Read a book you haven’t read

old books on shelves


Let’s Get Uncomfortable

Read a book you haven’t read

All of us have a favorite book (or maybe twenty or thirty of them), the one we turn to when our souls need stirring.  For some, it’s a timeless novel of the human condition that strikes a particular chord in the heart, whether from characters or story or epic struggle. For others, it’s an engaging, non-fiction book that also strikes a chord, whether from characters or story or yes, you guessed it, another epic struggle.

(BTW, my two favorites in those phyla are All The King’s Men and Cadillac Desert. I highly recommend them both.

Spoiler alert:  At the end of this post I’m going to ask you to tell me your favorite book and why, so be prepared.)

No surprise, but we tend to read things that are comfortable for us.  Often, that simply means either a genre that we enjoy, or an author at whose feet we worship.  We also commonly read things that are comfortable because we very much like the subject and want to know more. Such as. . .one might want to read every book ever written about Franklin Pierce and is willing to devote an entire afternoon to the task.

chair in libraryBut herein lies the intellectual bear trap we often find ourselves stepping in:  We really like that comfort zone (hence, the name) and are not interested in trying to yank our foot out of it, same as we are with food.  If we are a die-hard Franklin Pierce fan who also loves corn on the cob, we generally aren’t going to read books about Millard Fillmore or try hummus.  One way to burst out of the comfort zone of course is to find yourself marooned on a desert island with nothing but copies of every book ever written about Millard Fillmore, although you might need at least two days on the island to read all of those books.  This is not likely to be your best solution.

The better solution is to summon up some steely resolve and make yourself bolt right out of that comfort zone into a brave new world.  You can either choose a book with a new subject, or you can just go in a bookstore (for those who are 2-3 generations younger, Google it) and take a random walk through the titles.

For the truly adventurous, try this: Go in any bookstore, walk down the first aisle on your right, go to the third set of shelves on the left, reach to the second shelf from the top, and pull out the sixth book from the right.  Don’t even read the title, just pay for it and take it home and start reading. You might be amazed at what you can randomly learn.

And please be sure and let me know how it turns out.

But here’s another way of finding something new to read, a tried and true process.

Get a piece of paper and a pen (or, again, if you are 2-3 generations behind me, fire up your tablet), and answer the questions below. (Notice I am not asking when you read your most recent book or how many books you have read in the last year; we’re only interested in your taste in books, not your fidelity.)

  1. Was the last book you read fiction or non-fiction?  Doesn’t matter if it was a new book or one you have read a dozen times, and it doesn’t matter if you finished it or if you read the first couple of chapters then skipped to the end to see how it turned out.  Just put down ‘F’ or ‘N’. For clarity, coffee-table books, Far Side cartoon anthologies, or auto-repair manuals and similar reference materials do not qualify for this study.
  2. When was the book published? You don’t have to go look at the book to find the actual date, just indicate one of the following:
    1. A new release within the last year
    2. A book published during the past 10 years
    3. Older than 10 years
    4. A true ‘classic’, which means likely 40-50 years old or more
  3. What prompted you to read this book?
    1. Favorite author
    2. Favorite subject
    3. Favorite book that I like to re-read now and then
    4. A subject I wanted to learn more about
    5. Spectacular reviews or critically acclaimed
    6. I heard others talking about it and it made me curious
    7. Just wanted to try something new
    8. It was laying on the table in the Dentist’s waiting room
  4. Was the subject or premise something that is or has been controversial –Y or N?
  5. If Yes:
    1. Did the opinion match yours
    2. Did the opinion not match yours
    3. You had no previous opinion

Make note of this as well:  When you finished the book (or stopped reading it, however far along you went), did you learn something—anything—from what you read?  You might have learned how nuclear fission works, or maybe how the Okies survived terrible times during the Dustbowl, but either way, let’s hope you came away achieving at least some modicum of intellectual gain. That’s the whole point, here!

Bear in mind, I make no judgments about the value of whatever it was you learned.  Some people who voraciously absorb every scrap of knowledge about the washing machine industry might sneer at those who want to know how a hummingbird is actually able to hover.  But I don’t.  Learning is learning, and that’s what matters.

Now, let’s take the answers to your Assessment and use them to crank out the selection of your next book. Here’s what you do:

Reverse or change all the answers.

That’s it.

If the last book you read was Fiction, make the next one Non-Fiction.  If the last book you read was a Classic, make the next one a new release.  If the last book you read was a familiar author, make the next one on a subject you know nothing about. And of course the tough task will be. . .if the last book you read espoused a belief or philosophy or opinion that you agreed with and it validated your own opinion, go find a book that tells the other side of the story.  You don’t have to like the new opinion, but you owe it to yourself to read contrarian thinking.

An example:

Last book read:

‘Stillwell and the American Experience in China’ by Barbara Tuchman.  For scoring, it gets an N for non-fiction, D for Classic, E for Critically Acclaimed, Y for (slightly) controversial about American attitudes towards Asia at the time, and C, no previous opinion.

Next book to read:

‘The Last Drop’ by Dan Morgan.  Score:  F for Fiction, A for new release, D for subject you want to learn more about, and Y, yes, highly controversial and sure to be a topic at dinner table conversations for years to come.

(Pretty clever how I slyly weaved my own work into this blog post, huh?)

Self-service aside, my point is still the same:  It’s time to read the kind of book you haven’t read before.  It’s all part of exploring.  Branch out. Try something with a different point of view.  Pull your foot out of that bear trap and go.

Now it’s time for you to tell me your favorite book.  Drop me an email and tell me what you most enjoy reading and why.  I’m really interested in hearing what books people read and what made them choose them. If you say you’ve read a book about either Franklin Pierce or Millard Fillmore, you’ll win a prize. Heck, let’s go a step further.  If you even know who Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore were, you’ll still win a prize.

And be sure to tell me what your next book is going to be once you have diligently worked your way through the Assessment. (See suggested example, above.)

Thanks for being here.  See you next time.


Leave a Reply