I see books as treasure troves of knowledge and paths to a technicolor of worlds. I love them and I read a lot. Ok, I buy plenty more than I read thanks to my blasted Kindle that gives me almost any book I want at a click of a button. Having lots of unread books in your library (in my case digital version) is a good thing according to Nicholas Nassim Taleb. He claims that read books are far less valuable than unread ones, the more unread books you acquire the more you will know.
I hadn’t always picked up books out of desire to know, they were just around me as I grew up with two older sisters who were both English teachers so there was no shortage of books. I first picked up Othello at age 9, out of boredom, I read it from cover to cover without being able to make sense of it. The novels of Mills and Boon, Barbara Cartland, Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume were where I escaped to in my pre-teen to early teen years from a horrible family situation. Mid-teens until I went to university at 18 was all about English classic novels by authors such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and whatever else Penguin Classics was selling for £1 (a bargain I thought). The classics, many of them set in or mentioned the city I lived in––the city of Bath known for its Roman and Georgian architecture––gave me for the first time, an appreciation of my surroundings, a place so beautiful that it had been written about in historic novels.
It was at university that I really saw books as a powerful learning tool as opposed to just for entertainment or something my teachers required me to read. Books started to have a profound impact on how I view the world. I still remember how awed I was by Machiavelli’s The Prince, its description of human nature (specifically of a leader) and by how relevant it was to modern day even though it was written in early 16th century. Riconette y Cortadillo by Miguel de Cervantes was the first novel (adapted for language learners) I read in Spanish. I was so elated to be able to read in a language other than in English that I carried it around for ages, and showed it and told anyone who cared or didn’t care to listen. It initiated my deep connection to the hispanic world. Reading George Orwell’s Burmese Days made me want to explore and really see what the world was like.
Recently, I had just finished reading a book, it occurred to me to ask what was the book about. I realized I couldn’t remember most of what I had read, of course I don’t expect to recall everything from a 500 page book but I felt I should at least be able to summarize in couple of coherent sentences the synopsis. This really bothered me. It felt like I had wasted my time, and disrespected the author’s effort, I know how hard it is to write a book––I have written one myself. I asked how can I read more respectfully?
After some thought I decided that prior to starting a new book I would note at a least a couple of questions I hope to have answered by reading it. As I read, I would refer back to the questions to ensure that I pay attention. Upon completing the book, I would then write down the answers. Sometimes, I will share my questions and answers with the world such as in the case of What I Talk About When I’m Talking About Running.