Why it’s so important for guys to read
By Ben Kowalczyk, Staff Writer | December 2019
I have a confession to make: I’ve only recently become an avid reader. My current position as an account manager for OverDrive Education essentially REQUIRES that I be a person who enjoys reading and can speak to its benefits. But even in my previous jobs that didn’t revolve around books, I had to be aware of what was going on in my industry. Trade publications, scholarly journals, biographies – all of them helped me excel in the workplace. But before I got this point, before I started to feel somewhat successful, I had a bit of a rude awakening: I had to re-learn how to enjoy reading.
In elementary school, I recall reading the entire Ramona Quimby series. Being a younger sibling, I connected with Ramona and her desire to constantly tag along with her older sister. Middle school was all about Encyclopedia Brown. I loved trying to solve the mysteries on my own. Nothing quite compared to the rush of excitement and feeling of accomplishment that came with solving a vexing conundrum at the age of 12 years old. Then, once I reached high school…it all stopped.
I’d like to blame it on sports, relationships or extracurriculars, but the truth is much more embarrassing: Guys my age didn’t read. It was “for nerds.” To attribute this terrible, nonsensical phrase to the simple act of reading seems downright absurd, especially when I think about the place I am now in my life and what I had to do to get here. Above all else, I had to do what every mildly successful person, every mildly successful MAN has had to do: Read. But at this confusing and stressful transition from mid- to late- teens, I only had one thing in mind: being one of the “cool kids.” The “cool kids” didn’t read, so why should I? Students, especially male students, are still faced with this challenge today. They see reading as a soft or passive activity. It’s not playing a sport or lifting weights; it’s not playing an instrument or being a good artist. It’s seen as something extra that they don’t have time for.
What we need to instill in our male students is that reading is an important hobby that must become a habit. Why? If they want to succeed in anything, they must read. They want to play college sports? Encourage them to read about their favorite athletes and read books on nutrition and physical fitness. Do they want to be a famous guitarist or a successful graphic designer? Give them a biography of their favorite musician or artist. Not only do they need inspiration from those they look up to and aspire to be, they need to learn from their heroes’ mistakes.
When I started applying to colleges, I felt overwhelmed. I was no slouch in the classroom, but I only read what was required of me. After four years of not reading casually, writing a personal essay for a college application was a daunting task. Writing is a skill. It needs constant sharpening and fine tuning. Do you know how you become a better writer? Read words that are written well. I eventually got accepted to a college I was hoping for, but the journey there was a long and stressful one. If I could give my young self one piece of advice, it’d be this: Don’t stop reading, young one, because that habit will take you very far in life, and you don’t want to get left behind.
Before my first “adult job” interview, I was given a recommended industry reading list. I had three days before my interview, and I read all three of their recommended titles cover to cover. It impressed the CEO enough to hire me on the spot. When I switched careers, I sought out every piece of related literature I could before my interviews. Experience can only get you so far. But, being knowledgeable about your industry takes you one step further. To land any great job, you need to do your research and you need to be well-read. Once you land that job, don’t think about tossing those books aside. The workplace is a competitive environment. How do you think you’re going to separate yourself from your colleagues? You need to be constantly up to date on trends and developments in your industry. What about general professional development? There’s a book for that – many, actually. Ask any successful person, any successful MAN for a book recommendation, and they’re sure to give you a laundry list of titles.
Men need books for their education and career, but what about reading just to be a better person? The world is in kind of a weird place right now. You don’t have to search hard to find instances of men acting like poor examples of themselves, but the real truth is that crudeness and apathy have no place among personality traits in today’s man.
Gone are the days of the “alpha male” being the prototypical version of what boys and men should aspire to be. I don’t think there was ever a day when that should have been the best example of a man anyway. Today’s man is respectful, a defender against bullies, sexists and chauvinists. He is educated and thoughtful, empathetic to those around him. His success in life is not possible because of those he steps on along his journey up the corporate ladder, but because he works well alongside them. He solves problems by thinking differently, and he makes calculated decisions while thinking about others’ perspectives. He is mature and in touch with his emotions. He is well rounded.
This should not be some grand revelation. This is how any person should want to be described. So how do we get there, men? We read. We read everything: Biographies about strong male figures, but more importantly, strong FEMALE figures (see above re: perspective); history (learn from the mistakes and successes of others); fiction with strong female protagonists (again, perspective); culture and food (everyone loves a man that can cook); poetry (some of the world’s greatest poets happened to be men); communication and psychology; graphic novels and comics.
We want it all, and we need it all. Do you want to get better grades? Read. Do you want to get into a good college? Read. Do you want to land a great job? Read. Do you want to be better in your relationships? Read. Do you want to learn a new skill? Read. Do you want to be a better version of yourself? Read.
Like most men, I can say that marrying my partner has been my greatest accomplishment. I was able to strike up a conversation with her because she found my job interesting. I had that job because I read everything about it before my interview. Throughout our relationship, we bonded over cooking and a love of food. That skill flourished because of cookbooks and biographies I read from our favorite chefs. She finds me funny because of books I’ve read about my favorite comedians and actors. We communicate on a level envied by most, because we talk about what we’re reading. If I wasn’t reading, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I wouldn’t be married to a woman I’m lucky enough to call my wife.
Reading makes everyone better. For too long, we’ve been apprehensive about finding ways to improve ourselves, but it’s high time we fix it. It’s time we be the change we want to see in the world. So, join me! Join me in shouting from the rooftops, “I AM A MAN, AND I READ BOOKS!”