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Read Something That Challenges You

Recreational readers aged 3 to 60 indicated that their reasons for pleasure reading fell into three broad categories: to check reality; to escape; and to learn specific skills or information. Recreational reading or reading for pleasure is the major source of our reading competence, our vocabulary, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions.

The writings of people as diverse as Winston Churchill and Aristotle can apply to you. Some people interpret Aristotle as saying the function of life is happiness. But what he really says is that the purpose of life is to flourish and lead a full, active life. He will tell you that you succeed by failing.

Johann Gutenberg was the inventor of printing; born about 1400; died 1467 or 1468 at Mainz. Gutenberg was the son of Friele (Friedrich) and Else Wyrich. His aim, technically and asthetically so extremely difficult, was the mechanical reproduction of the characters used in the manuscripts, i.e. the books of the time. The works printed by Gutenberg plainly prove that the types used in them were made by a casting process fundamentally the same as the method of casting by hand in vogue today.

Gutenberg's invention spread rapidly after the political catastrophe of 1462 (the conquest of the city of Mainz by Adolf of Nassau). It met in general with a ready, and an enthusiastic reception in the centres of culture. The invention of Gutenberg should be classed with the greatest events in the history of the world. It caused a revolution in the development of culture, equalled by hardly any other incident in the Christian Era. Gutenberg's movable type innovation in the 1400s revolutionized bookmaking. Printed books replaced handwritten manuscripts and were placed on open shelves. Throughout the 1600s and 1700s, libraries surged in popularity. They grew as universities developed and as national, state-supported collections began to appear. Many of these became national libraries.

If you want to be able to think well and to learn well, you must exercise your mind daily. As with physical fitness, there are any number of activities you can do to keep in shape. However, over the long run, the very best way to exercise your mind is to form the habit of reading. Here is why.

Think of the difference between watching television and reading a book. Watching television is, essentially, a passive experience. You sit, you look, and you listen. Such concentration as you have is driven by outside stimulation. In fact, when you are caught up in a TV show (or even a commercial, for that matter), it is a lot more like being hypnotized than being aware and present with your thoughts.

Reading a book, on the other hand, requires active concentration. As you read, you must put in a great deal of effort to look at the words, figure out what they mean, and build up images, thoughts and opinions within your mind. Moreover, if you are reading and you stop concentrating, even for a second, everything stops. Nothing happens until you start concentrating again. For this reason, reading regularly forces you to increase your powers of concentration, a skill whose value would be difficult to overpraise. Reading also requires you to develop your imagination and your critical thinking.

However, not all reading is equally productive. In the same way that a daily 20-minute brisk run will keep you more fit than an occasional 2-minute walk, you can bless yourself with enormous, long-term benefits by reading books that stretch your skills, your imagination, your vocabulary and your powers of understanding.

We all know that some books are harder to read than others. If you try to read something that is too far beyond your ability, you will become frustrated and confused. However if you only read things that are easy - recreational reading, we might call it - you won't be able to increase your mental skills. Recreational reading is important (and fun), but you need more. My suggestion is to develop a reading program that, day by day, will help you improve your mental capacity.

The secret of training your mind is to read books that are just a bit harder than you can manage comfortably. Over time, as your mind develops, your ability to read and to think will grow. So I suggest that, every day, you make a point of spending at least 20 minutes reading something that challenges you. Choose a topic or story in which you have an interest, but make sure that it forces you to think. Over time, move deliberately from one book or article to another, making sure to choose new material that is just beyond your current level of comfort.

As human beings, we are primarily problem-solving animals. As such, we structure our society and our organizations in such a way that the most valuable rewards go to the people who can solve problems well. For this reason, the single best way to assure your success in life is by keeping your mind active and powerful. This requires a lifetime effort and learning how to think well is the most important part of that journey - a journey that begins with only nine words: Turn off the TV and find something to read.

America is not a nation of readers, yet books have had a deep and lasting effect on its national life. By comparison with the Russians, whose thirst for books-especially contraband books-is legendary, we pay them scant attention; Walker Percy once dolefully estimated that the hard-core audience for serious literature in this country of two hundred and thirty million is perhaps one or two million, and he probably was not far off. True though that may be, it remains that had it not been for a number of hugely influential books, this nation might well be an almost unrecognizably different place.

Without Thomas Paine's Common Sense, how broad and enthusiastic would support have been for the chancy business of revolt against the British crown? Without Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, how strong would sentiment have been in the industrial North for the abolitionist cause? Without Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, would Congress have roused itself to pass the Meat Inspection Act of 1906?

Have we of the twentieth century anything to learn from works of the past? Through the nineteenth century that was a question cultured people would hardly have considered asking. The speeches and letters of the public figures of that century reveal an impressive familiarity with the classics of Western civilization. These were considered the repository of wisdom and culture, and an educated person - by definition - knew them well. But as the old-time classical curriculum of the colleges gave way to the more utilitarian-minded elective system of the new universities, the voices of Plato, Tacitus, Euclid, and even Shakespeare began to wane.

Mark Twain defined a classic as "a book which people praise and don't read." But Twain was wrong for the decade or so after World War II. Why the renewed curiosity about the classics? The challenge of a recently defeated fascism and a still-threatening communism involved rethinking the foundation of our democratic faith.

In truth, the great books are both profoundly conservative and perilously radical: conservative because they assume there is a repository of wisdom containing abiding truths; radical because engagement with them can upend unexamined assumptions and arm one with whetted knives of critical thought. A great book can shake you up a little, get you breathing, quicken your senses and animate a conscious examination of life's enduring questions.

During the very first session of the United States Congress, in New York City in 1789, Rep. Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, proposed appointing a committee to determine what books Congress would need to own to do its job. Books were haphazardly bought as Congress needed them over the next 11 years, including copies of The History of England by David Hume, Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone, and the Swiss legal expert Emerich de Vattel's The Law of Nations. When the government prepared to move to the District of Columbia, in 1800, Congress's unofficial collection still held only 243 books.

The bill that officially moved the seat of government to Washington also provided $5,000 for "the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress . . . and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them." On April 24, 1800, President John Adams signed the bill, and 740 volumes and three maps were ordered from England for the new library, which would be housed in the Capitol.

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