Today, I want you to remember what the first 5 years of your life were like. Specifically, I want you to recall the first few things you learnt. In my opinion, the first thing we learn to do is walk, then we learn to talk, then we learn to read. After that we learn to write and to count and to draw. Then for the rest of our life, we learn how to do all of those things better. Calculus is just an advanced form of counting, running a marathon is an advanced form of walking, speaking multiple languages is an advanced form of talking. So what about reading?
Reading is one of the most important skills you need to develop as an adult if you wish to continually educate yourself. Growing up you went to school and listened to your teacher, wrote notes, read books, solved problems; it was all a very formal experience. I guess we can think of this as the child way of learning; we get someone else to do it for us.
A key success to learning as an adult, is to be able to teach yourself a new topic, rather than waste thousands of dollars on another college degree that you won’t end up using. One way to teach yourself, is to read, and to read a lot of books.
Learning using non-fiction materials
After I finished my university degree, I started getting back into reading, and the first books I read were all to do with Personal Development. Now this is a pretty broad category, Personal Development can include topics such as: health, fitness, finances, time management, productivity, cooking, habits, business development, anything that improves you as a person counts.
Let’s look at personal finance. Try to think of the ways you can learn to manage your finances. Here’s a few examples,
- Hire a financial adviser to do the work for you (easy, but costly, and you don’t learn anything),
- Pay for a $697 course on managing your finances,
- Read a $12 book on personal finance.
The quickest way to get started, would be to purchase a book and read it so you can decide whether or not this is something you wish to learn more about. It would be a huge waste of money and time to sign up for a course, then realise it bores you. You are much better off reading a book, maybe learn 1 or 2 key concepts for it, then move on and find another field that you’re interested in.
Imagining worlds through fiction
You might be thinking, how does reading fiction help me learn? The world itself is used to describe writing based on imaginary events and people. How could we learn from something that isn’t teaching us facts?
Fiction empowers creativity. The more fiction you read, the more you can create and imagine new worlds. Take George R. R. Martin, creator of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. His writing was inspired by greats such as J. R. R. Tolkien (it appears that to be successful at writing fantasy, your name has to be in the form of initials. I’m looking at you J. K. Rowling). That, combined with Martin’s love of history led to some excellent pieces of writing. And you can be sure that it all started back at a young age when little George would have read whatever book he got his hands on. It is that exposure to different forms of writing, different imaginative ideas, fantasy settings, and real life history that makes his writing captivating.
Not only does fiction allow us to be more creative, it teaches us lessons hidden in the forms of abstract ideas and made up stories. Think back to when you analysed a text back in high school. Even though you read a fiction book, you could find the hidden meaning by exploring themes, character designs, place settings and symbolism. I recently read Ready Player One, a book set in the future where virtual reality replaces the internet. To me, this book is realistic, because as technology gets better, we replace more and more mundane tasks with AI and computers, and spend more time on pleasure activities such as reading and watching TV (oh hi there Wall-E). The book focuses around a teenager who decides to escape real life by spending as much time in the Oasis (the virtual reality internet). By the end of the book, he realises that no matter how great the internet becomes, it can never replace the emotions that come with true human interaction.
We can even use fiction to understand how other cultures operate. One of the free kindle books I receive every month was the House of Eight Orchids. Although I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, I did learn a few things about Chinese culture. Firstly, the book is set during World War 2 where parts of China were continually being invaded by the Japanese, so I was able to learn a bit of history there. The book taught me what a Eunuch was and how some women would undergo feet binding at an early age.
A taste of what’s to come
Firstly, I have a question to ask. How does reading enrich your life? Answer it in the comments below. For now, here’s a sneak peek of part 2 and 3 of this article series about reading.
In part two of this blog series, I’ll provide a list of recommended reading material to help you get started on your journey to becoming an independent learner.
In part three, I’ll explain how you can develop a reading habit such that you can read at least one book every month.