By Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, Executive President of IE University
1.How many books should we read per year? To a large degree, the answer depends on how quickly you read, your personal tastes, or how much effort you put into your reading. However, I’d say it’s a good idea to aim for a book per week, which is to say, around 50 each year. That said; when it comes to reading, quality is always more important than quantity. And, above all, you should enjoy the reading experience.
2.Should we finish every book we start? Traditionally, finishing a book has been seen as a duty, a task almost along Kantian lines, and in the case of literature courses, an academic obligation.
Furthermore, as experience often shows, persevering with a seemingly impenetrable book can have its rewards, as over time the author’s meaning and intentions begin to dawn on the reader. I will admit that I started and then dropped James Joyce’s Ulysses three times before mustering the required determination and time to finish it. And I must now say that my efforts have borne considerable fruit in the form of reflections and references to the book, ideas and associations that crop up in everyday life, as well as interesting ideas and topics to discuss with friends and colleagues.
That said, some people have argued that the best thing to do with a book we’re not enjoying is to stop reading it. British writer Tim Sparks suggests that life is too short for bad books and a few pages should be quite enough, for getting an impression of the author’s point and style.
On the other hand, I must say I believe that the endings of some of the most widely praised works in the literary canon are disappointing and could definitely be improved on.
3. Why do we drop books? It’s normally due to loss of interest or lack of time. A key question is whether our loss of interest is because we’re simply unable to concentrate. We live in an age of interruptions, when much of our time is taken with carrying out multiple tasks at the same time: checking emails, text messages, dealing with background noise, and the activities of those around us. The only way to enjoy reading and continue to cultivate yourself is to find premium time for reading, maybe over the weekend.
4.Is it recommendable to read several books in parallel? There are of course those enviable souls able to read several books at the same time. In my opinion, this is a practice dependent on how deep one wishes to delve into a book, as well as the level of our multi-tasking skills, and which requires the capacity to be able to shift attention from one undertaking to another without losing focus.
But the simple truth is that reading is one of those things that cannot be done in conjunction with another activity: it requires exclusive dedication if we are to fully enjoy and appreciate it; which is why so many people say they enjoy reading when traveling by plane, which is one of the few places where we are disconnected from the world and can enjoy our isolation.
5. Which is the ideal book format? Digital technology now expands our reading experience through e-books or audiobooks. I am a big fan of audiobooks, and listen to them while I travel or while I’m in the gym. And critics of audiobooks, who say the experience of listening cannot be compared to reading, should be reminded that in the many centuries prior to the invention of printing, and even for long afterwards, reading out aloud in groups was the norm.
Whether we read alone or are read to, as Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night points out, reading is “primarily a symptom. Of a healthy imagination, of our interest in this and other worlds, of our ability to be still and quiet, of our ability to dream during daylight.”
6. How can we enhance the reading experience? By sharing the experience with other people. It’s always a good idea to discuss with friends and family the books we are reading or have just read. Conversations about how books have impacted on us are not only entertaining, but increase our critical faculties and ability to put forward an argument.
When starting a book, we should set ourselves a time limit, which can always be extended if we decide to take a more leisurely approach. Setting time frames also obliges us to think about whether to drop a book that we’re not enjoying.
7.What genre or type of book should we read? My suggestion is that you try to read as many genres as possible. Fiction stimulates the imagination and may provide you with insights into the world and the behavior of others; poetry may stimulate your sense of the lyrical and augment your sensitivity, biographies and history may help you relate to people from other periods, seeing commonalities over the centuries that help you understand the world around us today.
And while I’m a fan of the classics, I believe we should also pay attention to contemporary works that might help us better understand the world around us, particularly those by writers from other cultures that can help connect us with people from worlds different to our own. Opening ourselves up in this way can provide us with insight into diversity, perhaps making us more tolerant of alternative worldviews than our own. In so doing, we increase our cosmopolitan sensibilities and our ability to operate as global citizens
8.Should we follow book recommendations? Recommendations from friends and colleagues are always welcome, but it’s a good idea not to allow others to exercise too much influence over what we read, and that we choose books that reflect our own criteria and preferences. Regularly check the best-seller lists, as well as reading the book reviews in the leading international newspapers. But also make time to browse the bookshops or specialist websites. Equally, there is nothing wrong with judging a book by its cover: if somebody has taken the trouble to come up with an attractive, eye-catching design, it is probably because the book itself has some merit.