Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reading books for fun and profit!

It’s the end of the month of a new year and you’re already falling behind on that resolution you made to read more books.

You started strong. You pulled up one of several “best books” lists, picked what seemed a good choice from the many “literary classics,” got a copy, and dove in. Then, in the first few pages, things started going sour and your bookmark’s not moved in days.

You are not alone.

First, kudos to you for at least wanting to read a book or a few. That is a noble and good desire.

Second, don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to accomplish your goal. The problem isn’t necessarily you; it could be the book you’ve chosen, or perhaps some toxic residue from “required reading” demands from school.

I’m here to help you get back on track.

Don’t read what bores you!

Life's too short not to read books. And it's too short to read books that you find boring.

A lot of people don't read because they had to read stuff in school that was, well, awful. I feel you! Even though I am an admitted bookaholic, that doesn’t mean I fall in love with every one I pick up.

If you picked a title from the “greatest literary classics” lists your old -- uh, I mean former -- high school English teacher gave you, that may be where you went wrong.

While there are many great books that are great reads, not all are for everyone. And since you’re reading because you want to, feel free to select and stick with books that you want to read!

What a concept, right?

I’m an English major. I’ve always loved books and words. From the very first moment I realized I could read I’ve had a book by my side. As a teenager, I actually carried a “pocket” sized book (aka “mass market paperback”) in the hip pocket of my jeans. Whenever I had a spare moment, I would read.

Today, I’ve got the Amazon Kindle app on my phone, so always have a book available to read while I’m stuck waiting in a doctor’s office or anywhere else.

The point is that I am a reader. There are few books I don’t like at least a little. And I’ll read just about anything.

Still, in the past few months I've tried to read a couple of those "literary classics" that I've always felt like, as an English major, I should have read. I made it about half way through each before I just couldn't go on. The books were just not my cup of tea.

I left my bookmark where I stopped and put them both back on my bookshelf. And then I got another book.

If a particular book is just not doing it for you, then stop reading it!

Don’t torture yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t assume you’re not smart enough or whatever. Just as you don’t become BFFs with every single person you meet, and just as some people are just darn annoying, you’ll have the same experiences with certain books.

At the same time, just as you don’t give up on people, a bad experience with a couple of books is no justification for giving up on reading altogether. That’s simply not good logic.

Read because it’s good for you!

Reading has a plethora of benefits. Here are six to consider:
  • Reading can make you more informed and smarter. Is there a topic you’re clueless about? It’s been said that anyone who takes the time to read at least three books on a topic can be considered a subject matter expert. Why? Because you’ll know more than the vast majority of people who’ve read only one or no books on the same topic. But not only does reading provide information, studies have shown that good stories can actually change your brain in positive ways. So, if you want to get smart, read books!
  • Reading will take you places you would never get to go otherwise. In the delightful movie, “Miracle on 34th Street,” there’s a scene where Edmund Gwenn (Santa) is teaching Natalie Wood (Susan) to be creative and playful. He explains how to tap into her imagination, saying, "...to me the imagination is a place all by itself; a separate country. You've heard of the French or the British nation. Well, this is the imagi-nation. It's a wonderful place. How would you like to make snowballs in the summertime? Or drive a big bus right down 5th Avenue? How would you like to have a ship all to yourself that makes daily trips to China and Australia? How would you like to be the Statue of Liberty in the morning, and in the afternoon fly south with a flock of geese? It's very simple. Of course, it takes practice." Getting lost in a good book will fuel your imagination and take you on wonderful flights of fancy!
  • Reading can help you understand others better. A recent study determined that reading literary fiction “better equips people to sense and understand others' mental states.” The challenge is to find a work of literary fiction that will hold your interest enough to draw you in. Such books do exist and are worth the effort to read them.
  • Reading widely will expand your vocabulary. The more you read in different genres, the wider variety of words you will be exposed to. While you may not know the specific meanings of some words, you’ll likely get their sense from the context in which they are used. And, with online dictionaries, it’s a simple matter to look up meanings instantly. Even if you don’t end up using all the new words you learn, you’ll at least understand them when they’re used in discussions around you.
  • Reading can improve your own writing and communication. One of the great “best kept secrets” of people who read a lot is how well they can write and speak. Whether what you write are work memos, church newsletters, or professional articles, the more you read the better you will write. In fact, those who want to become professional writers are often encouraged to transcribe passages from their favorite authors and books. Why? Because it allows them to gain a better feel for the writer’s style and rhythm. This, in turn, helps them discover their own voice in their writing.
  • Reading can happen anywhere. There are few places you can’t read. Now with e-readers, you can even read in the dark! People read books on planes, trains, buses, wherever they find themselves with time on their hands. Reading is a boredom killing skill!
I’m sure you can come up with even more reasons to read. In fact, make a list of your positive reasons for reading to use as motivation!

Choose the right book to read!

Just as everyone has different styles of clothing and kinds of foods they like, the same goes for tastes in books. Not sure what you like? Then feel free to sample everything!

Okay, if that seems too intimidating, here are some suggestions on discovering your favorite books and authors.
  • What TV shows and/or movies do you like? Looking at stories or topics that already interest you is a good way to zero in on books that may be good reads. In fact, many people enjoy the books some movies are based on better than the movies.
  • Do you have a friend, acquaintance, relative with similar tastes? Maybe they like the same TV shows you do. The same movies. The same fashion styles. And they're a reader? Then, there's a chance you will like the books they like. Ask them what they're reading and if you can borrow some of their books to try.
  • What subjects in school did you enjoy the most? If your favorite subjects were shop and sports, then perhaps check out some books on engineering and, well, sports! Did you like history? Then consider biographies of great past leaders, historical fiction, and the like.
  • What's happening at work? Regardless of what kind of work you do, there are many excellent business books that are fun to read and will make you sharp on the job. Check with your colleagues for suggestions.
  • Review book reviews. A great way to preview a book is to read a review. You’ll find professional reviews in newspapers such as the New York Times. And there are also reader reviews posted on Amazon.com and similar websites.
  • Check out the bestsellers listings. While not always a perfect indicator, a book that hangs around in bestselling lists for weeks, months, or years may be worth considering.
These are only a few of the many resources available to help you discover books just right for you. Don’t forget to ask your friends what they’re reading, too!

Sample free or cheap books!

Once you have an idea of what you’d like to try, there are several low-cost and even free options for trying out a few titles before committing fully to a book, an author, or a series.
  • Thrift stores. Many Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift stores have book sections. Some are nothing more than bins full of random books. Some will have semi-organized shelves that make it easier to browse. But all are cheap sources of great books. If you pick up a title for a few cents and don’t like it, it’s not that big of a loss and you can always re-donate it.
  • Used book stores. Sadly, we’ve lost Borders, Waldenbooks, and a lot of independent bookstores where you could find new books. But, in their place we’ve got Half-Price Books and other used book stores cropping up. While you’ll pay more than at a thrift store, the advantage is being able to browse organized and neat shelves, and having knowledgeable salespeople on hand to answer your questions. These are also good places to unload those books that you didn’t like and make a little money.
  • Church book shelf. Many churches, even small ones, will have a bookshelf or even a small room dedicated to books that are available to attendees. Some books may be free to take or borrow. Those that are for sale are often heavily discounted.
  • See what's free on Amazon.com. If you have a PC or tablet or smart phone, you have access to dozens of free e-books, both new and classic. Amazon offers a free Kindle reader application that you can use on virtually any platform. On Amazon, there are always free, public domain classics available. And every day, publishers of new books offer a variety of titles for free. Plus, there are hundreds of titles available for as little as 99 cents. Not everything available is particularly worth reading, but when a title is free it’s easy to just delete it.
  • Visit your local public library. While the number of bookstores are dwindling, the number of libraries tends to hold steady. Odds are there’s a branch near you. Once you get a library card, there’s virtually no book you can’t try out. And, like a good bookstore, libraries are manned with knowledgeable staff people who can help you in your search for that perfect book.

Given the number of free and affordable sources for books, whether brick-and-mortar or online, there’s little excuse for you not to be able to find a good book that you’ll enjoy.

Give each book and author a fair chance!

Once you’ve selected one or several books to try, give each a fair chance to grow on you.

While writers are told we need to grab readers from the very first sentence of a book, that’s a pretty high hurdle to get over. While writing a truly grabby first sentence is something to strive for, even the best of writers, when they're sharing a complex, nuanced story that spans days, weeks, years, can’t do it. It may take several pages to truly hook the reader.

Give the author a break and give their book a chance.

Commit to read at least 10% of a book before giving up on it. If it's 100 pages long, then read at least 10 pages. If it's 300 pages long, read at least 30 pages.

If you've done your best to give a book a go but it just isn't drawing you in, let it go without guilt.

Also consider that your own mood and circumstance can impact your appreciation of a book. What doesn’t appeal to you today may months or years from now. Don’t hesitate to give a book a second chance.

There are thousands of writers, each with unique styles. There are many genres and sub-genres and sub-sub genres. There are millions of potential plot twists for fiction. There are millions of ideas to fill the pages of non-fiction books. Keep at it and eventually you'll find something that appeals to you and satisfies you.

And you’ll be a better person for it!



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Do you hate reading books? Why? Do you love reading books? What are some of your favorite memories of reading? Do you have other tips for encouraging reading? Share them in the comments!

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