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Our Kids Need to See Us Losing Ourselves in Books

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A little over eight years ago, I started law school. At the time, I didn't appreciate the experience that I was about to have and the sheer volume of words that the institution would drop on my head on a daily basis.

In case you haven't heard, law school requires a lot of reading. None of it comes in the form of a story, and there are no pictures either. It is a barrage of infinite combinations of the Roman alphabet, all organized in such a manner as to numb the soul and discourage the heart. Much of it is written by opining judges whose greatest ambition is that their decisions will be doled out to law students as homework.

Until recently, the totality of all the reading I did in law school had crushed my drive to read books in my "free time." I did read on occasion but mostly either with my wife or out of occupational necessity. Reading for fun had become a thing of the past.

However, I kept getting subtle messages from professionally successful people that such an avoidance was robbing me of chances to progress. For instance, my business partner pointed out to me that Warren Buffett just reads all day to determine what his next move will be (could be a rumor, but, meh, sounds reasonable). Then there was my interview with Zach Dockman in which he listed book after book that I should be reading to increase my understanding of the world of finance. I also heard Jeff Hoffman, founder of Priceline, speak at a conference about his "daily puzzle piece," which is the 15 minutes he sets aside every day to learn about something entirely random. This practice helps him to discover new business ideas by cultivating a cross-disciplinary understanding of the world, which he does to tremendous effect.

Even in this last week's interview with Ryan Long, he mentioned to me that it was through books, at least in part, that he was able to get through a very painful part of his life. Though he and I didn't go into depth about why books would have such a positive impact, I can safely speculate that their value is found in the time that they allow for processing difficult experiences, not to mention the good advice they often contain.

I finally made the decision to add 30 minutes of reading to my daily routine of preparation. It's been really refreshing, and I've already soared through a small number of books, a few of which I've written reviews for (e.g., Meaningful Work and Raising Charitable Children). The writing of reviews adds an additional layer of reflection in which I force myself to internalize what I've read. Without that last step, I've found reading books to be much like what Woody Allen is rumored to have said:

I took a course in speeding reading, learning to read straight down the middle of the page, and I was able to go through War and Peace in 20 minutes. It's about Russia.

We as parents need to set the example for our children by reading more in front of them so that they see us engaged in the joy of learning or imagining or studying or whatever other -ing can be accomplished in the pages of a book. The field of family literacy has already well established that children whose parents read in front of them are likely to become more literate and educated than their peers. Books are joyful enough that we shouldn't hesitate to set aside a little time for getting lost between their front and back covers.

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