“We lose ourselves in things we love. We find ourselves there, too.” Kristin Martz
Reading is to the mind as exercise and healthy food is to the body: we know it’s good for us but we just don’t make time.
In Australia we read for just over six hours per week outside of work, slightly below the global average of 6.5 hours per week. These hours include reading newspapers, magazines and books.
Nothing wrong with newspapers and magazines but I want to make the case for reading more books.
This is my big fear. As a white-collar worker bee I spend my working days reading and analysing words and numbers. At the end of the day my brain is fried. Once I leave the office I am supposed to work out, go shopping, cook healthy meals, actively maintain friendships and be an engaging and attentive partner, parent and family member.
I am not long out of university. I studied for quite a while and enjoyed the intellectual freedom of spending countless hours exploring many academic disciplines and actively built up a complex sociological, philosophical, economic and psychological worldview.
But I now I am afraid I will get stuck in my university level thinking and reading.
How do I upgrade my knowledge base and world view in this post-university phase of my life? Sure, I learn a lot on the job and my employer provides generous training and up-skilling opportunities. This is great, but is it enough for my personal development?
No matter how well intended or high quality, employer provided training is it not enough. Am I willing as an individual to outsource the development and formation of my worldview and personality completely to my employer?
All my colleagues are taking the same training courses so how can I set myself intellectually apart? How can I think more creatively?
Having an intellectually homogenous workforce doesn’t help either. A more intellectually and culturally diverse workforce is much better suited to tackle the challenges of an ever changing, fast paced work environment. Intellectual diversity breeds intellectual conflict. If managed correctly such conflict sparks new ideas, new service offerings and shifts paradigms.
An ode to randomness
It doesn’t matter much what you read as reading is a constant act of intellectual emancipation. We read to advance our thinking and we read for the sheer joy of it. Reading shapes your character, is playful and exploratory while you follow your interests free from a fixed agenda. A book on musical history awakens an interest in post-Napoleon Europe which leads you to read modern day organisational theory before diving into popular fiction.
I hear the devil’s advocate say, “I get that reading is important but how can I make time for it in my busy world? Also, I have a hefty mortgage, three kids and a tendency to spend heavily on food and wine. I can’t possibly spend $30 on a book.”
No need to worry. The best things in life are free.
Audiobooks are a great way to consume books while commuting, exercising or cleaning. These days your local library offers free audiobooks through smart phone apps like BorrowBox or OverDrive. Free. Absolutely free. On librivox.org volunteers (all professional quality readers) record books whose copyright protection has run out. Again, librivox audiobooks are completely free and can be downloaded comfortably on your smart phone.
If you struggle to kick-start a reading habit, simply commit to a small daily page minimum. Eight daily pages will let you finish 12 books of 250 pages each year.
eBook apps on your phone allow you to spend those spare moments on the tram, in front of the microwave or waiting for someone. Precious reading time that would have otherwise been spent on Candy Crush or some other time killing app. As proof of concept I recently read the whole of Moby Dick solely in those unexpected breaks.
Personally I simultaneously read an audiobook, an e-book and an old fashioned paper book. All different genres and mediums, so I always have something to read that fits my mood.
So let’s begin to do something which is actually good for us. Just a little each day will make us a much more interesting and productive person by year’s end.
3 March is celebrated in many countries as World Book Day
Simon Kuestenmacher is a demographer in Melbourne where he runs the KPMG Bookclub. He loves chatting about books, maps and data in person and on twitter (@simongerman600)