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October 26, 2009


Bruce Klaiss

Looking at your piece here from a less athletic standpoint, I still agree with you. I look at the contention from an academic standpoint -- my own academic experience. I had plenty of experience in my jobs with hands-on work, but I didn't start to think until I had done a considerable amount of reading and talking -- specifically, a liberal-arts education at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. Most people these days pooh-pooh a liberal-arts course; but the act of reading the books in your courses, and then actively discussing them with the professor and your classmates, and then writing your own thoughts about them, improves your ability to think about them, and about other things as well. But the basis of all this resides in the reading -- classics, nonfiction, almost anything, but the key is read.

George Ittner

Steve is right. We learn best from books, unmatched by the Web, classroom or anything else. As for my own experience, I would cite Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," mentioned by Steve. One can go through school, including the best of the best, and emerge without a grasp of the very basics of clarity and style in writing. Read the little book, and you've got it. And when what you have learned starts to vaporize, as it will, you can read the little book again, and again.

Elizabeth H. Cottrell

I don't have a personal example to share, but this makes me think that perhaps the neural pathways involved in learning physical activities from books are related to another phenomenon reported by prisoners-of-war who, during their incarceration, regularly practiced a favorite sport (e.g., golf) in their mind, play by play. Even after several years away from the sport, they found that their skill had deteriorated very little.

And the flip side of your great post is that another beautiful gift from reading books is that they can put us BACK in touch with things we already knew but had forgotten.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

David Giacomini

Very well said. I too agree that book smarts can often be perceived as being less valuable than experience. It amazes me that our entire educational system is based primarily upon reading and lessons passed along through books, yet when it comes to real-world applications, books often become inconsequential.

Another element you touch on is that of curiosity. While the examples you cited certainly contained specific tactics to improve skills in certain areas, what is also shown is your curiosity and desire to learn. I tend not to view higher education and reading as specific tactical learnings but rather, a process to foster creativity and continue my desire to learn. Broadening my knowledge base helps me identify creative connections to problems, philosophy, relationships and much more. Even in your example above, you were able to relate three distinct differences between snorkeling, swimming and kayaking. In each instance, there is a point of the activity that is counter-intuitive and a person must resist their natural instinct to succeed.

I also love being challenged by what I read. I tend to read many business-oriented books and often times find myself having debates in my head with the author (usually not out loud, thankfully). I've accepted that I don't necessarily have to agree with an author, but I usually still get something of value out of the book.

As for me personally learning something from books rather than experience... I would have to say computer programming and web design. These were topics not readily available when I was going to school, but I had a keen interest and passion for learning these skills. I would often get obsessed about a particular topic like web design and consume books madly and then begin "doing." There was no one to talk to about the subjects and no resources readily available for learning such topics. Once the base was firmly established, additional topics were pursued such as SEO, E-commerce and online advertising. Eventually, I was able to operate a small but successful e-commerce business as well as marketing agency.

Another, more recent example is the start-up of a small kids luggage company my wife and I are pursuing. We are sourcing the product from China and learning about the requirements for importing goods from overseas. Reading through several books first gave us the confidence to attempt importing these suitcases.
I never really examined my past history through the course of books I've read but there is certainly a correlation to the path I've taken.

Thank you again for your thought-provoking post.

Jacqueline Gillenwater

While living in Jacksonville, Florida, and being a Tampa native, I thought I knew all there was to know about Florida weather thanks to Roy Leep; that was not true. While reading one of the Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald, I found out the duration of a squall line. That was such valuable information that it caused a new furrow to be cut in my brain, and I have retained that gem of information in the quick recall portion of my gray matter.

marsha steinwegd

I have loved and read books all my life. And my joy is deciding which one to read next. One of my favorites is Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. She is dynamite. My life is reading my books, and they bring much joy. Yours Marsha Rose Steinwegm

Deborah Pearce

Steve, You are inspiring as always. But promise us that you aren't going to take up sky diving. Meanwhile, great encouragement to turn to books so that we can learn from one another. Deborah

Frederick Ingram

I'm just impressed that you spelled Moby-Dick with a hyphen.

Ellen J. Reich

I stumbled into your blog for the first time today while I was intending to unsubscribe to my Levenger email (attempting to stem the waves of the email flood). Now look what you've done - rather than delete an incoming, I've added another by subscribing directly to your blog! (A distinct danger associated with the desire to breathe words.)

My experience learning from books began in childhood and continues unabated. I am fascinated by the inner worlds of others. Fictional characters, autobiographical offerings, all have increased my understanding of and (I hope) empathy for those I do not know. Being privy to the private, inner thoughts of fictional characters continues to remind me that what is present on the outside may not reflect the essence of the person before me. Curiosity and open-mindedness, nurtured by reading, has expanded my patience and world view. (Not quite as concrete as swimming and kyak rolling, but meaningful none the less!)

www.in2books.com links adults who love to read with elementary students still mastering the ability. It appears to be a well-run organization with an inspiring mission: encouraging the love of reading and writing in young people. Each volunteer enters a structured penpal relationship with one student (with safety standards and filters in place) for the school year from the comfort of your own home! OK - end of plug. But for those of us who love books, it's a viable way to share that passion where it matters.

huile de foie de morue

Nice, provocative post,
Very interesting Blog. Hope it will always be alive!


Have I learned something from a book that I thought I could learn only from personal experience? How about learning something that I thought I could never learn at all?

I learned how to survive and to become my own person. I learned how to become strong enough to escape an abusive, life-threatening relationship; to stand up and speak the truth (as I see it) even when doing so might cost me friends, family, or livelihood (I have yet to be tested as to whether or not I have the courage to stand up and speak when it might cost my life...); to stand up for causes and issues that I feel important, rather than sit back and let others take the risk.

Strangely enough, this lesson did not come from any of the plethora of self-help books that are so popular these days, but instead from the fictional works of writers like Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, C. J. Cherryh, Charles de Lint, Robert Jordan and others...

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