I read a Huffington Post article this week by Julien Smith on the subject of reading fifty-two books in a year. I thought that much of his advice was practical and sound — chop your reading up into manageable doses and do it daily, preferably early in the day before other things take over. This is good advice for any habit – it’s precisely what writers are told to do if we want to be serious about our writing. Even something enjoyable becomes very easy to procrastinate in the face of work and life pressures. I really am into this book, but I need to also go to the post office, pay my bills, take care of the cat or the kid or the spouse. Etc., etc. By making reading your first priority, you make certain it happens before the rest of your life can take over. While I laughed at Smith’s comment that he would start his day by going to a coffee shop and reading his daily forty pages — no matter how long it took — because I know very few people with that kind of luxury in their mornings, I have to admit that his approach is sound.
Good advice. Life is all about choices.
I particularly liked what Julien Smith had to say on his own blog about why you should want to read so widely. He writes that:
The other thing is that books contain pretty much all the knowledge and wisdom in the whole world– not just for today, but for all of history. It’s in an imperfect form right now, what with books being out of print and all the problems of limited distribution, etc., but over time, that’ll be solved. So I see books as direct conduits to the past, and the most reliable way that we have to receive important information from other people, living or dead.
In the colonial days of the U.S., when there were no such things as painters, architects and doctors, if you needed to know how to do one of those things, you ordered a book from Europe. Then you waited for months for your book to arrive on a boat, if you were lucky. Then you tried to turn the knowledge from the book into your new house. One of the most successful people at this was Thomas Jefferson, who is considered one of the first architects in the U.S.
He built Monticello, from knowledge he picked up entirely in books.
Well played, Tom, well played.
That has always been the magic of books for me, because I am so curious about so many different things. No matter what the topic, you can go find a book to tell you about it, which is much easier than finding someone with accurate knowledge that is also willing to teach. If you read multiple genres, even fiction genres, you’ll pick up all sorts of bits of knowledge about how the world works. You’ll also develop a reputation for being smart, when you’re just repeating things that you read in books. Your prowess at Jeopardy will be the toast of the neighborhood, too.
At ten weeks into the year, I have six novels under my belt and a good start on Louise Eldrich’s Love Medicine, P.S. One of them was George R. R. Martin, which directly countermand’s Smith’s suggestion to cheat. I have to disagree with him — trying to read a book every single week means eliminating longer works from your selection. If I were to take his challenge, I would rework it from reading a book a week to reading something every day off the Internet. Spend time reading widely, taking in different types of books and knowledge. The world is big and the time in which we have to know it is limited…but books sure do help a lot.