The books you read shape who you are

I can still remember the first book that changed my life: Gumshoe Goose. It was given to me by my teacher after I showed an early interest in reading. Without realizing it, she set me on the path of an avid reader for the rest of my life. I spent my childhood bouncing between Diana Wynn Jones, Eoin Colfer, and J.K. Rowling. From there, I explored nonfiction and have slowly made my way back to fiction. Most recently, I’ve been diving further into the world of sci-fi and the way the mind works.

assorted-title book lot beside window
House of books by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

It’s hard for me to overstate the impact books have had on my life. They are among the most meaningful possessions to me. They are where I spend most of my disposable income (mostly because I only spend money on bubble tea and books) and my free time. 

As a result, people often ask me, “what are you reading right now?” or “how do you read so much?”  While I could point people to my GoodReads or tell them I enjoy reading; I end up appreciating the question more than I thought.

I usually respond by trying to describe the book in my own words. I try to connect it to what I know about the other person. This challenge helps me better understand the concepts I’m learning and practice conveying different ideas clearly on the spot. It helps me connect with others in unexpected ways; you never know how others will receive the books you read. Conversations about books help me internalize and reflect on their contents far better than I would on my own.

Over the last two years, I’ve also started participating in book clubs. I read Making a Manager with a friend who recently began leading others, and we discussed the challenges we had and some approaches to guide our teams better. At work, I read The Person You Mean To Be with my peers, where we explored how the growth mindset can help us become better allies to marginalized groups. These discussions significantly increased the value I got from what I read and led to engaging and insightful conversations. I feel like it’s how I’m supposed to learn from books—with others. Perhaps we are mistaken to believe that reading is a solitary act. The best way to read is with others.

I have found that giving books to others is a great way to start conversations. A gifted book is incredibly personal. Not only are you giving people the gift of infinite possibility, but you’re also giving them a look into your soul. When I give people Norwegian Wood, it’s revealing the loneliness I felt when I discovered Murakami as an author. When I share I Will Teach You To Be Rich, I’m sharing the perspectives that determined my approach to money. Whenever I participate in gift exchanges, I ask people for their favourite books. The books they choose tell me things about them that are often hard to articulate. You can’t help but see them in the pages – how they are reflected in the ideas or characters. You see the stories that shaped them.

I’ve seen firsthand how a single sentence can completely change your worldview. There was a line in The Courage to Be Disliked that shook me to my core and made me question everything I was pursuing. In response to the student’s question about being normal, the philosopher replied, “Why is it necessary to be special? Probably because one cannot accept one’s normal self.” 

Wow. Have I been this unsure my entire life? My ego is still trying to grapple with this idea.

I tend to read multiple books on a given topic at once. Doing so puts you in the odd position where entire books feel stale, not offering anything new. The more you read, the more you expect it to take to make an impact. You go through entire books without coming across anything meaningful. 

But then, a line. 

A seemingly innocent sentence completely changes how you think. And just like the final piece of a puzzle, things click into place. Sometimes the impact isn’t in the words you read but in what the words trigger as you read them. 

water waves hitting the shore
water waves hitting the shore by ZEN JP on Unsplash

It’s fascinating how two people can read the same book and take completely different things away. Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” To me, that’s part of the magic of a book. The book you read and the one I read are not the same books. It may contain the same words, but we come into the experience with unique perspectives, priors, and world views. Each passage reinforces or changes how we see the world differently.

These moments have pushed me further into the habit of gifting books for people in my life and asking them about their reading. Starting this conversation sheds light on how we might look at the same topic in unique ways. Whether I’m trying to share interesting things I read or I came across something they are interested in, I’m excited by the idea of contributing to someone’s growth.

Right now, I’m reading two books: Mindset and Working Backwards. The first covers the adaptability of our skills and intelligence, counter to the common belief that we are born great. The second discusses the infamous corporate culture at Amazon and how to recreate some of it elsewhere. I can’t wait to chat about them.

What are you reading these days?

Thanks to the Write of Passage community for helping edit this post: Ayomide Adebayo, Jamie Barnes, Amanda Natividad, Gabriel Hamilton, and Cory Paddock

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