Reading…A Lost Art

One of the biggest joys of my life…curling up on a comfortable recliner, rain pelting outside or snowing outside (depending on which part of the world I’m in), a cup of tea…and a book that engages me completely. I forget the world then!!! Image

I grew up with books around me…my parents encouraged me to read a wide variety of subjects. My father, a voracious reader himself was very happy to increase my pocket money when he realised that I was spending most of the money on books & music. Books helped me transport myself to a different world all together. What David Ulin says makes a lot of sense to me…“Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves.” 

This possession by the author is so all encompassing that it has shaped many a lives. Definitely mine. I remember a conversation I had with my father, when I had read Mario Puzo’s “Godfather”. So influenced was I, that I declared in front of him, “I think joining the Mafia is a great career option. I would like to become someone like the Godfather”. An officer of the armed forces, my Dad’s reaction was great…”how do you think it will sound when people say daughter of an army officer is the new Mafia don?”

I have found reading books in my formative years help me develop an amazing range of skills. Today, I find it necessary to share those with my readers…especially because I find a lot of people changing their reading habits. It seems that each new media invention—movies, radio, television, VCRs and DVD players, the internet—inevitably affects the way people read and reduces the time they devote to it. What feels different about recent trends is that the web is still so new, and it is evolving so quickly that few people are stepping back to look at how it is changing us. 

One of the first things I realised books did for me was to help me imagine. Every author I read has allowed me to create my own world! I laughed & cried with the Famous Five that Enid Blyton introduced me to; I have learnt about how Ayn Rand looked at the “murder of human spirit” in her phenomenal book Atlas Shrugged. Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code took me through so many layers of Christianity & the world of symbolism. My imagination is fired with every book I read.

Books have helped me build my vocabulary & my knowledge  base. With every book I have read, I have gained more confidence to talk about a variety of subjects. I have been able to hold my own…and engage people in interesting conversations. This is a skill I find people not developing the way they need to. When I used to hire students from various campuses as part of the corporate hiring process, I found communication skills were sorely missing. How does one build communication skills – when you have confidence about what you are communicating. 

Before taking any action on anything, where did I seek for help and guidance? Reading is an essential way which helped me out. In today’s world, getting reviews and feedback from other people can make a big impact on your next decision, and the pros and cons of each choice. I read about how to cook a seven course meal; what is golfing all about; which place is nice for a scuba diving holiday…obviously all of them enhancing my levels of of information & understanding. 

The more you read, the more you understand one thing: the A to Z of a thing. Let me give an example here: reading allows you to learn more about crocodiles and their habits. That you need to be aware of places it usually lurks for, the purpose of staying away from being harmed or bitten. Or perhaps you can try by real life experience, in approaching the crocodile, to see what happen. It can also help you find out the truth of something, right? Reading also increases the understanding of the rules of life, in order for you to adapt, adopt and accommodate into the society better. To play well in a game, you first need to understand the rules well. 

Charles Eliot very nicely put it by saying, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” Image

We are becoming a society of people who rarely allow ourselves to slow down enough to think and contemplate. It’s difficult to spend time reading a book when Facebook and YouTube and last night’s episode of Lost are calling for your attention. It requires a strong will to force yourself to read something longer than a few hundred words.I respect David Ulin, the book editor of The Times, when he says it is becoming increasingly difficult to read these days…there is a lot of noise out there…and reading requires silence. To make books a part of us we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know.

I have also found relationships flourish better when reading is a common passion between a couple, parents & children and between friends too. And finally, let me wrap up by saying three most important people in my life find me interesting, engaging and fun to be with only because I am armed with a library of more than a couple of thousand books. 

Go on…pick up that paperback, switch off the television & the internet, relax on a chair or your bed, a bedside lamp throwing its light on the pages of your book…transporting you into a world you create for yourself!!! Happy reading!!!

Reading Stories Can Create Success Stories For You…

My parents were completely convinced that anyone with a reading habit was likely to succeed more in life.   So they encouraged the younger generation to read. They argued that whether you went on to be a lawyer, an architect, a business leader, a store owner, or a stay-at-home mom, having a grounding in good literature and a basic understanding of the sweep of human history and culture would provide the best foundation for any future learning – and for being able to interact well with other human beings. There was never a shortage of reading material at home…right from newspapers, magazines, comics, fiction and non fiction. Even though I was an economics major in college, I read pretty obsessively, mostly fiction and history, from a very early age and – in principle – I agreed with them.

However, one eternal battle at home was should one read more of fiction or non fiction. And what actually helps make you a better human being. I am sure all my readers have gone through this in their growing years. The thrill of reading a novel under the blanket with a torch :), or hiding a story book behind a text book…these are childhood capers most of us have indulged in. I could never resist a good novel when I could lay my hands on one.

My earliest recollection was reading the entire series of Famous Five from Enid Blyton and losing myself in the adventures of all the five lucky kids :). The first novel which had a huge impact on me, made me think & introspect, was Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. I read it when I was in high school & the impact was such that, I went & declared to my parents that I would join the New York Mafia soon 🙂 :). 

But…coming back to is fiction better or non fiction? Where should I focus when I read?

Just the other day I read a wonderful article in the HBR blog by Anne Kreamer, The Business Case for Reading Novels, talking about some fascinating research that supports my contention. She cites studies that show reading fiction actually increases people’s emotional intelligence: their accurate awareness of themselves and others, and their ability to create positive relationships with others based on managing their own reactions.

 

The research Anne cites resolves my chicken-and-egg quandary. It seems that reading fiction improves your sensitivity to and appreciation of complex human situations. It provides a richer ‘toolkit’ of understanding from which to pull when making decisions and building relationships.  And as our business or work lives get more complex, faster-paced, less hierarchical and more dependent upon our ability to build support with those around us – that kind of toolkit becomes ever more critical to our success.

So if you’re feeling self-indulgent as you sit out on your porch of a weekend with Game of Thrones or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Lady Chatterly’s Lover in hand – reassure yourself that you may be improving your chances of business success just as much or more than if you were reading the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal.

Here’s wishing each one of you a fruitful day ahead!!!Image