On Reading People are so busy these days.
Whenever reading comes up in conversation
lately, I hear how useless books are；after
all, we’ve done so much reading, yet we haven’t managed to
live such excellent lives—so what does reading really have
to offer? No one would invest in a company that provided no
returns. Why invest time in a book? Is reading useless?Over
time everyone acquires an educated disposition and the
wisdom that comes from decades of experience in business and
personal matters. But the act of reading has occupied a
position in my life whose true worth cannot be measured by
any university degree. I cannot imagine what my life would
be like without reading.
Perhaps we should ask the question instead:What is
reading? Imagine, for a moment, that you desire to study the
lives of women in 19th-century England. You could of course
read history or consult an economics paper on the role
played by women at that era, or perhaps watch a documentary
on social life and traditions. You might even consult a
dictionary for information on popular fashions.
Or better yet, you could read a novel by Jane Austen. In an
instant, you are transported across time to the speech, the
thinking and mannerisms, and the social expectations of a
young woman before marriage in 1813.
There are no facts to learn, and yet one absorbs a great
deal about the relationships between men and women at the
time; how they lived, and how they loved and hoped. The mind
naturally absorbs and reflects upon these realities. Reading
is time travel. It is being there. The time it takes to turn
a page and begin reading is the time it will take you to
travel back two centuries. It evokes the cultural essence of
a country at the time of its composition and transmits a
record of daily life, no matter how long ago.
People get excited these days if they get the chance to tour
an elegant old house or watch a new movie. Yet in most
homes, elegant or ordinary, there are these miniature
capsules that can serve as vehicles of understanding.
You share the mind of this person long dead, who is at that
moment alive as you read the words that person composed—the
Reading is free experience. How many lessons do we learn
from the classics about human behavior and the everyday
issues common to people of all eras?
Think of them as instantly available.They require no fuel,
except imagination. They do not become useless if unused.
They can quickly come into service with a little dusting.
Yes, everyone is busy. But the habit of reading must be
cultivated and encouraged. Books are never too busy for us.
We are too busy for books—but by not reading, we lose more
time than we gain. In my teenage years, as a quiet girl, I
enjoyed being alone in a companionship of books. Though I
sat in a small room, they allowed me to travel beyond the
walls and without a time frame—I crossed histories and
oceans in search of life’s inviolable truths. I cultivated a
moral sentiment based on what I read, and I became a better
person because of it. As the saying goes, Read ten thousand
books--travel ten thousand miles.
The 17th-cent. poet John Donne could have been referring to
a book when he wrote:It makes one little room an everywhere.
I was fortunate to discover the classics.
Their beauty is matched only by their practicality. They
have changed the course of my life.
Choosing a right book is just like discovering a wise
mentor. See how the characters--the wicked, the kind, the
educated, the innocent—speak their lines deal with difficult
situations. You can see what would have happened to you in
that situation. What would you have done? This is a free
education in human affairs—or depending on the book—on
business affairs. You can learn these lessons without
enduring the hardships normally required to gain those
insights. What a tremendous gift to us! If someone told you
they could provide guidance on almost any topic under the
sun, wouldn’t you be interested?
So why don’t people read? How can books be useless? Reading
can smooth out deficiencies in our nature. Our innate
talents are like natural flowers and trees. Reading teaches
us how to arrange them so that they may flourish. I have
interviewed a lot of successful entrepreneurs from humble
backgrounds. They did not appear to have had a great deal of
formal education, and yet they had never stopped learning.
They had some experiences at work, and they put other
experiences to the test in reading—and they gained twofold
Reading creates an instant perspective.
Talented people who do not read a lot may be skillful in
specific areas of productivity, but those who study and
think diligently always maintain an awareness of wider
issues. Reading broadens our visions, enhances our
knowledge, and enriches the way we think and how we perceive
the world. People who do not read so much sometimes become
too narrow in their focus: that kind of attention is not
always a good thing.
At some point, of course, we need to be aware
of what we read and its impact on our mental process. Loving
books is great, but knowing how to judge a book’s quality is
like keeping to a healthy diet. Absorbing poorly written
books without judgement can lead to puffiness in thought and
mediocre conceptions of what constitutes progress in our
The methods available for reading have
expanded enormously since the turn of the century. For
instance, one can read an entire book on a cell phone. The
issue with cell phones is the distraction of that small
screen that affects how we absorb information--those
superficial ideas and flashing reminders, not leaving much
room for introspection or systematic thought.
Many young people do read exclusively and rapidly on
electronic devices. This I do not advocate. There is no
sense of occasion, of intellectual immersion, of a specific
and special transmission of ideas. We miss the mindful
experience of turning the page and being aware of the book’s
binding, its fragrance, the texture of the pages.
In addition, books are characters in themselves: they have
their own emotional associations that mark passages in our
lives. We can remember specific rainy days spent in reading,
and even recall the passages we read.
Reading is a process of thinking, of being in place, of
attentiveness. Digital words on a small screen generally do
not provide that kind of experience. Cell phones have no
personalities. They offer data—not words.
Yoga is more than simple physical
exercise. Reading is more than absorbing data.
Ancient monks devised entire systems for memorizing passages
for future reference—to them, reading was a method of
transport into the world of the spirit and the intellect,
and they marked the pages with signs and systems for
retaining key points in the memory. In this way, knowledge
enters the mind and heart of the reader through repeated
As the sages once said, ‘When we are young,
we read books as if appreciating the moon through a narrow
tube. When we reach middle-age, we read as if we are
admiring the moon from a courtyard. In our senior years, we
read to see the moon in all its detail, as on a spinning
The more experience we have, the more we can accommodate and
understand the experience of others as being closer to our
own. The same goes for the isolated rural districts that
have not benefited until recently from the resources
available to big-city dwellers. In such remote land areas,
entire communities of potential readers may exist in
isolation. The cultural needs of these rural places are
often overlooked. But it has long been recognized that, 1)
culture is an engine for innovation and endeavor, and 2)
that cultural coherence already exists in these communities,
and reading can quickly result in tangible economic
activities, such as festivals or study programs.
Reading creates a powerful means of self-expression—because
good readers frequently make good writers.
Self-expression lies at the heart of the New Chinese
bring us together, as people, and as a culture. They are the
fabric from which civilizations are woven.
They deserve our respect and attention.