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I love reading books. However, I was not always like that. Back when I was 17 years old, I struggled with reading. My concentration would be very disrupted. I would need to re-read pages because I would notice my train of thought had taken me elsewhere. I can attribute this in part to the emphasis of my high school on reading the world’s greatest pieces of literature (100% fiction). A goal that I believe was completely out of the horizon for a teenager, given how little I could relate to them.
Nonetheless, I had always been inspired by those who were very well-read, especially those who knew a lot about humanities, social sciences, and arts. They all indisputably read books like maniacs. So I realized reading could be one of the practices that, if I mastered it, could lead me to become more knowledgeable about virtually any topic I wanted.
The inspiration led me to start exploring the world of nonfiction. It was not long before I could feel more focused, engaged, and entertained. Suddenly I could read for a few minutes longer without getting tired, and for the first time started finishing the books I had started. Because I chose to value reading, I also got a dopamine release whenever I could share my new hobby with others. Slowly I was wrapping up my whole identity as a reader, learner, and someone who was able to build a new skill regardless of the difficulty.
The very first advice books I picked up (Rich-Poor Dad, The Art of Loving, The Power of Coincidence) were much more digestible to the general population than famous writers such as Flaubert, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche. The self-help authors were not professional writers with complicated stories or elite vocabulary. They used everyday language to transmit ideas (even though sometimes dubious ideas looking in retrospect) to educate others. At the very least, they were good at transferring some of the enthusiasm in their respective field. From there, a snowball effect continued through the years, making it a dream for me to join the group of people who decided to join the movement and start writing on a daily basis with the aspiration of changing lives through books.
What really matters
I wish I had known two important insights that took me years to digest fully: reading is a vehicle for learning, and the lack of skill is not a reflection of being lazy or stupid:
Reading is a vehicle for learning
Even though today, other multimedia formats can hardly equalize the depth of a book, today’s crash courses, audiobooks, and podcasts are becoming great alternatives to books. It took me a while to realize that books are not the absolute path to increasing knowledge. Printed books have been taken as the established medium of information transfer since the invention of the printing press. However, it would not surprise me that as the development of cinema and multimedia keeps evolving, virtual or augmented reality will transmit information more vividly than books. If you can’t find your way to reading books, I suggest you look for alternative paths for learning to feed your curiosity. What is indispensable is not to let the challenge of reading books get in the way of learning new things.
The lack of skill is not a reflection of being lazy or stupid
There is nothing magical in reading per se. The magic comes from absorbing what other people have in their minds. Given that we did not evolve to read, there should not be any shame whatsoever in feeling unable to read, even as an adult. Many people could be suffering from dyslexia without knowing it. Having said that, persistence, determination, and deliberate intention can always make you a better reader. Regardless of how behind you feel, the limitations are not written in stone.
Having said that…
Here are my takeaways for those aspiring to make reading more of a habit:
1. Reading can be satisfying if you are reading the right type of books:
Not everyone is equally as enthusiastic about biographies, fantasies, science, crime novels, etc. Some people are looking for raw information, others for fun entertainment. It is easy to confuse not liking reading with not liking reading greek tragedies, poetry, or anything categorized within the best literature. Even within fiction and nonfiction, many genres will fit your personality and interests better than others.
2. A great book is only great when you read it at the right moment in time:
Within intellectual circles, books are treated with objective value. Indeed, it is normal, given that the more expertise you have, the better your taste develops over time. However, I would like to argue that it is fine to decide (after giving it a try) that authors like Shakespeare, Marcus Aurelius, or Kant have nothing to offer you at the moment. It doesn’t mean you can qualify those books as good or bad or as entertaining or boring, but you can openly acknowledge that these authors didn’t resonate with you without feeling ashamed. Our particular circumstances, interests, and existential dilemmas define what we will find value in. So when recommending books, don’t expect everyone else to love the same books you love. Secondly, don’t close the door to revisiting some of the same books that have surpassed the test of time later in your life; they are classics for a reason, so it is likely that you will find them appealing in a different life situation.
3. A book you enjoyed will have more to offer as you read it a second and third time:
Some books offer a whole lot of research. It is easy to finish the books you like. Another thing is to take a reflective moment to know what is the invitation of the book and how to start implementing it. For those books that are outside the realm of advice, it is worth noticing how the book’s narrative or argument makes you a different person and what it reveals about who you are, which was unknown to you.
4. As you become a master at reading books, be ok quitting them often:
Why on earth would I say that? Because once you know you love books, and part of your identity is wrapped up in being a reader, there is nothing to prove. There are millions of fantastic books you won’t have time to read in your lifetime, so why spend some of that precious time reading a book that you find unattractive? It’s ok to push yourself to read something beyond your capacity once in a while, though it is worth mentioning that no one will give you in heaven a price for the books you marked as read (especially if you understood very little about them).
With all love,
Santiago Barragan Noguera
Coach & Educator — Artistic Polymath
Copyright © 2023 Santiago Barragan Noguera. All rights reserved.