What Books To Read With This One Life?

How do you know what to read when there are so many books?

You don’t need to read books. Some people are most proud when they say they’re not readers. It’s as though there’s a group of people who have exquisite demands on the reading side of things and these rebels need to make sure they’re not being confused for them — those readers.

I am a reader. Not a proud one — a happy one. I daresay I have been all my life. I stumbled upon the joy of words, slowly etching my way into a lifetime addiction and now, even my wife knows it’s pointless to try to stop me from visiting the book section at any location.

As I write this on this quiet Friday morning, there’s the hum of our mini-fridge. The sun won’t rise in because of our basement accommodation. My eyes, still blurry from an incomplete night. You see, my wife woke early for an exam — I find it difficult to return to bed once I’m awake, no matter how tired I am.

I stretch my right hand to the side table and pick right where I left this week’s companion last night. I’m currently reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Each page and fascinates me. I started yesterday. I’ll finish today. Then, I’ll continue with You’re A Badass At Making Money by Jen Sincero.

I’ve never felt this calm when picking up a book. In the past, I’d start many, never complete more than one out of the bunch per week, and always be midway between reads.

I can’t tell you how I found a pace that worked for me, but I can tell you that I now know why I pick up any book and can comfortably estimate how long it will take for me to read it, and if I’ll enjoy it.

The more I enjoy a book, the faster I’ll read it. This happened to me with Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. I’d wanted to read this since it came out in 2015, but I never had a proper reason to read it. Until C. Befoune sent me this text :

As tu lu Ego is the Enemy?
If it’s not the case, I really think you should.

That is the first hint:

Have a reason to read any book. A reason that is better than ‘I’m a reader’.

Love is a reason. Story is a reason. Leisure is a reason. Curiosity is a reason. Where I’ve found a blend of all these, is when I have a question or a problem, and the author seems to have the answer.

‘Seems’ because there is always the chance that the author failed at his or her promise. Go through the one-star reviews on Amazon or anywhere else to see this.

But here’s the key: only listen to you.

It has happened too many times for me to ignore: listen to your gut, your solar plexus, what does it tell you?

I’ve listened to opinions and reviews and later on found that whoever wrote the negative reviews had a totally different perspective from mine.

That’s criteria number one: find your reason to read a book. Listen to your gut. Pick up a book because you want to, not because you trust another person’s opinion.

Now, does this mean you can’t take recommendations?

Yes…and no.

Most people, like you, are at different stages in their lives. What works for you, may not work for them and vice-versa. This means you also have to be intentional with whose recommendations you listen to, and keep track of how true the recommendation was.

The fact that someone always sends you good book recommendations means they tend to do it and have a good read on what you are looking for. But it could also happen that they could be wrong. Why?

Because no one reads minds.

I tend to enjoy book recommendations done within books written by specific authors. But the more I read, the more I notice that the only difference between one book and another could simply be the authors’ perspective s— the message is essentially the same.

Which brings us to another key point on your reading journey:

You don’t have to read every book on the subject.

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Photo by Sorn DaVid on Unsplash

I don’t know the science behind the research, but I have a feeling there’s a bias that allows us to keep finding only what we’re looking for: we almost unconsciously pick books that verify our assumptions.

As a reader, you must be wary of this. So, where I said you should not take recommendations personally, I’d also add that you actively seek recommendations from people you disagree with.

To have a great reading experience in this life, I believe you have to be open to ideas that may go against what you hold strongly. You have to be willing to look at the other side of the argument. You have to be willing to delve into the negative comments.

I find this very hard to do, but quite refreshing. I find that when I’m aware of the opposition, I rethink my beliefs and whatever I choose to follow at that point is less dogmatic. I’m more aware of my decision to not pick a specific side because I know what it is, and what I stand for.

But beware, this exercise might leave you frustrated. It may take time to come to terms with cognitive dissonance and I wish someone had told me to not actively seek opposing views when I was vulnerable to be swayed.

The more you read and use the information from the books in the real work, the more you have past experiences to take action on your reading journey.

I’d like to stop here with my personal theory on simultaneous vs single book reading. This, I must admit, is a very fickle habit I have struggled with. Case in point: as popular as it was among my reading peers, I could never bring myself to finish Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And, it’s been over 4 months since I started reading Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. Both books aren’t particularly large, but to me, I’ve found that fiction can be very, very dense.

I started reading books simultaneously as a means to catch up with my personal backlog of books. I noticed a trend: when I was totally engrossed in a book, I would read it all as soon as I could and even re-read it. I’ve read The Alchemist over 20 times.

But, whenever my attention waned, I’d pick another book in the hope that I’d find reasons to return to the previous.

Now, I read on average 10 books at the same time.

How and why?

I have questions for each book I read and I’m looking for answers in them. I also prefer non-fiction to fiction and tend to read one or two major fiction books per month every night before going to bed. Each of these 10 books is on a different topic so I can’t confuse one for the other.

What I feel happened to me over the years is that the guilt I inflicted upon myself for not finishing or not reading certain books reduced as I found a reason — my reason — for picking up any book.

I’ll leave you with this: read as much or as little as you want. Find your reason to read. Find a system that works for your needs. Know that your needs will change and that as your knowledge grows, you will know what you seek in a book and when to let it go.

For everything that reading is, it is not suffering.

It should never be a chore; don’t read if don’t want to.

You are already enough. There are many people who, by their circumstances, biological or economic, cannot read. It’s easy to forget that reading, and being able to decipher words from a page, is still a privilege for many people in the world.

You can live a full, happy, exciting, fulfilling life without ever reading one single book. You can even write a book about this without ever reading one.

The greatest book you’ll ever read is life, and the greatest one you’ll ever write is living.

Inspired by a text conversation with Tcheutchoua Steve

Written by

Cameroonian writer and video creator. Featured in LEVEL and P.S. I Love You. I write about building relationships and personal transformation.

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