Finding Serendipity in the Depths of Books

A woman standing against a background of pink-grey skies holding an open book in her hand.
Photo by Ike louie Natividad

Escaping into the fascinating depths of a book has been a favourite indulgence ever since I was a kid. It was my way of breaking free from things I was “meant” to do or things that were expected of me. For an hour or two every day, I was just another character in the book placidly shadowing the protagonist as they uncovered the mysteries of their story.

Reading was an indulgence that didn’t get me into trouble. I was able to whisk away my whole self into an imaginary world and my parents were proud that I was an avid reader. Now, an indulgence that did get me into trouble was shopping, and my parents weren’t thrilled about me spending half my allowance on ripped jeans. My dad would often say “Why do you spend so much money to look so poor?”. I would roll my eyes and try to explain the frivolous nature of fashion, but ripped jeans continued to remain a precarious topic in our household.

Back to books. I would often hear people say books are windows into the world, and as a kid, that’s exactly what I experienced. But as I grew up, life took serious roots in the bustling concrete jungle of adulting and I stopped making time to gaze through paper windows into enchanting worlds. Instead, I spent all my days looking out of university windows and then eventually into Microsoft Windows at my first job. This went on for a few revolutions around the Sun, and I was hardly reading one book a year. I wasn’t too happy about it, but I never did get up to changing that.

About two revolutions ago, amid the third pandemic isolation, I found myself picking up an old friend. The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams. My old friend soon reminded me of how much I loved being engrossed in a good book. Even though I finished the book in a weekend, I would be lying if I said it was a completely successful reunion. Reinvigorating a relationship with reading was harder than I thought. It took me a few months of conscious endeavour to break the dry spell.

Reacquainting with reading now as an adult with what seems like countless responsibilities, books have again given me a way to break free from things that are expected of me. For an hour every night, I spend time with friends old and new like Haruki Murakami, Susanna Clarke, Yuval Noah Harari, and Rod Judkins.

Now that I have started reading a lot more, I find that anecdotes and episodes seem to overlap. I’ll be reading a great book on design or philosophy, and will later find it surprisingly referenced in another book or podcast. It’s even more exciting when the books are on completely disparate subjects. I’ll catch myself exclaiming at the page “ Yess! I really know what you mean”. In those moments, I experience pleasant feelings I couldn’t truly describe until recently.

One afternoon stroll around the neighbourhood, I heard design leader, Kaushik Panchal describe the exact feeling in a podcast called Reconsidering. He called the experience “serendipitous”. And instantly, it felt right. That’s exactly how I feel when I recognise a book or podcast I have consumed in another work of art.

Reading is an adventure, a deeply personal experience full of serendipitous surprises. If you’re interested but lacking the inspiration to curate a genuine reading practice, whether it’s for the first time or you’ve simply lost it somewhere in the busyness of life, just think about the joys it can bring you.

A man is sitting below a tree at night and is holding an open book in his hand. The open book emits light and sparkles from the pages.
Photo by Josh Hild

In today’s tumultuous world, moments of joy can be priceless. But like every good habit, it needs nurturing to yield valuable outcomes. The more you read, the more serendipitous surprises you’re going to find. I like the way Kaushik puts it.

“The practice is reading. I’m reading lots of stuff because only if you read, I don’t know, 60, 100 books a year, are you ever going to have that serendipity. If you read two books and then you read another book, chances are, they’ve got nothing to do with each other.”

I don’t want to sound preachy because everyone’s reality and landscape are different. But here are 3 simple things that helped me reunite with reading, and then eventually develop a lasting practice that sparks joy. You probably already know them, but it never hurts to have a reminder.

Set Ambitious Reading Goals

Try to set yourself a goal of how many books you want to read every year. I’m not going to prescribe a number, you do you. But as Kaushik says, to truly enjoy the many perks of reading, you should aim for a higher number.

Pre-order Books!

I cannot reiterate this enough. Having your next book sitting on the shelf, ready to grab is so helpful in sticking to the practice. I usually buy a mix of fictional and non-fiction themes so I have a choice of what I want to read depending on my state of mind at that time. With non-fictional books, it helps to reflect on what makes you curious and what skills or inspiration you’re trying to invite into your life.

Breakup with TV for just an hour every day

You have to set boundaries with Netflix! I know this is a hard one because there’s a plethora of seductive content calling to you but you have to break up with the habit of falling asleep to the TV. Be intentional and give yourself a good hour every night to dedicate to reading. If you prefer reading in the morning or midday, I’m sure a book pairs well with a coffee.

A woman is sitting on a blanket with a cup of black coffee or tea and is reading a book.
Photo by Vincenzo Malagoli

As American comedian Groucho Marx said “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

If you’ve made it to the end of my article, you’re probably really serious about reading! Well, I’m excited for you to experience the same joys of serendipity I do in these literary escapades. If you’re already a bookwork, maybe you know what I’m talking about.

Here’s to living a thousand lives as a reader 🥃.

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