Anyone who knows me knows I am crazy about books. I am a passionate reader and get totally geeked out about discovering new books, reading books, and talking about books.
Growing up in small town Idaho, books were my portal to distant lands, new people, and grand adventures. Reading cultivated a rich imagination and I often found myself daydreaming about the books I was reading when I was meant to be doing other things.
My Early Journey
My love of reading began early. My grandmother was the county librarian, which was pretty darn close to superstardom for a little girl obsessed with books. I remember stopping by the library after school and—gasp—going behind the big desk to visit my grandmother in her large, glass-enclosed office. I’d carefully choose some candy from the blue tin she kept at the edge of her desk, and occasionally she’d let me shelve books that landed in the book return bin. I participated in every summer reading program and was always sitting Indian-style at the front of the room for library activities and events in our sleepy little town.
If the community library weren’t enough, I also enjoyed my very own private library—my grandmother’s attic. Her musty, dark attic included piles and piles of old library books that the library no longer needed. On Saturday afternoons we’d visit my grandparents in their home. I’d sit on the stairs above the sitting room, listening to my mother and grandparents chatter away. Before too long, I’d inch my way up the stairs, past the landing, and on to the attic where piles and piles of books lay waiting to be discovered by me.
My grandmother provided me with a canvas bag and told me I was welcome to stuff the bag with as many books as I could as long as I promised to read them. What a treasure! I loved nothing more than returning home with my stash, laying out the books, and carefully deciding which book to read first. Was it an adventure I sought? Did I want to travel to exotic lands? Perhaps I would join an arctic crew as they delivered goods across the Yukon. Maybe I’d spy on the political gambits of Old World Russia. Often, I would join the ladies for tea in Victorian England.
How Reading has Taught Me
Reading opened my eyes to new ways of thinking, diverse experiences, and an appreciation for the unique stories of others.
There is always something to learn from others, and just when you think you know all there is to know about another person, they will surprise you. But in order to learn, we need to be listening, we need to be observant, and we need to embrace humility, which understands that we don’t have the corner market on understanding the world.
Reading became a bridge to empathy.
I loved that I could hop into a character’s head and understand his motivations, fears, and intentions. I suppose that’s one of the things I most love about being a psychologist. Not only did reading teach me empathy for others, but it taught me to empathize with my own experience. I often felt clueless about my internal world and emotions. Yet reading taught me to be curious about my experience and to question my own beliefs about things I was reading. Do I agree with this character’s stance? What would I do in this situation? In a very powerful way, reading taught me how to tackle complex issues and develop an inner compass of behavior.
Reading entertained me.
I read once—of course I read it—that readers are never bored. They can be standing in line at the DMV and if they have a paperback in hand, they can be perfectly content. This is so true for me. I’ve been dragged on a lot of fishing adventures, and typically I’m a happy companion as long as I have a good book and a soft chair.
Reading connected me to meaningful friendships.
Although reading may be considered a solitary endeavor, as I look at my own experience I see the ways reading has helped me find friends who share my passion, challenge my thinking, and introduce me to new worlds.
Reading has always been social for me. Whether it was the library events I attended as a child, hauling my own littles to the library once a week for story hour (and a change of scenery), one of several book clubs I’ve been a part of, exchanging books with my Grandma and sister, or reading a book with my best friend and then exchanging notes during a hike, reading has connected me with my closest friends and has often communicated what’s in my heart when words fail me.
Reading has helped me cope with life.
When I began my doctoral studies I told myself that I couldn’t afford to read for pleasure. There was so much to be done in school and I felt I needed to spend my time reading research articles for my dissertation or books related to my course. Well, after two weeks of wicked insomnia, I realized that I could not afford NOT to ready for pleasure.
Reading provides distraction and a needed escape from the real life demands we face. But more than that, reading something completely unrelated to our life situation provides an opportunity for us to have a mental and emotional break, be reflective, and see things in a new light.
Reading for pleasure at night—in particular—helps me wind down and communicates to my brain that it’s time to put the worries of the day aside and power down for sleep. When I jump into a good book, I inevitably make connections to my own challenges and become more grounded and committed to climbing my mountains.
During busy periods I don’t have much time to read, but even five minutes of reading before nodding off to sleep connects me to my passion and reminds me that there is more to life than my to-do list. And I’ve found that even if I don’t have much time to read, just having beautiful books nearby soothes me. I may buy a book that I can look forward to reading once a big project is completed or during an upcoming vacation. I have been accused of hoarding books during stressful periods. It’s true.
One of my favorite things to do—and now you’ll think I’m really crazy—is to sit on the floor in front of my wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (which is stuffed to the gills with books) and admire my collection. Each book takes me back to a specific time in my life: a water-logged book that joined me for a dip in the pool during my last vacation, a favorite history of the Hapsburgs that I read on a train traveling from Salzburg to Prague, or a dense tome that was perfect for reading by the fire on a long winter’s night.
Pursue a Passion
Ultimately, reading connects me to life. Reading helps me discover the world, others, and myself in deeply meaningful ways. Reading has socialized me, taught me, and given me the language to develop ideas of my own. It’s truly something I am passionate about.
Though reading is my passion, there’s no need for it to be yours. However, have something you are passionate about. Develop your interests and be curious about the world. Individuals who are passionate about something are the most interesting people. They can’t be kept from cultivating their interests and, as a result, become progressively more accomplished. And those who pursue their passions discover like-minded souls. In a very real way, pursuing a passion leads us to our tribe.
So, whether it be reading or an entirely different interest, my challenge to you is to pursue something that matters to you. Be willing to commit yourself to a hobby or developing a skill. Maybe you will sign up for piano lessons, participate in a community education art class, or ask your neighbor to go to the driving range with you.
Just do something. But not anything. Do something that speaks to your heart, piques your interest, or even scares you a little bit. I promise you, it’ll be good for your soul and will deepen and enrich your life.
If you are interested in cultivating an interest in reading, check out these great recommendations for Becoming a Bookworm:
- Read to your kids
- Read in front of your kids
- Move on if the book you are reading doesn’t interest you
- Set a reading goal for yourself (I’ve read 69 of my 100-book goal for the year)
- Turn off the TV (for lots of reasons besides reading)
- Listen instead (audiobooks can be a great introduction to reading and are perfect during commutes, grocery-shopping, and household chores)
- Sleep on it (keep a book by your nightstand and don’t bring your phone to bed. Not only will you become a better reader, but you’ll also improve your sleep)
- Start small (read short essays, magazine articles, or poetry; there is no need to kill yourself with a 1,200 page expose on 12th Century French mores)
- Check out Goodreads. It’s a great way to keep track of your reading, connect with other readers, and deciding what to read next. I LOVE seeing what my friends are reading and what they think of the books they’ve read. It’s the best way to make and receive book recommendations
Becoming a Bookworm adapted from Reading for Life, Costco Connection, August 2018.
“I have sometimes dreamt … that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.” ― Virginia Woolf, The Second Common Reader