Hey! Go pick up a book!

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.  – George R. R. Martin, American novelist

What did 16th century English philosopher and statesman Sir Francis who served as Lord Chancellor of England mean when he said “reading maketh a full man”?

He meant one can fill one’s mind with knowledge on a variety of topics. It enables a person to “visit” places which are difficult to enter or explore in person. And reading expands one’s imagination by helping one to conceive ideas one might find foreign.

Something that I read about corporate figure Tan Sri Clement Hii’s Facebook post two days ago inspired this week’s topic for my column — reading.

Under the heading ‘Secret To Being Smarter When We Wake Up Each Day’ he wrote, and I produce here the excerpts:

“Warren Buffett, the investment icon, put me to shame when he revealed that he spent 80% of his working days reading & thinking. He says if we wake up each new day not any smarter, it’s because we haven’t read enough the previous day.

“I read a lot during my ‘me’ time … My love affair with reading actually began in secondary school, and it’s the reason I also like writing.

“…There’re a lot of perks when we read a lot. I believe we tend to speak well too, because reading involves language, grammar & sentence structure…

“Reading is definitely also learning, and for me, it facilitates self-reflection and self-discovery… All of us can build our knowledge, but not everyone will put in the effort. How much time do you spend reading each day?”

Clement, whom I have known since my early teens, is an avid reader and writer. He has a voracious appetite for reading, picking up the reading habit during his early secondary school days and retaining that habit till today, despite his punishing business schedules.

Like Clement, I too picked up the reading habit early — in fact when I was in primary one. Not by choice but under the threat of corporal punishment by my knowledge hungry dad who was an avid reader.

Dad read a lot and bought all sorts of comic books which he would dump on my desk after reading. He also started us off with The Secret Seven series by bestselling author Enid Blyton.

Then there were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery series which my sisters and I had to read and recite to Dad during bedtime. Thus, began our reading habit. Those days we did not have television, so to kill our spare time we read, read and read.

Frankly, I read a lot during my younger days. I was a discriminating reader and I read anything that I could get hold off. Would you believe if I told you I got hold of adult magazines like Penthouse, Playboy and Hustler — without my parents knowing it of course — when I was in Form One?

Playboy and Penthouse not only had classy pictures but also well-written articles and interviews with celebrities.

My foray into journalism was the result of my interest in reading and writing. I have my late dad to thank for had it not been for him I wouldn’t be where I am now. Thanks, daddy!

When I started working, I set aside a portion of my salary — as much as RM2,000 — for book purchases. My favourite bookstores are Popular, MPH, BookXcess and Times. These days I take the easy way out by purchasing online, including Amazon.

I have a collection of 4,000 to 4,800 books, excluding magazines, in my home library.

If you think 4,000 is a huge collection, then talk to my boss, Dr Jeniri Amir. This man has a home library comprising more than 11,000 books. Yes, you heard right!  

The former Unimas lecturer, political analyst and author’s love for books, reading and knowledge inspired him to create his own personal library, reportedly one of the largest of its kind in Sarawak, if not in the country.

Most of his books, amassed over 40 years are in English. The rest are in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. The books are lined neatly on rows of shelves, resembling a public library.

In his element, Dr Jeniri can read four books a day by speed-reading. And here is the surprise: he has read an astounding 70 plus books during the movement control order last year.

Boss, you put me to shame lah! I hardly complete a book a month these days.

Children and adults nowadays hardly cultivate the reading habit. They would rather spend their time on Korean dramas or engage in gossips.

What exactly do we get from reading books? Is it just a matter of pleasure, or are there benefits beyond enjoyment?  

Reading books benefits both our physical and mental health, and those benefits can last a lifetime. They begin in early childhood and continue through the senior years.

I will end with a quote from my boss, “People say that you are what you eat. To me, you are what you read.”