How to read, better – Global EMBA Reading Club launches

reading a book

Ask almost anyone about their reading habits, and they’ll tell you that they don’t read nearly as much as they would like to. The pressures, distractions and time constraints of modern life make it hard to pick up a book, and easy to put it down again. For executives, whose daily schedules are more packed than most people’s, the challenge of making time to read is even more acute.

If you’re in a literary drought, unable to find either the time, energy or willpower to read more regularly, don’t worry. The Global EMBA Reading Club – the latest Global EMBA student club to launch – is here to help!

Global EMBA Reading Club – Connecting students and alumni through reading

Initiated in late-2021 by Global EMBA 2020’s Frank Xia and Jessica Xu, the Global EMBA Reading Club aims to help Global EMBA students and alumni connect through reading experiences and encourage personal growth.

Like any good book club, it will provide its members with no shortage of excellent book recommendations and opportunities to enjoy group reading experiences. However, the club also aims to foster better reading habits and a deeper love of reading. To introduce the club’s planned series of seminars and other knowledge sharing events, two members from the Global EMBA 2020 class recently gave their advice on how to read. Not the physical act, of course, but the more psychological and mental aspects of engaging with reading in this busy modern age. Let’s take a brief look at what they had to say about being a bookworm.

The Hosts of ‘How to Read’ – James Hsu and Eric Yang

  • James Hsu is an entrepreneur, writer and author. His company, Stream Sage, is an innovator in the livestreaming services market. He reads widely not only to gain knowledge, but also to study the ‘craft’ of reading and writing, which he views as two sides of the same coin. James roughly manages to read around 10-15 books per year, and is keen to get more fiction into his reading mix.
James Hsu, GEMBA 2020
  • Eric Yang is a purchasing professional with a world-leading automotive manufacturer, Tenneco. He sees reading as one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to learn from others, as well as a pathway towards greater focus and self-discipline while reducing anxiety.
Eric Yang, GEMBA 2020

Tip 1: Understand the ‘why’ of reading

James: Reading is fundamentally important, now more than ever thanks to the renewed lockdown. Reading can inspire you, grow your knowledge, and help you refine techniques and strategies. Equally importantly, it’s fun! A good book, whatever its genre and purpose, should be a pleasure to read, absorb and reflect upon

Eric: Without a clear ‘why’, no reading technique is sustainable. If you wonder why you’re not reading, or not reading enough, take time to answer that question. Why do you want to read? Is it simply for pleasure? For the pursuit of specific knowledge? To unwind, or to expand your horizons? You’ll be surprised how a simple assessment of your reading goals can help you decide what you want to read, when, and how.

It might seem obvious, but determining ‘why’ you want to read is as important as ‘what’ to choose to read. Broadly speaking, we tend to read for one or several of the following reasons:

  • For pleasure and relaxation
  • To gain knowledge and satisfy our curiosity
  • To challenge and stimulate our brain
  • For socialisation, to bond with family and friends

As we age, this combination of motivations may change. For example, reading for pleasure was undeniably easier in our teens and early 20s, when time was plentiful and the responsibilities of family and career still far off. In the prime of our careers, industry and workplace-related reading materials are likely to take precedence, as we strive to further our knowledge and gain a competitive edge. 

Similarly, the need to read for pleasure may still be strong, but difficult to accommodate.
There is nothing wrong with this, of course. However, it is important to be aware of your reading goals rather than simply picking up a book as a reflex action. Being mindful of your targets can be immensely helpful in refining your choice of books. It can prompt more appropriate selections and help you to make time for the kind of reading activities that you really want to enjoy.

In short, knowing why you are reaching for a specific book can be extremely helpful in ensuring that you stick with it. Or, equally importantly, it can help you recognise when a book is not right for you. As the next tip shows, you need to know how to quit books as well as choose them!

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to quit

James: As the movie Frozen says, “Let it go!”

The art of strategic quitting is essential for good reading habits. Too often, we will slog through books that are either not enjoyable or relevant enough to warrant finishing them. There’s plenty of psychological elements at play here. Primarily, it doesn’t feel good to ‘fail’, to give up on anything. You may also place high expectations on yourself, perhaps thinking that you have to finish this book that everyone else is raving about. Then you have the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, whereby you don’t want to abandon a book part-way through because you have already invested time and energy getting to that point.

These are unhelpful ways to look at reading, and ultimately undermine the enjoyment and usefulness of the act itself. So don’t be afraid to quit on a book if you know that it’s not right for you. Tell yourself, “It’s not me, it’s you!” By putting aside books that don’t fit your reading tastes and/or goals, you free up much-needed time to invest in something more suitable. You can even ‘cheat’ and find an online summary, if you want to get an overview or harvest some key points without going through a full, gruelling read.

Don’t slog through a book that’s not for you – no matter how beloved or widely read it may be!

reading a book

Tip 3: Destroy previous expectations

Eric: It’s highly unrealistic to think that you can read like you did 20 or 30 years ago, completing one or even several books per week. That’s not going to happen now, so be content with managing what you can, when you can.

Unrealistic expectations can suck the enjoyment out of even the best of books. Don’t feel like you’re failing if you’re not finishing a book within a few sittings. Align your reading goals to your current life circumstances, and take satisfaction whenever you accomplish them. If you can only manage 5-10 minutes per day, then be happy with that. Don’t be discouraged if a 2-3 hour reading session doesn’t magically materialise in the middle of your busy week.

Tip 4: Don’t chase too many books at once

James: Don’t overdo it. You have to be ruthless and really prioritise what you want to read. I always have at least 10 books I want to read at any given time, so I have to be targeted in my approach. We’ve all been there. Between friends, family, peers and online advertising, our book recommendation list always seems to be dauntingly long. Plus, it’s always growing!

One helpful way to manage book selection is to make a ‘book queue.’ List the books you want to read and organise them into a queue. This way, you can prioritise your reading more effectively, and mix things up more easily. For example, if you’re keen to read more fiction, sprinkle more novels into your book queue, or give them greater priority.

Tip 5: Think of reading like exercise. Stretch!

James: If you wanted to do 100 push-ups at once, you wouldn’t even attempt to do it in one go, would you? No, you would build up, a few at a time. If you’ve not been reading books for a long while, then take your time, build up your concentration, and stretch your mental muscles.

Studies of all shapes and sizes have come to the rather dreary conclusion that the proliferation of personal technology combined with rampant digital advertising means that our powers of concentration are on the wane. The struggle to avoid spending hours per day scrolling through a smartphone will be a familiar one for most of us.

Accordingly, it’s best to view reading as a form of mental exercise, which is exactly what it is. Giving your brain a workout means doing some mental stretching first. In this case, that means building up your reading sessions by increments, until you feel comfortable reading for longer stints without losing focus or failing to absorb what you just read.

A tree made of books

Tip 6: Physical vs. digital – See what works best for you

Eric: A lot of people love the ‘feel’ of a physical book. It’s tactile, and who doesn’t love the smell of a new book? On the other hand, digital e-readers have lots of added utility and convenience. Feel free to experiment, and design your reading to fit into your life.

Some people swear by paper, and wouldn’t dream of reading any other way. However, the advent of smartphones, tablets and e-readers has brought an undeniable boost to the immediacy and convenience of reading. Having access to millions of books at your fingertips – without having to worry about carrying them – is a hallmark of digital age convenience.

The trick is to make the format fit into your life, not the other way around. If you are frequently on the go, then a Kindle or smartphone app may be a suitable form of support, rather than lugging a hefty tome around. Also consider audio books which make multitasking a lot easier! However, be sure that your other task doesn’t distract you too much from taking it in. For example, walking, cooking or washing the dishes are suitable companions for an audio book, but watching TV or doing some work are definitely not!

Some reading recommendations to finish

Book clubs are all about sharing reading experiences, and this introduction wouldn’t be complete without some good reading recommendations  from James and Eric.

Why Buddhism is true by Robert Wright: If you’re interested in a scientific analysis of how Buddhism works and how it can provide a path to moral clarity and enduring happiness, this is the book for you.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande: This is a book which offers an in-depth look at what it means to age and die, and how modern medicine has changed our perspective of life itself.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman: If you’re tired of endless time management books that want you to squeeze every second out of every day, this is a suitable antidote. Four thousand weeks is roughly eighty years, and this book teaches you how to relax and not overthink the passing of time.

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: This hauntingly beautiful classic from 1989 explores the nature of unspoken love, the meaning of service and the often-subtle gap between appearance and reality.

We hope that James and Eric’s tips will help you rediscover your love of reading. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to the Global EMBA Reading Club, or perhaps sign up yourself! We wish the very best for our new Global EMBA club, and hope you all enjoy many memorable reads during the lockdown and beyond.

Tom Murray
Effy He and Michael Thede