In praise of reading books again and again
I love books, but I have a wierd relationship with them. Sometimes I read books properly and sequentially, from start to finish. Half the time however, I read books in bits and pieces, often preferring to read multiple books at the same time, a page here, a paragraph here. I tend to treat my small library more like a buffet than a menu with distinct meals.
Many books I read just once and never crack open again. With some, I don’t even get past the first chapter. But there are a few books that I keep coming back to time and time again. They are the books I reference often in my posts like Gary Keller’s The One Thing, or one of my favourites, 50 Cent’s and Robert Greene’s The 50th Law. These are my ‘quake’ books.
Quake books (the term was coined by Ryan Holiday I think)(actually it was coined by Tyler Cowen), are the books that shake you to the core. They cause a seismic shift in your thinking and perception. They radically change the way you view and approach life or yourself. They open doors to new worlds of ideas and possibilities that were hidden from you up on to the point you came in contact with the book.
These are the books you should read over and over again.
Why do that? Why go back to something you already finished?
For some reason, we tend to forget that repetition is how we learn anything. We understand that principle when it comes to studying and acquiring new skills. But when we approach books, we hold on to the mentality of getting it done and dusted. We read the book, and then put it down and that is it. Sure, you can treat many books that way no problem, but if you really want to extract the marrow from the bones of a book, especially a really good one, then it pays to approach reading it differently.
We only retain a fraction of what we read anyway. How many times have we read a book, put it down and then completely forgotten about it? If you just read that textbook once come exam time, you would almost definitely fail? So you read, you studied, you took notes.
The more we read and re-read a text, the more familiar we get with it. The easier it is to recall what we learnt and bring those lessons to mind when needed. The more times we read a book, the deeper the ideas and principles seep into our mind and subconscious, and the more they transform and change us. Which is really what they are for – To help us change and to help us grow.
Now, It might seem boring to read a book you have already read before. Why read a book again when I already know what it says?
Because things change, and we change.
Every time you interact with a something – a book, a movie, a work of art, you bring your self, your perception, your interpretation, and your experiences to the table. What you take out of that interaction, is as much a reflection on who you are at that point in time, as it is a reflection of the thing itself.
This is how we can grow to dislike something we used to love or grow to love something we used to hate. This is how many people can look at the same thing and have wildly different reactions.
Reading books over and over again allow us to approach the content at different points in time. Points where we ourselves are different and have grown. Suddenly, a part of the book we usually glossed over before springs to life with new and fresh meaning. With the benefit of new experiences, we get deeper understanding and appreciation of the nuances in the ideas presented to us. We connect us to the author’s words in a way that we could never have appreciated before.
We read books over and over again To remind ourselves.
We are forgetful creatures. We are constantly collecting new information everyday and bombarded by stimuli all around. As we record all these new things, we forget others. Reading these books over and over remind us of what we have learned. They keep us on the path and from sliding off. They pull us back when we have strayed too far.
And so these books become more than just books, they become life long companions, living sources of knowledge and wisdom, sources of strength and guidance to pull from in our journey of life, in our journey to get what we want and max out our potential.