Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Reading was a huge part of my life while I was growing up in Taiwan. My dad has always valued literature, and made sure that my brother and I got into the habit of reading as well since an early age. He read us Chinese poetry before bed, and made sure that there were lots of books available in our home in whatever topics interested us. My favorite will always be the The Legend of the Condor Heroes series by Jin Yong, which is a classic wuxia (a genre of epic novels about martial arts heroes in ancient China) comparable to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in Western culture (which I am also a HUGE fan of). My whole family has read this series at least a dozen times each, and our conversations frequently referenced the books.
I loved immersing myself in another world, going on adventures, laughing, crying, and learning life lessons with the characters. Reading allows me to get out of my own busy mind in a way that is very similar to meditation.
When I entered high school and University is when I noticed my passion for reading fading. I think a large part of this was because I had to read, and I did not have a choice in what I read. Sure, there were the classics that I really enjoyed in those years such as 1984, The Great Gatsby, The Odyssey, and Jane Eyre, but I was always on a time crunch to complete my readings and writing papers about them, plus I had a never ending list of textbook pages to get through from my other academic courses. Over the years it turned reading into an obligation rather than recreation, and by the time I left school I barely read books at all!
I became aware of the lack of books in my life when I got Lasik eye surgery in November 2017. During the painful week of recovery all I could do was sit in a dark room and periodically use numbing drops to ease my burning eyeballs, and the only source entertainment I had was playing music and listening to audio books on Audible while doing yoga in the living room. This is when I realized how much I missed reading, and I set a goal for myself to get back into the habit of reading more regularly in the coming year once I fully got my eyesight back.
In 2018 I started to visit used book stores and book sections of thrift stores more often since new books can be very expensive, and I prefer reusing rather than buying things brand new when it isn't necessary. I tried my best to make time in my day, usually before bed or at times at work when there's down time, to read a few chapters rather than scrolling through social media or watching TV/Netflix (not that I watched much TV since by then I was living in the van). Before I knew it, I was back in the swing of things reading several times a week consistently.
Here are three tips that helped reading regularly much easier for me:
1. Finding books that I actually want to read
This is the most important part. Finding out what kinds of books interested me, which author's writing styles I liked. For me I noticed that what got me excited was usually semi-fiction, or fictional novels that included teachings/lessons applicable to daily life. I love epic adventures, spiritual journeys, and fictionalized stories of people's experiences. By doing some research and also asking for friend's recommendations I built up a solid list of books I'm stoked to get to reading - as soon as I'm done my current book.
2. Keep the momentum
When I first started I noticed two patterns. First, I would start a book, then I would get busy/distracted and forget about it for a few days or weeks, and then forget where I am in the book or what is going on, resulting in my feeling unmotivated to get back into it. Second, I would be super into a book, read it quickly in a few days, feel lost now that it's over, and before I knew it weeks have gone by without me turning a page of another book. I found that the best way to prevent the first one from happening is to build a habit and schedule, setting a particular time aside in the day for reading even if life gets busy. Also having activities, locations, and times that I use as triggers by associating them with reading, such as winding down before bed, waiting for the bus, on the bus, on the toilet, slow days at work. Even just a few pages every couple of days, or rereading the last chapter to refresh my memory helps me stay engaged in the story. The second pattern I have been able to combat by always having another book I'm stoked about ready to go, so when I finish one book I know what is next. It helps to read books that are in a series, so when one ends rather than feeling sad that I'm saying goodbye to the characters, I can pick up the next one and continue on.
3. Audio Books
I understand that most of us have busy lives, and integrating reading into the schedule can be difficult especially in the beginning. This is when I find audio books to be super helpful. It get's me into the flow of reading, while still allowing me to do other tasks such as walking, running, painting, stretching, or driving. This came in especially handy when I was on a road trip, since I had long hours of driving most days, and when I got to each location I was usually out exploring or connecting with other people. While I don't think audio books are the same as reading physical books, it does the job of helping keep the habit and momentum going, and is a great way to get started or finding out what I like/don't like.
If you are looking for some book recommendations, here's a list of my favorite reads in 2018 in no particular order. I'm not really going to offer a summary of each since that information is available if you google the names, but each one of these books taught me so much and changed my life and the way I perceive the world in a significant way.
The Bhagavad Gita - Translated by Eknath Easwaran
This is a Hindu scripture originally written in Sanskrit with several different versions of English translations. It has profound teachings about many spiritual concepts, meditation and yoga, told in the form of conversation between Krishna and prince Arjuna. I highly recommend this one, even though it can be a slow read (it took me months of reading and re-reading the chapters to finish and wrap my head around the concepts, and still I will definitely be reading this again multiple times throughout my life). Take your time, really allow yourself to contemplate these concepts, it's a fairly small book but it is packed with some important information.
The Peaceful Warrior series by Dan Millman
Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Journey of Socrates, Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior
This series was definitely a page turner. I read each book in very few sittings, with many late nights trying to find out what happens next. Aside from being an epic telling of adventure following Dan and Socrates, it also contains many valuable concepts and practices that I have incorporated into my daily life and psyche.
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
My encounter with this book was quite magical. The title has been on my reading list for a long time, but I never got around to it. This summer while out on an adventure my friend and I found a secret cabin in the woods made of driftwood that many travelers have stayed at over the years. Someone had left a copy of this book on the table beside the bed, and we proceeded to take turns reading it out loud for the next two days while we stayed inside this cabin vortex, experiencing some profound synchronicities the entire time. It was a real trip.
The Last Lecture - Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow
This made me cry. Multiple times. While being a short and relatively easy read, the context of the story and the way it is told really touched me emotionally, I even gifted a copy to one of the youth at the group home I was working at and she also loved it.
The Celestine Prophecy - James Redfield
I'll be honest, I read this book as an audio book while on my road trip to California. I had originally wanted to read it in book form, but had no luck finding a used copy, and did not want to wait any longer. I resonated so deeply with the insights described in the books, and it gave me a deeper understanding of aspects of myself internally, and also helped me make sense of what's going on in the world in these last few years. I really think that every person should read it, and if we all did and got on this same page or at least a similar understanding the world would be a better place. I actually got a copy of this and its sequel at a used bookstore later on when I arrived in LA!
The Teachings of Don Juan - Carlos Castaneda
This book was really..... trippy. That's the best way I can describe it. It is originally written and submitted by Carlos Castaneda as his Master's thesis for Anthropology, and describes his apprenticeship with a Mexican sorcerer named Don Juan. As someone who has had many personal experiences with plant medicines (none quite like the one's he describes in the books... that's a different way of working with the plants than I'm use to) this was a very interesting view into the spirit world.
The Talent Code - Daniel Coyle
I also listened to this one as an audio book on my road trip. My main reason for downloading this book is I was feeling stuck in some areas of my skill development such as guitar playing, and was noticing my subconscious belief that maybe I can't get any better, that I'm just not talented enough. So I decided to challenge my own beliefs and learn more about what "talent" is, and how it correlates with skill mastery. This book was really interesting and informative, and talks about findings in studies of experts in various different areas such as art, music, sports, and breaks down what factors actually create a 'genius'. This really helped me change the way I approach my skill building, and inspired me to practice in a different way than I have been. If you have been struggling with something similar I really recommend giving this book a read!
Different from the rest of the books I have mentioned so far, I started reading this book because I met the person who wrote it. During my road trip to California I met a man selling beautiful hand made wood cookware and other pieces at when passing through San Juan Capistrano. We got talking, and he mentioned some musician friends of his that are living on a boat in Eureka that he thinks I would really get along with. So after getting their contact information, I sent an email saying I'd love to meet up with them on my way back to Canada. They responded back in a few days, and I was able to visit their sailboat a week or so later! Captain Marc told me the tales of their 2012 sailboat music tour along the Texas coast, and mentioned that he had written a book and album accompanying that adventure, so I bought one of the books and have been reading it since, and wow what an adventure! The boat they currently live on has an incredible story as well. It started being built 50 years ago by two best friends, and never got completed until Marc ended up with the boat after the original builders had passed away. The full story can be found on their website go check them out and send them some love for being such bad ass, hard working, dream living humans!
Well that's it for my 2018 reading list! Honestly I'm pretty proud of myself for how far I've come in my reading practice since last year, and I can't wait for all the other amazing books I'm going to read in this upcoming year!
Comment and let me know, what are your favorite books? What books do you want to read?