Some people read for pleasure or to escape. I read to learn.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with reading for fun; I’ve just never been one of those people. To me, reading is a commitment. There are so many things I could do with my time, and if I’m going to commit to reading I want to get something out of it. That “something” could be any number of things, but it’s generally something more than a good story. I want to be inspired, learn a skill, find out how something works, or improve myself.
My reading quest began four or five years ago and started with books of a spiritual nature. I wanted and needed something to fill my soul. That slowly transitioned into self-improvement, psychology, management/leadership, business, creativity and talent, Church history, American history, biographies, and now—somehow—I’ve got a science book in progress. Perhaps an odd quest, and I’ve not given up on any of the genres above, but you’ll notice I did not mention novels (though I did finally read the first Harry Potter book after adamantly refusing for many years).
I love non-fiction! I have found that this makes me appear strange in many circles of avid readers, but I don’t care. And I am disturbed that public schools place so much emphasis on getting kids to read “literature.” I think reading would have been much less of a chore for me in high school if I could have read non-fiction. Reading is reading, right? A page is a page whether it’s fantasy or history.
When people ask me for book recommendations I often don’t know quite what to say. I tend not to rate books based on quality. Rather, I rate books based on what they have done for me (or in many cases to me). For example, Driven—the autobiography of Larry H. Miller—was not a particularly outstanding book on its own. I don’t much care for basketball or Toyota dealerships. And yet, that book altered my perception of myself, my career, and life. I had received a marketing email from the bookseller that contained a sample chapter. That single chapter changed me. It came at a time in my life when I needed it and it really affected me. I later read the whole book and learned even more. Among other things, I learned to embrace hard work and yet to remember what’s truly important. That lesson has stayed with me ever since, and who knows if that was even Miller’s point? So, would I recommend the book to you? Perhaps not. I fear it may not do the same for you as it did for me. I’d hate to disappoint. I rank it low on universal applicability and extremely high on changing Scott.
Below are a few tips for those brave souls who wish to trying reading to learn, in no particular order:
- Drop that novel! Give non-fiction a try. You might like it.
- Read with a pencil. Or a note-taking app. The point is to write down what stands out to you, whether direct quotations or ideas that come as you read. Sometimes thoughts will come that are completely unrelated to the book in hand but that would never have come without that stimulation. It’s remarkable, really. I also love having quotations I can refer to again either as underlined passages in my own books or as notes I’ve taken from books I’ve returned to the library
- Read with a dictionary. I’m kind of a word nerd anyway, but I promise that there is much to be gained by looking up the meaning of a word. It even works with words you think you already know. You’ll discover a nuance to the word that brings it to life. P.S. I’m pretty sure smartphones were originally invented so the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary app could have a reason to exist
- Make liberal use of your public library. The books are FREE. I can’t believe that’s really a thing. It simply does not get any better than that. And there’s an added bonus: if you don’t like a book you’re reading, you can take it back and get another one! For free!
- Try an audiobook. If you hesitate to make the leap from fiction, or you want to listen to something other than the Top 40 in your car, audiobooks are an unassuming way to read a book without committing too much to it. It’s hard to take notes while you’re driving, but it’s amazing how much information will stick in your brain just by hearing it
- Read a book in a subject range you’ve never tried before. Tip: reading biographies is a sneaky way to learn history. They read like novels and inform you at the same time. Shh! This one’s our secret.
- Share your learning. Talk to someone about what you’ve been reading. It makes for more interesting conversation than “Hey, did you see the latest cat video sensation online?”