A BIG 2019 goal of mine was to get my butt back into reading. I spent a lot of last year talking about it, but not so much doing it. I’ve always loved reading and writing – as I kid, I used to enter ‘Read-a-thons’ for charity, and I wrote more short stories than I can count! I actually wanted to be a writer for a long time as a kid and early teen, and toyed with journalism as a career too. It feels very fitting to me that as a doctor I’ve actually come full circle and now get to continue writing as a hobby for this blog and passion project of mine.
But while I make time to write each week (for my blog, for guest articles, etc), I realised as 2018 drew to a close I wasn’t doing so great at getting through the books I wanted to. I had a list of titles saved, sure – but I just wasn’t making time to sit down and tuck into a good old paperback. Two books that I read towards the end of 2018 brought me right back to my love of reading, and cemented my 2019 goal to read every single day. I read ‘Everything I Know About Love’ by Dolly Alderton, and ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama – both had me absolutely hooked, and are easily two of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read.
I went on my first hike in January, and through making a new friend I got the opportunity to join a book club! The club had just been formed, and they had just finish Becoming too! So we meet up every month now, and pick one book per month to read. It’s a fantastic motivator to read regularly and it’s been a brilliant way to make lots of new friends too – we even have a Whatsapp! So in this article, I wanted to bring you guys some of my book love, and share the 3 reasons I think we need to make reading a priority in our lives. I’ll also share a little list at the end of the article of the books I’ve read this year and last that I’ve enjoyed the most!
It Opens Your Mind
I read both fiction and non-fiction, and I like to have one of each on the go. I am a paper or hardback gal through and through, but I do use the Audible app on my phone too, and find that really useful for my long walks. I actually read the books by Dolly Alderton and Michelle Obama through Audible, and found both brilliant in that format as the authors themselves narrated them! I think fiction AND non-fiction can open our minds to whole new worlds and ways of thinking, in of course very different but equally valuable ways.
Michelle Obama’s book for example, was an absolutely incredible insight into her life from childhood to her own career before meeting Obama, to the White House, and the post-Presidency era. So much of her reflections on her life to date resonated with me, and reading it at a time when I was transitioned from the hospital day job to a full-time Masters to pursue my passion as a doctor really helped, as she talks a lot about following your gut instinct and doing what you love. I love how books challenge my way of thinking, my beliefs about the world, and often open my eyes to ideas and concepts I may not ever have even considered. My two current non-fiction reads are ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport (I read his first book ‘Deep Work’ in January, I would highly recommend it) and ‘Can Medicine Be Cured’ by Professor Seamus O’Mahony. Digital Minimalism is opening my eyes so much to how intrusive social media is on our day to day lives and productivity, and absolutely making me review the amount of time I spend on my phone, and has actually really improved my self-control in this context, and productivity too. Can Medicine Be Cured, on the other hand, has resonated with me as a doctor, in terms of the descriptions of the Irish hospital system Prof O’Mahony describes, and it has also shocked me in the degree to which he exposes the close ties between the pharmaceutical industry and medical journals for example, and how totally misleading the reporting of medical research can be depending on who’s interests are the motivation for the study (e.g. pharmaceutical companies, commerical interests linked with them – trust me, read the book!).
Bottom line: Reading helps our minds to grow and open up to new ways of thinking. It challenges our beliefs and attitudes about the world – and in our modern fast-paced 24/7 society, I think more open-mindedness can only be a good thing.
It Takes You AWAY From Your Screen
Aside from a desire to cultivate my love of reading, I wanted to get books back in my life this year because I think setting aside a lot of our screen time for a good book is one of the most positive things we can do for our mental health. I made two changes to my screen time to help me read more everyday. First, I now bring my book in my backpack everyday going to and from college (and if I’m just on the go for the day), so that when I’m commuting on the bus or train, I can whip it out and tuck into a chapter or two. It’s almost an unspoken rule I made for myself that I wouldn’t spend my commuting time on social media, and I have to say it’s been very easy to do, and even more enjoyable. I don’t scroll on social media (I stopped myself doing so about a year ago now), and I don’t use it for the first hour of my day (at a minimum). But the commute was another great little swap and I’m so happy I did it. The second change I made was to swap out screen time before bed for my book. I’m early bird, so I usually hit the hay between 9.30 and 10pm. So my ‘book before bed’ habit is to get myself to my room by 9pm-ish, curled up with a blanket and book open, ready to read. Now, I’ll admit, that one has been the trickiest to be consistent with, purely because life happens day to day, and some evenings I’ll be out with family or friends, or training or at an event, and so I’m far from perfect at sticking to it. But I do my best to make it to my book by 9pm every night. It’s such a peaceful way to end the day, and I notice my sleep is so much better on the nights I get there.
It Brings You Human Connection – On and Off the Page
As I said, in January I was so chuffed to get to join a book club and make friends with a whole new group of girls who love reading as much as me! I feel like it was major good karma for signing myself up for my first hike – where I met a new friend who told me about the book club! So getting back into reading and trying new things brought me a new book crew, a new social circle, and a monthly meet-up to chat through the book we’ve picked! So far, we’ve read Becoming (Michelle Obama), Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (Gail Honeymoon) and Normal People (Sally Rooney). Currently, we’re reading Deep Work (Cal Newport) which I had read already, so I can’t wait for our next meet-up to see what the girls thought! So reading has brought me friends, new human connection and a new social network – off the page!
It’s also been so lovely to see you guys get so involved with what I’m reading when I share it on my Instagram – you guys were really keen to see book review posts and I’ve really enjoyed sharing these so far and the engagement from you all! So I’ll definitely keep up those reviews on my Instagram and share my reads on my IG stories. The other part I love about sharing my books on social media is that you guys share what you’re reading too, and what your book recommendations are! Social media does have its’ downsides as we all know, but cultivating a little online book community is definitely an upside in my book!
Finally, I think reading brings us human connection ON the page too. Personally, I think this is more true for fiction than non-fiction. For example, I recently read Normal People by Sally Rooney with my book club, and connected with the characters, setting and story on such a deep level, which I really didn’t expect. It’s set in Dublin mostly, in Trinity College Dublin which is where I spent my five years as an undergraduate studying medicine (and I lived on campus for three of those!), and so it’s a place that holds many special memories for me. Another example was when I was reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I found I was totally absorbed in the story, caught up in the emotions of it all, and actually really couldn’t put it down for that reason. Of course, we are all unique and our personalities will connect with the story of a book in different ways, so you may not have the same experience with those two books – but that’s the beauty of reading. It brings something special to us all individually. I definitely think we connect with the person telling the story in non-fiction books too, in certain cases – for example, as I said, I was hooked on both Dolly Alderton and Michelle Obama’s books and life stories. Both were VERY different, and resonated with me, my personal life and my career in totally contrasting ways. The pages come to life in diverse ways, and we’re all the better for it – I know I am.
Below you’ll find my favourite reads from 2017/2018 and my 2019 reads so far!
- The Diet Myth by Tim Spector
- Admissions and Do No Harm by Henry Marsh
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- This Is Gonna Hurt by Adam Kay
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- Can Medicine Be Cured by Seamus O’Mahony
- Lethal Strike by J.K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith)
- Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Froer
- Just Bought: Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
- Planning to read: Conversations with Friends
On Audible Currently:
- My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen
- Sapiens by Yuval N Harari
2019 Reads So Far:
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Normal People by Sally Rooney
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon
Okay! I hope I’ve convinced you to curl up with a good book today! I would love to know what YOU are reading at the moment? My current fiction is ‘Lethal White’, the latest in the Comoran Strike novel series that J.K. Rowling writes (under a pseudonym). I’ve told you guys my current non-fiction books above – so let me know your recommendations! Drop a comment here, or on my social media – @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook!
Ciara 🙂 x