“Read and your Lord is the most Generous.
Who taught by the pen.
Taught man that which he knew not.”
The time problem
“If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but ‘didn’t have time to read,’ I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner.”
Okay. So you decided to start reading. Maybe it’s about time you pick up that dusty half-read book kept in your drawer.
But — I know, I know. You still feel like there isn’t enough time to read. Stephen King was obviously talking about aspiring writers, but I think that steak dinner is very much possible when it comes to anyone who simply wants to start reading.
But think about it for a minute, how much time in a day is spent updating your Facebook status, or checking out stories on Instagram, or watching random videos on Youtube? — A lot. It might not feel like a lot of time has passed, but that’s really just the nature of entertainment.
I’m not saying you have to get rid of your apps or anything. It’s just that the time you spend using them must be cut down. Instead of checking every few minutes, maybe you should set a specific time every day just for you to do those things. Anything that works for you.
I’m a slow reader and I don’t speed read. I normally read 4 or 5 books in a month. But that doesn’t matter at all to me. I don’t think about finishing a book when I’m reading. Where a book takes me, I just follow. Maybe some books are really dense, there are a lot of things to digest in just a few pages. Maybe some books are just plain long, such as a thick biography.
Sometimes I only read 2 books in a month. Sometimes a month has gone and I still haven’t finished reading one book. But who cares? Reading isn’t a race. At least if you’re reading for yourself.
Time — it’s really the small windows of time you have available every day. Between study sessions. While waiting for the bus. Some 15 minutes that are suddenly available to you. When you’re in the train.
So reading is kind of like your default. For many of us right now having a smartphone in hand is our default, whether we realise it or not. You know that phantom buzz you feel in your pocket. You know it too well.
That’s really all it takes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an hour just for you to read. If it happens, that’s wonderful.
A Better Way To Read
A book shouldn’t be read quickly because you can’t wait to be done with it. A book shouldn’t be read and simply left to collect dust on the shelves. As Sir Francis Bacon remarked, a book should be “chewed and digested thoroughly”.
Back in secondary school I had a great teacher who encouraged his students to think differently and to read. He always brought along a book to read in between his classes. He once told us, “If it takes you a month to read a book, so be it”. Today I’d tell my friends, if it takes you a year to read a book, so be it.
I stayed after class one day, as I always did with him. So he showed me how he read — he wrote in his books and he kept a reading journal.
Bushy-brained as I was, I followed his advice. And I slowly learned the wisdom behind that. Now I can’t read without a pen in my hand, always ready to dirty my book with notes and lines. And keeping a reading journal is a habit that I’d always thank myself for developing.
—But doesn’t it feel bad? How could you write in your books?
Not really. It doesn’t feel bad at all. This way I can be absorbed in what I’m reading and engage with the author on a deeper level. Otherwise it would just be like having a teacher telling you things and you simply nodding. You need to take notes.
Besides, you pay good money for a book. And so you honor your book by putting it to as much use as you can and do whatever’s necessary to apply its teachings to your life. If you still have a problem with not treating your book as a pristine, delicate object, you can always use post-its or anything else.
So here’s what I do :
Underline or highlight passages that hit me, that caught my attention.
Write in the free spaces of the page — my thoughts, how something relates to something else I know, or why something makes sense to me.
Fold the pages in which I scribbled and underlined.
Jot down those passages in my journal.
— Journal? But that sounds like work.
Reading is work, you have to realize. That’s why not everybody does it. What are you willing to do to change your life? Recording your experience with a book pays off a lot. A book becomes a part of you, it flows in your blood. That’s what you want from reading.
I’m not one of the only few nutcases in the world who does these things. Many people have done them and many are doing them. Bestselling author Ryan Holiday operates on pretty much the same system — only his ‘journal’ are huge tupperwares of notecards. Napoleon kept his version of a reading journal. Montaigne too, among many others.
Your journal can also serve as your writing tool. Most of the things I write here are pulled out from my journal, by the way.
Here are a few photos :
Take A Break
“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into the lazy habits of thinking.”
After you’re done reading a book, take a few days or a week off. Let the ideas percolate and settle in your mind for a while. Let the diffuse mode of your brain do its job.
When the time is done you can start recording in your journal, even discarding the passages that no longer mean much to you. Just jot down ones that still shake you. Chances are they will stick with you for a long time, if not for the rest of your days.
Because you wouldn’t want to be on the far side of reading where after a book is read, it’s forgotten and things are as if you’ve never read in the first place.
Reading too much also makes you boring and lame. As Seneca wrote, “Constant work gives rise to a certain kind of dullness and feebleness in the rational soul”. So go on. Take your break. If you can manage to read another couple of books, that’s fine. But not to a point of unproductivity.
As I conclude this article, I’ll say it again. Just read anything. Whatever you want. Whatever you can. Whatever you have. And I wish the best of luck to you. Don’t worry if it feels difficult at first. As with all habits it will be a natural thing and something you really enjoy doing. You just have to give it time. And you just have to trust the process.
You can leave me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me how it works out for you. ‘Till next time. (-: