Thought Leadership

OFF-TOPIC: The joy of reading

By Colin Walls

For as long as I can remember I have liked books and reading. As a child, I was a keen user of the local library. I would commonly be seeking books to give me information about my latest hobby; I recall that some of the books on chemistry gave details of things that would be frowned on nowadays! But I also liked fiction and would work my way through a whole series of books. My school used to issue a reading list just before the summer vacation, which we were expected to read in the months that followed. I noticed that, when they recommended a book that was part of a series, it was never the first book in the set; the result was that I would end up reading the whole series, which I think was the plan.

My enthusiasm and capacity for reading varied over the years, but reading has always been part of my life. In my early adult life, I might commonly have 2 or 3 books on the go simultaneously. Nowadays, that seems too difficult, but perhaps I should try to resume that reading style. Some years ago, I realized that, soon after I had finished reading a book, my memory of it would fade. So, I started keeping notes to remind myself. As it took no extra effort, my notes because a blog that I continue to maintain.

I like to have a broad range of reading, more or less alternating between fiction and non-fiction [including biography]. Fiction is normally by contemporary authors, but I am picky. I like to feel that I am learning something about the world while I am reading. So, if an author is lazy in their research and I see an error, it shakes my confidence in their integrity. For example, I recently read a well-respected book that I enjoyed, though my enjoyment was marred by 2 or 3 errors; at one point someone tunes into a radio station in Pakistan, a country that did not exist until 3 years later.

To manage my reading, I keep a reading list – a queue of books I have ready to read. This list currently has 32 entries! It is a “living document, so I move things around and add books when it suits me. Here are the first six books on my list, starting with the one that I am reading now:

  • Al-Khalili, Jim & McFadden, Johnjoe – Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology
  • Moriarty, Liane – Nine Perfect Strangers
  • Marr, Andrew – A History of Modern Britain
  • Butler, Octavia E. – Bloodchild
  • Jones, Paul Anthony – The Accidental Dictionary: The Remarkable Twists and Turns of English Words
  • Jonasson, Jonas – The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

One of the joys, but also sorrows, of reading is the realization that there are so many books to read. I have over 300 books in my “unread” pile; many of these I will never read and I should do some “weeding”. I acquire books a bit faster than I read them; I am a slow reader, but hope that I can devote more time in the future. All I can say is that I will never run out of books in my lifetime.

For me, the biggest change in recent years is how I read books. I almost exclusively read on my Kindle [or iPad or iPhone]. Although I still enjoy the look and feel [and smell!] of “real” books, the practical value of e-books is overwhelming:

  • I can effortlessly carry around a huge number of books. [This is/was particularly beneficial when traveling – remember those days?]
  • I can read using just one hand, while standing in line for example. Or it can be hands-free when I am eating; I often take breakfast and lunch alone, so reading makes sense.
  • The size and font of the type can be adjusted, which I find useful, but recognize that, for some people, it is a life saver.
  • I can set bookmarks and write notes without defacing a lovely book.
  • Looking up words in a dictionary etc. is a breeze.
  • I can comfortably read in any light from pitch darkness to bright sunshine.

Non-converts talk about liking the feel of a book. I mostly just like to read. They also worry about running out of power. I charge my Kindle about every 3 weeks; power is not an issue.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at