Reading statistics continue to drop, but it’s very clear that reading is one of the most common habits amongst successful people.
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” —Richard Steele
I’ve always enjoyed reading. I don’t know if it comes from the days my mom used to read me the Hank the Cowdog before bed, or my childhood goal to read the entire Goosebumps series but I’ve always enjoyed it. I had a professor during my time at Oklahoma State University that encouraged his students to read 100 books. I love a good challenge and that goal has always stuck with me. I’m roughly 70 books into this endeavor, which I was initially proud of until I started to learn that a lot of people read 30-50 books per year. Over the years, and a lot as of recently, I’ve been reading articles and studies that strengthened my view of the importance of reading, and I thought I’d compile some of the things I’ve found along with my own thoughts and put a piece together that I hope encourages at least one person to pick up book.
Who Is Reading?
I really like to find common denominators amongst people. People have been successful in a million different directions and endeavors but a common denominator amongst the most successful people in any area is that they read, and they read a LOT. Winston Churchill actually won his Nobel Prize in Literature. The founder of Nike had so much love for his library that he would make guests remove their shoes to enter. Warren Buffet has been reported to ready nearly 1000 pages per day, spending more than 80% of his time reading. Buffet said “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.” Bill Gates reads roughly 50 books per year. Mark Cuban has been said to read over 3 hours per day.
There are no treasure maps or magic pills that will get you the success and happiness that you desire but it seems obvious to me that the more you read, expand your knowledge base, build your capacity to understand concepts, and learn by example the more likely you are to find what you’re after. You can’t say that reading makes people successful but the evidence certainly points towards reading being one of the biggest differences between the successful and unsuccessful.
Whose Not Reading?
There’s a very popular study that was done in 2003 by the Jenkins group that released some very scary statistics. They claimed that 1/3 of all US High school graduates would never read another book after graduation and that 42% of all College graduates would never read another book after graduation. The Harvard Business Review also released a statistic that for the first time in US History that less than 50% of the population currently reads. It should be noted that this study is quite controversial and many people have published articles about its falsity. For the purpose of my points however the exact numbers aren’t really that important – while the Jenkins group produced the most alarming figures, there are plenty of stats out there that when simply put prove: People (namely Americans) are reading less and less.
I find this very scary for a few reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is the philosophy that if you aren’t learning then you’re regressing. I don’t think that reading is the only way to learn – you can of course learn from experience, from person to person communication, from video or television, etc. but at the heart of any deep learning is usually the study of written material. If there are more people regressing than progressing, that spells trouble for us! The next thing that comes to mind is that much of our future planning and innovation comes from a respectful understanding of the past and those that came before us. It’s a tragedy for people not to build on each other’s knowledge base and advance the world with each generation. The less we read and understand those before us I think the less likely that we will move forward with much significance. As an individual I can’t understand why so many people would not want to read more out of pure curiosity. It’s easier than ever before to use search engines to answer our questions, and there’s not a lot of things that you can’t find a quick tutorial for on YouTube but to gain deep understanding it’s hard to beat reading well written books on topics of interest. Just walking into a library and seeing a visual reminder of how much knowledge is sitting on the shelves is amazing to me. You can learn business, medicine, philosophy all with some concentrated effort to absorb what’s been written for us.
Globally literacy rates are improving as we as a human race work to educate more and more of the world. But still it’s estimated that 1 Billion people cannot read or write their name. There are hundreds of articles across the internet that directly link illiteracy with poverty, incarceration, and even life span. Teaching someone to read is one of the biggest gifts you can give someone. When you flip the perspective, of reading from something you must do, or should do, to something that 1 Billion people don’t have the privilege to do it, really makes you think. Or if you consider the time when the Nazi’s were burning books that challenged their philosophies – makes you realize we take for granted that we can order any book about any topic from Amazon and have it in our hands in a couple of days. There have been people in history that have risked their lives to read, and others that have every opportunity and simply choose to do something else.
What to Read?
The obvious next question is what should you read? While I think the question of “To read or not to read” is a very easy question, I honestly don’t think that question of “what to read” is as important. I got to listen to Carl Sewell speak attending a college graduation for a friend at SMU. Carl said that he aims to read a nonfiction book to build his knowledge base every 6 months, a biography in between those books, and reads for pleasure about current events daily. I have read that some top CEO’s actually read fiction more often to help expand their creativity during their hectic tenures at the top of big companies. There have also been studies done where a surveyed group of successful entrepreneurs said that they felt that reading books across multiple disciplines led to innovation. Benjamin Franklin is one of history’s biggest influences in many areas, and the area of self-improvement is no different. Franklin used to break his self-improvement efforts into 13 week cycles, choosing an area of focus for each 13 week segment and rotating through 4 segments per year.
I personally divide my reading up into categories but I try not to be too strict on myself. I use the GoodReads app to keep track of all the books I’ve read and plan to read. Each time I finish a book I’ll usually decide if I want to continue on the path related to the book I just finished or I’m ready to switch gears and learn something new. I also like to rotate in some fiction books from time to time because I think allowing your mind to get lost in a story is important, it’s fun, it expands your imagination and I also end up learning quite a lot reading fiction. For instance reading Grisham books has certainly increased my knowledge of the legal system, and often the setting of a book gives you a new awareness of the city or region that the book takes place in.
Want to see my list or connect so I can see what you’re reading list looks like? Add me on GoodReads!
Read, read, read. —William Faulkner
Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything. —Tomie dePaola
He that loves reading has everything within his reach. —William Godwin
Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. —Frederick Douglass
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