The subtitle of my book is 6 Science-Backed Ways Reading Puts You on the Road to Achieving More and Living Longer. The title of this post confirms what the judge I worked for right after law school taught me: No piece of writing is ever done; you just run out of time.
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The seventh reward of reading began emerging in the later stages of writing and preparing the book for publication. My friend Pamela Wilson graciously agreed to write the Foreword, but she went further. In her email attaching the Foreword, she wrote:
Between you and me, I kind of wished there was more on the “how to apply this in your life” section of the book, currently the Conclusion. I loved reading about how to mark up and “process” what you’re reading — these ideas felt very unique and valuable.
By the time we get to the conclusion, you’ve thoroughly convinced us of the value of reading. I felt excited! And committed to making reading a more deliberate act.
That’s why I wished there was more on this — maybe a short chapter with the three tips + the bonus tip, and a second chapter with the “Take Action” ideas. “Finding More Joy” could be the Conclusion.
Pamela expressed concern that her suggestion might not be “welcome at this point in the process.” But I’m pleased to say we
stopped delayed the presses, I went back to work, and I’m much happier with the resulting book.
Starting with six
The idea for the book itself evolved from a Muse blog post that Pamela shared on her Facebook page, touting 5 Science-Backed Reasons Why Readers Do Better in Their Careers. The first five chapters in my book take you on a much deeper dive into those five, expanding and updating the research supporting them. Chapter 6 adds the one that ignited my passion for the project: how reading helps us live longer.
So when she read the galley, these were the six that got her “excited” and “committed” – but left her wanting more:
- Reading Reduces Stress
- Helps You Sleep
- Improves Your Decision-Making Capacity
- Makes You a Better Leader
- Makes You Smarter
- Helps You Live Longer
(Chapter 7 explores the research on the learning value of reading in print vs. digital devices.)
Practical tips and some prodding
What had been a few paragraphs under a couple of subheadings in the Conclusion of the original galley became two full chapters and a rewritten Conclusion, 27 new pages in all. Those new chapter titles:
8. Adopt Your Own Reading Plan
9. Take Action
Here’s the brief description of those chapters from the revised Introduction:
Chapter 8, offers specific suggestions on how you can adopt your own reading plan, or adapt your current reading habits, so that you can reap the rewards we’ll be exploring together. Then in Chapter 9, I’ll urge you to “take action” on your reading and pass the rewards on, with some steps you can apply at work and life.
For example, Chapter 8 advises you to “read interactively.” First, interact with the text. One way: adapt my set of note-taking techniques that vary depending on the use you’re planning for the material, such as referring to it in a presentation.
Second, interact with others about the text. Here’s a snippet:
Want a great way to make nonfiction reading more fun and less work? Tell others what you’re learning. Teach it, gifting the valuable ideas or information casually to your friends and family, or presenting more formally in person or in your own writing.
Another set of tips in Chapter 8, cheerfully paradoxical, offers ways to experience what I’ve long called “discovery by serendipity” – having useful pieces of information appear in your email inbox or social feeds at just the right moment. You’re about to see an example right here in this post!
But just one more example of the seedlings that were germinating for the seventh reward of reading, from Chapter 9. After urging organizations to follow the lead of Buffer in providing a reading benefit to employees (Buffer’s includes a Kindle, along with print and audio books), I suggest several ways employees could be asked to pass on a “reciprocal reading benefit” so the growth doesn’t “stop at the inside of each one’s skull!”
Sprouting the seventh reward into full bloom: shared immortality
Reading enables you to write, teach – and maybe live forever! Here's the discovery by serendipity that prodded me to add another reading benefit.
All the seeds were there and growing, so this morning when a new member’s post prompted me to check my Learning How to Learn Facebook group and I saw the announcement of a new article by one of the admins, the seventh reward of reading blossomed in my mind. The article by Michael Simmons is entitled, Memory & Learning Breakthrough: It Turns Out That The Ancients Were Right.
At first, I panicked. Did I need to do another rewrite?
But my book was already published. And as I said, the seedlings were already in there. Plus, the science behind Simmons’ claim is fully fleshed-out in his article. So I’m just going to review a couple points quickly here and hope you’ll go read both the book and the article.
His main point is that our memory and learning are greatly improved by writing and teaching, as thinkers from Socrates to Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have advised. Researchers call this the Explanation Effect. He links to several studies confirming this effect in a variety of settings, including two that found “older siblings are generally more intelligent because they find themselves in a teacher and mentor role more often.”
Where does the material come from, before you can go lock it in by writing and teaching? One key source is a wide-ranging reading habit, or what Simmons calls “fractal reading.” This part of the seedlings I covered in depth in Chapter 5, showing how reading not only builds your store of raw material, but improves your brains speed and processing capacity.
My goal for you is to read until your mental cup runneth over and you simply must write and teach! Or, as this abbreviated Faulkner quote from Chapter 9 says more eloquently:
Read, read, read. Read everything … Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.
But wait, live forever?!?!
Chapter 6 promises reading can help you live longer. It covers intriguing research showing this effect. And, of course, the chapters on reducing stress, better sleep, and other effects can’t help but contribute, too. These are ways to add months, perhaps years to your life.
My book also explores the life “multiplier” effect of gaining full-blown lives of fictional characters, as well as the lifelong learning of non-fiction writers, from your reading.
But I don’t think I adequately articulated the reverse life-extending effect, though it flows from the Chapter 9 advice to read, read, read – until you must share it.
Simmons made that point blossom, too, crystallized in this quote from the Dalai Lama:
Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.
The seventh reward.
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