Wednesday, 2 July 2014

What Kind of Books Should I Read? Novels, crime, horror or serious stuff?

More than 2,5 million new books are published yearly in the world. Then there is tons of reprints and old books. Google estimated in 2010 that there are 130 million books in the world.  There is much to choose from. 
What kind of books should we read?
First let us define what is a book. The Oxford Dictionary definition is “A written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.” In the digital age, e-book should also qualify. A magazine is not a book but a magazine. 
Then, the criteria of evaluating the book – this is the answer to the question “Why do I read?” 
There can be different motivations for reading a book: to learn new things, get a certified education and improve one’s financial and social standing, to learn to speak a new language, to travel somewhere, to cook a new dish, to show off one’s knowledge, to develop spiritually – infinite reasons for reading. Underlying all these motivations is one common desire, and that is to acquire new bits and pieces of knowledge, impressions, feelings, ideas, sensations or pleasure.
If it helps anyone, here are the kinds of books I seek to read:
  • Books that give me new ideas – often the new inputs build on previous knowledge, skills and ideas and sometimes they contain the so called unknown unknowns as Donald Rumsfeld called them. Erich Fromm’s The Fear of Freedom was such a one for me.

  • Books by authors I don’t like or disagree with – if we never read or listen to people we disagree with, we exclude a whole bunch of talented people just because we dislike them. This is the surest way to remain in a very narrow bandwidth of consciousness. If we can read people we dislike, we expand our intellectual horizons immensely. 
The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Crack-Up", Esquire Magazine (February 1936). Reading Karl Marx on the TheFirst Indian War of Independence 1857-1859  or Njall Ferguson’s Empire were such bountiful challenges for me. 

  • Books that challenge mentally, intellectually, knowledge-wise or emotionally - This is the adventurous way of mental/intellectual/spiritual detox. Along with books in the earlier group, these books might require re-evaluation of concepts, unlearning things learnt earlier and reformulate ideas. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel was such a book for me.

  • Books that support me on my development path – not only does such a book enrich the existing corpus of knowledge, concepts and ideas but also they create a positive loop of encouragement. As we climb to new heights, we need to stop and take in the new scenery unfolding before us and gratefully acknowledge the gift of learning. It is an ennobling feeling to be able to appreciate differences without judging and register one’s inner development. Poetry, fun, travel books and DIY stuff are all wonderfully helpful often.

  • Books that “fall” into my hands – this is life nudging us in directions that would help us. A book in a shop window beckons us, a volume accidentally falls as we move clumsily or a friend mentions having read one, these are all signs. Njall Ferguson’s Empire literally fell into my hands in a bookshop. Reading it was a stormy relationship with the book and I threw in down many a times, but there were many learning points and insights that I gained.


Benefits of Reading a Book
There are many benefits of reading.
If we imagine our brain as a muscle, exercising the brain improves its function and the effects are noticeable in our lives, and also in other people’s lives. Very few people really live totally isolated lives and we all have some degree of interaction with others, the quality of which improves if brain functions are improved. But of course, we also need to grow in our hearts as well.
  • Reading regularly reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease 2 ½ times. 
  • People who read are more likely to vote, be culturally active and socially involved as this research finding shows.
  • Reading reduces stress as this research has evidence.
  • Reading makes people sexy as this research shows. 
  • Reading helps with advancing your career as research claims.

Reading before going to sleep is an excellent habit. Remembering to get away from the computer (also smartphones and iPads) at least one hour before going to sleep is a good habit, which improves sleep quality dramatically.
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Here's a nice quiz about should you read in bed or not.