What I’m Reading
One of my New Year’s resolutions it to drastically up my reading. Where you used to not be able to wrench my nose from the books, now reading feels like taking my vitamins. I do it because I know it’s good for me, and I’m always glad I’ve done it, but it usually involves some dragging of the feet. I could blame the internet or social media or my busy life, but the truth is I’ve just fallen out of the habit. If the girl sitting beside me on the streetcar at 6AM can make good use of her commute by reading, then I can certainly find a spare few minutes of my day to do the same.
Part of the reason I haven’t been reading as much is because of a “Type A” reading tact I’ve taken over the years. There was a certain pride amongst the bookish types in school as to who could read the quickest. It fostered this unrealistic expectation you could get through dense texts in a weekend and actually retain the details. Reading became more about getting through the pages rather than enjoying what was on them.
I recently found a medium article that addresses this ego-driven way of reading, that robs us of an immersive experience. It helped me realize that it doesn’t matter how fast I read, or how many books I get through in a month. When I finish reading a good book, I want that book to stay with me as I continue on in life. I need to slow right down and absorb each page fully. If it takes longer to finish a book, so be it. I’ll have gained magnitudes more enjoyment.
The article is called “Read with purpose: how to better understand and retain what you read“. It talks about prioritizing reading comprehension over speed. For me, one of the best parts about reading is talking at length about the book’s ideas afterwards. Hard to that when you haven’t absorbed or comprehended any of the material.
The idea brings to mind a quote I heard a while back by Woody Allen. “I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.” Sums it up.
To that end, I am now slowly making my way through “The Woman Who Smashed Codes”. It’s about a young woman named Elizabeth who began her career studying Shakespeare and was later called upon to decrypt codes for the American army during WWI. She overcame obstacle after obstacle in order to prove herself intellectually. In fact, Elizabeth was lauded by some people as smarter than her husband, who happened to be her code-breaker colleague. His name went on all the academic papers that were published as a result of her joint work, despite Elizabeth having been equally as instrumental in getting the work done. Elizabeth’s story is almost unbelievable, and makes for compelling reading.
There’s something extra gratifying about reading incredible but true tales. My current favourite biography is not about a human at all, but rather a horse: Seabiscuit. I do have a very soft spot for horses, though. See exhibit A.
One of my mantras for 2019 is “quality over quantity”. I’m a believer that how you do anything is how you do everything, so practicing patient mindfulness in my reading will hopefully have tangential benefits in my focus, listening skills and memory. If nothing else, I’ll be proud of myself for re-embracing my bookworm ways.
Some people roll their eyes at New Years resolutions (they never last! you forget about them within a week!) but I think they’re a great way to get intentional about the long-term arc of your life. We inevitably pick up bad habits as time goes on, but it’s hard to breathe deep and really shift our actions while we’re racing through our work week. The winter holidays are a welcome pause to regain self awareness and alter negative habits, or introduce preferred behaviours.
Let’s raise a book to a slow, intentional 2019. Comprehension over page count. Intention over metrics. That pesky ego can take a vacation.