Subversive reading

Looking thruogh book with motion blur on black background

What do Where The Wild Things Are and The Cat in The Hat have in common? They were both banned when they came out, for being subversive.

Kids’ books? Subversive? Sure. Back in a time when children’s books were supposed to educate rather than fire up the imagination, they were a threat. This was because they were the first books to feature children who a) got up to naughty hi-jinx without suffering any consequences (there was no “lesson” or “moral to the story”) and b) got up to naughty hi-jinx with their parents nowhere in sight. Parents and authorities alike worried that the books would be a Bad Influence.

What happened? Well, obviously the ban didn’t last, but something vital changed forever: people discovered that the purpose of books wasn’t to make children “good”, but to help them be children.

I tell this story because the personal development/self-help area remains, as it has for the last 30 years or so, the biggest non-fiction genre. And I wonder: are we just reading all these books because we still believe that we have to be “good”?

NEWSFLASH: no matter how brilliant, a book can’t make you good. It can’t even make you better. It can only help you be you. Here’s the thing, though: if you read it properly, a personal development book can help you be your highest you.

One way of reading properly is with IREAD.

I is for “intention”. Set it before reading. My friend and superstar trainer, Alice Haemmerle, says that lack of intention is the major reason for not finishing a book. Know why you’re reading this book!

R is for “read quickly”. Your first sweep of the chapter should be lightning fast.

E is for “engage”. Go back over the parts of the chapter that leapt out at you when you were reading quickly, and really engage: read them closely, and highlight or annotate them if you like.

A is for “action”. Decide which of the items you engaged with are worth actioning, and do it!

D is for “debrief”. Check in with a trusted person and have a chat about how you went with your action. If this person has also read the book, so much the better. Discuss, and share. (Optional D: if you haven’t actioned anything in the book, DISCARD! Give it to someone who can really use it.)

Funnily enough, given where I started this blog, this is also a subversive thing to do. You may have come to believe that all books are to be pored over, so when you try it out you might encounter some internal resistance. If you find this happening, give yourself a bit of an internal slap and a shake: the fact is that not every book is so multilayered that it needs to be pored over. Not all books have subtext – just lots and lots of text, a decent chunk of which doesn’t add much to your life or the reading experience. Once you work past the resistance and read with IREAD, you’ll find that it works, and gives you time to do other things… like reading books that must be read slowly, spoon-fed, savoured, word by word. Then you can really be your highest you.




Photo credit: © silverjohn via DepositPhotos