You’re just lazy. Reading a quarter of a page already sends you off to a darn good sleep. I get that.
I think I started reading consistently when I was 15. I read on and off as a kid and I don’t come from a family that reads that much anyway.
So why do I read?
I’ve never actually read to improve my grammar (though it’s not a bad reason to start with) or to find pretty phrases to use in my essays, or because there’s somebody I want to impress.
For me reading’s always been something personal. Normally it really isn’t my business to tell others about what I’m reading or what I learned from reading a book.
It’s almost the same reason why I pick up a guitar, listen to music, or go for a jog or what not. Because it takes my mind elsewhere. It’s the experience, of being in the moment.
It’s also like having a friend who gives me advice on what to do, what not to do, or to tell me, “It’s okay. You’re not alone. I went through the same thing.”. When I’m done with a book, it no longer exists in the pages, but somewhere in my mind. Especially when times get tough, there’s this voice telling me, “Hey, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are better ways.”. And sometimes passages from books spontaneously segue into conversations and writings. They just do.
Those are just a few of those feelings, in an attempt to put them in words. But you really need to experience a book on your own. Every book has a life of its own. Even the bad ones.
So Why Read?
“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes”
So why spend some of your hard-earned money to buy books? Why invest in educating yourself?
The answer’s simple : Because life’s short. Life’s too short for you to discover things on your own.
There’s this saying from Otto von Bismarck about how pretty much anyone can learn from their own experiences. And so he prefers to learn from the experiences of others. That’s the smart thing to do. And also better.
Some have lived decades to tell their story and the lessons they learned along the way. All to help others make their lives better and so that they don’t make the same mistakes.
So now the question is, why not read? What’s the point of going through so much of needless pain in trial and error when there are thousands, if not millions of books out there to teach you what the best ways are? And some of us just let ourselves get scarred in personal conflicts that go on ad infinitum, with no way out.
Warren Buffett famously said that the best investment he made was buying a book called The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. Isn’t that just amazing? The richest man in the world, and his best investment was a book.
So What Should You Read?
Anything that interests you. Really. Read anything you want.
Anything that can make you a better person in some way. That doesn’t necessarily have to be books on self-improvement. Read novels, plays, poems. Read anything.
I’ll end this article with this quote. Part 2 uncovers the hows and what to dos. A few strategies to help you get started and in making a habit. Cheers!
“One book — that cost $15 — could make you millions of dollars. Or help you meet the love of your life. Or give you an idea that changes the world…But that can only happen if you pick one up and read it”