How to read a book?

Reading has been in vogue since ancient times. There can not be reading without writing. Clay tablets were used for writing in Mesopotamia in 3rd Millennium BC. These tablets were used to communicate and distribute information.Sumerian writing was the earliest form of known writing from which other writing formats evolved. Writing was also prevalent on bones, shells, wood and silk before the invention of paper. Paper making was invented by Chinese in the first century. Palm leaves were used for writing in Indian sub-continent and South East Asia since fifth century BCE. Egyptians used papyrus for many things — baskets, medicine, food, clothes and paper. Books have been around since 15th century when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable printing press. The Gutenberg Bible (Latin) was supposed to be first book published after the printing press was invented. Renaissance and Reformation paved way for mass printing and Europe led the way.

Reading as a habit

Reading a book as a habit should come very early in life. As children we have read ‘Pedda Bala Shiksha” ( A printed Telugu encyclopedia of everything). Every house had a copy. In our earlier school days, we used to have ‘Non-detailed text’ along with regular English text. I remember to have read Adventures of Robinhood, The tale of two cities, Oliver Twist, Around the world in 80 days, Gulliver’s travels etc. These were supposed to be self-read and we were examined for comprehension. Reading skill is not easy. It has to be cultivated. It has to be nurtured. From my experience, It takes a long time to develop a good reading habit. There is yet another way — you should become Chitty as in the movie Robot who is able to read books in a jiffy and help Sana with her exams.

Benefits of reading

Books are good conversation material: I have found books are a good way to start a conversation.

You could make new friends: Easy to make friends through books.

Book as a friend: Book is a friend and a great travel companion. You could immerse yourself in a book and lose sense of time. I have always filled my waiting times through books.

Source of wisdom: Books have always been a great source of wisdom and knowledge till Google came on the scene. All libraries have a reference section.

Reading improves creativity: Reading improves the ability to think. Many books provide perspectives, insights and solutions. I would also say that Google, smartphones and tablets have increased access to good books with no restriction on time, place or a day.

Reading improves decision making: It seems, a successful CEO reads at least 60 books a year.

Recommendations for good reads

A mentor: A mentor is necessary who would tell you what to read and what not to read. I owe all my reading to DR. G C Reddy, a very famous Psychiatrist in Andhra Pradesh. He introduced me to several greats such as Daphne Du Maurier, Sigmund Freud and Franz Kafka. I heard of Friedrich Nietzsche first time through him. We used to read and discuss these books whenever we find time.

Book exchange/share: This is another way of getting into the treasure trove of books. I was introduced to many new authors in this process. There are several good friends who continue to share what they read and what they found interesting.

Develop a reading circle: A good reading circle helps. Start with two or three. Vaishnavi Chella, Deepika Ganesh, Akansha, my daughters Sanjana and Meghana, Ned, Nancy, Dawn, Gabe are a few of my friends who have been in touch with me on books. What’s up helps us in keeping in touch.

Look around: I shall always look around for good books. Whenever I visit a new city/town or visit someone’s house, I look around for good books. Many cities have streets where second-hand books are easily available. I once found Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb in Sultan Bazar in Hyderabad for half a rupee.

Read reviews and book summaries: Today’s technology offers easy access to resources. You could checkout the books easily. You could see the ratings and read reviews. Goodreads is a good source. One of my friends recommended that I should not read a book with a rating of less than 3.7 on Goodreads !

Abridged versions: I love these. I grew up with Readers’ Digest condensed books. Book summaries is another good source. https://www.summary.com

E-books : e-books is yet another good way. KIndle leads the pack. Easy to carry, easy to read. These days talking books are also available for children, senior citizens and differently abled. Audible.com is a good place to look for.

Books in vernacular: Local languages offer a lot of stuff. Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali and Hindi languages are a great source. Read stories of Munshi Premchand, Tagore, Chilakamarthi. I recently read a book in Kannada — Gachar Gochar by Vivek Shanbagh. I was floored by the narrative and the style.

Translations: Many translations are super. You could start with stories from Anton Chekov. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Turgenev to name a few. Have you tried reading Stefan Zweig ? You will never stop once you start. Egyptian authors such as Orhan Pamuk or Naquib Mafhouz or Swedish thrillers from Henning Mankell. You could also try some great South American authors such as Borges, Isabel Allande or Marquez.

Non-fiction: This segment offers a lot. War stories, biographies, philosophy, psychology etc. Please write to me on sdravida@gmail.com for my recommendations. J. Krishnamurthy is a great prose to read.

Online journals: There are several to choose from. Open Road Review, The Bombay Literary Magazine, The Four Quarter Magazine, to suggest a few.

Poetry: Try reading poetry. John Keats, T.S. Elliot and Emily Dickinson to name a few.

Blogs: Blogs of KG Mohan on Facebook are a must to know what is happening arond. They are a great source of inspiration.

Avoid pornographic stuff: It does not help. Avoid !

( I am aware the above list is not complete. I will be very happy if my friends could add to the list)

How to read a book ?

Start early: There is no age restriction. Start reading comics and short stories. Encourage young ones at home to read. Many parents have complained to me that their children do not read. Parents should lead the way. Gift good books on special occasions.

Read aloud for children: If you have children at home, read one story a day. Reading aloud helps you and the child.

Keep a goal: Always have a goal. One book at a time till you develop the habit of reading concurrently several books.

Develop speed reading: Develop the skill. Many self-help books and web resources are available for this purpose. Some argue that this skill is not necessary to read books. See what Jordan Harry says in his TED talk — How to read a book a day.

Summary of the above talk for your reference.

  • Time is precious. Invest wisely.
  • Front and Back covers fo the context
  • Read the table of contents
  • Skim — 10 secs/page
  • Scan — 30 secs/page
  • Bouncing/gliding /usage of pacer are simple tools to use

Also look at ‘The Art of Reading — Farnam reading system’ and watch the video.

  • Focus on high value content
  • Read more than once
  • Know the author
  • Understand the context
  • Question what you read !

Feynman technique

Richard Feynman was a great Physicist. He received Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. He was a great teacher too. His four step method is another great way to go.

  • Write the context on a page
  • Write your understanding in simple English
  • Identify problem sub-areas
  • Pinpoint any difficult concepts/assumptions.

Additional resources to look for:

https://fs.blog/how-to-read-a-book/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4p8JkI9lV8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f-qkGJBPts

Parallel reading: I have seen a couple of my friends reading two to three books at a time. Do not start this practice unless you have a good handle on the reading habit.

Learn to give up in the middle: Heaven is not going to fall if you do not complete a book or no crown will be placed if you complete a book. A good thumb rule would be 100 minus your age. If your age is 40, you should read 60 pages and decide to go forward or not.

Do not read more than two books by an author: Usually a writer has a distinct style. His style does not change overtime. Limit yourself to two or three.

Write the summary if you can: This practice helps in the beginning. You could give up after you become confident.

Storytelling: Storytelling is a good way to improve comprehension. Explain the summary of a book to your friend, spouse or your child and see the benefits for yourself.

Some trivia

The world’s largest book stands upright, set in stone, in the grounds of the Kuthodaw pagoda (kuthodaw, “royal merit”) at the foot of Mandalay Hill in Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma). It has 730 leaves and 1460 pages; each page is 107 centimetres (3.51 ft) wide, 153 centimetres (5.02 ft) tall and 13 centimetres (5.1 in) thick. Each stone tablet has its own roof and precious gem on top in a small cave-like structure of Sinhalese relic casket type called kyauksa gu (stone inscription cave in Burmese), and they are arranged around a central golden pagoda.

Teeny Ted from From Turnip Town is supposed to be the smallest book ever produced.

I end this blog with a beautiful story from Virginia Woolf from her essay in The Second Common Reader.(1926). Read the full text here.

I have sometimes dreamt………….

That when the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesman 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 coming with our books under our arms,”Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give here. They have loved reading.”

I look forward to your thoughts !

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