For my 16th birthday, my mother gave me a book that would change the way I looked at reading and learning, forever. She’d heard that it was a good read for mid-tier college hopefuls and folks that generally liked reading. In other words, me. The only problem is I wouldn’t read it till my mid-twenties. Long after it would have improved my high school or college transcript.
This decision goes into the bucket labeled “stuff my mom recommended that would have saved me TONS of time, money, headache, heartache or stress”. I’m sure there are more than a few people with one of these buckets. Admittedly, not the only time I’ve made a deposit into that bucket.
I partially blame the book for being poorly titled. As a 16-year old, would you have read a book that’s only selling point was to teach something you already KNEW how to do? Does “How to Tie Your Shoes While Sitting Up” or “How To Text With Your Bare Feet” seem like a New York Times bestseller to you? I didn’t think so.
And so, this little treasure collected dust and a little water damage over the years. It moved with me as I finished high school and college, met a girl and later married her, then bought a house in the burbs and put it on my new Ikea bookshelf. My dusty little gem’s time of reckoning was shortly at hand.
About the time I rediscovered the book, I was learning with a mentor at the time who was pressing me to branch out. As good mentors do. To aid our conversations, he’d supplied a reading list of fantastic proportions. Mostly, dense goodies he’d archived over the years, and mostly non-fiction. Not one of the books was less than 300 pages and he’d given more than five FULL pages worth of recommended readings.
There was little hope that I could cover even a fraction of that ground between our weekly conversations. Nevertheless, I put my head to the task and read as fast as I could. After a couple of weeks of this slog, I finally broke down in frustration to ask for help. My mentor simply pointed to the third book on page three of his list.
His finger fell on Mortimer Adler’s seminal work “How to Read a Book”. Killer title right? It’s simplistic and elegant nature is deceiving. Adler’s book is not solely about reading faster. And after reading through the book several times, I felt certain that it needed to be amended. So I scribbled a single word in ALL CAPS on the title page. It now reads, “How to Read a Book WELL”. This is the key to reading for understanding and more broadly reading to succeed.
We only have so many hours in a day, days in a year, and years in a career to personally develop our talents. This is made more difficult with Amazon adding an estimated 30K new books to its virtual marketplace, each year. It seems more and more true that we need to read WELL to get ahead. That book was the first step.