I have read hundreds of books in my lifetime, but it wasn’t until recently that I started to consider what impact they had on my learning. When I thought about that connection, then I became more intentional in the books that I read. As a result, I came up with three categories of books that helped me to challenge old ideas and think critically about new ideas. Check your bookshelves. Are you reading these three types of books for lifelong learners?
The three categories that eventually emerged from my reflection are: affirm, inform, and challenge.
Books that Affirm
For many of us, reading books that affirm what we believe or how we see the world are probably common. Starting with a question might be a better way to begin. What books have you read, either as a child or as an adult, that have shaped the point-of-view of the world that you hold today?
In other words, what books would you sit around with your closest friends to discuss and expect that they would agree to a similar view of those books? Maybe they wouldn’t all say that they “loved” the book as much as you did, but if you were to mention it within that close group you would be shocked if they all objected to it strongly.
This is the easiest category to identify, and it can help a lifelong learner identify his/her biases. Hopefully, it is also the one in which the most growth is experienced long-term.
Books that Inform
The second group is for books that inform you. I usually think of these books in the non-fiction category, but good writing in fiction can provide information, too.
If you read mostly non-fiction then these books give you a better understanding of a particular topic. I’ve read books on listening, the human body, getting rid of the 5-paragraph essay, and the history of addresses, among many other eclectic topics.
For these titles, and others, I read them to learn something I did not know. Choosing to read these books is often rooted in curiosity. I have zero inclination to trek around my neighborhood and consider in-depth the natural world around me, but Nathanael Johnson did in Unseen City. Then he wrote a great book about pigeons, crows, and other natural details that I would otherwise ignore.
Fiction can provide lessons as well. I wasn’t expecting to learn about the history of Vietnam when I read The Mountains Sing by Phan Que Mai Nguyen, but it was an added bonus from reading the book. We can read The Illiad and The Odyssey to better understand Greek Mythology. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton gives readers a harrowing look at South Africa before apartheid was legally codified. We may not necessarily pick up these books because we want to learn something, but they inform us nonetheless.
Books that Challenge
This final of the three types of books for lifelong learners is perhaps the trickiest. It is, if I were to guess, the one we are least likely to pick up. This category is for the books that challenge us.
Often the materials that fall in this category come from questions that emerge from reading in the other two categories. As we become comfortable in an intellectual space we begin to wander.
Books in this section may include those written directly opposing a view that we hold. Or, they can simply be books that are written by or about an angle or perspective we had not considered. Challenging our viewpoints does not need to be a binary either/or situation.
My stack of books to read is now never-ending thanks to this category. The more that I learn the more I realize how little I truly know. So my pile is stuck in a loop of informing and challenging. If/when I get comfortable with an idea I can toss it into my Affirm category.
What About You?
Do you agree with these three categories? Which category do you read most often? And, as always, got any good book recommendations?
If you’re looking for some books to possibly get you started in these categories, check out these 5 Books for Lifelong Learners.