Growth is the process of elevating yourself and the people around you while keeping your roots to the ground. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then the smartest way to remain rooted is to stay curious, and the simplest way to grow is by reading books. Books open and expand minds, increase empathy towards others, develop useful skills, challenge (and validate) previous assumptions, distract us from the distractions, and the list goes on…
New studies come out every year about the benefits of reading and reassure us of the same thing our (grand)parents and teachers did, time and time again, when we were kids: it makes us better people.
And yet, when most of us finish school, we put the books down as if we’ve had enough. As if the new degree is a sure thing in securing a full-time job, starting a family and coasting through adult life. As if education is simply a milestone.
I argue that it’s a mindset.
A Preference for Reading; A Passion for Learning
For this reason, whenever I evaluate and interview job candidates, I take education qualifications and past work experience accomplishments with a grain of salt. Instead, I seek signals and ask questions that help me better understand how hungry that person is to learn and grow. On the job, my primary focus is how the team learns and how we apply ourselves (as individuals and as one) and then secondly our prescribed job responsibilities.
As a team, we struck a habit of reading books, case studies and industry news/trends regularly, which we then apply to work in the unique context of our company and all of its inner workings. Any success (and often failure) that results is a by-product and also a subsequent opportunity to learn. But I digress.
The questions I raise in this article stem from a recent post Sergio wrote about reading hard copy vs. reading on a screen. I’m a ‘90s kid who loved to order Goosebumps novels and Matt Christopher’s sports fiction books off of those Scholastic flyers teachers passed out. With that in mind, if you ask me about what’s best: book vs. e-book vs. audiobook, my choices in order are 1) physical book, 2) audiobook and 3) e-book.
1) Real books
My favorite thing about a physical book is the human experience. Turning a page with the gentle lick of a finger (not a fan of those rubber fingercaps) creates a rewarding feeling that you can’t recreate on a Nook e-reader or an Audible audiobook. Page turning keeps people in the moment.
If I need to stop and think deeper about a point or scene, I can do it without having to pause or rewind an audiobook.
Another potential downside to audiobooks is that the narrator’s voice can make or break the book. The narrator—whether the original author or a paid professional—must read with an energy, tone and clarity that resonates effectively with the listener. Since every person hears and processes words differently, it’s difficult for every listener to extract the same meaning intended by the author. A hard copy allows you to read at your own pace, use your own imagination and interpret the book the best way you know how.
The convenience of an e-book sometimes complicates things. On a screen, if I lose focus from the reading and miss an important detail, I have to waste time searching (ctrl+F) for keywords. Instead, with a hard book, I find it easier to glance back on previous paragraphs or pages, re-read the section and circle back to the furthest point.
Finally, after a long day of stressing your eyes and ears from screens and noises, how can you possibly relax your senses with electronic reading? Our eyes and minds haven’t advanced as quickly as the grind of work of the last 100+ years and all the infinite (scroll) distractions of the web.We can only keep up with so much, so it’s important to balance it with a hard book. Even Kobe Bryant and Arianna Huffington power down by reading “real books that have nothing to do with work,” so that they can be better at their jobs the next day. Source
Real books may be best for people who: Prefer to mull over a specific passage; like the tactile feel of a book; need to refresh, decompress and indulge in something other than work.
As a supplementary source of reading, I find my Audible app to be an excellent alternative to the radio. On my 45-minute commute to and from the Quill office each way, I switch between Audible and Spotify, depending on my mood.
Over the past two years of working, the daily commute has helped me to complete listening to over 20-25 books. Time that, in the past, I would’ve burned on listening to the radio.
Our brains are wired to stay or become receptive to what you feed them, so I feel audiobook apps like Audible, when used regularly, can help change your life. It’s just one tiny thing you can do to make an important choice your own again.
The second best thing about Audiobooks is the narrator speed. If you’re already familiar with many of the concepts presented in the book or you start to get bored, you can change increase/decrease the narrator’s reading and cut an 8-hour book into 4 or 16 hours.
For evergreen books that are worth multiple reads, like The Art of Mental Training by D.C. Gonzalez, I read it once at regular speed (3 hours) and then I blow through it at three times the speed, finishing the hour-long read in a single day’s commute. For more difficult but equally rewarding books like Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, I slow it down by half to process the information thoroughly. A read that takes a week of commuting now takes two weeks.
That’s really the beauty of an audiobook. Once it starts to play, it keeps going until you hit stop. You’re almost forced to finish reads without distraction in days and weeks. Those same books might take months to read in print format if you don’t vigorously read by habit.
Audio books may be best for people who: Have long commutes and want to do something productive in their spare time; people who want to chop their reading time in half by speeding up the audio to breeze through; people who may be easily distracted and enjoy the “forced” aspect of hearing a story or educational lessons imparted by a specific book.
3) E-books (Digital reading)
I find e-books to be the best method for consuming informative and non-fiction content. I prefer to read a book that offers tips, insights and instructions through Kindle because of the convenient search functions. If I’m writing a non-fiction narrative piece and I’m looking to refresh my understanding of plots, protagonists, motifs, narrative arcs, etc., I can jump to any location in the 260-page book Story Craft by Jack Hart with the search of a keyword.
And since much of print journalism has moved to the web, I can follow specific writers to consume news, stories and information at specific outlets. I can read Heidi Moore’s financial section on the Guardian.com Money section, J.P. Abrams’ basketball stories on Grantland.com and business studies on HBR.org. Articles, stories and columns are bite-size pieces compared to books, but I find a daily dose of them to be as equally helpful in learning new things.
E-books may be best for people who: May prefer to “search” for tips, insights and instructions; readers who want to better understand plot points and characters by jumping to specific passages without having to flip through tons of pages; people who prefer reading blogs, periodicals and other bite-sized articles delivered to their device.
Just My Opinion: How a Lifetime of Reading Helps Us All Grow
Stephen King summarizes my 1,600 words in his own six: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Discussing digital vs. print is a healthy dialogue, but it’s one that needs to end quickly because there’s no story there—just opinion. In this increasing world of instant, convenient and free, why not use all available options in combination?
Maybe you manage a small business office like Michael Scott (Steve Carell) on The Office. Maybe you lead a classroom like Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) in Freedom Writers. Or maybe you’re just an everyday, ordinary person serving customers and communities. No matter the circumstance, the act of reading affords each of us the same opportunity for growth that it does the top 1% that mostly everyone on the internet looks up to as more important, more successful and more educated people.
We’d be wiser, as teachers and students of whatever the hell it is we’re deeply interested in, to instead focus on creating and practicing a habit of reading that extends long after the years we’ve spent in school.
In the areas of education, work and life, reading is a choice gateway drug that, once it becomes a habit, sticks and pulls you into more challenging, more irresistible and more meaningful creative endeavors such as writing, designing, building, traveling and leading.
So how can we use print, audio and electronic words together to help each individual grow as a professional and as a person? What old, unfulfilling habits can you break to form more meaningful ones? Comment below with your opinion.
Thanks for reading.