When I was 13 years old, I realized I was a rat.
Some context, though.
It was the summer of 2003, and my soccer team was having an end-of-season celebration at a restaurant.
Once the event ended, we went outside to wait for our parents.
But as teenage boys, we got a little rowdy. Jaimie, my teammate, for no reason, was lightly knocking on the restaurant window for minutes.
We were having a good time.
Then, all of a sudden, two guys stormed out of the restaurant, yelling at us! One black guy with the most giant afro I have ever seen and a tall white dude.
The large afro man demanded to know why we were knocking on the window, disturbing his event. In a moment of panic, I vigorously point to Jaimie as the culprit.
Jamie is in utter shock.
He can't speak; he can't move. My feet are also stuck, but my arms are working fine with all my pointing.
As the two men approached, I prayed to make it out alive. They stop right before us and start laughing.
It was a joke!
The afro dude wanted to prank us. Once all the laughing was over, our parents came. Jaimie and I went our separate ways. It was a silent ride for me as I pondered the prank. I realized I was willing to rat out a friend to save my ass.
And to this day, when I look back, I wonder if I would have acted a little differently and not ratted out Jaimie. And the answer always comes out the same.
Which is hell no!
However, I wish I acted differently regarding how I read books.
In 2014, I started the habit of reading out of boredom.
And it was a great habit to start over watching Vine all day. I was reading whatever caught my interest.
The only problem was that I was not benefiting from reading. In fact, reading made me a little more stupid. Let me give you three reasons why that was the case.
I was not reading critically.
I was not applying what I read.
Reading a lot is not impressive.
I was not reading critically.
In my circle of friends, I was known as the guy who read a lot. And wore that badge with pride. Because I was listing off books people wished they actually read.
Yet, despite this flex, I was not reading books critically. As a result, I did not grasp the books' messages, arguments, structure, etc. I could barely summarize a book after I read it.
Yet, whenever I read the last page of a book, I would close it. Never to open it again. It's embarrassing to look back when I thought I was better than most for reading.
My reading was elementary, and I was barely better off than those who did not read a book. Books are meant to be a conversation with the author, where you try to analyze and understand the message. And at the end of the reading, you can communicate the book's message in your own words.
But I couldn't do that, but I still felt smart.
As the saying goes, a fool who thinks he is wise is a fool twice over. And I was that fool.
On to the second reason.
I found this saying from various cultures: To act and to know are the same. Well, for almost every book I read, I did not understand them since I never acted on them.
Even when books gave me explicit steps to change my life, I did not execute them. Thinking that reading the book was enough.
I cringe as I type this since I could have prevented many mistakes and done much more.
One book I wished I had acted on was Models by Mark Manson. Before I first read the book, I sucked at dating. And Models was touted as a realistic book on how guys can improve their dating lives.
The book was pretty straightforward:
Integrate your emotions into your life (if you can't, see a therapist)
Build an exciting life for yourself.
Take care of yourself
Be more social
And create fun dates.
I read these ideas with my head nodding but never acted on them. And my dating life was still stuck in the same spot despite reading about how to change it.
This is why reading made me stupider.
I read solutions but never acted on them. And that is worse than not knowing the answer existed at all.
This is not a pity party, but use me as an example of poor reading. And to make myself feel better, I know I'm not alone with these doofus mistakes. I see many guys who followed the same cycle of reading a book to create a change but never doing anything.
You must realize you don't understand something unless you act on it. That saying is true: where to act and know are the same.
And it's hard to know a book when you read too many.
I remember Seneca advising his friend in one of his letters not to read too many books since it wouldn't allow him to digest them. Although I read that part about 5 times, it never dawned on me I would suffer the same thing.
I got caught in the self-help circle jerk, where you try to read a book once a week or try to match how many books CEOs read.
This only reinforced my non-critical reading habit.
The more books I read, the better I felt. Yet, I was not any wiser. That corny line comes to mind: it's not about quantity but quality. That's the same approach to reading; I should have focused on a few quality books to read critically, and I would have gotten more wisdom and solved many more of my problems.
But alas, the past is the past.
Even with all this said, you might think I'm being harsh to say reading made me stupider.
But here is the thing: falling for the illusion of knowledge is easy. Where you read books uncritically and feel proud of yourself. Yet, you're no better than you were before the book. Like I said earlier, a fool who thinks they are wise is a fool twice over.
Saying reading made me stupider doesn't mean I'm an idiot. But it does suggest that I am not smart. And that takes self-honesty. Reading is a skill, and it's one that has to be honed to get the most out of books.
It's akin to being able to play rec basketball and thinking you're an NBA-caliber player.
Understanding how poorly I read books allowed me to read them more appropriately. So, I am grateful for that experience. In fact, I am grateful for meeting a friend who showed me there were levels to reading.
My friend Jordan went to Bible college and had to do a lot of reading.
And like most of us, Jordan thought his reading skills were pretty good.
However, that all changed when Jordan noticed a classmate could understand the same books he was reading much better. Giving more thorough insights and grasping the author's message more clearly. Jordan couldn't figure out how his classmate was doing it until he asked him. And his classmate recommended a book on critical reading. So Jordan grabbed the book, and his reading life changed forever; he was able to develop his reading skills and get so much out of the books he read.
Now, what is this book that levelled up Jordan's reading?
How to Read A Book. This is an essential book if you are looking to read better.
This book will show you how to deepen your reading skills to learn or understand whatever topics you find in books.
It's one of my top ten favourite books and one I try to read yearly.
This book will also show you how to prevent the following rookie mistakes when upping your reading skills.
Reading everything critically.
Not everything is worth reading critically. So don't make the mistake of trying to read everything critically. You have to have some discretion on which books are worth the extra effort.
Otherwise, you will be mentally exhausted if you're indiscriminate with your critical reading. Life is short, so choose your books carefully.
My rule of thumb is that classical books are worth reading critically. And mainstream books are not.
However, you need to figure this out for yourself.
One thing you don't need to figure out yourself is the summary.
How reading made me stupider—Reason #1: Not reading critically.
How reading made me stupider—Reason #2: Not applying what I read.
How reading made me stupider—Reason #3: Reading a lot is not impressive.
Although it seems outlandish to think reading can. make you stupider, remember it's very easy to fall under the illusion of knowledge. As the saying goes: a fool who thinks he is wise is a fool twice over.
How to deepen your reading skill is by reading the book, How to Read A Book.
A mistake to avoid with critical reading is not to read everything critically.
Like most things in life, reading is a skill.
It can be honed over a lifetime. And because we have basic reading skills, it does not mean we are excellent at it.
Otherwise, we are just being fools.
So, with this new perception, get the book How to Read A Book and embark on your revitalized reading journey. It will be worthwhile, and you can gain more out of one book than you have with all your past reading. This will be something you can take pride in. Well, at least more pride than my 13-year-old snitching self.
Until next time,
The Charismatic Nerd