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Copyright by Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D.


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Reading will make you a better writer and a better person

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere


By the time this column appears, Mark Zuckerberg will have finished reading The End of Power by Moisťs NaŪm Ė that is, if the Facebook founder is achieving his New Yearís resolution to read a book every other week.


How are you doing with your resolutions?


If you havenít made any, I have a suggestion for you. It has to do with language, that funny little symbolic system of wheezes, noises, and grunts accompanied by a corresponding set of written characters governed by an annoying and endlessly confusing set of arbitrary rules that keep changing as soon as you think youíve achieved a working grasp of them. Sound like fun? Good. Letís get started.


Weíll start easy. Rather than reading one book every other week, if you havenít read a book in the past year (or decade), how about reading one in 2015? If that sounds too easy, read one book this winter, or one each season, or one each month. The point is to read more than the words that appear on your screen, where you may not find a sentence as long as my 50-word sentence in the preceding paragraph or one as long as the 44-word sentence youíre reading now.


So treat yourself to a book by your favorite author. If you donít have a favorite author, read a book your friends are reading. If your friends donít read books (I wonít suggest you find new friends, but Iím tempted), read a book Mark Zuckerberg is reading, a book on which a movie is based (like The Hobbit, Gone Girl, or Wild), a New York Times bestseller (I hear John Grisham and Stephen King have new ones out), a book reviewed in the Sunday edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, or a book by one of the authors Kerri Miller has interviewed in the Talking Volumes series. If you enjoy historical fiction and want to learn about womenís rights and urban (as opposed to plantation) slavery in early nineteen century Charleston, read Sue Monk Kiddís The Invention of Wings. If you have convinced yourself you donít have time to read, check out the audiobook version from your library and listen to it as you sit in traffic.


When you read books, you learn how to be a better writer, a better communicator, a better team member, a better boss, and a better person. (Repetition at the end of successive phrases is a figurative scheme called epistrophe. Aristotle and Plato taught it, and Abraham Lincoln used it in the Gettysburg Address when he referred to ďgovernment of the people, by the people, and for the people.Ē)


And for heavenís sake, donít count the words in your sentences or limit yourself to some arbitrary number. Instead, offer your reader variety. Learn how to follow a long sentence with three short, snappy ones, as I did in my third paragraph.


Michael Perry in Population: 485, William Broad in The Science of Yoga, Barton Sutter in Cold Comfort, and Bill Bryson XE "Bryson, Bill"  in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (are you enjoying my periodic sentence?) shaped their sentences with epistrophe. And so can you.




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