From Rusticus: To read attentively – not to be satisfied with ‘just getting the gist of it’.

Marcus Aurelius Meditations 1.7

Not everyone likes reading, or we do like it but can’t find the time for it. I was never one who would regularly pick up a book. Leave out the regularly, I wasn’t one to read. But that changed over the last few years. Now I read almost every day for about two hours. Let me take you through my transformation and at the end, I’ll share my reading list with you. 

When I was young, I remember my twin sister and me getting gifts for our birthdays. My godfather gave me cash and my sister got books from hers. Perhaps, she also would have liked to receive money. But looking back makes me think that her gifts were more valuable. That money is long gone, but those words might still be making some sort of an impact. 

Reading is an effort

However, I am not sure if I would have read any of them back then. Or if I would have done so even in my twenties. Reading books felt like a task, some kind of homework I’d have to finish. Besides, I had far more active things to do. Like going out to meet with friends and partying. And following that, recovering from those meetings. These are all excuses. I never thought of reading being beneficial. I saw it as a pastime that you could only do when on a holiday or completely at rest. 

And let’s face it, there are far too many distractions available that allow our brains to shut off for a while. After a busy day at work, most people want to stare at the television or use some kind of device to play games or watch short fragments of other people’s lives. Reading is an effort. You need to have the book, a quiet place, and time. Moreover, you need a brain that wants to function. 

He showed me it is a choice

Mind you, I still watch plenty of things online and use my phone far too much. But nowadays I go out to read for at least two hours. I’m not sure if I fall under the ‘avid readers’ column, but I must be somewhere around the average. What made me change my attitude towards picking up a book more frequently or if at all?

One of my main issues was that I didn’t ‘have’ time to read. I had read some books while on a holiday, like Paolo Coehlo, which I loved. There was an old bookshop in Essaouira, Morocco, where I found these pocketbooks and read them while enjoying a nice tea. But as soon as I got home, I forgot about reading. I was too busy with work and doing all sorts of things that I didn’t even consider reading as an option. 

Sometimes change requires external inspiration. This is where Lady Fortune shows herself. A good example can help us get started and a guide keeps us going. In the school where I was teaching, I met a colleague who is an avid reader and has been for many years. He was very disciplined about making time for reading his books. Which showed me that it is a choice and that it is our responsibility to use our time the best way we can. 

Books activate your mind in a different way

Man reading a book
Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

He used to read in our break room and the more I saw him doing so the more it made me want to do the same. The peace and quiet that he showed was quite intoxicating. Going through some turbulent times at that moment, I was ready for some peace of mind. That’s where I had to tackle another barrier. What books to read. So I asked him and he started to give me book titles. In my book list, you can see the progression. He started with some good old science fiction. Later on, we got to the more dense philosophical stuff. 

How did reading change my life and my mindset? The biggest impact was my peace of mind. It allowed me to transport my mind to whatever setting the book was in. And I realized that it is a different experience from watching something on a screen. There your mind has to do its best to keep up or it is fine with looking at the screen. You decide the pace while reading, and it activates your mind in a different way. 

And if your mind is open, the book can reach in

When it wanders off while on a good page, those words lead your thoughts to something you might not have thought about before. It opens up connections and triggers your imagination. In our minds, anything is possible. Where movies or series fill in everything for you, from the colors, the sounds, and the short burst of action, books ask all of that from you. That’s why no book is ever read the same. 

That all being said, the powerful aspect of books is that they are words written by people like you and me. These words welcome you into the mind of someone else. It’s like having an intimate conversation with someone. And if your mind is open, this book can reach in and change, strengthen, and build ideas. 

Back to the quote by Marcus Aurelius

“To read attentively – not to be satisfied with ‘just getting the gist of it.”

Marcus Aurelius

Reading should be done with your focus on the book, the words, and the ideas of the person who created it. There is a new phenomenon called ‘speed reading’. I don’t get it. My friend, who is a writer himself, told me: “An author puts thought and effort in every word.” How disrespectful of me would it be to glance over them and not give them a bit more time to appreciate the work in front of me. 

We are in such a hurry to read as much as we can, and thus we don’t read anything. It sometimes takes me weeks to read a book, but by the end, it almost feels difficult to finish it. Like saying goodbye to a dear friend. There is no need to read as many books as you can as fast as possible. Read because you enjoy it and because it makes an impact on your life. Use it to slow down a bit.

They shouldn’t replace action

But books shouldn’t replace action. They should guide our actions and enrich our views. We can be generous with our quotes to the people around us. But how can we honor them if we don’t apply them to our lives? I am sure you can come up with at least one brilliant quote from a book. But is the value of that sentence in you repeating it or in you doing it? Books are a tool and shouldn’t be the end. Life is worth living and books can assist you. They can’t live it for you.

Thumbnail on Reading
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Here is a link to the books I’ve read over the last few years. I have kept this list for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because that’s me. I keep lists and track things. It also keeps me motivated and sets a goal I want to reach. On the other side, it is also nice to look at and review the books. To think back at how I experienced them. I have my bookshelf, but this is to satisfy the nerd in me.

The reason for sharing this list with you is twofold. I can’t deny that there isn’t a vanity aspect there. I know, not very Stoical, but I am only human. The second reason is that I hope it can inspire you. And help you pick up those first books and from there on create your own style and likes. Like how my friend helped me get started.

For now, I would invite you to read as you see fit and share your favorite books with me and the rest in the comments. So we can inspire one another.

On Reading
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2 thoughts on “On Reading

  • 1 May 2022 at 18:33
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    I’m a total bookworm and always have been. My son on the other hand, generally reads when he needs to for school. Even in books he’s excited about at the start, he can get bored with. It’s just hard for him to find books about topics he’s interested in, and he’d rather do other things. I live in hope that one day he will learn to enjoy reading.

    Reply
    • 1 May 2022 at 20:57
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      Hi Emma,

      Thank you for your comment and it is interesting to read. Because your son sounds a lot like me when I was younger.
      It simply isn’t for everyone or just not at this moment. But I think if you keep giving a good example by reading yourself, then at one point he might do the same.
      I’m sure that one day he will find his way.
      Thank you for sharing.

      Reply

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