I’ve read more books this year than I have in my whole entire life combined. I’m 34 and I’ve finished 18 books in 2016. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but growing up I HATED reading and writing. HATED. IT! I think I’ve read, maybe, mayyyyybe, 15 books for the first 33 years of my life. 11 of those were consumed in 2014/2015. For the numerically challenged, that’s about 4 books in the first 31 years (91%) of my life. As an unbiased view from someone who picked up reading late into adulthood: PLEASE READ! It is the most significant thing you can do for yourself and the progress of civilization.
Growing up I didn’t think reading was important, and I didn’t like writing either. I hated going to inner city schools. I was bad at academics. The common feedback from my teachers was, “he’s a smart kid, but he needs to apply himself.” It took me 5.5 years to graduate high school. In America students typically graduate in 4. I was expelled from high school a few months before I graduated because I was consistently truant.
My teachers were right, I was intelligent, but I hated school. I used to ditch and go home so I could tinker with my computer. This was in the early 90s, when most people didn’t have access to a home computer. I used our phone line to connect to AOL (you’ve got mail!) and program applications.
My family and I convinced the vice principal to let me back into school. He agreed as long as I served detention, didn’t miss another day, and took an English class in the summer. My final assignment in English class was to read a book. I picked 1984 by George Orwell. I didn’t read it and used the internet for cliff notes. Some kids never learn.
Ironically, I got a job at a web company and I never had massive debt because I dropped out of college after the first semester. I mean, Bill Gates did say, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” Yeah, son.
Fast forward. In 2014 I found out I had Ulcerative Colitis. The disease was debilitating and I didn’t get up on stage for stand-up comedy as much. I still wanted to be a comedian, but I didn’t have the physical or mental strength to go through the grind. I was still working full-time in technology, and I couldn’t handle all the work. Like an injured basketball player I wondered what I could do to improve my game off the court to prepare for the moment I was back on.
I realized that for the first few years of doing comedy I just took ideas onto the stage and developed them. However, two of the best jokes that made my set list were written! In order to be great I’d have to learn how to write well. My girlfriend at the time, who is well versed in English, told me to read more, especially fiction. She believed that reading would help increase my vocabulary, and teach me different writing styles.
After doing some research on the internet, she was right. Reading is something most successful people have in common. There’s a reason why it was a crime for slaves in America to read or write. Knowledge gives the oppressed more POWER! The evolutionary advantage of humans is not physical strength; it’s our ability to imagine things and then create them. Reading (or even listening to books if you don’t care about decoding writing) gives you the information and tools to realize those dreams.
I started reading and writing. At first I HATED IT! UGH! I set a goal to read and write for 30 mins each, twice a week. I didn’t always hit my goals, but I kept at it. One of the first books I completed was 1984. The book pushed me to read more because I loved the story and I was also in fear of a dystopian future. Our government monitors and controls everything! RUUUUNNNN!
Eventually I started seeing progress from the work I was putting in, and I incrementally raised the goals. I’ve been on fire for the last several months by building a habit. I’ve read 118 days, and written 85 days, out of the last 150.
I’m far from perfect, but if you go back into my blog history you’ll notice I’ve gotten significantly better. I still have grammatical errors that I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’m no expert at English, nor could I confidently teach anyone syntax. I feel like I’m 31 years behind. I’m playing catch up, but I’m not just flipping pages, I’m absorbing information. I’m learning more than just language. Like Sick In The Head by Judd Apatow taught me about the work ethic and mindset it takes to be a professional comic. Reading The Art of the Deal gave me blueprints for the type of Presidency I should expect from Donald Trump. A Burglars Guide to the City showed me different ways I can enter or exit a building. Though my friends hate it when they walk out the door of a restaurant and I use the window.
I wish I started reading a long time ago because it is not only helping me in comedy, but in life. I’m empathizing more, and understanding the complexities of society. It’s actually made me less aggressive, and more pragmatic. I’m communicating a lot more effectively, and I don’t have as many conflicts when I speak my mind. It also helped me learn how to string words together. Like writing a click bait style title, but still provide substance in the article. At least I hope you found this useful, ’cause I’d rather have more people reading than clicking. Though… I do stand up comedy so I don’t mind the exposure in addition to you picking up a book. (Shameless Marketing: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube)
People ask me how I get the time, but they don’t realize I make the time. Simply limiting my social networking usage gave me an extra hour of free time a day. I found absorbing words in a book had a more positive impact on my life than fighting in a comment thread with ignorant people that don’t read. Obviously, you’re not ignorant, you’re reading this. I’m talking about everyone else.
So please read! It’s important!
Below is a list of all the books I’ve read in 2016, ordered by most recently finished. Books in bold are recommendations. My 2017 goal is 30 books.
- Art of the Deal by Donald Trump
- The Comedy Bible: From Stand-up to Sitcom by Judy Carter
- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay
- The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson
- Time Machine by H.G. Wells
- Sick In The Head: Conversations About Life And Comedy by Judd Apatow
- A Burglar’s Guide To The City by Geoff Manaugh
- The Ethics of Invention by Sheila Jasanoff
- TED Talks: The Official Guide To Public Speaking by Chris Anderson
- Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
- How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Escape From Freedom by Erich Fromm
- Being Grandma by Leslie Stahl
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
- Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
- Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Do you read? What’s your story? Post it in the comments yo!