Would you say that it’s important to read a lot?

A student sent me this question:

Would you say that it’s important to read a lot?

Yes, it’s super important to read a lot! You should read widely on a variety of issues. Especially on things that you have no idea about or have little interest in (if you’re worried about boring books, at least find a book on that topic that people have said is an interesting read).

And I’m saying this as someone who doesn’t really like to read very much. I mean, I’d rather watch TV. But I do read a lot now because I’ve come to realise how important it is. What got me to take reading very seriously was when I worked in another university years ago and had to engage in discussions with the top academics, policy-makers, and other thought leaders. From my discussions with them, I realised one important fact: they are where they are because they read a lot (some of them read 3 or even 5 books at a time per week despite their busy schedules) and that gives them a lot of food for thought to connect many different ideas together and say, “Ah ha! Why don’t we try this to solve that problem?” That’s how they got to where they are.

A book is the fastest way (for now) for a person to take in and absorb another person’s wisdom, expertise, experience, and insight. The more you read, the more of these you collect into your mind. In other words, you can gain a lot of experience and wisdom without having to go through them yourself.

And it’s important to understand that knowledge is power. Knowledge liberates you from the chains of ignorance. For example, many students say they don’t know what to do after graduation. Ignorance of the kinds of work out there is the key reason why students don’t know what’s out there. So just reading up more about industries and what organisations are doing, or what people are doing to make a difference in this world, will already give you the knowledge and insight of the possibilities that you can explore. This brings you from “I don’t know what to do” to a state where you can say, “I’m excited by these possibilities that’s out there.” When you acquire peoples’ experiences through reading, you become able to see possibilities that you never thought possible before. You learn from their mistakes and successes, their considerations and regrets – so that you can avoid the mistakes they made, and explore the paths that they have tried. It is very empowering to gather such information into your consciousness.

Just think about it… If you read just 10 books, you’ve gained the insights, wisdom, expertise, and experience from 10 different people! What more if you do what these successful people do by reading regularly? How many peoples’ experiences, wisdom, and insight have they acquired across their lifetime? So don’t delay. Read a book!

If you want something to begin with, I highly recommend “Lunch with the Financial Times: 52 Classic Interviews.” It’s a very good read of 52 interviews that will spark your mind to think about all kinds of things about the world, society, culture, and life.

Needing Contemplation

Recently, a philosophy professor mentioned that philosophy only advances when one engages in three things: reading, discussing, and writing.

This is so true.

Sadly, ever since I graduated, I rarely had the time to write. As you can see from this blog, I don’t write that often.

But the actual root of the problem is this: in order to have the time to write something significant and profound, one must also have the time to think, to contemplate on issues. I finally understand one aspect of what Aristotle meant when he wrote the Ethics. Aristotle said that the best life to live is the life of contemplation, where one is able to contemplate and marvel at the truth, goodness, and beauty of things. But such a life, as Aristotle acknowledged, is a luxury, and it can only be sustained if one is spared from chores and other matters of life that would rob one’s time and energy from fully engaging in contemplation. (Unfortunately, Aristotle’s solution to grant people that luxury of time and energy to contemplate, was to maintain a slave class in society do handle all those chores.) But anyway, yes, I see why he said that.

Working life is just so exhausting, with so many projects and deadlines. And it gets more hectic when one has other household matters to deal with. Gosh… Sometimes I feel like I’m just firefighting every single day. The alarm blares out loud in the morning, and then I rush to work, and a million and one things come up throughout the day. And before I know it, the day is over. Evening sets and I am fatigued, often too exhausted to do anything else but to function like a statue on the sofa, sometimes functioning like a plant, staying firmly rooted on the couch, while I “photosynthesize” before the television screen.

No time for contemplation!

Thankfully, I do get to enjoy a good hour in the morning to read as I commute to work, and fortunately, I have the company of philosophical friends with whom I get to discuss issues that I read or toyed with at random. So… Reading, checked. Discussing, checked. Writing… Nope!

I have been trying very hard to write. Every day I face a blank white screen with the text cursor flashing. What shall I write? What shall I write? Nothing flows from my mind. It is quite frustrating. Call it a writer’s block if you will. But I think the trouble comes precisely from the lack of contemplation. Not enough time to properly connect the ideas in my head into something coherent, and so the thoughts do not flow smoothly nor coherently enough to form something decent.

I need to contemplate.

Having said all these, here is my firm resolution: I resolve to set aside time each day to contemplate. It’s something I stopped doing, and it is something I definitely want to keep doing once again.

Wish me luck!

Research, research, research…

The second week of school has just ended, but it has already been quite an intensive week for me.

I’ll be officially starting on my honours thesis next semester. However, my supervising professor will be away for a while during that time, and it would be quite inconvenient to attempt a thesis under such conditions. So, I figured it’s better that I begin my research now while the hell of assignments hasn’t yet been unleashed onto me. I hope to finish as much research now, so that I have the luxury of time to write and do more stuff when I begin my thesis officially.

This was how my table at the library looked over the past few days:


Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. One of these books has Chinese words! I’m researching on an ancient Chinese text known as the Chung-yung (中庸, famously known as the “Doctrine of the Mean” or more accurately as “The State of Equilibrium and Harmony”). It’s written in classical Chinese.

What I’ve been doing the past week, was simply reading through the entire book in its original text, and comparing the various translations that I could get my hands on. Classical Chinese is a unique language in that it has a lot of ambiguities (it’s a unique feature of the language that allows the author to do a lot of amazing things, e.g. embed several different meanings onto the one same phrase). The problem with translations is that authors will have their own subjective biases, which affect the interpretation and thus, the translation of the text. In each translation, you’ll have different things missing while the translator focuses on one interpretive key. Hence, the importance of comparing translations along with the original text.

I’m glad I’ve made quite an effort over the holidays to work on my Chinese. I used to fail Chinese (or just barely pass it) back in secondary school and junior college. Now – I’m quite surprised at myself – I am able to read the entire text in Classical Chinese. That’s quite a marked improvement.

Well, with the week over, I’m more or less done with one little portion of research. Reading the original text and its translations is just the first step. More books and journals to read in the coming days. I expect my usual table at the library to be stacked with even more books.


Accomplished Day

I feel that I have accomplished a lot today.

Armed with a book stand, a laptop, and a cup of tea, I managed to go through more than FIFTY books on Chinese culture, language and philosophy! (It’s all part of the job)

It started off with just a few books around me (as seen in the photo above). But eventually, I ended up raisinng a “Great Wall” of Books, since I didn’t want to move around too much once comfortably seated.

It turns out that journals are really fun to read because of the many gems that are hidden in them. For about every five issues, there will be a really interesting article, sometimes packed with humour too!

Right now, I’m just exhausted. There’s about another 20-30 more books left to cover tomorrow. And by then, I should be done with the current task that I’ve been assigned to do.