WHY PEOPLE DON'T READ OR GIVE UP READING
The benefits of reading are beyond debate. Reading a book is like a free appointment for a chit chat with a great mind. Inputting good words and the thoughts they convey can produce pathways in your thoughts that never existed earlier. Just like various infrastructural facilities like roads, hotels, factories, etc. allow you to explore and use your country better, likewise, vocabulary, phrases, narratives and scenarios formed through habitual reading make it possible to think in newer ways, generate newer ideas, and learn new knowledge. This leads to more mental infrastructure getting created, resulting in a compounding effect.
And yet, not as many people benefit from reading habits as one would want.
- Common laments are that people don't find time to read.
- Reading is often found to be an effortful process.
- The benefits accrued from such an effort is often deemed intangible if at all there.
- Developing a regular habit of reading by dedicating a specific hour of the day doesn't work for those who maintain erratic hours. As a result the reading hours fall victims to the vagaries of an irregular lifestyle, and so does the habit of reading.
- Not being able to read a book cover to cover leads to frustrations, triggering further avoidance and procrastination.
A WORD ABOUT THE ADVISOR
I don't consider myself an expert in the subject of reading. To substantiate this, let me confess that up until recently, I used to average at about 4-5 books a year which is nothing impressive. Recently, for reasons I don't completely understand, I have jumped up a bit to about 8-10 books a year, which also is a very modest rate compared to what I find some other people being able to do. My son, for example, finishes reading a book every 3-4 days. He glides through 100s of pages, literally in a matter of hours. A friend of mine read an unbelievable 63 books last years; and such has been her rate steadily for years. Achieving such extreme speeds may require some special talents, skills and circumstances not all of us may be blessed with. Nor may all of us be so keen to clock up to such high reading rates.
Nevertheless, the point is made that I can claim not to be an expert in this subject of reading, at least going by the numbers. Yet, what may actually qualify me to advise on this topic is precisely the same reason. I am a struggler too. I have tasted the nectar and am surely hooked for life. So, while I know pretty well why a reading habit is such a powerful thing to develop, I sympathise with the difficulties faced by a beginner/struggler.
So, here are the tips:
GO FOR VARIETY
Try reading various types of books: novels, short-fiction, non-fiction, philosophy, science politics, ... Likewise, please give various languages a try. Since most of us have been educated in English medium, and since English has such an unfortunate aspirational angle to it, most of us default to English literature. When some are not able to connect with the content, they make the mistaken conclusion that reading is not their thing. However, Indian literature is equally rich. And even though we may not be very confident about our knowledge of, say, our mother tongue, when we start reading a book in that language, things may prove unexpectedly smooth, simply because this still is probably the language we converse in in our day-to-day life, and our thoughts may be tuned to the vocabulary and idioms of that language. Further, the scenarios, cultures and contexts may be far more familiar in books written by compatriots compared to books written by western authors. Anyway, short of the long: try Indian books too.
Everyone can't read all kinds of books. We are naturally conditioned to like certain topics, styles of presentation and languages more than certain others. To know our fit, we should try reading many kinds of books. Only after having developed some familiarity with one's tastes and distastes, should one start aiming to go deeper into a genre at the exclusion of other possibilities.
Read in small bursts. Instead of making marathon sessions, go for short sprints. This has several benefits. Not having to commit a huge chunk of time to a reading session makes it look less daunting, and hence easier to do. Shorter gaps of 15-30 minutes are easier to find than 2-3 hour slots. Holding your attention for 15 minutes is a very doable target. All these make it easier to start reading every time, and that makes it more likely that you will sit down to read more frequently.
FREE YOURSELF OF BURDENS
We often carry certain unnecessary burdens in our head which block us from feeling rewarded every time we read a few paragraphs. Such continuous feeling of tiny rewards is very necessary to make reading a sustainable process. Hence, before starting to read a book, free yourself of the following burdens:
- that you will read the whole book
- that you will read in the same sequence as in the pages
- that it's only after having read a book cover to cover that you get the benefits of reading it
Remember that each word you read brings in something new. Hence, the moment you pick up your book and start reading, you are already better off than when you hadn't started; your benefits have started piling, and you are progressing.
Likewise, if you have some preconceived notions about the proper method of reading a book, free yourself of that too. There is no such proper way of reading. Your way is the most proper. Just read!
Read with focus and hunger. Mentally pause to wonder what the next chapter or paragraph is going to reveal. Launch on your reading sprint with one such question in mind, and with the goal of finding an answer to that question.
MINDFULNESS VERSUS ATTENTIVENESS
If you haven't ever thought about the difference between attentiveness and mindfulness, may be you would like to. While both are states of focus, attentiveness is a purely conscious process of sticking your thoughts on one subject, and hence is effortful by definition. It may work for sometime but will lead to fatigue before long. Mindfulness is the act of creating an experience of emotional oneness with what you are doing. When we are immersed in the experience instead of thinking about the act, focus automatically happens. The way I say this here may make it appear somewhat exotic. But, it's not. It happens to all of us at some point: for example, kids experience it when playing. Mindfulness doesn't exhaust you even after a period of intense focus and effort. And, with practice, therefore, mindfulness leads to increased focus for longer periods of time.
So, why do I mention mindfulness here? Because, like in all hard stuff to do, learning to be mindful leads to focus during reading. And focused reading leads to more learning and more immersive experience. Outcome: more enjoyable and rewarding reading.
HAVE A REASON
Identify a reason why you would like to read a book. Here, your wishing to develop a reading habit is not the kind of reason I am referring to. Suppose, you are struggling with time management and would like to improve there. That makes for a good reason to pick up a book on time management or personal organisation. Similarly, some topics you may be curious to about (may be due to pragmatic reasons, but may be not) can be learned by reading a book. I realise that for me the lure of being transported to places and times where I can't otherwise go (e.g. fastastic Middle-Earth of Tolkien, Faraway planets and galaxies of Arthur C. Clarke, Olden Victorian England of George Elliot and Jane Austen, pre-independence North Indian rural and urban settings of Premchand). The fact that our mind works hard in filling up the gaps left by the written words in describing the situation is one of the primary lures of reading as opposed to watching a movie/TV series.
Reading is a matter of skill. Like all other skills, it requires prolonged practice to learn and perfect. Unless you intend to stick to a limited palette of genres, you will realise that there are different kinds of reading styles to be employed for different kinds of texts. A novel needs a different method of reading as compared to a book on philosophy. Even among novels, a book by Joseph Conrad can't be read using a style of reading that you found useful in reading Stephen King. In fact, every book is a different species and needs a different treatment. A seasoned reader will be prompt in estimating the tone and timbre of the conversation a book is trying to strike, and will adjust his reading style accordingly.
Therefore, if a book you just picked up doesn't come across as as easy a read as the last book you read, don't despair. It may just need a bit of adjusting the reading style to start enjoying the book. This will prevent unnecessary feelings of failure that often lead to a break.
I hope the above tips are found practical and helpful in case you feel you are beginning on book reading or are trying to resume it. While reading may not be everyone's cup of tea, I think, it can be enjoyed by more people than we find doing today, if they free themselves of some of the hangups and mental burdens they carry about the idea of reading.