I felt like a bit of an oddball.
A year ago, I didn’t read much. In fact, I didn’t really like reading. As an English major who enjoyed writing, that seemed pretty strange.
But then I wrote a post about the benefits of reading, set a goal of reading twelve books in 2015, and dove in.
Guess how many books I’ve read since that post?
I’m still a far cry from a voracious reader, but this year I gained a huge appreciation for reading, plus knowledge and inspiration from those books. Here are a few of the lessons I learned:
1. Reading played a big role in developing my passions.
I’m eighteen, and right now my passions are being formed in ways that will shape the rest of my life. Books like You Can Farm by Joel Salatin fueled my love for sustainable living and gave me a vision for real steps I can take to live it out. For example, my dream is to live on a sustainable farm and raise much of my food. Instead of ignoring that dream because it wasn’t immediately viable, I read books on sustainable living and made small changes towards my goal, like mulching my garden and starting a compost bin.
Books like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew, and Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss made me ask hard questions about how I’m living out my faith, such as, “Do I really know why I believe what I do?” and “I say I trust God with my life, but what would happen if I had to depend on Him to provide my every meal?” This caused me to keep searching the Scriptures and walk out my calling with more faith.
2. Reflecting on each book helped me remember and act on what I learned.
In order to actually use the knowledge or ideas I gained from the books, I had to retain the information. I found that writing a paragraph or two about each book helped my memory tremendously, and then I had a reminder of the parts that were important to me in case I forgot.
Knowing that I would write about a book also kept me from being a passive reader, and as I read I asked questions and looked for important points to write about later. Goodreads has been a wonderful tool in my reading endeavors. It keeps neat lists of the books I want to read and have read, as well as my rating of each book and the reflections I wrote about them. Reflections could easily be kept in a notebook or journal as well.
3. Encouragement from others pushed me to read more than I would have on my own.
I had (and still have) a ton of books on my to-read list, but sometimes finding the motivation to actually go to the library, then sit down and read, was tough. To be honest, I would not have read nearly as much this year if it wasn’t for a friendly competition on the CollegePlus Forums.
Because of this companionship and competition, I also expanded my tastes and read books I wouldn’t have picked myself, like Visioneering by Andy Stanley and On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson. Both were quite good and I’m glad I tried them, but I wouldn’t have decided to read them on my own. A few other ideas for encouragement or friendly competition are book clubs, a group of friends serious about reading, or family.
4. Reading material with opposing convictions gave me a better grasp on my own beliefs.
I’ve always been a little scared to read books that are from an opposing viewpoint or that advocate convictions I don’t share. But this year I read a few books I didn’t agree with, and you know what? My faith wasn’t shaken, and I didn’t even get terribly confused. Instead, I thought hard and asked questions. I found that I was able to own my beliefs and respect the authors for their writing, if not their stance. Although it’s not something I would do all the time, I won’t be opposed to reading books I don’t agree with in the future.
5. Reading slowly was one of my pitfalls this year.
Sometimes I would start a book and read it here and there, then become frustrated because the story wasn’t quite “clicking” in my mind. Eventually I figured out that I was simply wading into the book, never quite reading long enough to immerse myself. Once I committed to the book and kept the intervals between reading sessions fairly short, it was so much easier to read!
6. The time of day did make a difference.
On the subject of getting into the groove of reading, I found that the best time of day for me to read is in the evening, as I’m winding down before bed. At all other times of the day, thoughts of jobs I should be doing or school I could be completing interrupted my serene reading sessions. I wasn’t able to read consistently every day, but that’s an admirable goal, and I hope to reach it someday. I’ve taken the first step, though, by pinpointing the time of day I read best.
7. Audiobooks are awesome.
Did you know you can read while going for a run, mowing the lawn, or sewing a quilt? That’s right! Sometimes my schedule was packed or I simply wanted to accomplish two tasks at once, so I harnessed the power of audiobooks. There are books on CDs, digital downloads, and probably many other options available to listen to books; my personal favorite was using Librivox.org to listen to public domain books online for free.
8. Reading is worth my time.
This is the biggest lesson I learned this year, and it came gradually. I used to balk at reading because sitting down with a book felt like I was “doing nothing,” but this year I found that reading stretched my mind, inspired me, and taught me powerful lessons and skills. Reading prepared me for action and is most certainly worth my time.
Maybe you’re a reluctant reader like I used to be. Or maybe you live and breathe books, so you already know what I’m about to tell you: reading is amazing for you. I’ve found that reading develops my passions, equips me for action, strengthens my beliefs, and sharpens my mind. But it wasn’t until I made reading a priority that I truly understood that.
So. Are you up for an adventure? Are you ready to get smarter and improve the quality of your life? Then I dare you to pick up a book and make reading a priority.
If I can do it, you can.
Ariel Abke is an Unbound student who is working on her BA in English. She loves natural living, the outdoors, working out, learning about Jesus, encouraging others in Him, and writing on her blog.Read more by Ariel