Random DJB Thoughts, Recommended Readings
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Ten tips for reading five books a month

The message showed up in my in-box from a long-time friend from grade school days: “How do you read so fast?!?! omg. I bow to you, sir.”

She was reacting to this recent post:

Each month I have a goal to read five books on a variety of topics and from different genres. Here are the books I read in February 2022.

I told Sara that she wasn’t the first person to ask that question. In answering her, DJB’s “Ten tips for reading five books a month” was born.

Number 1: Read things you enjoy. I happen to like histories and biographies as well as books about sports and current events, so they naturally go by quickly for me.

Number 2: Read along with others. I generally have one book going with my Third Stage men’s group (AKA the Retirees or Old Men’s club). Reading these works keeps me focused in order to be able to participate in the discussions.

Number 3: Look for the quick reads. It helps to have one book on the monthly list that is a real page turner. I read Raven Black — the Shetland Island murder mystery — in less than a day. Couldn’t put it down once I’d started. Same thing with Natalie Goldberg’s memoir on her struggle with cancer. I read that in less than 24 hours as well.

Number 4: Read to revisit your childhood. I usually pick out one short work (in terms of page count) to get to my total of five. Since Candice has a wealth of children’s books from her days as a teacher (including many of the Newbery medal winners as well as a number of Caldecott winners), I can always grab one of those if I see I’m going to need another book to round out the month. They are always delightful and usually insightful.

Number 5: Read to challenge yourself and grow in the process. As I wrote in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, we all benefit by listening to new voices. While we should stand up in the moment for an end to racism, white people like me really need to listen, listen, and then listen some more. We need to educate ourselves about the systemic nature of racism, the ties to implicit bias, and how we can train ourselves to be anti-racist. We can do that by reading authors such as Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt, Michelle Alexander, Michael Eric Dyson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Bryan Stevenson. These writers may not often be in my regular reading rotation, but I almost always find wisdom when I take the road less traveled. And I’m encouraged to dig deeper.

Number 6: Read to visit with old friends. If I’m “re-reading” a book, I don’t devour it again cover-to-cover. However, because I mark up a lot of my books I’ll go back, focus on the segments that I’ve marked, read special chapters again, and see what I may have missed the first time around. I get a great deal out of these returning friends and — since I’m making the rules here — this definitely counts among my total, although I limit these visits to one per month.

Number 7: Read books that you once avoided. Acknowledge that you can enjoy going outside your comfort zone if you are reading for pleasure as opposed to worrying about getting a good grade. I reminded Sara that I’m no scientist or mathematician. But I’ve found that now as I’m reading books on those subjects for pleasure, I’m really enjoying them and absorbing what I can.

Number 8: Read books that other readers recommend. On more than one occasion, someone will write after reading one of my blog posts about a book and say something like, “I liked that, and you may like this.” You’ll read about one such book in the coming weeks, as I’m finishing up The Hidden Life of Trees, based on a recommendation by a friend, former colleague, and fellow reader who had seen my post Entangled Life about fungi. I recently read Clint Smith’s How the Word is Passed after reading a recommendation on a blog post by another former colleague.

Number 9: Read to learn. Just because you’ve been in a field for forty years, don’t assume you know everything. Or anything. I’ve been a professional preservationist for more than four decades, but I am very much enjoying reading works that challenge my preconceptions and highlight hidden histories that deserve to be uncovered, understood, and honored. I suspect that no matter your field of interest, there is still a great deal to learn. As Ursula K. Le Guin suggests, be the kind of person who can realize the incredible amount we learn “between our birthday and our last day.” If we are flexible enough in mind and spirit to recognize “how rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn,” we can maintain the seeking, trusting capacity for learning that we had as a two-year-old.

Number 10: Read all the time. Finally, I wrote about this in a 2018 blog post. Read when it is inconvenient.

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 timewasters with reading. (This is one reason I’m pretty clueless when it comes to pop cultural references.)  When I was asked how I found the time to read so much I would respond that I read almost any chance I get.  I read when it is convenient, and perhaps when it isn’t.

I got the idea from a 20-something blogger who wrote that we should (taking her clues from a Mastin Kipp quote): “Be willing to live as other people won’t, so you can live as other people can’t.”

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.

…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.

The blogger’s post has, sadly, been lost to the whims of the internet. However, I still remember the title, which was adapted from writer Cheryl Strayed. It simply said, Read like a motherf**ker.

As Nike says, just do it.

More to come…

DJB

While on a bit of a blogging break, I’m taking the time to share some of my favorites from the More to Come archives (like the two posts mentioned above) and to post the occasional new piece around books I’m reading. 

Image: Sign in the Books, Inc. store in downtown Alameda, CA (the West’s oldest independent bookseller) taken by DJB as we were browsing yesterday. Yes, I bought another book!

This entry was posted in: Random DJB Thoughts, Recommended Readings

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I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

10 Comments

  1. DJB says

    I like to capture messages on LinkedIn and through email and put them on the blog for others to see and so I’m sure I can find them in one place. This particular post generated a few, which I’ll include here.

  2. DJB says

    My friend and former colleague Merrill Hoopengardner wrote the following on LinkedIn in response to this post:

    “Love this! I read 88 books last year, so many of your tips resonate with me. I need to do more with Tip 5. It would probably slow me down, but that would be fine. I find that I’m doing more with Tip 1 these days – my (not guilty) reading pleasures include a lot of sci-fi and fantasy which I find nice respite from my other obligations. So I love your mix of tips as it it’s possible some of them are countercyclical over the various seasons of one’s life.”

  3. DJB says

    Merrill then added the following postscript:

    “Also, a few other tips I’ve gleaned from Neil Pasricha and Anne Bogel (who are book whisperers too) – (A) Read in different formats. For me this means switching between an actual book, my kindle, and audio books. The various formats give me the ability to read during in-between time like right before bed or in the car or when I’m on the couch while a kid is playing video games. (B) Don’t be afraid to quit a book if it isn’t for you. I’ve been bogged down way too many times in a book that wasn’t the right fit for me or right fit for the right time. If I try too hard to stick with it, I avoid reading. Quit and move on. (C) Read more than one thing at a time. I am often reading something that relates to work, something purely for pleasure, something one of my kids also enjoys, something for bookclub, etc. It is actually possible to keep all these things going in your head – it’s easier than following Twitter! (D) Use a reading journal so you have a place to capture ideas and see the connections between things you read, even across genres. This is the newest thing I’ve tried and I wish I’d started sooner. (E) Quit social media… :)”

  4. DJB says

    Holly Bray, another LinkedIn connection, responded to Merrill’s comments with the following:

    “The list is great! I am going to add more children’s books and I love Merrill’s idea of keeping a journal to capture ideas gleaned from the books she reads. I keep a list of books I want to read and a list of books I have read but the journal – I will start that today! Thank you.”

    Merrill replied that she recommends the following: “I love this one and I ordered it from One More Page Books in Falls Church – https://modernmrsdarcy.com/my-reading-life-a-book-journal/

  5. DJB says

    My friend Elizabeth Kostelny asked about recommendations for children’s books. She told me that “The first book I recall is Wynken, Blynken and Nod. I was mesmerized! Still love the floatiness of the language.”

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