Rewiring The (Book) Reading Habit

How & why I needed to train myself for a NEW reading habit.

I grew up being a voracious reader, and an even more inexorable book collector. I, like many of my type, have way more books than I can read, or have read (both paperbacks and digital). That is totally fine with me. I derive a sense of comfort from just looking at my books. But it also fills me with a sense of dismay over how poor my reading habit has become, and how few books I am currently reading—not to compete with anyone else, but knowing my own capacity and desire to read, and not being able to, for reasons I will now discuss.

Some people read books so that they can talk about the books (like acclaimed books, bestsellers), some people read books to gain knowledge, and some people read books because they like reading books. Knowledge, pleasure, education, learning & un-learning, are all happy side effects of it.

2-3 Books a Week…

The tough part of growing up, and loving books since the time you were an adolescent, and reading books way above your grade, is that you get into a mode where reading is all there is. It is not for a purpose. Reading is the purpose. It becomes one of your sources of pleasure, not just knowledge. Gaining knowledge is, also, an enjoyable aspect of reading, not “work.” When I was a child, I read books like there was no tomorrow—during lunch breaks in school, in breaks between classes, after I reached home, after I finished my homework, and then late into the night until my book was hidden and I was at risk of not waking up for school the next day. It was a different age, a different era, a different lifestyle. But I think I made the best use of my time then, by soaking myself in reading, rather than doing many silly things which kids of that age do nowadays and used to do back then. I could read 2-3 books a week (and that is not an exaggeration). It had nothing to do with “speed reading” (whatever that is), but just losing yourself in the book. Speed gets developed as a side effect. It cannot be forced, else you are not really reading, you are browsing. If you read too fast, just to read fast, you are probably not going to assimilate very much.

It was not like I was too free as a kid. We had deadlines, homework, exams, stuff. But I finished off everything and used up all the last bits of my time to read.

Now, I count how many books I can read in a month. Or in how many months I can read a book. I feel so dejected sometimes. But not all is lost.

Re-assemble

The thing with reading is that it needs to be built as a habit but at the same time, you must enjoy what you are doing, otherwise it is pointless. If you don’t like reading, there is usually one reason for that: you are reading the wrong type of books. There is an entire universe of books out there. If you don’t like reading, you have probably been reading just the bestsellers or classics or the books someone recommended or forced you to read, and decided you don’t like it or that you don’t like it enough to pursue it on your own. Unless reading books becomes that part of your day which is the time you set aside for yourself, it will always be a struggle to keep up the habit, even if you do build it.

A lot of books are just not written well, truth be told. They are boring, arduous, fail to capture one’s interest. Some are also propagandist. So, in the plethora of books out there, you have to find the ones that suit your interest, by “trying” different books, and then sticking to your choice. I’m not saying that you should not explore further, but that you should not let unnecessary publicity, advertising or opinions to force yourself to read what you don’t like, and not read what you do like.

Many people give up on reading because they hated studying in school, and never felt like picking up a book again. This happens when academic books are the only books you have spent time with, and most likely, been forced to read, since there is no other option. Many academic books are written to dump information on your head, not to pique your interest. They don’t count, as far as the world of “books” is concerned. You don’t need to be an academic to read books. You need to be imaginative, or capable of thinking on your own, to read books. You need to be open to new ideas, new ways of existing, even if in a purely imaginative world.

Most booklovers feel a phase of feeling low or “lonely” after finishing a book they loved a lot, or which impacted them much—because books are not just for information, they are company.

I can spend hours in a bookstore or a library, without feeling the need for human contact. Growing up in India meant that the only library I had access to was my school library. India doesn’t have a culture of good public libraries. In the 90s, a middle-class person was not affluent enough to buy a lot of books, just out of “interest.” But that didn’t exactly stop me. My family was supportive enough. My mother and aunt allowed me to borrow books from their academic and institutional libraries, and I had a world of books suddenly available to me, for free. I read books fast enough, so returning books on time was not a problem. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to books other than academic books when I was a kid, because some things, when learnt early on in life, tend to stick. It’s the right age for habit-forming.

Two Ways of Reading

Now, I have two ways of reading a book, depending on the purpose—the books I want to read, because I know I will most probably enjoy reading them, eg works of fiction, I read at my natural pace, without any sense of urgency. The books I have to read, because I need to extract some information from them, like works of non-fiction, I scan through, and read very fast, stopping at relevant paragraphs, marking notes there, and then move on to the next thing. I can read a few books in just 2-3 days in the latter way of reading. Because I am not savouring it. I am just reading it for research. I do read the parts I think important or relevant in detail.

In my opinion, there are very, very few works of non-fiction that are written well, with the reader in mind. Most of them are written in a way so as to just compile information. It doesn’t have a lot of artistic style or purity of skill. Whereas most works of fiction are beautiful for their imagination, skill and beauty of writing. The goal is different for the two books even from the perspective of most writers. But that is my opinion. It may register differently for different people.

Reading is something that helps me feel comforted in distressing times, entertained in dull times, and inspired in trying times. I feel it is the one habit that has helped me a lot in life, without exaggeration. As such, I always wanted to be an author :)

PS: My first book, Cownomics, is now available worldwide, in ebook and paperback format. If you would like to support my work, do consider buying my book!