The stolen lightning bolt, the pen ball sword, and the epic fight at Mount Olympus. Powers that make you wish that your dad or mom is some Greek God/Goddess. Perhaps you are a son of Zeus or maybe daughter of Athena. Perhaps there is a world beyond the current boring one you are living in. What an exciting world.
And that was the world created by fiction books. A world that I know I can count on to relax after a long day. These are the books that I read for enjoyment and leisure.
However, I realised there has been a shift in terms of the genre of books that I read in recent years.
Before 2019, the books that I read were mostly fiction. They were books like Northern Lights (Philip Pullman Dark Materials Series) and also books written by Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code, Inferno, etc).
In 2019, I started reading more non-fiction books and there was a pretty healthy mix of the various genre. Self Improvement, Fiction, Autobiography, and even Chinese books.
However, in 2020, I realised that most of my books were in the self-improvement/autobiography genre. Fiction books became non-existent.
This got me thinking: Why? What are the reasons behind this trend? And have I started to read more practically instead of leisurely?
Because it seems that the genre of books I am reading recently tend to be very self-help like and pragmatic.
Leisure reading is reading out of pleasure and during free time. It is often done to rest and recharge.
Whereas practical reading is reading to distill knowledge and ideas or gain inspiration from a book. It is reading with specific end goals and expectations in mind.
For example, I read “Your First Million” by Dr. Micheal Leong to understand how to better manage my finance. I read it with a clear goal in mind: to improve my wealth. Whereas when I was reading the book “Journey to the center of the Earth” by Jules Verne, I was reading it out of fun, without expecting any “utility” out of it.
I think there are 2 main reasons behind this trend of reading practically instead of leisurely.
Time & Opportunity Cost
As we grow older, we tend to have more things to worry about. Finance, Studies, Health, Family, Careers and many others. But our hours a day remain the same.
Thus, time becomes more valuable and we are unable to find the time to read.
And when we do, there is opportunity cost. The time spent reading could have been used elsewhere like exercising, working, or simply resting. Because time is so precious, we start to calculate the practical value of each activity.
How will this book benefit me? Or should I spend the time finishing up this deck of presentation slides?
As a result, when we read, we want to extract as much useful information out of the book. And I can’t deny this. Recently, whenever I start reading a new book, I was always after some sort of golden nugget of knowledge in the book or maybe some sort of inspiration from notable figures like Elon Musk or Steve Jobs.
Yes. Even though knowledge and inspiration are the main functions of books, it feels uneasy viewing books as tools. It is like judging someone solely based on how they can benefit your life and not viewing them as a human. (Maybe this is an extreme example)
This is perhaps why I stopped reading fiction books as it seems less “beneficial” or “useful” and only meant for those who are reading leisurely.
But why will you read for leisure? Most of us won’t choose reading as our leisure activity. Most of us will go for dramas or youtube. After all, reading is not exactly a passive activity. It is unlike watching a movie or binging on your favourite drama where your brain can just shut off. (unless you are watching films directed by Christopher Nolan) Reading requires brain work, it requires you to process the words and the idea the writer is conveying. Even though many deem fiction book as passive reading, it still requires more work as compared to watching a show since you are required to imagine the landscapes and characters described by the author.
The second reason why I believe we are reading more practically is because of the way books are being portrayed by the media, especially social media. In recent years, there is a sudden obsession with reading. Many of my friends who don’t usually read in the past started picking up books to read.
I think this can be attributed to many media websites like CNBC Make It or youtube channels that promote the idea that reading equates to success.
Tai Lopez, with his famous “books in a garage” video, promoted the idea of reading to get successful. This further reinforces the reason to reading practicality since reading seems to be guarantee success. But to be honest, there is nothing wrong with reading practically and not reading leisurely.
After all, books are meant to gain knowledge, inspire us, and expand our circle of empathy. It is to feel what others have felt.
And I agree that reading will play a part in your success someway or the other.
The problem only comes in when you are rushing to read, rushing to finish books, and not reading to understand. You tend to read for the sake of checking off your list of “books recommended by successful individuals”. Rushing to read practically defeats the whole purpose of reading as you are not gaining any insights from the book.
So, are we still reading for leisure?
Lastly, back to the question of are we still reading leisurely. For myself, I would say it is a 70% 30% situation. The bulk of the reason why I read today is because of its supposed practical benefit but another part of it is because I still enjoy reading. I enjoy the times when I will binge through the Percy Jackson series or the Young Samurai series (my 2 all-time favourite fiction series), and enter the world of Greek Mythology and Samurais.
This article made me realized that perhaps in today’s fast-paced environment, we should step back once in a while and not think so practically. Perhaps just grab a fiction book and immerse yourself into a whole different reality.
Reading shouldn’t be a “chore” or a “task”. It should be somewhat leisure, enjoyable so that you can appreciate it better and perhaps learn something along the way.
Perhaps it is time to pick up my favourite fiction books again. Perhaps I should jump into the world of Greek Mythology once more.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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