There was a public service campaign using the acronym, RIF; Reading Is Fundamental. The purpose of that effort was to promote reading, especially among poor children. I remember seeing their public service announcements on television, most likely during the 1970s.
Reading was a central components of my own reinvention. It was reading, and books like Gregg LeVoy’s, Po Bronson’s, and Scott Peck’s that got me up and out of my corporate prison at Moscow Mutual. If I wasn’t a reader, I’d still be stuck, probably not there, but someplace just like it, if not worse.
I could cite statistics here about how few people actually read. I won’t throw a bunch of data at you, but I will share anecdotal tidbits from my own life that demonstrates that readers are in the minority.
The director who hired me at the Local Workforce Investment Board, where I spent six years from 2006 to 2012, was a former college dean, and a voracious reader. In fact, he was always tossing off literary tidbits, quotes and assumed I knew what he was talking about. Even though I was a reader, and had been at it steady since 1997-98, his reading was much wider and more oriented so I was forced to pay attention to the names he’d rattle off; he was the most intellectually engaged man I ever had the good fortune to work alongside.
What impressed me the most about him, someone who was an important figure in my own development over the past 12 years, is that if I mentioned a book, like Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, he picked it up and began reading it. No book was beneath him and he became the first boss in more than 30 years of employment that I ever had that I could talk books and the ideas inherent in books and reading, with.
Unfortunately, he had to retire due to a variety of health issues; the lesser light that was hired to replace him as director, someone who fit the bill of being a “technocrat,” didn’t read, never mentioned a book he was reading, and his intellectual acuity and capacity was a fraction of my first boss’s. I attribute this lack of intelligence and rigor to not being a reader. He also had other issues that I won’t bother with in this year-end post devoted to books and reading.
Last year’s end-of-the-year book wrap offered a wealth of detail about my reading, especially how I turned the corner on becoming a reader again, after drifting away from this essential activity. I was sorry to admit that there was a period in my life during my 20s and early 30s when reading wasn’t as important and I used the weak excuse that I “didn’t have time” to read. That’s a trope that many lazily adopt. I hear it over and over again.
Time poverty is a very real issue in our constantly on, never slowing down, running around and chasing our tails, and never getting anywhere world we inhabit. It takes self-awareness to slow it down just enough to find an hour each day, or a few hours a week devoted to reading.
I managed again to plow through 30 books last year. That’s really not that many; less than one book a week. Yet, this activity, one that I’ve been committed to over the last 15 years is the single most important aspect of continual personal growth. Don’t talk to me about your desire to extend your intellectual frontier if you won’t devote some time each week to books that spur you to something bigger.
What is it about reading then that’s so important? I mentioned self-reflection, and with it comes self-awareness. If you don’t know who you are, and what matters to you, it’s going to be pretty darn hard to ever change the trajectory of our life.
Reading helps slow you down, as well as access new ideas. Reading also helps in comparing ideas and thoughts that you have to others, many who have lived decades or even centuries before you. I think this is an important benefit that reading offers.
There are a number of studies that indicate reading helps you understand and glean greater insight into the minds of others. Being a reader also helps keep you mind sharp and some research indicates that it might even stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Pretty heavy stuff, indeed.
As I continue down the road of reinvention, I think I’ve passed many that have relied upon higher education to move up the career ladder. Taking college classes force you to read books on the syllabus, complete assignments, and perpetuate a learning style that I consider irrelevant for the 21st century world we’re now inhabiting.
Reading widely, on the other hand, allows a DIY orientation and access to ideas that are current, while also hearkening back to the great ideas of the past. Reading makes you relevant.
Thirty books or more a year over 15 years has provided me with a significant advantage over others that see things through a limited prism. I also believe it’s why I’m often frustrated by the lack of innovation and ability to consider new ways of doing things.
I’ll continue to read, and champion reading to everyone I meet.
Last year’s list and recap was extensive, clocking in at over 5,000 words. I’m not going to spoon feed my reading to you this year. I’ve listed the books, the author, year released and number of pages. I’ve also linked some of the books to either a blog post of my own about the book, or some other link I thought was relevant.
All of these books mattered to me this year. I don’t consider one of the books I’ve invested time in this year, wasted energy. Just like last year, I rallied during the second half of 2013 to hit my goal and actually pass 30 books for the year. This while juggling multiple free agent assignments, and again working seasonally at an anonymous call center north of Boston. What can I say–I’m a reader and readers read books.
Reading books isn’t like taking a college class, or at least my experience of taking a college class; I always reached the end of the semester and was thrilled that it was over because I was bored to death. You then move on to another class and follow another syllabus and prescriptive course of learning. With many of the books I read, I’m sorry to reach the last page.
Reading never ends; I’m currently reading Thomas Wolfe’s classic, You Can’t Go Home Again, here at year-end. I can’t include it on my 2013 list, but it will be the anchor for my reading in 2014. What a great book to start the year with.
I have no idea what other books I’ll be reading next year, but I’m positive that my choices will continue to help me become more well-rounded and enhance my orientation as an autodidact.
Reading is truly fundamental.
My 2013 Reading List:
1. James Howard Kunstler Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of The Nation (2013) 256 pages
2. Dorothy Sayers Whose Body? (1923) 212 pages
3. Craig Whitney Living With Guns: A Liberal’s Case for the Second Amendment (2012) 304 pages
4. Kirk Kardashian Milk Money: Cash, Cows, and the Death of the American Dairy Farm (2012) 278 pages
5. Barry Estabrook Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit (2012) 256 pages
6. Richard Russo Elsewhere: A Memoir (2013) 256 pages
7. David Foster Wallace The Pale King (2012) 592 pages
8. Edwin H. Friedman A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (2007) 416 pages
9. Dwayne Raymond Mornings With Mailer: A Recollection of Friendship (2010) 352 pages
10. Norman and John Buffalo Mailer The Big Empty: Dialogues on Sex, God, Politics, Boxing Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America (2006) 218 pages
11. Norman Mailer The Armies of the Night: History As a Novel, The Novel As History (1968) 304 pages
12. Chris Hedges Death of the Liberal Class (2011) 256 pages
13. Jonathan Franzen Freedom (2012) 576 pages
14. Kristian Williams Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America (2007) 400 pages
15. Joan Didion Play It As It Lays (2005) 213 pages
16. William Chambliss Power, Politics, and Crime (2001) 190 pages
17. Kenneth Roberts Arundel (1929) 632 pages
18. Miles Orvell The Death and Life of Main Street: Small Towns in American Memory, Space, and Community (2012) 286 pages
19. Nathaniel Philbrick Why Read Moby Dick? (2013) 144 pages
20. George Packer The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (2013) 448 pages
21. Lisa B. Marshall Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Any Situation (2013) 288 pages
22. Kelly Barth My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus (2012) 240 pages
23. Nicholson Baker Checkpoint (2004) 115 pages
24. Carl Nagin Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Our Schools 2006) 144 pages
25. BJ Mendelson Social Media is Bullshit (2012) 240 pages
26. Guy Kawasaki APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book (2013) 410 pages
26. Andres Dubus III Townie: A Memoir (2011) 400 pages
27. John Jeremiah Sullivan Pulphead: Essays (2011) 384 pages
28. Bill McKibben Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist (2013) 255 pages
29. Carl Hart High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society (2013) 335 pages
30. Hugh MacLeod Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity (2009) 159 pages
31. Tobias Wolff This Boys Life: A Memoir (2000) 304 pages
32. Gar Alperovitz What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution (2013) 224 pages