I remember dreading the school summer reading list. Boring books that threatened the freedom of the otherwise unfettered three-month furlough. Chances are that those reading lists would look quite different today. But after the interminable years of obligatory reading are over, the onus is on us to keep our minds sharp.
Studies show that reading books (and I do mean books, not list articles, tweets, or your Facebook feed) improve brain function, emotional intelligence and empathy, and even executive function. Reading also utilizes the imagination in ways that visually stimulating entertainment does not.
Studies have also shown that reading can reduce stress by 68%, as opposed to other activities like taking a walk or playing video games, which reduced stress levels by only 42% and 21%, respectively.
Which is not to say that those activities don’t offer benefits of their own. Video games, for instance, get a bad rap; they actually provide their own selection of cognitive benefits, but those are very different from the gains to be gotten from reading.
At the start of this year I set a goal to read at least one book each month, and so far I am on pace. I find that one good way to stay on track is to find an author who has a series you fall in love with so you know there is more to come when you’ve closed the last chapter of book one. (Not unlike finding a new show on Netflix that has eight seasons loaded.) This year I’ve done this with the Mary Russell novels by Laurie R. King. (Thanks, Mom, for the recommendation!) There are fifteen of them and I’ve only just finished the fourth!
It’s also worth noting that reading is arguably one of the least expensive forms of entertainment. Library cards are free and give you access to hundreds of books any time you want. Even if you’re a fan of the e-readers, most library systems have electronic borrowing systems these days that will let you download a book from wherever you are. (Although I really recommend finding a library that you love to visit. It’s a really enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. And did I mention that it’s free??)
My reading list this year so far has covered:
1. Presence by Amy Cuddy
This is a fascinating, well-researched book about the mind-body connection and how something as simple as our posture can change the way we interact with the world. You can watch Amy’s TED Talk here.
2. Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith
Do you ever take the time to notice why you react to things the way that you do? Ever thought about trying to take control of your life by changing the way you react to your triggers? You can’t hide from this book; it’s hugely eye-opening and (in my opinion) has the power to help people change the course of their lives.
3. Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It, by Marshall Goldsmith
After reading Triggers I went looking for more by Goldsmith. This one takes a dive into the psychology of achieving happiness and meaning in your business and in your life. There was some good stuff in here, but it didn’t stick with me the way that Triggers did.
4. Feversong by Karen Marie Moning
The newest book in Moning’s Fever series, which I’ve been reading since the first one dropped in 2006, so of course I picked this one up. If you like science fiction and romance, it’s a winner.
5. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
This is the first of the Mary Russell novels by Laurie King, which put a new spin on the beloved character of Sherlock Holmes. Set in the WWI era, the books are told from Ms. Russell’s perspective, and we see a much older Holmes who has retired from Baker Street, but remains an active detective and teacher.
Numbers six through eight on my list are the second, third, and fourth Mary Russell novels.
6. A Monstrous Regiment of Women
7. A Letter of Mary
8. The Moor
What books are you reading that you can you recommend for me?