Too many people think the number of books on one’s shelves equals the amount of knowledge in one’s head. However, this is rarely the case. When meeting someone for the first time I often ask what they have recently read. This is typically a great conversation starter. In addition, what people read can tell you an awful lot about who they are and what they believe. More often than not, unfortunately, if they have read a book in the last year, I find that most people cannot tell you the main parts of the book, and some struggle to give you the thesis. What is the point in spending hours in a book if you cannot use the knowledge inside it?
Read deep, then wide. I want to encourage you to read deeply. Too many people brag about reading a bunch of books then fail to remember enough about them to actually make good use of the knowledge they gained. Also, the more you know about a subject, the slower you have to read the best books. That sounds counter-intuitive, but I notice many authors simply regurgitate what authors before them have said. However, if you are diligent, you will come across that one insight that gives you the clarity you need to take action. You may have read that text 10 times before, but as time passes we evolve and learn; a passage that you didn’t understand ten years ago could be the one thing that saves your life today.
Learn the thing, then do the thing. It is not enough to know a thing; you must do the thing you know. Years ago I ran across a book called “How to Read a Book” (1940) by Mortimer J. Adler. If you are like me, you were never really taught how to drink deeply from a good book. I highly recommend it as a place to start on how to read a book. Not all books require the same amount of energy to read, and Adler’s book gives you a frame of reference to use when selecting a book to read.
Don’t let your biases keep you from a great book. I have never played tennis in my life. Yet, the best book I have ever read on the mental aspect of athletics is called The Inner Game of Tennis (1974). Last week I started reading a book called “The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children” (2001) by Dr. Wendy Mogul. I am a Christian man with a Christian family. She is a Jewish woman raising a Jewish family with years of experience doing psychotherapy with children and families. Her book is filled with great tips on how to help a child learn to be resilient and also how to raise a Jewish family. If I were to let my beliefs forbid me from learning from her on the basis of having different beliefs I would have missed out on some incredible writing and insights I will share with you in later Coach Notes, since resilience is the secret ingredient to mental toughness. Another example is Muhammad Ali, one of America’s greatest fighters, who converted to Sunni Islam in 1975. His autobiography, “The Soul of a Butterfly,” is a beautiful story about life after boxing and his ideas on topics like moral courage and loving God. We can’t let our biases or prejudices keep us from becoming the best [fill in the blank] we can be.
A few books I have learned from. To the right is a list of books I love organized by the category. The lists grow every month. If you ever borrow a book from me, you will see passages underlined and tons of notes in the margins. Sometimes I’ll reread a book and see the note I wrote myself and laugh as it reminds me how naive and ignorant I was the last time I read that passage. I encourage you to write in your books. Grab a post-it note and jot down some thoughts. Have a conversation with the author; question them; disagree with them…it’s okay to have an opinion, and it is also okay to change your mind on a subject when new information is acquired. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the wonderful things waiting for you in a good book.