My freshman year in high school I joined the debate team as a Lincoln-Douglas (L-D) debater. *Disclaimer: I joined the debate team because I came home and announced to my mom that I was trying out for cheer leading. She replied, “You can be on the debate team.” Thus ended my cheer career.
At the first meeting, our coach asked a few of the older, more experienced teammates to give advice sure to help us become champion debaters. Well, I remember nothing from that experience except one piece from a 10th grader.
Heather “The Hatchet” Hackett admonished us to always be reading. Read a book related to your debate topic – it did not have to be precisely on the issue debated, but related in some way (L-D debaters argued a new topic every month, policy debaters argued one policy prompt for the academic year). Not only will books provide additional ideas to argue with (or against), you will have a better understanding of the topic than your opponent. And it impresses the judges.
I kept up with her advice through high school and after graduation started applying her rule to travel (or moving, or a new degree program, or a new job). No longer did I need to squash opponents or impress judges, I just liked knowing more about where I was going.
As with any practice, it is easy to get into a reading rut. On the one hand, yes, I tend to read non-fiction. On the other hand, my library contains books from all over the map. For example:
I can tell you that the Swan King was an odd duck. On my way to Munich after graduation from MT Tech, I downloaded The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria by Christopher McIntosh onto my Kindle. Not only did I learn that he compulsively built castles, but that one of his castles inspired Walt Disney. And, when it comes to interior decorating, gold really does go with everything.
Upon taking an internship in North Dakota, and recommended to me by a dear friend, I picked up a copy of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography written by Kathleen Norris. She contends that North and South Dakota really should be divided East and West. Her argument makes sense politically, economically, and geologically. Her descriptions for life in West Dakota beautifully, and realistically, prepared me for the kindness of locals and the bullying wind.
When I started hunting pheasants, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time by Georgia Pellegrini told a great story and provided me with singular wild game recipes. Rather than prepare pheasant with unremarkable chicken recipes, use bacon, cream, roasted apples and calvados (apple brandy).
For my trip to Israel with my parents, I read Isaiah: A Commentary by Brevard Childs. The image for this post has me standing next to one of the jars found containing fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A jar similar to this carried the Isaiah scroll. Commentaries typically work their way through a specific book of Holy Writ line by line commenting on the original language or nuances missed in present day language. I saw Isaiah line by line on the replica of the 1100 year old scroll (saw rather than read because I do not read Ancient Hebrew).
My friends, no matter where you are at or where you are going, pick up a book. Wikipedia pages are helpful to get a cursory understanding, but dig in a little bit. Find a richer explanation, a deeper understanding, a funny insight into your space and time.
Then write and tell me about it.