How to read books for nothing but the sheer joy of reading?
My father reads newspapers every single day as a ritual for the past 50 years or so. Like clockwork, he sips morning tea and devours the just delivered ‘The Hindu’ newspaper. I grew up seeing it and picked up the habit very early. Growing up, I thought that’s what everybody does in the morning.
I started reading some cartoons and then graduated to read the sports section. Right when hit the door of adolescence, I had developed patience and suave to read the paper start to finish. This continues till today. This is even when reading printed newspapers is passé. I am old school in this and so many ways.
I also picked up another habit from my old man, reading books. As everybody in my family were introverted, we naturally spent more time looking inward. I was not into sports or friends. Books were my saviours. I read random books, books that were beyond the grasp of my age. A sample, I read the books written by Osho that my uncle had left at my place when I was 10.
Back then, we didn’t have Amazon or Flipkart to deliver books within a day. We also didn’t get to choose from a gargantuan collection. Growing up in a small town, we had to live with corner book shops and book fairs. Books fairs were annual affairs and I used to drag my father to those to buy some books.
After I moved to Chennai for my undergraduate education, I didn’t stick with the habit of book reading. I don’t know why I did that and what a stupid decision that was. There was a cooling period between my undergraduate and first job. I wrote down every damn book that I wanted to read. I did hold of my decision to buy those until my first job. It definitely should have been the stupid bravado of adulthood or feeling of trying to carve out a self-sustaining life from the shadows of my father. Once I cashed in my first salary, I went straight down to the book shop in Infosys, Mysore, and bought many books.
I spent a year in Bangalore in 2012 when amazon had not launched in India and Flipkart was the de-facto leader. This was when Flipkart didn’t morph into a marketplace and was primarily selling books. Their 1-day delivery helped me read 100s of books. When I moved back to Chennai, I had to send those books in parcel service. I still remember that day. My brother was with me and he gave me the looks.
I had one simple rule back then. I had to finish a book before buying a new one. I adopted this probably after reading an interview with writer Sujatha. This helped in building discipline to see through a book to completion. But as years progressed, I was at crossroads. It was restrictive in many ways:
The genre of the book will not be appealing every single day. Today I might want to dive head on to a fictional world but another day, I want to read a non-fiction book. Sometimes, I want to read a book on a certain subject. Another day, a different subject will be appealing to me.
Sometimes, the book might be boring to read in parts or full. Because I adopted the rule of completing the book at whatever cost, I forced myself into the drudgery of reading through a poorly written or hard to read books.
Recent years, there are many books which should have been left as TED videos or long-form essay or a simple blog post. But the author goes on to write a book where the first chapter pretty much tells you everything. After that, the author goes on to give examples after examples, case studies after case studies to drive home the point. These books are soul suckers and not to mention the time that is wasted.
Slowly the number of unread books grew in numbers. I was so guilty that I stopped buying books. I was so doubtful of my buying choices. As much as habitual machines that we are, the habit of reading books came to a halt. I tried reviving at different points in time but somehow couldn’t read.
I happened to hear a podcast of Shane Parrish interviewing Naval Ravikant which helped me in putting things in perspective and I was not alone. There were a whole lot of people who felt the same way. I adopted these learnings and have never looked back since then.
Quality matters, not quantity. Some pseudo-celebrities boast on twitter on reading 50+ books per year. It doesn’t matter on the number of books that you read in a year. It matters what you read and how it impacts your life/makes you feel or think.
If you are told that you can read only 100 books. What are the 100 books that you want to read? We should find those and read them in repeat mode.
Different books appeal to different people. More so, it is influenced by many factors such as age, environment, time, and situation of your life that you are at that moment. So we should not look at the reading list of the richest people and celebrities and make our purchase decisions.
We can read any number of books parallel. If the prose is hard to read, then we should just stop reading it. We can skip the not-so-interesting chapters. The idea is to read the chapters or sections that interests you.
Wolf in the sheep’s clothing test - If the author has given a TED talk or written a now-famous or viral blog post, you are better off watching the video or reading that TLDR blogpost. Don’t buy the book. Period.
There are some books which had to be read cover to cover. It is like when one of the Polgar sisters was found in the bathroom in the middle of the night and was playing chess. When her dad asked, she exclaimed “Daddy, they won't leave me alone!". Those are the Aha! Moments we live for.
Now, I am reading anywhere between 7-10 books at a time and I am at peace while reading(and not reading a book). After all, why do we read books, for nothing but the sheer joy of losing into a different world than we live in?