“Reading is a way to slow down and get perspective. There’s something particular about quieting yourself and having a sustained stretch of time that is different from music or television or even the greatest movies.”
He didn’t single me out directly, but when Former President Barak Obama recently said this to the New York Times, well, I just know he was talking to me.
While I couldn’t be a stronger advocate of social media and its immeasurable potential, a couple of years ago, because of the innumerable benefits of reading, I vowed to myself that I was going to spend less time on Facebook… and more time with my face in an actual book. In 2015, I read 40 or so books; last year twice that and then some.
With that in mind, and I’m far from the first person to declare reading makes one a better communicator, but here are a few ways that it can directly impact my fellow PR professionals in a positive and lasting way…
Comics, non-fiction, classics, plays, poems, whatever! Reading enhances your vocabulary, grammar and spelling. The more words you surround yourself with, the easier they come to you; a primary weapon in any communicator’s toolbox.
The comedian Steven Wright put it this way: “It usually helps me write by reading. Somehow the reading gear in your head turns the writing gear.” And the writing gear, I would argue, drives the storytelling gear and that skill lies at the very heart of what we do as communicators.
Improved Critical and Analytical Thinking:
Studies have found that reading directly impacts critical and analytical thinking. Pattern recognition, pool of knowledge – even a higher GPA can be directly correlated to those with a healthy appetite for the written word.
The Former President went on to say that words are a way to figure out, “…who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.” He also joked, “Sometimes you read fiction just because you want to be somewhere else.” For me, elsewhere is, “A Little Life” (by Hanya Yanagihara), “The Orphan Master’s Son” (by Adam Johnson) and “The Terranauts” (by my university writing instructor, TC Boyle).
I also strive for variety in my reading: Autobiographies: “Shoe Dog” (by Phil Knight), “Born to Run” (by Bruce Springsteen); Biographies: “Hitler” (by Volker Ullrich) “A Cole Porter Companion” (by my mother in-law); History: “1944” (by Jay Winik) “Custer’s Trials” (by TJ Stiles); General Interest: “Eviction” (by Matthew Desmond) “The Face of Britain” (by Simon Schama) Classics: “The Naked and The Dead” (by Norman Mailer) “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (by Zora Neale Hurston).
If your New Year’s resolution included more books in your face, my three favorite books from last year were:
1. “When Breath Becomes Air” (by Paul Kalanithi). Perhaps the most moving, life-affirming book I’ve ever read. Its messages have stayed with me for a full year and counting.
2. “Lab Girl” (by Hope Jaren). The sheer enthusiasm in this memoir reminds us that it’s the passion for our chosen profession and a key partner or two along the way that creates a career.
3. “A Gentleman From Moscow” (by Amor Towles). Unforgettable characters and a completely immersive tale that just gets better and better with every chapter.
I’d love to know yours.