Books, photo by shutterhackRecently a thread was started in a forum I regularly participate in1 regarding books and the value of reading. Much to my horrified amazement, the suggestion was made that reading might be “over-rated” with the assumption, it seemed, that what was read would be blindly “absorbed like a sponge,” which, of course, would fundamentally negate the point of it.

Here are a few tips:

Read indiscriminately.

Don’t just read occult books, read history, philosophy, biography, science as well as literature and sci-fi – read everything you can get your hands on. Read books on topics you’re interested in, but read outside your favourite genre for a more well-rounded perspective. This broadens your contextual reference points to those outside your personal experience and typical media intake. You’ll notice allusions pop up that previously slid by and you really will have a greater understanding of the world in which you live.

Engage in your reading.

Reading isn’t intended to be the passive absorption of television. With television the show goes on and on, breaks for ads, and continues. With a book you pause, reflect, mull ideas over – perhaps even put it down for a day or two while you digest and integrate some salient point.

Read critically.

Take notes. Don’t just highlight passages you agree with, take note of those you don’t and figure out where the disconnect is or how you’d phrase a passage to suit your understanding. Read for subtext; what’s said but not written.  Check it against your experience, the experience of your friends, family or colleagues.

Acquiring an understanding of the material is critical.

This does not equate to agreeing with a given text, but it does involve being able to discuss points with an intelligence demonstrating reflective thought rather than parroting. If you’re challenging yourself rather than surface reading Dick and Jane books you’re going to find that you don’t understand some of the material – recognizing this demonstrates an understanding of your gaps. Don’t let them linger. Read more, do more, discover more. (Hint: There will always be more, and you can always delve deeper.)

There is no substitute for personal experience.

If you’re reading an occult text, for example, and it describes a magickal technique you’ve not tried before, but find intriguing, try it out – several times. The author’s account is not a substitute for your own experience. Reading should supplement and expand the context of your own work: not replace it.

In a field where self improvement and self mastery are goals, there is no such thing as being “beyond the books” – there will always be a fresh take which settle experience in perspective or challenges old patterns and inspires action. How can this be “over-rated?”

The only limits are those you allow and set in your own thinking – consciously or not. Don’t blame the books.

First published on 2 December 2007.

Image credit: shutterhacks

  1. Yes, this is the same semi-private occult community of ninjas, pirates and reality hackers riddled with secret cabals so elite whose name I dare not speak referenced in [post removed]. []