Read Even If You Won’t Remember Everything

Reading changes you, inside and out.

picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve heard that saying a lot of times, however I’ve always felt like the quote underestimates the power of words.

There exist words that also elicit a similar response. Words can trigger a thousand pictures too. Something current for example is the word coronavirus. Surely that would trigger dozens of news articles and experiences — yet it’s a single word.

How about a personal example, say Nike. Whenever I’d read or see that word, my mind gushes with multiple sceneries of Japan, the ragtag founders, and how it all began as a “crazy idea”.

I understand that it may not elicit the same response for you. I, on the other hand, just finished reading Phil Knight’s best-selling memoir “Shoe Dog” (5/5, trust me) and it was a heck of a ride.

Words trigger these responses in the same way pictures do. Words have that kind of magic in them, especially in books.

My name is Leo and I started my reading journey last January 2019.

I used to be bored with books. But one time after reading an article by James Clear, it simply nudged me to action. He talked about habits as the gateway to a productive life.

I too wanted to be productive — I wanted to become a reader. According to his article, to be identified as a reader, you need evidence to prove it. Where else would you get the proof you need aside from the physical manifestation of the books you’ve read?

So, last January 2019, I began reading. In that year alone, I logged a total of 9 books in Now, just 4 months in 2020, I’ve read 12. I should be feeling happy right? However, recently I found reading unsatisfactory.

At one point, I found reading pointless.

Why you might ask? One time this April, I retrieved the books I’ve read and skimmed through my multiple highlights. It was so disappointing to find out that I can’t even recall most of them.

I began questioning myself, have I been reading just for the sake of reading? What’s the use of reading when you can’t recall the things you’ve read?

I continued to test myself whether I’d see a thousand pictures for every book title — but consarn it when, lo and behold, some books drew blank – I can’t remember most of it!

Is reading useless? Well, good thing I read one more article. That was when I discovered this gem:

A coal basket (from Wikimedia)

The Dirty Coal Basket Story

One day a child was asking his grandfather, “ Lolo, what’s the use of reading?”

“I’ve read books at school before but I can’t remember them. Have you read books before too? Do you still remember them?”, the child continued.

“Haha! True, I do not”, answered the grandfather. “But to show you why I read, take that dirty coal basket and bring me a basket of water.”

The child did this but soon realized the water kept spilling through the basket. “Lolo, let me use a pail instead. This won’t work”, the child exclaimed.

The grandfather answered, “No. Keep using the basket. You could try doing it faster.” But still to no avail of the child.

Exasperated, the child said, “See Lolo, what you’re asking me to do is useless. I can’t bring you any water.”

“Do you think it’s useless? Now, try looking in the basket”, the grandfather calmly told him.

This time the child saw something different and realized that the basket changed. From a dirty coal basket into a clean one, inside and out.

“You might not remember all the things you’ve read”, the grandfather quipped.

“But knowingly and unknowingly you will be changed, inside and out. That is why I read.” The child’s eyes beamed when he understood his point.

You might not remember all the things you’ve read, but knowingly and unknowingly you will be changed, inside and out.

We read because we know it changes us.

We read because each word could trigger a single change or even a thousand changes in us. You could say you’ve lived through the mind of the author of the book you’ve just read.

In one way or another, you assimilate the experiences and anecdotes you immersed in a book as long you understood it, more so if you applied it. Our minds become sharper and better through reading — a thousand pictures sharper.

If you want to recall better, try tying it to a current venture.

Say you’re currently into Business Writing (which I currently am), read famous books about writing like On Writing Well by Zinsser or Elements of Style by Strunk & White.

Assimilate the thoughts of the author and immediately apply it. Recall what Peter Sage said, “Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing.”

To recall better, focus on books with the following aspects:

1. Find books that are timeless — those that stand the test of time.

2. Find books that you’re interested in. You get to enjoy it better.

3. Find books that resonate with your current circumstances.

Now, I constantly apply these concepts in my revamped reading journey. It makes the process of reading lightweight and pleasant. I’m currently obsessed with autobiographies of prominent individuals such as Walt Disney, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs.

How About You?

If you’re also a reader, share books and ideas with me. One solid application of what you’ve understood in a book is sharing it with your peers.

Remember that teaching is the best form of understanding (Aristotle). Convince me why you see a thousand pictures from a single word or book title.

If you’re an aspiring reader, my advice is to simply follow James Clear’s method, prove to me you’re a reader. What’s the best way to prove it to me? Finish reading a book. Finish a chapter of a book. Finish 10 pages of a book. Or just finish an article — because that’s how it got me started too. You can show it to me or show it to the universe.

The universe conspires with us. Don’t worry about whether you start small or big. What matters is that you start. One way or another, you’ll find out that it changes you. From a dirty coal basket to a clean mind, inside and out.

Let this saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson be my parting line:

I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I’ve eaten, even so, they have made me.

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Electrical Engineer | MBA | Public Speaker |