Somerset Maugham once said, “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” He could not have said it any better. Reading is a release that is real, tangible and perpetual. The art of reading has the power of even shaping character. Reading instills a rigour of discipline that enables one to assume the outlook of a leveler. But most importantly, reading bestows a joy that is indescribable, incomparable and inimitable. So how does one inculcate the habit of reading? There have been innumerable books claiming to have ‘unlocked’ the secret that makes reading a successful habit. I reckon in this regard, there are as many Holy Grails as are the number of books on this Planet. But ultimately, reading becomes a purposeful activity only by – reading! From settling oneself amidst the lush greenery of a paddy field to standing upside down for a prolonged time, (both scenarios attributable to my imagination running riot), “techniques’ abound, ranging from the sublime to the silly, claiming to ‘hone’ and perfect the art of reading. I set out here my personal path towards attaining an unquenchable obsession towards books. They may or may not work for everyone, but they sure have held me in good stead, and thus it is my humble contribution to give back whatever it is that I have so magnanimously received. So here goes!
Little Drops of Water do Indeed make a Mighty Ocean
Start by reading at least 10 minutes every day. “Ten sustained and continuous” minutes that is. Please do not try to accommodate these 10 minutes over ten segments/intervals. Doing so would ensure that your aspirations of becoming a voracious reader are “gone in 60 seconds”. You can fit these reading minutes during any time of the day depending upon your convenience. It is not at all essential that you rise at an ungodly hour, assume the lotus posture before proceeding to browse the pages. However, please ensure that there is an incremental increase in the allotted time. One cannot go on reading for just 10 minutes a day for the next 100 years. We are after all not tortoises and tortoises don’t read. Perhaps after a week, you can increase tour reading time to 20 minutes a day and so on until such time the habit becomes ingrained in you.
Please do not commence by thumping a copy of either War and Peace or Ulysses on your desk. These gargantuan tomes may only have the undesirable and unfortunate outcome of stressing you out. You do not want to end up like an endearing but funny caricature of Einstein, with hair sticking out asymmetrically in all directions, and without the attendant knowledge. Especially not when you have just succeeded in establishing eye contact with the lissome lass three rows to your left, at the University. The ideal medium to start would be your newspaper. There is nothing to boost your reading spirt like the fresh, crackling pages of a newspaper that exude an inimitable smell when the pages are turned. This can also be the perfect pre-cursor to enjoying the feel of a future book. There will come a time when you will lovingly caress the spine, pat the back cover, inhale with closed eyes the fragrance of the pages and pronounce a death sentence upon anyone daring to ‘dog-ear’ the pages. But till such time, you ought to make do with honing your reading skills. If it is books that give you the attention span and encouragement, then there is no better place to start than with the works of R.K.Narayan (purely my personal opinion). Begin with Malgudi Days, Swami and Friends, The Dark Room etc, and you will experience the power and pleasure of reading. The books of Ruskin Bond and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels are also suitable picks.
Find ONE Sounding Board
The next best thing to reading a book is discussing about it. Find an ally who is willing to lend an avenue that channels your excitement at having discovered the habit of reading. This can be a very close friend, a hardnosed foe turned into a friend (just kidding), or a member of your own family. In my case it has always been my father. Now into his eight decade, dad is a not just a voracious reader but also a repertoire of patience and perseverance. We spend an inordinate amount of time discussing about books and authors. This, in spite of the “Evil Dead” looks that Mum keeps hurling at us at intervals of disconcerting frequency. Having such a sounding board enables you to not just develop an acute sense of perception but in also ensuring that you stay terra firma. Bouts of overconfidence are nipped in the bud as you are made aware of the fact that you are always subservient to the words that you read and mouth. In addition, having a person to discuss things with, invariably broadens the horizon of your knowledge and also goes a long way in building character. So choose your sounding board wisely. When the world gives you a Steve, make sure it is Jobs and not Bannon!
Track Your Progress
Every book read is an achievement. Track this achievement by listing it down. There are websites like goodreads.com that enable you to create virtual “bookshelves” for you to ‘store’ a book that you have finished reading. Even better if you can write a small review listing down your experience of reading the book. However please take care not to call the author a damned toad or hurl any other kind of abuse. Keep the reviews civil. I still remember the feeling of overwhelming joy that I got when I uploaded my first review on a now extinct website called Shelfari.com. Going back to the list of your books instills in you a fervour almost to keep ‘stacking’ and hence reading becomes inevitable. This transition from an option to an inevitability is what you are looking for in your desire to consume books like Skittles or M&Ms.
Again, I cannot reiterate this enough. “Every book read is an achievement”. In the beginning, reward yourself on the completion of a book in a manner that accords you the greatest satisfaction. Drink a beer to celebrate the covers coming down successfully, treat yourself to a three course meal, or take a day off and just wallow in euphoria. Do anything that is within reasonable bounds of decency and rationality and which does not harm others, to celebrate the completion of a book. Over a period of time reading becomes a ritual, the motivation becomes intrinsic and the celebrations slowly dwindle away. But nothing should prevent you from letting your hair down to celebrate milestones such as your 50th or 100th read. But for those serene and Nirvana attained souls, who believe that statistics are just that, a tranquil smile or a condescending smirk would accomplish the purpose just fine.
Join a Book Club
Once you have reached a particular traction in reading, you would be in a position to discern your choice and preference, by way of genre. Try joining a small book club that specialises in discussing books belonging to your genre and interact at regular intervals. This can be a great confidence booster and as an added benefit, such interactions also embellish your public speaking skills (unless you already happen to be a resurrected Edmund Burke in disguise).
Form you own rules
Disregard everything that has been set out here and formulate a set of your own rules. See what works best for you. But please remain committed to the cause and wedded to the habit. Do not fail to share your secrets with me (this is an uncompromising requirement)
In conclusion, every reader is as unique as every book. However the relationship between the reader and the book attains a homogeneity in terms of certain attributes such as sincerity, purity and optimism. A good book always gives, and a receptive reader invariably receives. This offer and acceptance is an unwritten contract that is singularly unique, peculiar, spectacular and unconditional. Hence its only appropriate that as many people as possible transform into beneficiaries.
All the very best and May The Force Be With You!