Eric Krueger

On Reading

A few of my thoughts on reading.

It's (Mostly) Free

There are a lot of free resources for books, which makes reading very accessible. Global Grey, Project Gutenberg, and your local library are great places to start. If you get a library card you can usually checkout books with Libby (and often have them sent to your Kindle, or other e-reader of your choice).

It's Not Listening

Listening to an audiobook is literally not reading. Audiobooks are a fantastic resource, but there are some specific benefits to reading. There's nothing wrong with listening to books (or having a book read to you), I just think we should just all be a bit more precise with our language.

Reading is:

To receive or take in the sense of (letters, symbols, etc.) especially by sight or touch.


Audiobooks can give you examples of good writing, but having them read to you doesn't teach you as much about writing as reading them yourself. - Paul Graham

It Extends Your Attention Span

The mind is plastic. When you spend time doing something, you develop new neural pathways. In this way, your activities train your brain. When you do things requiring short bursts of concentration, it decreases attention span; likewise, activities requiring longer stretches of concentration increase attention span. Reading is an attention-lengthening activity, and adding in a daily reading habit is a great way to reduce time spent on attention-shortening activities.

When we do sit down to engage in deep reading, we’re unaccustomed to it. It’s more difficult, because our brains are out of shape, having spent so much time doing short bursts of attention switching. - Anne Janzer

It Changes Your Mind (Builds Empathy & Curiosity)

Paul Graham says it best. Reading gives you ideas. It's important that we read well ("well" meaning both being good at reading, and picking good books).

And from Robert Greene:

Think of the mind as a muscle that naturally tightens up over time unless it is consciously worked upon. What causes this tightening is twofold. First, we generally prefer to entertain the same thoughts and ways of thinking because they provide us with a sense of consistency and familiarity. Sticking with the same methods also saves us a lot of effort. We are creatures of habit. Second, whenever we work hard at a problem or idea, our minds naturally narrow their focus because of the strain and effort involved. This means that the further we progress on our creative task, the fewer alternative possibilities or viewpoints we tend to consider. This tightening process afflicts all of us, and it is best to admit that you share in this flaw. The only antidote is to enact strategies to loosen up the mind and let in alternative ways of thinking. This is not only essential for the creative process but is also immensely therapeutic for our psyches. Stimulating your brain and senses from all directions will help unlock your natural creativity and help revive your original mind. - Greene, Robert. The Daily Laws (p. 108).

It Delivers Context / Informs

There's an epidemic of context collapse in society - a race to the informational bottom, where information we receive is so nutritionally void of context that there's no way for proper framing or for us to connect it with our other experiences.

Spacial and temporal context both have to do with the neighboring entities around something that helped to find it. Context also helps establish the order of events. Obviously, the bits of information we’re assailed with on Twitter and Facebook feeds are missing both of these kinds of context. Scrolling through the feed, I can't help but wonder: what am I supposed to think of all of this? How am I supposed to think of all this? I imagine different parts of my brain lighting up in a pattern that doesn't make sense, that forecloses any possible understanding. Many things in there seem important, but the total is nonsense, and it produces not understanding, but a dull and stupefied dread. - How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

Our brains starve for this context. Reading delivers it by engrossing you in the content. For a brief moment in time, you're obligated to take the perspective of the author. To sit with the information. To consider. This is invaluable, and offered by vanishingly few mediums today.

It's Good For Your Health

There's lots and lots of brain benefits to reading.

It Entertains

This is self-explanatory (although I didn't understand it for a while). I used to only read non-fiction self-help books. They soon started to grind on me. I was trying to keep track of the seven habits of being effective, the five areas to focus on for a happy life, while not eating alone, and making sure to consider my attachment style, and find flow in what I do, but also make sure I don't do to much....(you get the idea). Self-help books are good, but also take their advice with a grain of salt. Read for entertainment too. It can be a delight (especially if you find your niche).

It Makes for a Good Routine

Reading is a nice, productive habit that is relatively easy to implement. Read for 30 minutes when you wake up each morning and you're reading two books a month. 30 minutes before bed too, and you're at four. Most of us use that time looking at our phones, anyway.

It's Social

There's a lot less room for interpretation with movies and TV series. Everyone sees the same thing. With books, there's: (i) a lot more of them - so odds are, what you're reading is going to be different than what everyone else is reading; (ii) a lot more information presented; and, (iii) how you imagine and interpret a book is unique.

This makes for interesting discussions. In book clubs, at dinner, or with the person standing next to you in line. It's a simple question: "Read anything good lately?". You'll find that you have a lot more to talk about after reading some interesting books.

Learning From Our Mistakes

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. - Ecclesiastes 1

We're lucky to be able to read; written words are a recent invention. Human have been around for about 200,000 years and only in the last 5,000 have we gained the ability to write and read, and with that to pass down knowledge. I fear society will collectively lose the required attention span to read and understand deeply. With that loss, we will lose access to our past.

To survive, we must maintain the ability to pass down information to the next generation, and to learn from history. And as we do we must also remember to be kind to our fellow humans. We were all learners once, and that is something to be celebrated.


-XKCD, “Ten Thousand”


Enjoyed? You can subscribe to my blog. Comments? Send me a message.

#personal_development #reading #word smatter