BY ALEX MADAJIAN STAFF WRITER
Most people just don’t know how to read a book. Yes, most Americans are able to read words set before them, and according to a 2019 survey most had read a book in the past 12 months, but there’s more to reading than mere literacy. There is a true art and discipline in not just reading a book, but making it a daily lifestyle choice. Reading consistently is possibly the greatest endeavor you can undertake in pursuit of wisdom and knowledge.
But where to begin? There are so many books out there — over 130 million all time.
When people do read for recreation, it usually is some fictional work, perhaps a standalone novel or part of a series, which was published recently. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but there’s so much more out there to enjoy.
Diversify your reading palate to include more than just what’s currently on the New York Times Best Seller list. Read the tried-and-true classics (like “Pride and Prejudice,” “Moby-Dick,” or “Dracula”). They stayed popular for a reason.
Also, don’t neglect non-fiction. Read books on history, economics, philosophy, theology, political theory, science, self-help, and sprinkle in some biographies too. Each book is a drop in the ocean of knowledge, so it’s best to dive in.
There’s also more than just prose. Poetry is tragically underappreciated. I worry most people who avoid poetry never properly tried it. Listen to the thrill between the lines of Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” feel the chill in your spine as you read Poe’s “The Raven,” and experience the love of life in Shakespere’s sonnets. Learn to love the flow of words and sounds of syllables as they dance on the page.
If you want to grow as a person, don’t just read books you’re comfortable with. If you’re a capitalist, read “The Communist Manifesto.” If you’re a socialist, read “The Law.” Atheists should read C.S. Lewis and religious people should read Sam Harris. Not only does this educate you on what you don’t believe, but it also develops a greater understanding of those who hold the views you disagree with. A little understanding goes a long way.
This isn’t just about reading words on a page. It is not only about the acquisition of knowledge. Reading online articles and ebooks and listening to audiobooks is fine, but there is something unique gained by reading a physical book cover to cover. Seeing completed books stacked on your shelf brings the satisfaction of ownership, not just of the paper and binding, but of the words and ideas.
In undergraduate, and especially in graduate school, we are taught to skim to get the gist. When there’s a deadline crunch and most of what you are reading is academic gobbledygook, that is a useful skill. But another, arguably harder, skill to acquire is the ability to leisurely read a book, occasionally stop, and ponder what you read.
Take the time to read profound books that shaped the world such as “The Second Treatise on Government,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” or “The Republic.” (I don’t recommend this technique for German idealist philosophy or modernist poetry — both will drive one mad. Perhaps that’s why Germans are fond of alcohol, and readers of modernist poetry are fond of stronger stuff than alcohol.)
Don’t be afraid of long books either. Take your time and do it daily. No one reads the Bible in a day, but being that it is the most influential, most sold, most quoted and most read book in human history, it should not be neglected.
Some believe you shouldn’t feel obligated to read the foreword, endnotes, acknowledgements or even entire chapters if you feel they are useless to you. I rarely skip anything. Not because I’m masochistic — although the argument could be made — but because I’m also reading to discipline myself, not just to acquire the content.
We know there are health benefits to reading, but there is something even greater to be gained. In our fast-paced society we rarely take the time to stand against the busyness to just be still and focus on one task. Learning to eternally dwell in the eye of the storm is a mighty skill desperately needed in modernity’s chaos.
Take pride in what you read. Make a log detailing every book you’ve ever finished. Say when you started it and where you finished it. Mention how many pages you read. Add them up, and see how far you’ve come. Libraries can be burned down, but the books you’ve read reside in your mind forever.