How Not to Read

I love books. No, this isn’t a new realization. Anyone who knows me knows that my home away from home is the local Barnes & Noble bookstore. I have shelves and shelves of books on topics from science to Snoopy. But I have a problem. I buy more books than I can read, and I feel I should read everything…and now!

Am I alone? How many books have you bought because they either:
1) look interesting,
2) are a classic and you feel you ‘should’ have it, or
3) it’s on the ‘must read’ list of some respected person.

expectations managed

Well, today I’ve come to the realization that I will never be able to read every book I want…because I want to read them all! My expectations were set high once I discovered the magic and power of books many years ago. I’ve often had the fantasy of being independently wealthy enough to do nothing but read. I wanted to read every book. Not only that, but I wanted to understand everything in those books! And finally, I wanted to write my own books. Now that I read that I’m thinking…how boring!

life is to be experienced

As an existential coach, I realize that spending all of my time reading ABOUT life and not living it is really not who I am nor who I want to become. So I needed to make a change. A radical change (of mind). I decided to reframe my approach to knowledge gathering and limit my love of books to only those that added value and supported my desire to live passionately and intensely through experience. I needed to not read every book and maybe even not finish every book I started. I have always been taught to ‘finish what you started’ and ‘you can play after your chores are finished’ (sound familiar?) I needed to reframe my belief and allow myself to sometimes, when appropriate, not finish a book. (Even writing that phrase feels a little strange…it’s as if I hear the ominous voice of James Earl Jones thundering all around me: NOT FINISH A BOOK!) Yes, I said, not finish a book.

how not to read

Let’s face it, some books are great and some…not so much…and some are just not great for me. The trick is knowing when to put it down…unread, incomplete, back on the self! For some of us it is difficult not to finish a book…not to have “closure” (literally, of the back cover!) But I value my time very much, so I needed to come up with a way to guide my decision.

Linda’s guide to (not)reading: Each book fits into one of these categories (for me):

Can’t put it down: Well, this is no problem. If it’s so good I read it in one or two sittings then it is clearly a book of value either to enhance my knowledge, or as pure enjoyment. Finish the book!

Deep thoughts and difficult concepts: The book is interesting but has either a very thought provoking topic, is dense with information, or is technical and difficult to read. I read a little at a time and take breaks to allow what I’ve read to mingle with my other thoughts and knowledge. Somewhere along the process I either crave more information about the topic, or I grow tired of thinking of it. At the point of growing tired, I put the book back on my shelf. This is a dangerous area as I am usually driven to finish the book regardless (pride?). Finish only if adding value!

Full of information: If I need the information right now, I’ll read only what I need and put the book back on the shelf. If I don’t need the information now, no sense reading it (as I’ll likely forget it). So I put the book on the shelf to maybe read someday. I’m secure in that fact that it is there if I need it (but I may never need it!)

Reminds me of primary school textbook: This is a book that is a struggle to read; does not keep my interest; that I end up re-reading several pages to try and understand what just happened. Stop now! Do not finish the book! In fact, give it away – remove the temptation!

So to all of the book lovers like me that are struggling with reading everything (and reading it completely) please consider that it is OK to stop reading a book and never pick it up again. Books are magical and can teach, entertain, and inspire. They are great in supporting us in living our lives passionately and fully. So put that book down and pick up another, and another, and another, until you find the one you love to read cover to cover.

Finally – reading a good book is a great experience.