On timeless books and reading habits

Around a year ago I decided to read more books that would directly impact my life in some way; through insights, past and present, that have been thought of by people who have spent more time on it and are quite frankly, a lot smarter than me. They have been kind enough to put their ideas in words, for the world to read and absorb. I figured these books were the ones worth reading. Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss, has a list of books most gifted or received by world class performers. Spurred on by this and other lists, I ordered a whole bunch of them. They include ancient Chinese books on warfare and sci-fi classics from the 70s. It was a good way to get back into reading and the promise I made myself to simply read more. The books on personal development I read paved the way for an increased interest and active search for more knowledge, which I found in abundance in these new set of titles.

Where did the motivation go?

I did wonder how I got to the point where I had to motivate myself to read more, even though I knew I’d enjoy it. It’s strange how an interest in reading can change over time. I’ve asked a few people who I know are into books and most say that they always enjoyed reading but generally lost interest in high school or in uni when they were ‘forced’ to read stuff. I feel the same. I read a lot when I was a kid, starting with comic books (Calvin and Hobbes, yay!), Goosebumps and the Carry Slee children’s novels.  Then high school came along (and we got rid of dial-up internet) and I lost interest. I’d still occasionally read before bed but I rarely properly sat down with a book anymore. Especially when it came to school projects, you were handed a list of books to choose from (if you were lucky) and assigned to write a report on it. That just took all the fun out of it for me. While I couldn’t pick the books or projects, I did copy a way of making them bearable to write.

Being crafty

Findings ways to not to read them but to still write a kick-ass report became somewhat of an art. Oftentimes I put more effort into making stuff up for the report than actually taking the time to read the book and dissecting its lessons or takeaways. Like reading other people’s summaries and taking bits and pieces from several different ones. If I had been asked to write a book report on a book I actually liked or found interesting, rather than ‘a classic I was supposed to read because the generation before me had’, I’d have made the effort willingly. I’m not saying I was a saint in this, far from it. While I started out as an eager-to-learn student, I had a tendency to be incredibly lazy at times as well. Let’s just say it was a combination of the two. Nevertheless I think things could’ve been handled differently by both sides.

Little changes down the road

Things didn’t really change at uni, where I was supposed to read marketing and finance books of ~1000 pages and go through hundreds of pages a week. Ever hear that quality beats quantity? Well they obviously hadn’t. So I powered through a few books but quickly learned a different approach: reading bits and pieces and hoping I’d get through the exam OK. It’s not that I didn’t want to study it, but the sheer volume was too daunting. Present people with too many options and they fail to focus on the things that matter. Not everyone, mind, but I definitely fit into this category. I didn’t know how to handle it and simply managed with minimal effort and.. minimal results. (Not to say the newly discovered student lifestyle didn’t take up any of my time though)

Reading = invaluable 

I digress. The point I was trying to make is that the habit and pleasure of reading was lost along the way and I know I am not the only one. I think everyone should read, period. Types of books are personal, the ability to read and obtain information is universal and invaluable. I have found this out with the recent list, specifically the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, which is “The most widely translated work in world literature after the Bible. From the China of the fourth century BC.” With a description like that I just had to read it. More on that later. Happy reading!

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