How reading changed my life

This is a little difficult post to write, as it is rather personal one. I’m trying to describe the events that have taken place in my life during the past 8 months, which has changed me as a person more than probably any other period in my life, yet keep it all constrained around one specific topic; reading.

I guess it’s safe to assume that you are an avid reader. If you weren’t, I doubt this blog would hold much interest to you. And as I’m writing this I wonder what it is exactly that you like to read? Is this the only blog or are there others you follow? How about popular novels such as those by Paolo Coelho, or do you enjoy the twisted and bizarre tales of Chuck Palahniuk? Perhaps you like adventure, fantasy, sci-fi… Or maybe you are like me and have discovered the joy of reading non-fiction.

When I was a kid I loved books. I could easily read over 300 pages a day in our summer cottage where I had little else to do. The books I read were mainly popular sci-fi and fantasy aimed at the youth. Books by David Eddings, Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Terry Pratchett andRaymond E. Feist (by the way, I still think that the Empire trilogy by Feist is one of the best series ever revolving around political intrigue – despite the fantasy setting!).

As I grew older I still enjoyed an occasional fiction book, but I didn’t really value reading as a pastime activity. I just read a little bit when I was about to go to sleep, or when I was traveling and needed to kill time.

I don’t know exactly what happened in the beginning of 2009, but one could say that I wasbored with my life. I was not in the physical condition I wanted to be (and had been before). The work I was doing seemed to drag onwards with no surprises or major changes on the way. I guess you could describe the situation as a sort of surface stillness, with everything appearing calm and good from the outside, but on the inside the stillness itself was creating a turmoil. The longer the status quo would continue, the more turmoil it would create.

It was this feeling of inner turmoil – feeling of being able to reach higher, not being satisfied with what I had – that got me to open my mind and actively search for ways to change the status quo. What happened in reality, though, was pure coincidence and luck. A small ripple that caused an avalanche. Then again, I doubt that the ripple would have had such a profound impact if it were some other time in my life.

What happened was, that I was watching Diggnation one day in February, and there was a small off-topic mention about “a guy who built huge amount of muscle in just four weeks”. I was intrigued and wanted to know more as I was struggling with my weight at the time. The guy in question was Tim Ferriss. After finding and reading his article about muscular hypertrophy I was even more intrigued. I really liked his writing style and argumentation, so I read more of his stuff and couple weeks later ordered his book The 4-Hour Workweek.

That book was an eye-opener. It got me to question certain things that I had taken for granted, and really made me realize that this is my life. It is up to me what to do with it. And if I want to be true to myself I should do everything I can in order to make it enjoyable and find meaning in it. This was the first non-fiction book I had ever come across that was impossible to put down after starting to read it. I was thoroughly captivated, and hugely enjoyed both the reading experience and the impact it had on my way of thinking.

I realized, that if reading one non-fiction book can be this enjoyable, there must be more of them out there! Books that provide knowledge, change the way you perceive the world and positively affect your happiness. All the while being also joyful and entertaining to read.

I felt like an explorer who had just reached the top of a mountain, looking over a vast landscape with entirely new sights, sounds and sensations. I realized that there are so many things that interest me and of which I want to learn more. But most importantly, I realized that acquiring that knowledge does not need to be an anxious experience.

I have been pondering why I did not discover these great non-fiction books earlier. I suspect, that the main reason for it is the way modern education works. When schools and universities force you to read prescribed material that lacks soul, personality and joy, you get conditioned to the belief, that learning itself is tedious, boring and takes a lot of work. And the only way you can see a non-fiction book is through the eyes of a student; that those books are no different from the ones you had to read at school. That they are anything but entertaining.

As I was reading The 4-Hour Workweek I also discovered few new blogs to follow. The good thing is, that many great books get recommended by bloggers who have read them. I checked those that intrigued me, read the Amazon reviews and started ordering ones I found the most interesting. A list of recommended books in The 4-Hour Workweek also helped. You could, of course, use the local libraries instead of buying the books yourself, but I have always had a soft spot for actually letting the author know how much I appreciate their work, so I don’t mind paying a small price to own a copy.

At first my interest was in books related to personal development, business and nutrition. Since then I have also started reading about psychology, philosophy, and most recently photography and graphics design. All this on my own spare time after work and on weekends – simply because those books can be so damn enjoyable! In less than a year I feel like I have acquired more applicable knowledge than I did during my whole time as a university student. On top of which I’ve gotten myself into better physical shape than ever before as a result of increasing my understanding of nutrition and the inner workings of human body.

Since March I have purchased around 30 non-fiction books (and couple fiction ones) and read all but five of them. I have to admit, that there have been couple stray arrows, but most of the books I’ve read have been simply amazing. Nowadays, if I consider buying a new book, I’ll try to find an excerpt of it (Amazon is great for this!) to verify that I also enjoy the writing style of the author, and that the contents of the book appear to meet my expectations.

There is a huge difference in learning about something you are genuinely interested in, finding the material that intrigues you the most and has gotten the best reviews from fellow readers and academics, as opposed to reading a soulless textbook that no one in their free mind would pick up unless being forced to.

Learning on your own can be truly enjoyable and useful. You just have to give it a try. Find a topic that interests you, search for blogs that match your interest, read some articles and see if there are any recommended books or links to other related blogs. When you find a book that seems interesting, check the Amazon reviews (I usually check both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk for wider perspective). Sometimes a better book on the topic might be suggested in a review, or you may be able to find a book that is more suited to you by browsing the Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought -list.

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