A college professor once told me that most adults finish all serious reading by the time they reach the age of 23. He went on to say that most professions, even ones that require a four year degree, do not require the worker to engage in prolonged or critical reading. And while I’m sure there are exceptions to the statement, I agree wholeheartedly with the professor’s conclusion. Ask yourself, for example, what was the last serious novel you read or the last time you read The Economist from cover to cover (that’s Immanuel Kant on the left, by the way; he wrote a Critique of Pure Reason and should be on your reading list)?
Maintaining an active reading schedule is tough stuff especially if you have a demanding career, children, a home to run, and the desire to not become fat (i.e., excercise). However, the difficulty associated with finding time to stimulate your mind and learning about new topics and facts shouldn’t deter you from sitting down each day and putting in some reading time.
Here is a quick summary, then, on what type of material to read and how to get back into that academic mode you may have been in during your undergraduate days (you know when you read, wrote papers, and had a beer or two on Friday night)
Find a comfortable and quiet place with good lighting (see my home office entry) – this will ensure you will not be disturbed and that you slowly train your body to associate your office, bedroom, or leather armchair with reading.
The Everyday Reads
Head to your library, or subscribe to the following four newspapers/magazines: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Review of Books (NOT the NY Times Book Review), and the New Yorker. These four sources will provide an excellent source of daily material on global politics (NY Times), business news (WSJ), latest arts and letters (NY Review of Books), and the best in popular culture, short fiction, criticism, and essays (The New Yorker). I know I’m missing out on tons of sources (like the Economist, Harper’s, Financial Times, etc.), but in terms of general interest, accessibility, and availability, the titles above provide the reader with the best “bang for your buck” intellectual junk food.
Start your daily reading routine by sitting for an hour in your quiet space and reading through the two daily newspapers outlined above. You don’t need to read every article, but you should get through the International and US sections in the NY Times and Marketplace and the first section in the Wall Street Journal (keep this at 30 minutes). The next 30 minutes should be spent reading either a serious novel or a non-fiction book. There are tons of serious books on the market (and one would need several lifetimes of full time reading to get through the world’s best literature), but start with something that will interest/challenge you (here is a good list). As an example, I’m currently reading Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Do the above for about a month until you feel comfortable sitting in a quiet space and just reading. This will be harder than you think, as you won’t be able to check email, watch TV, fire up the Wii, or listen to your newly downloaded iTune track. Once you cut off the mindless entertainment, try and increase your reading time to 2 hours a day (The TV really is the devil!).
I’m not sure about you but when I take in knowledge I want to be able to apply it to my daily life (whether it be reading some arcane piece of analytic philosophy or the recent US News and Word Reports series on the presidential candidates). If I can’t apply the knowledge I just picked up in a book or a magazine article then it is wasted time and I will mostly likely forget what I just spent two hours reading. I’m not talking about literally trying to apply some fun fact you just picked up in the New Yorker while you’re working on a spreadsheet at work. Rather, I’m talking about synthesizing the material you read during your daily reading ritual and trying to make sense of it as it relates to the specific world you are living in. So, for example, if you’ve just read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on the economic downturn and the amount of jobs being lost in various US business sectors, maybe you can bring up the slowing economy in a work meeting and try and come up with a more efficient way of building and marketing your organization’s widget.
If you think the above sounds a little too geeky consider that a guy like Warrent Buffet finds the time to read over 5-6 daily newspapers a day (as well as a few books) – you don’t do great things by putting your left hemisphere on pause. Oh, Bill Gates spends lots of time reading, as well.