Read. Read everything. Not just what you like and definitely not just what they tell you to read. One of the greatest freedoms of the modern age is the ability to read what you want whenever you want to. Abuse that freedom. If they tell you to read it, read it. There might be a good reason for it. Or a bad reason. Either way, you will only know after you have read it.
If you enjoyed reading something, read more things like that thing. Discover like-minded authors or writers. And if you do not like something, ask yourself why that is. Is it because it upset your worldview? Is it because it brought out something inside you that you would prefer to remain hidden? Read and question. Read everything. And never apologise for it. There are two things you never have to apologise for in this world: the men and women you love and the books you read.
Read a good travel story, the kind that describes colours you have not touched, sounds that your ears have not kissed, and smells that you have not seen. Lose yourself in a story about a place far, far away and find yourself in a book about home. Travel stories are not only about escaping or being lost, they are also about being found. So get some travel books inside you, see through someone else’s eyes for a bit. And then get your passport stamped and go see the world for yourself.
Pick up some romance novels. Yes, even the saucy, badly-written ones. Read about the lengths people will go to just to be around the one they love. But if it is love you are after then do not just read romance novels. Get some books about doomed love; read about the affairs; read about lust.
You need to read about these things because, inevitably, some versions of them will affect your life. And you need to know that you are not the first to feel this way, that you are not only one who is afraid to lose, to be hurt, to be discarded. Many have come before you. Many more will come after. Take heart in that.
And when you have read about love then you can have a good laugh about it. But it is an inside joke, you will get it when you are through.
Read about love.
Read the classics. Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Socrates, and Homer. Their ancient words are echoed in places and things that rule your life. Do not just read about them from second and third-hand sources. Do not think that their great and weighty knowledge can be condensed into a neat tweet. Read the original raw material—the pure unadulterated genius.
Read the classics. There is great wisdom there.
You have to read some philosophy. You can always get a different perspective on life’s most pressing issues. You do not have to know all the theories and you do not even have to understand all of it. But even if the bigger concepts elude you just a nibble of the philosophical apple will allow you to view human life in a novel way. You might even like it. You never know.
Read some law. Read some things about economics. They rule the world around you. People have gone to war over the price of salt and people have been jailed for nothing more than saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Try as you may, there is no escaping law or economics. But do not let people confuse you about how lofty they are—oftentimes, the core concepts can be broken down into simple things you will observe in everyday life. And when you start picking out the fine threads of economics and law around you then you will see how things are connected in one big delicate web, in danger of being ripped to shreds by a Wall Street sneeze or a Supreme Court blunder.
How much can you spend? Can you afford that thing you want? What will happen to your savings if that thing happens? What are your rights? What can the police not do to you? Why can some people not get married? Law and economics will tell you.
And nonfiction. You have to read that. Reality will shock you. Read some history. There are entire annals of history that chronicle the triumphs and high points of humanity and its saddest, most despicable moments. History has horrors that will shame the most gruesome Hollywood film. You will not believe that some of the things human beings have done to each other actually happened. But they did. And they will happen again unless we learn from our recorded past. Our lives are too short to harness all the wisdom and information that we need. That is why history books exist: so we can learn from other people’s mistakes.
Read about slavery, read about the Holocaust. Read about colonialism. Read about their effects. Read about Apartheid; read about human trafficking, about the hundreds of thousands of women and children sold into sexual slavery; read about poverty and the desperate situations more than half the world faces. Read about climate change.
Once you have read about these things, ask yourself why they are around, why they continue to exist. And then ask yourself what you are going to do about them.
Read some comic books. Keep in mind that they are a medium, not a genre. There are some intricate stories running amok between their illustrated pages. And superheroes are cool no matter anybody says. So when you get the chance, pick up some comic books or graphic novels.
Read newspapers and magazines. All of them. Read all the news you can get your hands on. Although we have developed so many ways to discover our world, to record it, and to share stories about human life, we have also succeeded in finding new ways to obscure the truth. You have to sieve it from many sources and make a decision about the world around you after you discover what has not funneled to the bottom of the beaker.
Read some books on religion and faith and different belief systems. Disagree with them afterwards, not before. Disagreement born from willful ignorance is a crime. Read about why people believe what they believe and why others do not believe. Whatever you hold to be true or false, try to engage with the material. Read. Engage. Evaluate. Why? Because you never know where you will find meaning, you never know where you will find comfort. Nobody has all the answers, nobody knows the end-game. We are all here trying to make sense of the world, all curious about what happens next. And maybe, just maybe, we can catch glimpses of the big picture from engaging with multiple sources.
Science. Read some. Period.
Read for fun. For yourself. Few things compare to walking the corridors of someone else’s mind, opening doors into rooms of dreams and thoughts so far removed from your own. How cool are dragons? How beautiful is Lothlorien? How brave is Hermione? How twisted is Christian Grey? Sometimes you just have to read because it is fun, because your mind is tickled by it.
Read. New words are new friends. Brontide, petrichor, and apricity. I have had grand adventures with these words.
Because what you do not know can and will be used against you.
Cover image by: Rémy Ngamije