I start and end every day doing the exact same thing:
In the morning, it’s the New York Times. At night, I’m in bed with a book.
Confession: I’d take a Saturday night curled up on the couch with a great book over a party any day (unless we’re talking about a really cool event).
Reading isn’t exactly skydiving in its ability to rivet people at dinner parties — but it’s my absolute favorite thing to do. Here are a few reasons why.
1. Reading lets you live — or at least taste — lots of other lives.
When a book draws me in, the sense of full immersion is enchanting. The further away the time and place, the better.
I traveled back in time to 1600s Italy through The Silent Duchess by Dacia Maraini.
And was transported to 1950s India while reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing took me through seven generations of a family, starting in Ghana and on slave ships in the 1780s, and leading through the years to the modern-day United States.
There are so many cultures to be experienced, and so many insights to be gained, within the pages of great books.
2. Some books let you actually walk in another person’s shoes.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be the daughter of Steve Jobs?
I can (and you can too) — through Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ memoir, Small Fry.
It’s not only a fascinating account of her experience as the daughter of a famous, interesting character. It’s also a captivating tale of coming of age in California.
Then there’s Educated by Tara Westover, a story about a girl who grew up in a survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho. She was homeschooled — but didn’t learn much by way of academics. At least not until she moved on from her doomsday-fearing family and paved her own way to a Harvard and Cambridge education.
I felt this same sense of walking in another’s shoes when I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.
I could go on, but I’ll move to the next reason.
3. Reading makes you smarter.
Books develop critical thinking skills and just generally make my brain bigger.
I recently read Measure What Matters by John Doerr, Chairman of Kleiner Perkins, a venture capital firm. He discusses how what you measure is what you focus on.
This was especially good to read, because I’d been at companies where process had taken over — and people were sometimes even working at cross purposes in pursuit of their individual goals.
His words were a powerful reminder as to how setting goals and measuring results can be done properly.
I also loved The Hard Thing About Hard Things, an engagingly honest and screamingly funny book about how difficult it is to create a successful business by Ben Horowitz, and The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, which is practically the Bible for testing and iterating your way to business success. (Ries is an advisor for my own clean beauty startup, NakedPoppy.)
4. Books can completely reinvent your worldview.
A great story can flip your brain upside down.
For me, The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer did just that. It showed me how to separate myself from the inevitable ups and downs of life.
I found myself deeply engaging with that concept, one we’ve all heard, but most of us have trouble actually living out: You can’t control what happens. All you can control is how you react to it.
Another book that disrupted my world view was How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid.
It changed my view of injustice, of just how greatly the odds can be stacked against a person.
Then there’s this book that has stuck with me since I read it at age 19: The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile by Fawaz Turki. It’s the memoir of a man who was exiled from Palestine in 1948. His story seeped its way into my soul, and I’ve been an advocate of equal rights for Palestinians ever since.
5. Reading is how you stay in touch with culture, become a better citizen, and run a better business.
When I say “reading,” of course I’m not only talking about books.
I may be the last person in Silicon Valley to do this, but I still read The New York Times in print. And then there’s Medium. It helps me forget where I am when I’m usually reading it: standing on BART, packed in like a sardine, on my way to work in San Francisco.
All of this is vital to understanding the here and now. And by extension, becoming a better citizen.
There’s also a business aspect to to staying in tune with the wider world
For example, if everyone is talking (rightfully!) about the separation of immigrant families, I’d consider it tone-deaf for my company to post about clean makeup on Instagram that day.
6. Now for the big one. Have you ever met a good writer who’s not a voracious reader?
Just asking. :)
Reading is a simple, accessible, profound joy — and one with countless side benefits. If you’ve lost touch with this habit, maybe you should give it another try.