In recent times, a large number of articles and essays have tried to capture the essence and the joys of reading. You know, the experience of lounging on a chair, with legs outstretched on a wooden stool, with a book opened, totally absorbed in the world being painted by the brush-stroke of words. In truth, that got me thinking. What does reading mean to me? And just how much of a place does it have in my life?
In many ways, I was lucky to grow up in an environment that emphasized the importance of books and reading. As early as three or four years old, I developed a voracious appetite for reading. Whether it was the Peter and Jane series or Enid Blyton’s classics, Achebe’s jewels or ‒ much later ‒ the many romance novels I am now ashamed to admit I devoured with immense hunger, I have maintained an enamoured relationship with the written word. With a mind that always wondered what the world beyond held, books presented an easy escape from my immediate environment, helping me travel to London, Paris and Seoul in literally minutes. Reading, and the pleasure I derived from it, gave my life a dimension which would otherwise not have existed.
Being treated to the pleasures of Sherlock Holmes series was one of the best memories of my early years. I remember how three days sped by, as I lay, at long stretches of time, on my bed, devouring the fifty-four short stories and five novels. At that point, my life goal became emulating Sherlock’s immense deductive skills. Another book which is unforgettable in its striking simplicity and deepness is Jeffrey Lent’s ‘Lost Nation’ which tracks the life of a journeyman in search of himself, through the Appalachian Trail.
For me, the quality of being a reader was always the most attractive and important, in anyone I called friend.I was always instantly attracted to those who read more than me, because they gave me motivation to read more. “Have you read…?” was always a challenge to read a book, which in turn, I was sure, would broaden my horizon. One of such horizon-broadening books was Barack Obama’s ‘The Audacity of Hope’. It was while reading that book, in early 2008 when the Obama phenomenon was about gaining a foothold across the world, that I fell in love with the man. I loved that he was able to express his thoughts in clear words with a tinge of self-deprecating humour which was at once infectious and enlightening. Bill Clinton’s ‘My Life’ was another such book which etched a mark in my memory, for its succinctness. I wondered then whether all great men were great writers. It was only much later that it occurred to me that simplicity of expression, above all, was the hallmark of good writing and good communication.
A couple of days ago, a friend of mine surprised me ‒ and I mean that wonderful, heartwarming kind of surprise‒ with a gift of three books: Robert Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars”, Muammar Gaddafi’s “My Vision” and Carl Bernstein’s profiling of Hillary Clinton, “A Woman in Charge”. Those were some of the best gifts I could have gotten. It was because I treasure the knowledge and worlds that books allow anyone who cares to read access to. As a long time American Politics aficionado, I value anything that can add to my understanding of the complexities of the American political system.
What is most important about reading, I feel, is not just exploring different worlds or getting to know new things. I believe that being able to understand others better helps us be better. Knowing that each person has a uniquely different experience, perspective and philosophy of life, and it is necessary to try to see things from their perspective before they can see things from ours. Reading, not just of articles of faith but of life, makes us more tolerant and more open to influencing the world around us, because we better understand it. These are the benefits of reading, and I hope everyone gets to experience them.
Over the past two years, some of the most influential writers for me have actually been short essay writers. Kovie Biakolo, a Nigerian-American writer, whose writings on race relations have helped me better understand the violence inherent in human nature, Ryan Holiday who has expanded my appreciation of philosophy and its practical applications in everyday life, Jamie Varon and Brianna Wiest whose amazing essays on what it means to be alive constantly cause me to re-examine the way I live my life. Also, Ray Dalio and his Bridgewater Associates bible, “Principles”, led me along a path of understanding organizational culture and its key role in the success-failure dynamics in many companies.
The pleasure which can be derived from reading is akin to that which a computer nerd derives from programming or the showman derives from performing. Reading, for me, has always been essential, almost on the same plain as my need for food, water or shelter. And I believe I am not alone.
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