For the past week I’ve been carting around the new Ron Chernow biography of Ulysses Grant. Chernow (the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton) and Grant were companions on my cross-country trip last week and they will be companions on my Metro ride for at least another week or two. (Did I mention that it was 900+ pages?)
As the son and brother of librarians, reading has been a large part of my life for more than sixty years. However, when I returned from sabbatical in 2016 I made a renewed commitment to drop some of the things that had begun taking up large portions of my life (like television) and replace those time-wasters with reading. (This is one reason I’m pretty clueless when it comes to pop cultural references.) The most frequent question I get about these Monday blog posts is “how do you find time to read so much.” Well, I read almost any chance I get. I read when it is convenient, and perhaps when it isn’t.
I recently came across a blog post by a 20-something about the importance of reading for her generation, and much of what she said rang true to me even though I have 40 years on her. (Since the title includes a word not appropriate for work or family blog posts, I’ll just include the link.) She builds the post off a Mastin Kipp quote: “Be willing to live as other people won’t, so you can live as other people can’t.”
The blog’s author then adds:
“I think of this most days, but mostly I feel this way about reading. Reading has shaped me, unshaped me, bothered me, and taught me. I healed because I learned to think as other people wrote.
If you want to make the most of your 20s, you need to exit the rat race that is trying to prove that you are having the most fun, or becoming the most settled, or whatever. Right now, your psyche is still malleable. You’re relatively unattached. You always have the potential to actualize yourself, but now you have the most opportunity.
When you have a spare hour, when you get stood up, when you get dumped, fired, when you’re falling in love, when you’re falling out of love, when you’re feeling lost, when you’re panicking for no reason, read. Read articles, books, Twitter feeds of smart people.”
. . .
“Most people aren’t willing to read when it’s inconvenient.”
“But a book you read this weekend could change the way you think for the next five decades. It could have an irrevocable impact on your entire quality of life. There is a quote that goes something like, ‘I don’t remember every meal I’ve eaten or every book I’ve read, but they are all still a part of me.’”
No matter your age, words and books have the power to change your mind and life. Figure out what is unproductive that’s eating up your time, then consider replacing that activity with reading. Maybe like me, you’ll start reading books about science for the first time since high school, or you’ll find a new fascination for fiction, if you are a non-fiction type. (Lincoln in the Bardo and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing are two works of fiction I’ve read recently that are worth the time and effort simply in the way they expand the mind.)
Yes, if you are analog in nature and you get hooked on reading, you’ll quickly run out of book shelves. But there are worse problems in the world.
Have a good week reading…even when it is inconvenient.
More to come…