The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 30, 2000

Bowled over by books
By I.M. Soni

BOOKS are useful in understanding and exploring our vast, hidden "internal territory." Carlyle says, "The true university of these days is a collection of books." To this, I may add inspirational and self-help books.

There is always room for improvement, however impressive you think your personality is. In fact, most of us pass through life without ever realizing our full potential. A majority of people fail to realise 90 per cent of their real potential, says William James.

Reading at random is unlikely to yield fruitful results. Fix your goal carefully and then select the best book in that area. Prepare a list of other books which can be taken up later, whetting your interest and increasing your information and knowledge.

  Illustration by Rajiv KaulDraw a distinction between information and knowledge. The former is sketchy and smacks of a smattering of knowledge. The latter has depth, is many-dimensional and makes you a modest authority on a subject.

Choose a book which elevates you and inspires you and raises your spirit, so that you emerge a better human being.

Such a book appeals to you because your own limited information is not enough. Thus be willing to be led by it to a wider insight and a clarity of concepts.

The focus should be your own development and improvement. A simple principle is: The best book is the one which meets your wants and the natural thirst of your mind, arouses interest in further reading and also rivets attention.

Pay a visit to any book-shop, and you will find many such books on almost every conceivable ranging from ways to improve your vocabulary to tips on acquiring a more attractive personality.

Go to a good library and you will be simply astounded by the wealth of material available. Avoid aimless browsing, otherwise you may walk through the library without picking a good book. Go with a pre-determined objective. You save time.

No matter how deep (or shallow) your knowledge you will find something to whet your interest and curiosity and give you the advantages of a sharp mind and a full, better life.

Be genuinely interested. Choose something in which you are already interested. Interest is the key to all learning. A cox-comb is like a bird in artificial feathers.

When you choose a book, buy it: A book borrowed is not quite the same thing as a book owned. Possession means interest as well as added value. You are at liberty to mark its pages, and underline it as you see fit. This is valuable as you can keep the book for future reference.

Hasty reading is like a sprint in a garden. You see nothing of the flowers, texture of the grass etc.

Do not buy books because they have been brought out by noted printers. It is like buying clothes which do not fit you well but have been tailored by a famous firm:

Read the preface. Scan the contents, the areas covered and the topics dealt with.

Go back over them slowly a second time, pausing over bits you did not follow, underlining those paragraphs, which seem vital or in some way arrest your attention. Some are sure to call for much more thought and concentration. Take time to ensure that you really absorb them, like a sponge. The book fills your mind and it becomes a part of your personality.

Practical wisdom books yield a rich harvest. You are never too young or too old to profit by them. The opportunities are endless for widening knowledge, for finding a new interest, and cultivating a new hobby. Thirty-six years ago, I adopted writing (bad, it was) as a hobby. Today, it is my passion. It brings delight every day.

If the book deals with your profession, it adds to your efficiency. Victor Hugo began to study Greek when he was past 50 because he had become so charmed with the language.

De Quincy, whose prose style has served as a model for perfection, relates that he spent hours looking for a word which would give the exact shade or meaning he intended.

If such luminaries felt it necessary to devote the better part of their lives to the improvement of their vocabulary, surely, you, too, will consider it a goal well worth your effort and consideration, if you aspire to write.

You want to speak more effectively. There are many books on the subject. They are down-to-earth, practical and written in a vivid style.

Those which deal with a psychological approach to the problems of living are of immense help. Psychology has brought a wealth of knowledge to every part of life, which has revolutionised thinking and brought loads of help to ordinary people.

Many how-to-do books are a simple version of what psychology is, telling about the kind of person you are and how your mind works. You get instructions as to how you can become a balanced and integrated person. You can learn how to sleep well, overcome inferiority complex, master fear and phobias. Apart from this, there are books that deal with sex, marriage, psychocybernatics.

Choose one area for improvement of your personality at a time. Then pass on to another. Shed the notion that you are born with a fixed, rigid personality. Personality is acquired.

Apart from the sheer inspiration of striking out into something new, you will be surprised at how your life changes. A new person emerges from inside you.

"A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a company by the way, a counsellor, and a multitude of counsellors," says H.W. Beecher.