Monday, November 27, 2017

How to Read in Lagos

Books open up new worlds and facilitate a semblance of time travel
For a long time, when I heard about someone’s death, I would wonder about the physical mechanism of death. How do hearts stop beating? I have long wondered what went through Abraham Lincoln’s mind as the American Civil War raged. How did he find courage to stay the course? When I get a cold, I wonder about the viruses that cause the flu and the common cold. Why are there new strains every year?

I don’t know people who can answer all these questions, so I often go searching for information. I learnt how the body shuts down by reading Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die. In Nancy Koehn’s Forged in Crisis, I found answers to my decades-old questions about Lincoln’s state of mind during the war. From a Ted-Ed video, I understood why there were different flu strains every year.

The ability to grow endlessly and apply information to change our lives is part of what makes us human. While a lot of information is available on Facebook and Twitter threads, books and long articles are arguably the most effective way to dive into new subjects. They open up new worlds, grant access to people we would not have met otherwise, and facilitate a semblance of time travel. Why then don’t more people read?

Well, Lagos can be a madhouse sometimes. With an abundance of sights, sounds, and smells — the city draws you in and presses on you from every side. Many Lagosians spend every waking moment getting along: leaving home early to beat traffic, working long hours, leaving the office late to avoid traffic, classes or parties on Saturdays, church on Sundays. Rinse. Repeat. Week in, week out.

How can you read in the hustle and bustle of Lagos?

First, you need to accept there are benefits to be gained from reading. It is important to catch up on the day’s news, unwind by scrolling through your Twitter and Instagram feeds, AND enrich your life and thoughts by reading. When you acknowledge it is important to read, it then becomes a matter of finding the right books or articles and creating the time to read.

Second, you need to create time to read. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day, but it helps if you get into a habit. I have tried reading first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and even over lunch. If you have a long commute to work and you are not driving, that is a great opportunity to halve the time you spend scrolling through Instagram or watching people and spend some of it reading. You can consider bringing hard copy books on your commute, using an e-reader, or installing apps like Kindle, iBooks, or Aldiko on your smartphone.

Third, you may need to unlearn some things you currently believe about books. One I hear often is that people stopped reading because they were struggling to finish a book they disliked. Outside academic reasons, why struggle to finish a book you don’t like? Of course — there may be a deeper problem if you find yourself abandoning too many books, but life is too short to force yourself to finish books just because.

Fourth, while this is titled how to ‘read’ and I have mostly written about books — the world has changed since books first became popular. One of my friends who would never finish reading a book devours audio-books. Most of my new learning about economics has come from a podcast, Planet Money. Ted Ed’s short videos have educated me on a variety of subjects. I learn new things about politics, economics, and feminism from people I follow on Twitter and Medium. For the moments when a conventional book does not work— such as when you’re driving to work, leverage the many other tools at your disposal to keep learning.

Do you have any tips for people trying to acquire a reading habit? Or — how do you read? Please share below.

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