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Unstuff Your Head, Read More Productively

5 tips that help you profit more from your reading lists.

At our town’s Tourist Center, I discovered a book with many pages missing. One page had the sketch of a man’s corpse (sewn into a bag) being thrown over the cliff of a castle into the sea. For years, I was curious to know more about this book. 30 years later, I googled that morbid scene and Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo popped up. I have since read its abridged and unabridged versions along with other Dumas’s classics including, The Black Tulip, and The Three Musketeers.

Once while in one of my postgraduate lectures, our American trained Nigerian professor quipped, “Unfortunately, you people don’t read.” Continuing, he insisted that his course was so simple that only those who chose to not read will fail it. Not done yet, our professor continued, “If you want to hide anything from an African, put it into writing. Many of you will rather be found lopping about video games or showing off with your MP3 players. While you are wasting your time, your counterparts in India, Israel, and China are hauling about hefty brick-sized books. Most of our politicians and rulers don’t ever read. That is why they sign-off on agreements they never read nor understood, and mortgaging our country’s wealth and the fortune of future generations to foreigners.” There and then, I stepped up my extra-curricular reading time and interests.

The great American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, in his book From Slavery Into Freedom and as mentioned in Noel Rae’s Great Stain explained how the slaveholders and rulers during American slavery-days made it a heinous criminal act to teach slaves to read and write. Indeed, for obvious reasons, any slave who knew how to read and write according to Douglass is useless to his master

Alex Haley’s re-echoed this refrain in Roots — The Saga of An American Family. Back then in some parts of United States of America, slaves only dare to learn to read and write at their own peril. So much was this so that, slaves like Kizzy (the heroine, though a slave) and her mum (Bell) also a slave tenaciously resolved to hide their reading and writing abilities from their masters in other to escape punishment of being sold and separated from their family members.

Fast forward past today.

Less than 50 years later my pocket-easy smartphone is a library with more books than I can read in several lifetimes. But then, it is easy to get drowned in a sea of books. In law, the principle of caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) prompts buyers to apply due diligence before buying. This is to ensure they confirm the veracity of the seller and the quality of goods being sold before a buyer parts with his hard-earned money.

In a similar vein, caveat lector — “reader beware”, cautions every reader against having garbages of unprofitable “stuff and nonsense” dumped into their minds through the books they read. Also, readers and book lovers must beware so they won’t get drowned in books to no unprofitable ends like the moth who got consumed by its fatal attraction to bright flames.

In his book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, author Tony Reinke dwelt extensively on how we all are now living in a world of “over- information,” only dystopian novelists could have envisaged. “In the introduction to his landmark book, Amusing Ourselves to DeathNeil Postman contrasted two very different cultural warnings, those of George Orwell’s 1984 and of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.”

Orwell argued that books would disappear by censorship; Huxley thought books would be marginalized by data torrent.

Postman summarizes the contrast well. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

Tony Reinke concluded by emphasizing that, Huxley seems to have won.

Compulsive reading could be counterproductive.

Iam well in tune with the many benefits of reading as told by Anthony Moore. Many professionals like editors, copywriters and others thrive or die on how fast they read. To not want to read is suicidal stagnation on par with a car “that insists on never getting refuelled”. Such a car is only a heap of shinning but useless metal scraps. I am in full agreement with Nicolas Cole who argued in his book, The Art of Online Writing that up to a point, compulsively binging on books to no end could be counterproductive — especially to writers.

Even though, it is better to be an “over reader” (for fun, amusement, information, research, etc) than be alliterate (one who hates reading), excessive reading becomes a problem when the reader makes reading an end in and by itself alone.

The following are some pitfalls of compulsive reading that advocates of 52 books per year never talk about:

  • Ego trip (if you allow it).
  • Some readers are miles wide in reading and skin thick in comprehension because they sacrifice quantity over qualitative retention and application.
  • Reluctance to “get out of your head into real life.”
  • Talk is cheap, reading is even cheaper.
  • Some reading may deaden us to the realities of life.
  • It may cause distraction, escapism and laziness
  • Your relationships may suffer.
  • Other goals may suffer from neglect or perennial slow-downs.
  • Head in the clouds, excessive reading may prevent you from living in the moment and facing life as it really is.
  • (Now, add your own points to this list)

Do these instead (of being an insatiable “over reader”.)

If you are an avid reader, reading is almost as natural as breathing. This will often leave you wondering why some people never seem to make out time for this most profitable of all disciplines.

Being able to read but never making out time to makes one no better than an illiterate. Time is in short supply and we all have an increasing number of chores to attend to. But read you must otherwise, you are at risk of mental fossilization.

How can you make your reading more profitable instead of just mere pursuit of reading 52 books before the end of this year?

  • Reflect and meditate more on the new things you’ve learnt.
  • Take and revise notes. Otherwise, most of what you learn from your last reading quickly fly away.
  • Get into the real world. Make human connections. As it’s often said, readers are leaders. It’s more true to say that only leaders who act out their readings become leaders. American president Theodore Roosevelt wisely quipped these immortal words, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” In like manner, no one really care how many books you have read until they know how much we care.
  • Read like a writer and use the new insights gained to write more and better. The world is waiting for all those great stuff you’ve got in you.
  • Where practical, apply at least one lesson or insights from what your last reading.

Asides

In the past 8 years, I’ve averaged 33 books per year. I read hard copies and especially electronic versions. I like e-versions especially as I can quickly refer to my online notes saved to Microsoft OneNote.

Here is my reading progress for the year 2021.

  1. The Marketing of Evil — David Kupelian.
  2. The Life Story of Keith Green — Melody Green
  3. The Mill on The Floss — George Eliot
  4. Go Tell It On The Mountain — James Baldwin
  5. The Fire Next Time — James Baldwin
  6. Notes of a Native Son — James Baldwin
  7. How Long Since The Train Has Been Gone — James Baldwin
  8. Good With Words. — Prof Patrick Barry
  9. Charlotte’s Web — E. B. White
  10. Hope is Not A Strategy
  11. Be Bold & Win The Sale
  12. Zero — The Biography of A Dangerous Idea
  13. To Sell Is Human — Daniel Pink
  14. All Marketers Are Liars — Seth Godin
  15. Give and Take — Adam Grant
  16. Another Gospel — Alisa Childers
  17. The Tithe That Binds
  18. The Suicide of A Free People — Os Guinness
  19. Distortion — Chelsen Vicari.
  20. Impossible People — Os Guinness
  21. The Smartest Guys In The Room — Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
  22. The Great Stain — Noel Rae
  23. Sola Scriptura
  24. The Art & Business of Online Writing — Nicholas Cole
  25. Roots — Alex Haley
  26. Malcolm X — Alex Haley (ongoing)

Final Word

In our “always within reach” age with its multiplicity of weapons of mass distraction, you may be one of the odd people who still find time to read meaningfully. The challenge is to not make reading the ultimate end. Remember, in life, it’s not how far, but how well.

I can’t do wi’ knowin’ so many things besides my work. That’s what brings folks to the gallows, — knowin’ everything but what they’n got to get their bread by.

(~ Mr Tulliver in George Eliot’s, The Mill on The Floss)

SOURCES

  • Copyright by ©Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, Crossway, 2017
  • Copyright by ©Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Viking Penguin, 1985
  • Copyright ©George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, (Gutenberg e-book edition)
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