Some Thoughts on Reading

“So many books, so little time…” goes the infamous refrain (would love to find out who said that first). For avid readers, this mantra seems to be a way of life. Who among us ever catches up with our reading pile(s)? My reading “pile” used to be a series of piles, with piles within those piles. Got all piled up, one might say. In times past my reading pile would become so unwieldy that occasionally I actually bought a book that was already resting nicely in the pile. That was my signal that things had gone too far.

On that fateful day, I spent some quality time with my tomes and purged them deeply, leaving only those books I had a chance of reading within the next three months. The rest went back into the bookshelves. Now I use a “reading shelf” (note the singular, not plural, noun!), and on that shelf rests those books I expect to read within a short period. If my reading shelf develops severe obesity, I simply do another session of contemplation over their comparative merits and reduce them to fit on the shelf with the rest going back into the bookcases.

This method has also helped reduce the omnipresent guilt of not having enough time to read them all, and makes me far more realistic about what’s possible, thus improving my reading choices. All in all, a win-win situation.

Avoiding the Silo

Most people I know read within certain categories and rarely go outside those safe zones. In business, this is known as siloing, as in living/working in a silo while not sharing or interacting with anyone else and staying in one’s comfort zone. While a silo approach can provide a deeper knowledge of selected subjects, it closes the mind to new thoughts and concepts.

A few years ago, I started a reading program to try to bust out of this well-grooved rut earned through many books read. Periodically (usually 3-4 times a year) I select a book from a topic that I have absolutely no interest in, one I would never choose, one that if given as a gift I’d surely return for… you guessed it… one more familiar.

What amazes me about this approach is that I’ve enjoyed every one of theses books and learned a great deal about subjects that I would not otherwise choose to read. Maybe it’s just me, but I would like to think that if the spirit’s willing (and the choice is good), anyone can read outside their silo and enjoy it.

I’m not suggesting, however, that you grab just any book. The goal is not simply to read a horrid book, but to read outside your static reading interests, farther the better. I make sure my selections are notable books on the topic, or at least, ones with excellent reviews. Some of them come through the influence of an interview heard on NPR, others from bits read in newspapers, magazines, etc. In the beginning, the books were difficult to choose, but the process has become easier to where I have a backlog waiting patiently for me (again these damn growing reading piles… they’re like rabbits in the spring).

Both tips won’t help if you can’t find some serious reading time every day. I have no magic dust to sprinkle on you to cure that affliction, other than to suggest approaching your reading the same way they say you should eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

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