Many people like to believe in the old maxim that “money makes the world go round.” Interestingly, if you ask the rich people of the world what their secret to success is, most will eventually get to the same point: Read. A lot. These entrepreneurs, politicians, captains of industry, and even the happy hobo who lives in his van understand that knowledge is power and that this knowledge is expressed through the written word.
So, let’s amend that old adage—words make the world go round.
Now, whether you’re in it for the money or the power or simple self-fulfillment, or you’re just looking to improve your language skills or preparing for a test like the IELTS or TOEFL, the act and practice of reading can change your life. And it doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, the right books contain everything that interests you. It’s probably the act that scares you. Being alone with your thoughts, flexing that muscle called your brain, taxing your imagination, these are all exercises not meant for a lazy person.
Still reading? Good. This means you want more from life. In that case, read a book.
Every muscle in your body needs to be exercised in order to maintain its strength and functionality. Your brain, which science has shown works just like a muscle, is no different: it needs constant training to work efficiently and to work to your advantage.
Reading is one of the best workouts for your brain; consequently, the harder the material, the stronger your brain becomes. Not only does this lead to increased cognitive capacity (i.e., you become smarter), it also provides you with reference points to use in all areas of your life. Consider: you go to the gym so that you can look good at a party. Why not read a book and sound good too as you engage in small talk or even get into a heated debate with strangers? Reading is your best resource for new ideas, new words to express your own ideas, and it shapes the way you think and see the world around you.
What to read?
Ay, there’s the rub (side note: this commonly used expression, “the rub” meaning a difficulty or problem with an idea or premise (such as what to read), was first spoken by Shakespeare’s Hamlet while he was considering suicide: “To sleep—perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!”—i.e., what kind of dreams will one have in that eternal sleep?)). The main reason people don’t read is that they don’t know what to read. They pick up a book and fall asleep two paragraphs in, or their minds wander and they have to read a page three times before they’ve actually read it at all.
There are two things to consider here. First, find books about things you’re passionate about. If you admire a certain famous person, read his or her biography or autobiography if it’s available. Do you like business? Find out how Warren Buffet became the Oracle of Omaha and one of the richest men in the world. If you like stories, read novels that will carry you away to other worlds, introduce you to new characters, make you imagine a different way of life. (I prefer novels because these really give you a lot of insight into how writing can be stylized, how grammar rules can be bent, how word choice can make all the difference in the world, and how a good writer can get into a reader’s mind and paint on it as though it were a blank canvass. But that’s just me.)
Second, don’t limit yourself. Remember, reading is not a lazy activity. Expand your horizons, challenge your brain, get out of your comfort zone (remember as well that the more you read, the less likely you are to fall victim to clichés.)
How to read?
Whatever you read, give yourself the time and space to do it properly. Find a quiet spot, during a quiet hour or so, and surrender yourself to the words. The more distractions around you, the less you’ll absorb and the more frustrated you’ll get.
If you are reading in English, but are not a native English user, don’t worry about every word. Read for the message or story, not the grammar or vocab. If you see a word you don’t know, guess it and move on. If you can’t understand the sentence because of this one word, then look it up, and move on. Don’t turn your reading session into an English lesson. You’ll learn much more by moving forward than by stopping all the time to check the dictionary.
Remember, your reading skills, in terms of comprehension, speed, and focus, will only improve with practice.
Book of the Month Club
Still nervous? Perhaps you want to get started with a friend. Good idea.
Interested? Let’s start with some recommendations for our first book. Put your book suggestions on FB and Insta and I will announce the book for June on June 1. We will then give everyone a chance to read the book and by the second or third week we can start taking questions and having a discussion.
Logistics: if you don’t have a library close to you, look for some used book stores in your area. You can also order books on Amazon for delivery in most countries. Keep recommendations to books that will appeal to as many people as possible (we will not read university course books, or esoteric materials.)
One last quote: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
—(Shakespeare again, Hamlet again, and yes, I do like Shakespeare, but no, we probably won’t read his works in this Club.)
See you soon.