Work is the curse of the reading class, or the virtue of reading

Work is the curse of the reading class.

How many books did you read last year? According to some reports, one in four Americans did not read a single book in the last twelve months. Three out of the four who did read in the last year read only one book. But the reports are even more dismal when a distinction is made between any books and books of literature. For example, books on business, cooking, gardening or self-help are in a different category from books of literature. Further, books on business and marketing by Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin or Simon Sinek are not considered literary works. Books by Dante, Plato and Shakespeare are works of high literature. Books of literature by American authors include Flannery O’Connor, Robert Frost and Thornton Wilder.

My own reading pattern shadows the national trend. This discourages me. Years ago I read more than 50 books a year. In addition to that, I used to read several literary journals, magazines and newspapers on the bus ride to the office each day. It was a delicious and robust period of time. But life interrupted this reading regimen. A dream job, mega commute, cross-country move, career change, new job at a legacy media organization, and more commuting disrupted my reading habits.

It is a struggle for me to completely read one single book from cover to cover. The desk in front of the window holds eight books. I may have to return all these to the public library partially read. Or renew them. The library must be weary of me renewing a copy of a theological book. I must have renewed it several times over the last few months. One report I read stated the reason people do not read books is due to their busy work/life balance.

Great disruption.

The interruption to the reading habit is due in part to the daily commute. 90 minutes a day spent traveling from home to work. Public transit would be nice. However, no public transit system services the rural communities surrounded by cultivated fields and farmland. Travel accounts for more than 15 days of my time each year. And then there are the long hours of production work. The job is mentally demanding. My fatigued mind only desires to turn on the record player and go to sleep when I return home.

Solution.

Most Americans spend more than two hours each day on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. That equals more than 40 days a year. From an economic stand point that seems like a lot of wasted productivity. What that means in practical terms is that my social media feeds are on life support. I do not spend time on Facebook or Twitter at all. LinkedIn occasionally. And I deleted my Instagram account. Eliminating social media activity allowed me to reclaim some of the time lost to commuting and work.

Great books.

A second action put into practice during the last few years included reading great books of literature. Mostly. Plato’s The Republic, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, The Autobiographies of Frederick Douglas, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina are some of the books read during the last year and a half. The classical education curriculum of my children helped me form a list of great books to read. I added a few books to the list to include Asian and Near Eastern studies. I explored Basho’s The Narrow Road, an anthology of Rumi, Hafix and Lalla, and Ryokan’s Sky Above, Great Wind. Most recently I attempted to read and compare three different translations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. An ambitious task that I failed. Ended up focusing on selected cantos for comparison before the books were shuffled back to the public library.

The virtue of reading.

Why is reading books, especially, great books, important? The virtue of being well-read is the goal. Do not leave it up to the academics and professionals to read great books. C. S. Lewis wrote that “the simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism.” He continued by encouraging readers to acquire firsthand knowledge of the source material rather than to rely on secondhand commentary. Being a well-read individual has the potential to foster a civilized society. But you must be vigilant, designate time, pick up a book and read it cover to cover.

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How to be successful in life and business

WP_IMG_9959Does the world need another advertorial[1] on how to be successful in life and business?

This morning I read the article, “Books To Change Your Life And Your Business,”[2] on LinkedIn. It is rubbish. The books listed will not change your life, but might place you in a better neighborhood. Jeffrey J. Fox’s How to Become CEO[3] includes a chapter on required reading for those interested in rising to the top of the corporate ladder. It is a far better and engaging booklist than the one Linda Coles provides.

But, maybe Americans ask the wrong question. Maybe our culture seeks the wrong definition of success in life and business.

Earlier this week, Sunday morning, I was reminded that Americans who have enough to eat, adequate clothing, a place to sleep and a car, are in the top 15 percent of the world’s wealthiest. Further, if you have plenty to eat, a modest collection of clothing, a savings account, two cars and own your home, you are in the top five percent of the wealthiest people in the world.

What if success in life and business is simply a matter of doing what aught to be done? And doing it the best of an individual’s abilities?

NOTES:
[1] A “blend of advertisement and editorial.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/advertorial
[2] “Books To Change Your Life And Your Business” by Linda Coles, May 21, 2014, accessed May 21, 2014, https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140521221520-33236097-7-book-choices-for-a-better-life The books mentioned in the article include: Choose the Life You Want by Tal Ben-Shahar, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini and others
[3] Booklist from How to Become CEO include: The Bible, The Art of War, The Book of Five Rings, The Prince, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, anything by Thomas Jefferson, The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, and others.

*cringe* I think I’ve done a couple of these.

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