For The “I’m Not Much Of A Reader” People (I Hope This Changes Things)

I wasn’t much of a reader. I think I’ve always liked books, sporadic a reader though I was. Or actually I think I had a sense that it was important to like books. So I tried to. Never really to lasting genuine enthusiasm. Never really to an obsession I had to tell more people about. I do now feel like I have to.

Ryan Holiday – among many things, an author whose work changed things, to me – often calls Meditations by Marcus Aurelius his “quake book.”  That’s a term termed first by economist and author Tyler Cowen. It’s a book that rocks your world. It changes how you look at the world, how you behave in it. I don’t think I’ve found my quake book yet.

I think what I have found is what has to be found before the quake book can be. I can only think to call it the “oh I get it” book (or books). I’m not married to that title for the kind of book (or books) I mean. Maybe something better will come as I write to explain.

This book (or books) either get you back into reading or get you into reading. The book (or books) that make you say “oh I get it” –  I get why every genius (a word I don’t know I believe in), every successful (a word I don’t know I understand) person, every icon (a word I use for people I admire for reasons I don’t always know) – I get why they all spent hours in books. I get it. They all did. Anyone you think an icon, a legend, a myth – they read a lot of books. I’m sure of it. And if they didn’t, that person will make me believe in the word genius.

The “oh I get it” book (or books) is the gateway drug. The “oh I get it” book (or books) send you into the rabbit hole. They send you on a hunt for more. For the “I’m not really a reader” people – they’re the wake-up call. They’ll make you wish you knew earlier and appreciate you found it at all.

I think finding the “oh I get it” book (or books) is a find (or finds) of treasure (or treasures) greater than the quake book. Without the “oh I get it” book (or books), no quake book. Without the “oh I get it” book (or books), in a dark abyss of naïveté you remain. It’s not a life-ending abyss maybe for the fact that being in it requires not knowing you’re in it.

My “oh I get it” book(s) were two. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. And The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday

Obstacle Is The Way showed me what books can be. What writing can be. It showed me a kind of writing that didn’t before exist, to me. It showed me the writing gold standard, the thing to aspire toward, no matter how long it might take. It showed me you can storytell, entertainingly, compellingly, solving problems – real life ones – proven with stories that withstand generations. Stories which by existing mean they have something to teach us. Timeless. History was a subject I was forced to take until I could choose my courses. That’s another one of my embarrassed to say truths. Obstacle showed me what history is – a guide, a catalog kept for thousands of years of people with experiences in a world not so different from mine. Obstacle sent me down the rabbit hole. These guys this author keeps having say things that make sense – Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Cleanthes, Demosthenes, Plutarch, Publius Syrus, Heraclitus, Thoreau? – why have these people never before been brought to my attention, in this way? I was on a hunt for more. He showed me history in a way textbooks, studying, tests, never did. He showed me History the teacher not the subject. Stories in a way you could imagine. I needed to know more. About a lot of things. Ryan Holiday became a hero.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life taught me who Benjamin Franklin was. That’s one of my embarrassed to say truths. I’m from Philadelphia where there’s a statue, a national monument, of the man responsible for much of the city’s rich history. I have a Philadelphia Flyer’s jersey with B. Franklin, 76, on the back. I had that sewn on without much thought other than I had a blank jersey I no longer wanted blank and it struck me that current players get traded. It struck me that I didn’t want my jersey to be outdated. I thought I’d like something timeless. I thought I’d like a player who couldn’t get traded. I thought I’d like a name on the back synonymous with Philadelphia – my beloved hometown. W. Penn, 82 (founder of Philadelphia and year of founding) and Schuylkill, 135, (an important river near home and it’s length in miles) were also in contention. I knew Ben Franklin was an important figure. But, he more a myth than a man, I couldn’t speak convincingly to why. I obsessed in that book. Why had someone never before told me more about this guy? Every page as if Isaacson had me his only concern when writing. His own words and those he chose to include from Franklin’s writing archives. All for me it felt. I got to the back page – the first time I felt an anger that it was over. The first time I got to the last page and wasn’t content just to have finished a book. My left hand, before I could have any influence, pushed the book back to the first page. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it. It sits on the floor next to my bed. I flip it open, doesn’t matter the page, and I read until my eyes, trying their best, can’t do it anymore. I bought the audiobook – my first – to listen to passively whenever the chance. Ben Franklin, less a myth more a man, became a hero.

I don’t think I’ve always believed it but you need heros. I think you should only say hero to mean it. I think you need to find the people who say, write, the things that your thoughts hadn’t yet before learned to. People who live in a way that you could envision for yourself, though it wasn’t before a dream. People who seem to have it all figured out, who seem to be geniuses, legends, fables, but with each flip of the page, they become more and more human, more and more someone you think you could be like, no matter how long it might take.

If you’re not much of a reader, it’s only because you haven’t yet found your “oh I get it” book (or books). You haven’t yet found the people (or peoples) who show you how they did what you hope to, no matter how long it might take. The thought of the books still to be read gives me a jolt I can only think to compare to an ideal buzz, high, mood. I only recently found out about that jolt. Finding your “oh I get it” book will be an event you later tell anyone who will listen. It’s really worth searching for. I think.