Start Reading

Or "Relearning to Read".

When I was a kid, I read everything, voraciously. I read the breakfast cereal boxes— in Spanish and in Portuguese—, I read the billboards, I read the objects in mirror are closer than they appear warning, I read the shampoo labelling, the fine print on medicine labels, and the advertising disclaimers, passing like high-speed trains across the bottom of the TV.

Regardless of the medium, my undivided attention shifted towards what was in writing. I came to realise that I hold the written word in high regard: most of what was in print was something that I could memorise more easily. Plus, most of the writing I was exposed to was trying to tell me a story, and thus I must pay attention to it. And attention I did pay.

Only later, when I started getting reading assignments, came to realise that not everyone approached reading the same way. Some not only didn’t like it, they even hated it! And the fact that they had to take notes and study it for a later exam made it worse— if there was anything resembling a hobby in reading, an exam turned it into something more like being grounded.

I continued reading through my young adulthood, and while I was absorbed in the Harry Potter series, I could see out of the corner of my eye how some, once the reading assignments faded away in memory, stopped reading altogether. They had to do their own thing at work, which likely involved reading, but that was it. And although only 28% claim they haven’t read any books over the last year, I’m positive that the number is biased— a percentage won’t recognise that they, too, didn’t read—, and that, out of the remaining, most of them count skimming the HuffPost as reading.

Working under the assumption that no one reads is disheartening. However, I do believe that there’s people who think “I want to read”, but they don’t even know where to start. Adults don’t see themselves reading any of the books that used to read when they read, and the gap towards what people like them are supposed to read looks unsurmountable.

This is a guide for those people.

The first thing that you have to do is disabuse you from the notion that reading is boring, or fun for all purposes. Think music, for instance. There’s so much variety of genres, artists, albums and songs out there that is unreasonable for someone to say “I don’t like music”; everyone would reply back “it’s not that you don’t like music, it’s that you don’t like that song”. According to Google Books, there are nearly 130 million out there for you to read. To get that number around your head, if you took one minute per book, it’ll take you more than 247 years to read all of them. So relax, if you don’t like a certain book, that doesn’t mean you “aren’t cut for books”; you just need to keep looking.

Out of those 130 million, there must be some that you like, and some you don’t. I like reading books, and I stopped reading at least 10 books in 2018! Which gets me back to the actual issue: how do we discover good books to read, while we are relearning how to get into the habit of reading?

This question can be answered on different levels. On a primary and easy one, you should be reading something simple, something that you could read completely in one stint of, let’s say, 5 minutes. That will allow you to start into reading 5 minutes daily. That way, you commit yourself to something so easy that there is no excuse not to do it; and if you read something that you despise, you can at least tell yourself that is going to take only 300 seconds of your life. If we agree on your commitment to read only 5 minutes a day, here are some recommendations.

  1. The Ultimate Short Stories Collection, by Leo Tolstoy. When I bought it, it was $0.99 on Amazon. It’s probably less now. So with the added no-excuse 5-minute commitment, you have the no-excuse less-than-a-dollar book that will get you 2582 pages of good quality stories by the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
  2. Bruce Lee’s Striking Thoughts is also a good place to start, like any other. He rants in statements, not paragraphs, which makes it easy to read, and ponder.

  3. One of my favourite light-reading is Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, by Richard Feynman, but that’s because he’s one of my long-time heroes. It’s full of tiny anecdotes from his time at the Manhattan Project, Brazil and more.
  4. And finally, do read War on Art. I can’t recommend it highly enough for someone who says he can’t do something. It’s a kick in the ass that we all need at some point in our lives.

This recommendation list is, nevertheless, mine, and you have to cope with the fact that out of the 130 million, I have only read a tiny subset. But now, you have something to begin with. You’ll at least build a habit, so that you can be prepared to understand how to read a book. That will allow you to understand how to select what books to read further, and how to approach reading as a mature individual.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Lao Tzu