Our good friend Andrea Syverson has just come out with her second engaging book for businesses that want to boost their brands, called ThinkAbout. In it she encourages companies to think about how different verbs can help them better define who they are.
Andrea is also an avid reader whom I featured in my first book, The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life. Levenger Press Editor Mim Harrison talked with Andrea about how thinking in verbs can help us get deeper into books.
Levenger Press: We readers often describe ourselves through adjectives---serious, avid,
incurable, inveterate. Are we missing something by not being verbivores?
Andrea Syverson: I love the idea of readers as verbivores! Indeed, those adjectives capture the voracious personalities of readers, but verbs really illuminate what readers feel when they immerse themselves into their books. Depending on the stack of books I am enveloped in at any one time, I can be provoked, encouraged, comforted, confirmed, educated and/or nurtured by what I am reading. I love the diversity of experiences between books, and it’s why I keep that “library of candidates” Steve talks about around me at all times. As a verbivore, my reading appetite is constantly changing, which I imagine is true for many avid readers (those adjectives again!).
LP: Do active or passive verbs come to mind when you think about reading?
Andrea: Reading is so very active. In my mind, the only passive thing about it is the prone position you are often in as you engage with the book. William Styron wrote, “A great book should leave you with many experiences and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” Isn’t that just so true? I also find myself communicating with the writer as I underline phrases in the margins, or ink in exclamation points, or ponder with question marks.When we read actively,we befriend the writer.
LP: What are your top five picks for reading verbs?
When I thinkabout all the types of books that I enjoy—literary fiction, memoir, business, creativity and spirituality—my verbs would include inspire, imagine, grow, challenge and luxuriate. I read to learn and to dream, but I also read to savor. I love diving deeply into new worlds and participating in new experiences that transcend the everyday. But reading actively can also mean slowing down the reading process, which I do at the end of many books because I simply do not want them to end. It’s a lot like a great travel experience—we may be, as Styron says, slightly exhausted at the conclusion of a book, but we’re also thrilled to have partaken in such a rich experience.
LP: Louis L’Amour has that famous quote, “Read, read, read. Do, do, do.” How do you connect the two?
Andrea: Reading prompts me. As I read about an issue and become educated, I am compelled to turn that knowledge into action. Sometimes that action is simply sharing what I’ve read with others in conversations; other times it’s much more assertive, like becoming personally involved in creating change or donating to a particular charity. Books change us, motivate us, compel us. I am so grateful to
authors who open my heart.
LP: What book has had that kind of effect on you?
Andrea: Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, opened my eyes and heart to the devastating trauma of human trafficking. Their book, in turn, started a global movement to prompt change. Reading is both educational and inspirational, but it can also be an impetus for good.
LP: A recent study found a link between a person’s capacity to empathize and reading literary fiction. Does this surprise you?
Andrea: “Empathize” is another great reading verb. We only get one set of personal experiences in this life, so we cannot possibly understand all that others may go through in the course of their lives. Reading expands our world of understanding both joys and sorrows we may not have experienced ourselves. I have often learned as much from characters in beautifully written literary fiction as I have through memoir and nonfiction.
LP: What characters were your teachers?
Andrea: There are so many literary fiction characters that have been my teachers…both teaching me how not to be, and inspiring me how to be. Characters like the ones Elizabeth Strout created in Olive
Kitteridge, or Lisa See wrote about in Shanghai Girls. Jane Hamilton and Oscar Hijuelos are two other writers who have given me the gift of empathy. It’s as if they hold a mirror up to our souls through their characters and draw us into their lives—even if their worlds are far from our own. I believe writers can sometimes get closer to emotional truths in this genre. And, as a reader, I may be able to absorb these truths in story form more profoundly, too. Perhaps this is like a reader’s version of Daniel Goleman’s EQ, or Emotional Intelligence—RQ, for Reading Intelligence. Learning life lessons through the literary characters we read about helps our own development.
And so to you, dear reader: something to ThinkAbout…and SmileAbout. What’s your reading verb? I’d love to hear. Just click on the Comments link below with your submission. (If you’re reading this as an email, click here and you'll connect to Comments).