5 reasons to always carry a book with you

Carrying a tome around has more benefits than you think

To be honest, I don’t know where I first picked up this bit of advice (probably in some Medium blog!), but it’s been with me for close to three years now:

“If you spend enough time carrying a book around, you’ll eventually read the damn thing.

It may be annoying at first. It may be outright stupid for weeks or more. But like any hobby, diet, or habit change that you want to commit to, you have to stick it out for the painful beginning no matter how badly you fail.

Then, once you’ve endured the grueling embarrassment of admitting to your colleagues over and over that you still haven’t made it past the prologue — that’s where shame meets change. You start reading the damn book.

Here are a few reasons carrying a book with me at all times has changed how I spend my time and my interactions with those around me:

1. People are always late to meetings.

Always late. Don’t get pissed off, read a book.

I would say in three out of five meetings, my appointment shows up at least five to ten minutes late. And I know it’s Washington, D.C. — the tardiest place on earth. So I’ve since taken practical steps to limit the outrage on my face when they show.

What is it you usually do in those precious minutes as you await your date? You surf Twitter, scroll through Facebook/Instagram, or anything else to get your mind off the fact that you’re awkwardly finding refuge in a cold coffee shop, having yet to purchase anything.

What about reading? I’m sure many of us read our work emails or skim through some articles. But that’s not the same — not by a long shot. I’ve found there’s nothing more comforting and relieving ahead of a blind date or important conversation than diving into a book you love (presumably you’ve picked it, so you enjoy it?). Reading things you want to vs. things you have to makes a huge difference.

Just a few weeks back I sat at a coffee shop for 40 minutes. The person never showed (or responded to email), but had they appeared at 41 minutes, I would still have been happy to see them. Time flew by and, honestly, I spent the time how I wanted to: nose-deep in a book.

2. It’s a wonderful ice-breaker

Meeting new people is always hard. Break the ice by talking about what you’ve read (and catch them up since they were ten minutes late).

This has definitely been essential for me. Politics may be a group sport, but networking is everything in Washington. I meet a lot of strangers and it is important (perhaps more here than anywhere) to make a good impression to future employees and colleagues.

It’s a fact that people are meeting you because they want to be interested in you. Whether for ambition or pleasure, no one really wants to suffer.

However, not everyone has high emotional intelligence (EI). In fact, I have terrible EI. So, instead of taking sensitivity training or learning how to tap into my feelings, I’ve found that breaking the ice about my current read sets a wonderful tone for my conversations.

I also find it helpful that reading a book is a physical act — an imprinting.

Unlike an article, which is short-lived and difficult to recall (I should add that articles are usually shallow as well), a book gives you a full set of readily available arguments, chapters, or narratives to speak to; an endless tome of information you can offer to your fledgling conversation if you can’t seem to find anything else to discuss.

3. You’ll be more peaceful and social

You’ll actually have something to do. Don’t believe me?

One of the things I’ve noticed since donning a smartphone ten years ago was how reliant and neurotic I am when it comes to data and cell reception. Obviously it’s gotten better since the days when I had Suncom, but there’s still the problem of morning commutes, tunnels, and crowded parks.

There are even bizarre moments in perfectly open areas of the city where THERE ARE LITERALLY NO PEOPLE that my signal drops and I can’t send a tweet or access my email.

In those times, I lose my mind. Cortisol spills into my brain and I’m manically sliding my finger to refresh a dead feed. Humans are suckers for instant gratification.

So in those moments of dead time (there are a remarkable number of these, by the way), I’ve found my physical, offline, no-plug-necessary book to be a huge benefit. Instead of falling asleep, droning into my headphones, or playing a stupid freemium game, I read. And it’s wonderful.

And I know you are going to say: “just use an offline reader!” I do use Pocket a lot when there’s an especially good article I want to read. But even Pocket is vulnerable to the aforementioned data issues. I most often find myself refreshing to “get that article I just saved!

Bonus: additionally, I am forced to be present with the human beings around me, which is a huge plus since I am not a people person AT ALL.

At first I figured being deep into a book would be the same as listening to music, but it’s not. Having your ears unplugged means you can react to people around you; when they ask for directions, or trip/fall, or do something small. I find it so easy to quickly look up mid-sentence and cue into what is going on around me.

I’m sure everyone is different in this respect, but I find myself being more present than ever before. I speak with strangers often — even though they largely respect that I’m reading and make our chats short. But then, if I’m interested in continuing, closing a book is a clear indication of my intent.

Unlike headphones and screens, which are ambiguous, when you close a book, you can no longer read it. And people get that.

4. You’ll actually finish a book.

See. You were a skeptic. You didn’t think it would work. But after a month of carrying around that 200 page biography, you finally finished it!

Reading is hard work. And in our ever-growing digital landscape, people are stopping altogether. Pew Research says “A quarter of American adults (26%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year.” How sad is that?

But not you. You’ve set into motion a wonderful habit of finding little parcels of time throughout your day and resting in the warm embrace of a good read. If that’s not worth it, I don’t know what is.

5. You’ll pick up another and become a faster reader

Reading = more reading! It’s science.

Regardless of new technologies, multi-screen learning, or video tutorials, study after study continues to correlate intelligence and performance with just one thing: your ability to read.

Don’t be lazy. If you let yourself become complacent or focus too heavily on screens to provide you with arguments and information, you’re going to miss out on all the benefits of a good, hard book.

If you carry a book around long enough, you will eventually read it. Do it.