“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”Oscar Wilde
My father, concerned for the future prospects of his children, pushed literacy hard in our home. This push allowed us to enter kindergarten a full reading level or two ahead of our classmates. I’ve always enjoyed reading but took to it less and less over the years. This year I dove back into reading in way I have not since college; averaging about a book a week at my current pace. More importantly, I have devised a rewarding reading rotation that delivers more than just a good read out of each book. A type of reading pattern that I believe is what is missing from the information flood we get on our digital devices. It is a Pattern Language for reading.
I’m talking about a Total Literacy, of the cross topic, varying medium, and interweaving threads kind. Uncomfortable, challenging, and sometimes laborious. Encompassing both deep dives into singular topics and shallow swims across the short stories of disparate lives. This pattern has enriched the treasury of knowledge in my own head and increased my empathy for people and places I had not connected to before. This is an education of my own design and carried out in my own time. Furthermore, I firmly believe that consistent reading across a mix of mediums and topics is an integral part of being an informed and active voter. So, I am here to share my approach. I think it is more integral than any reading recommendation (we can connect on Goodreads to share lists).
Promoting a Total Literacy habit is important to me because the damage that the benighted can do have grown too dire. Misinformation can spread to billions of eyes in a few errant clicks or some nefarious lines of code. This sometimes innocent but often misguided mass-deception fuels cynicism, empowers the malicious and greedy, and eats away at the foundations of a free democracy. The overwhelming waves of media have turned us into mere “headline” readers. Outraged from one breaking news story to the next, bouncing between polar extremes. The truth is somewhere in the middle but we often do not have the time and space to discern what is really newsworthy from what is click bait. To navigate through this forest of noise we each need to cultivate a serious reading habit that can push us beyond our comfort zone and also offer the periodic escape.
Much like the Philospher’s Stone, the quest for the next great read or perfectly curated reading list is an unreachable pursuit for book lovers. Maybe there is a college professor who has created the most sought after course with an impeccable curriculum that can lead to enlightenment. I have not seen it yet. Until then, I can only continue to pull and nurture my selections from recommendations from the book lists of President Obama, Bill Gates, Oprah, and others. More specifically, I will focus on adhering to my rotational order which has been the real power in reading for me this year. A reading pattern that utilizes topical groupings in a specific sequence (see below). I pick a book from one of each these groups to form my next three reads.
– Group 1: Memoir / Biography / History
– Group 2: Fiction / Graphic Novel / Short Story Collection
– Group 3: Non-Fiction / Philosophy / Science
My objective is to have the three selections inform or correlate to each other to some degree. Additionally, I intersperse essays, quarterly journals, and periodicals throughout the month to enrich my reading. One example of a sequence of books is as follows.
– Becoming – Michelle Obama
– Behold The Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue
– Caste – Isabel Wilkerson
All three of these selections are by black female writers. All three telling a connective story about the American experience from different perspectives. The immigrant’s, the journey through a changing America to the White House, and a historical reflection on race relations through the lens of Caste. The memoir and literature books show how truth informs fiction. Authors have the agency to tell stories through eyes and experiences that are not our own but which we can hold dear all the same. The history book enriches the others by undergirding those experiences with dotted lines across time. That tether shows how history rhymes and that we are not as removed from our predecessors as we thought. Knowing these facts, we can pull more from their narratives into our own and better inform our view of everything and everyone.
I will acknowledge that before even designing a reading pattern of your own, there is a need to first cultivate a reading habit. A question I often get is, “when do you find the time to read?” My response is very underwhelming based on the looks I get. There is no prophetic realization that I have to share. My advice is simple and the same that I give no matter what habit someone wants to develop. It comes from a technique I learned in James Clear’s “Atomic Habits.” The approach to developing a reading habit really is about just doing it. But first by letting go of the goals and rules about reading. Don’t assign yourself a certain number of books per year or chapters over some period of time. Just allow yourself to bottom out and deconstruct the whole objective into one simple sentence from a book. Do that consistently every day. Each day you cast a vote for the person you want to be; a reader. The completed volumes, book clubs, and reading cadence will follow once you have first firmly rooted the habit.