Three Benefits And Downsides Of Reading A Lot

Well, I thought that I’d talk about reading books again today. This is mostly because, ever since I got back into reading regularly several months ago, I’ve noticed a few things about reading a lot (either in the past and/or in the present) that are simultaneously awesome and annoying.

1) Your nostalgia will be different: One of the interesting things about books is that they aren’t really “mainstream” in the way that film, TV and videogames are. Whilst this has both benefits and drawbacks (for example, you can find an utterly awesome novel that is better than pretty much every movie/TV show you’ve seen… but no-one else will have heard of it or read it), I thought that I’d look at how it relates to nostalgia.

If you are a reader then, barring a few popular novels like the “Harry Potter” books and “The Da Vinci Code”, your nostalgia will be probably slightly different from everyone else’s. When you look back on the things that shaped your imagination and accompanied you during your earlier years, they will be different to what everyone else thinks about.

For example, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll sometimes re-read some of the old 1980s/90s horror novels that I first found in second-hand shops and charity shops when I was a teenager during the ’00s. These are, to me at least, really nostalgic books. Yet, if I asked a random person on the street what “2000s nostalgia” looks like, they probably wouldn’t mention a collection of 20-40 year old books.

So, if books are your main form of entertainment, then your nostalgia will be different to most other people’s. On the plus side, this makes your nostalgia a bit more personal, unique, meaningful and cool. On the downside, it means that popular nostalgia won’t always resonate with you to quite the same extent.

2) You’ll encounter great books: This is both a good and a bad thing. If you read a lot then, by the law of averages, you are going to stumble across a truly great book every once in a while. This is the kind of book that lingers in your imagination, that feels like “THIS book was written for ME!” and/or makes you not want to finish it because that would mean that the story is over.

When you find one of these books, it is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Because of the added depth/immersion that the written word gives stories and because you have to use your own imagination whilst reading, it is a more vivid and unique experience than finding a really awesome movie, TV series or videogame. It reminds you why you read books and it enriches you in ways that you can’t even put into words. It is amazing.

However, the downside of all of this is when you finish that great book and look for the next book to read. This next book will be judged by the standards of the greatness that has come before it and this means that good or ok novels that you probably would have really enjoyed in other circumstances can sometimes seem off-putting in the days after reading a great book.

So, you either have to search for another great book (and they can be pretty rare) or go through the rigmarole of reading the first chapters of a few other books until you find a really good one that doesn’t seem like too much of a step down.

3) Book piles: Unless you read your books on an electronic device that needs to be recharged, doesn’t include second-hand novels and will probably become “obsolete” when the company that makes it wants to sell you a new one, then you will probably have at least a few book piles.

For those who don’t know, this is when your bookshelves run out of space and the only way to store the rest of the books is in ever-growing stalgmite-like piles that look a little bit like this:

This is a detail from a painting I made of my main book pile a few months earlier. At the time of writing, many of the books on it are different and the pile has grown very slightly taller.

Book piles are awesome for so many reasons. The covers and spines can add extra decoration to a room (unless you need to turn the books sideways to make room for more). They let you see what you could read next and what you’ve enjoyed in the past.

Book piles also make somewhere feel like home too (if you have book piles, you’ll understand this. If you don’t, then you probably never will).

Plus, if you spot a book pile somewhere else then you know you are in the company of a like-minded individual and, best of all, if you’ve got a few book piles then you can find all sorts of buried treasures in them that you’d totally forgotten that you even owned.

Not only that, knowing how to structure a book pile so that it contains the most books possible in the least amount of space whilst also remaining structurally stable is the kind of skill that can come in handy in all sorts of areas. Seriously, you’ll become a better Tetris player at the very least.

On the downside, there is never enough room for all the book piles you need (requiring you to restructure them or send books to the charity shop every now and then), you’ll never have the time to read literally everything in your book piles and non-readers might react with criticism/ridicule when they see even a modest book pile or seven.

—————

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Advertisements

Three More Tips For Reading More This Year

Although I loathe and despise the idea of “new year’s resolutions”, I unintentionally made one last year (and, yes, I write these articles quite far in advance) when I suddenly started to get back into reading regularly (after 2-3 years of infrequent reading) a day or so after New Year’s Day. Which, incidentally, is why several book reviews have been appearing here over the past month or two.

And, although I’ve already written about how to get back into reading regularly, I thought that I’d offer a few extra tips for reading more this year if you’re interested in doing so.

1) Challenges and scores: In the other article, I talked about intrinsic motivation (eg: make sure you actually want to read more) and following your instincts when choosing books (eg: read what you enjoy). Even if your instincts lead you to different things than you used to read, follow them nonetheless.

For example, when I got back into reading a month or two before I wrote this article, I ended up blazing my way through about eight thriller novels by Clive Cussler (and various co-writers) before I returned to my more traditional mixture of sci-fi, horror, thriller and detective novels. I wanted to read gripping thriller novels, so I started by reading a few of these before my tastes returned to normal. These thriller novels were the thing that got me interested in reading again. So, follow your instincts!

But, expanding on this, another way to get intrinsic motivation is to set yourself challenges, keep score of how many books you’ve read etc… Although this may sound petty or pointless, keeping score or challenging yourself to finish a particular book within a particular number of days (be realistic though) can be really useful for building intrinsic motivation.

In short, keeping score means that you feel proud of yourself and challenging yourself to read quickly means that you not only keep reading but it also means that you can start reading new books more regularly too.

2) Keep a book nearby: This one is really obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Simply put, keep your book nearby! Put it somewhere where it is easy to get to and can be picked up at a moment’s notice. Or, if you can, try to put it somewhere that you normally associate with entertainment too.

For example, after I got back into reading regularly, I put my current book next to my computer in the same way that I ususally did with the DVD boxset I was watching at any particular time. Not only did this mean that the book was easy to get to, but it also meant that I ended up thinking of reading in a similar way to binge-watching watching a DVD boxset. This then led me to think of books as being more like a cheaper, more immersive and more reliable equivalent of a DVD boxset, which made them seem more appealing to me.

Likewise, make sure that you’ve already worked out what you’re going to read next before you finish your current book. You can always change your mind if you find a more interesting book in the meantime, but having an idea of what you’re going to read next means that you won’t be frozen by indecision or put off reading the next book.

3) It gets easier: Although reading regularly might seem like a bit of an effort at first, it gets easier! So, keep at it!

This change in difficulty can happen in an interesting way – if you keep reading books by the same author (like I did with Clive Cussler novels), then you’ll get used to the writer’s style and will eventually think “I want something a bit different” or “I want something more challenging“.

This will probably lead to you reading something different and, if it’s a bit older or more complex, you’ll feel like you’re back to square one again. I mean, I was feeling fairly confident about breezing my way through Clive Cussler novels… then, after a couple of other books, I read “The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson. Needless to say, the novel’s complex narration made me feel like I was reading at half my normal speed. But, I stuck at it. And, soon, I was reading it more quickly again. And that isn’t even the best part…

When I returned to reading horror, thriller etc.. novels, I found that my experiences with grappling with more complex narration meant that I was able to read these novels even more quickly. It’s kind of a bit like gaining experience points in an old role playing game or like how a bodybuilder builds their muscles or something like that.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Tips For Getting Back Into Reading Regularly

Although I’ve written about the benefits of having read a lot in the past, I’ve been going through a phase where I’m getting back into reading regularly again (hence this book review yesterday).

I also thought that I’d write about reading regularly because I suddenly realised that – aside from the novel I reviewed yesterday- I’d only read four or five books during the previous year. This was practically nothing compared to late 2009/mid-2010 (where, by my count, I must have read at least 12-15 novels, if not more). And even this is probably a small number in comparison to the amount I was reading per year 10-15 years ago.

Yet, after I read the book I reviewed yesterday, I felt something. Even though I had mixed opinons about the book itself, I felt refreshed after reading it. Like having a long sleep or something like that. And my reaction was something like “Ah, I remember this! It’s been too long!

So, how can you get back into reading regularly?

1) Enjoy it: You aren’t going to feel motivated to read more if you start by reading books that you don’t enjoy. So, go for the books that really grab your interest or which seem relaxing in some way or another. These might be different to what you used to read regularly, and they might be a little bit “low-brow”. But, it doesn’t matter.

The whole point is to remind yourself of why you enjoy reading. I mean, I always used to enjoy sci-fi, detective and horror novels (with maybe the occasional thriller too). But, when I got back into reading recently, it was thriller novels that did the job. They’re books that grab your attention and refuse to let go. They make you want to come back for more. They’re like an emergency boot disk for a malfunctioning computer or something like that. So, the thing that gets you back into reading might not be the thing you expect.

One idea that tends to get bandied about is that, these days, books have to compete with the internet, TV shows, computer games etc.. And, this is true – they do. But, this isn’t the bad thing that some people make it out to be.

It just means that you have to find a book that is good enough to compete with these other things. And, this is easier than you might think. After all, there is no shortage of gripping thriller, detective, romance, horror etc.. novels out there. So, choose a genre that intrigues you and keep browsing until a book really grabs your attention.

Your time is a precious resource, and a book needs to be worthy of it (even if there’s more competition these days ). So, don’t be afraid to be discerning or to follow your instincts. The important thing is to look at lots of books. The more you do this, the higher chance there will be one that will insist that you read it. And, after that one, you might want to read another. Then another….

2) Don’t try to analyse too much: Unless you’re working out concrete ways to get back into reading, don’t get too hung up on why you moved away from books. Not only will this make you feel disappointed or guilty, but it can also allow you to come up with excuses for reading less.

Just find the most interesting novel that you can and try to read the first chapter. If it doesn’t grab you and make you want to read more, then find another book and try the same thing. Keep going until you find one that makes you want to read more.

Nostalgia is a bit of a double-edged sword here though. Sometimes the feeling of “I should read more” can translate to “I wish I was younger again“. The trick to dealing with this is to focus on recapturing the feeling of reading more (kind of a subtle relaxing, meditative, immersive etc.. kind of feeling) rather than the memories of the times when you read more. One is an emotion that can be achieved again, the other is part of the past (that, until someone invents time travel, can’t be revisited fully).

3) Think about it differently: A lot of the trouble these days is that reading is often seen as some kind of puritanical, virtuous exercise. And, if you’re the kind of person who loves things like “clean eating”, self-righteous lecturing, 5am jogging, digital detoxes etc… then this is great for you. But, what do you do if you’re a sensible person who believes that life should actually be enjoyed?

The easiest way to get over the pretentious puritanical nonsense that is associated with reading these days is to think about reading in a way that makes it seem “cool” to you.

Think about it like experiencing the best form of “virtual reality” ever invented. Think about it like rebelling against crappy modern Hollywood superhero movies. Think of it like hanging out with a cool author for a few hours. Think of it like binge-watching an entire TV series (the two things can feel very similar, if you’ve found a good book or an excellent TV series). I could probably go on for a while.

Just think of it in a way that makes it seem “cool” and appealing to you. For example, this was why I read so much when I was younger. Since film censorship was a little bit stricter when I was a teenager and since there were times when I didn’t look old enough to bluff my way into “18 rated” horror films at the cinema or buy them on video/DVD, reading old second-hand splatterpunk novels, “controversial” novels etc… was my way of rebelling against patronising official film censorship. It felt really cool and, as such, I read a lot (and kept doing so for quite a while after I turned 17/18).

So, find a way of thinking about reading which makes it feel like a really cool thing to do.

4) Physical books: Ok, I might sound a little bit old-fashioned here – but physical books (rather than E-books) are the best thing to use when getting back into reading.

This is mostly because physical books will probably remind you of the times you really enjoyed reading. After all, your first experiences of reading for enjoyment were probably with good, solid, physical books. E-books are, after all, a relatively recent invention.

Your joyous memories of reading will probably be associated with things like the act of turning pages, the distinctive aromas of old and new books, the satisfying weight of holding an actual book and a whole host of other things that you don’t get with text on a screen.

Plus, if you’ve spent a fair part of the day staring at a computer screen, then looking at a traditional printed page can be a good way to take a break from this whilst still having the enjoyable experience of reading text. Because, well, reading text is fun. I mean, why do you think that the internet is still a thing?

————–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂