Reflections On Reading

I am not an avid book reader. I read somewhere between 10 to 15 books a year on average. I tend to read mostly books on spirituality and personal development and I like to experience what I read thoroughly. These are some things I observed on what can make the reading process more enjoyable and satisfying:

Need is the best guide

I think the best way to enjoy a book is to seek for books that meet a particular need. Whether that need is for relaxation, for reflection or for finding answers to specific problems, the thought of fulfilling the need is what keeps you engaged with what you are reading.

I remember that in high school and in middle school we were assigned books to read and I thoroughly disliked most. It was so disconnected from purpose and need, that for me the exercise felt completely pointless. Instead of reading because I understood the necessity of reading, it all became about how reading makes you smart and knowledgeable, about how it made you appear to others. The more you read, the better.

The problem with that was that it created a vacuum, an expectation. It was not so much about your natural inclinations and interests, but about living up to a standard. So that connection to need and purpose was severed.

If we are not motivated into action by need, then we are doing so out of other external considerations.

Compulsive book buying increases your to do list

I can sometimes be a compulsive buyer. It used to be a big problem in the past – I once bought books that cost me more than 200$ – but thankfully I managed to change this habit.

The thing about compulsive book buying is that it gives you a high when you do it, but then you have a big stack of things to do. When you buy books on sale, you are spending less than you would otherwise, sure, but you’re also increasing your backlog of things to begin, process and finish. And when you do this on a regular basis, the stack keeps increasing.

As humans we like resolution. We like safety, reliability and predictability because it gives us a sense of control. We like finishing things because it clears our mental space. We no longer need to worry about that, it’s done. But when we keep accumulating things, that can make them appear a bit unmanageable, like an endless row of things to do.

Note Taking

I personally like to take notes while reading. If I find something that speaks to me personally, I can be sure that I can learn more about myself by exploring it in writing or reflection.

Sometimes while reading, I reach a paragraph that feels like a new angle on a problem I am currently facing or something I have been thinking about. I like to take the opportunity to expand on it right there and use the momentum to lean into that insight. That feels like it creates a sort of opening, a way for a new perception.

I have heard of others doing this exercise at the end of the book, taking notes on a few key concepts that they took from the book and applying them in day to day life.

I think both are valuable, the former being more oriented towards specific insights of a more personal nature while the latter is more of a general overview of the ideas that made an impact. But regardless of the approach, I think it’s good to process the ideas that are relevant for the purpose of making them useful.

One (or two) at a time

I have tried reading multiple books at once. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think starting multiple books at the same time can be a sign that you are not sufficiently engaged with the book you are reading. Perhaps the language is a bit difficult, perhaps it’s repetitive, perhaps you are distracted and you need something else.

Alternatively, some books are of a different atmosphere. Like for instance, the writings of James Allen, Lao Tzu, Khalil Gibran or The Pathwork Lectures take a lot of contemplating. I take my time with reading them, because they are more depth-oriented so they can be better experienced in smaller chunks and they can be alternated with other books that don’t require as much depth of thinking and reflection.

But generally I prefer reading one book at a time for the reason that when you read a book you are taking part in its atmosphere, it builds a momentum, it carries you through its progression, whether fiction or non-fiction. Reading multiple books at a time can be like switching back and forth between two or more movies you’re watching. They lose coherence, you lose engagement.

Mindfulness

Another good practice when reading books is to notice yourself in the process. Perhaps you are enjoying it and/or getting a lot out of it, perhaps you’re losing interest, or perhaps you’re using it as a distraction.

For instance, reading can be a displaced need for experience, or it can be a substitute for the need to know what to do, seeking answers externally or another mischannelled need. That doesn’t take away from the value of the practice, but it is good to be aware of the motivation.

Generally, when I feel I am making too much effort reading, I think that is a sign that I am losing interest in the book. In order for the process to be meaningful, I need to feel like I am engaged with what I am reading, that it is relevant to what I have experienced or am experiencing. So I either discontinue reading or read in smaller chunks.

What are some of your habits/reflections in regards to reading?

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