Saturday, August 21, 2021

Read Book, Take Action


When you finish reading a book, does it convince you to take action?

I'm reading a book right now—I'll get to posting on that title later this month—which, beside the fascinating stories it shares, has inspired some thought. The book is one discussing education of a particular kind, and the inescapable conclusion is that learning is not really learning if, having gone through the experience, we can't subsequently take action.

That realization inspired me to review all the books I've read in the past few years. How many have prompted me to take action, if even in a small way? How many books can I say changed my life, even imperceptibly?

If a book takes about six to ten hours to read fairly, cover to cover, that is an investment in time. What do we show for that investment?

The thought struck me the other day, as I was approaching an intersection while driving to a neighboring city. I know the intersection well, but ever since reading one particular book—The Invisible Gorilla—I've made it my habit when approaching corners to look both ways. Twice. The book convinced me that, especially as drivers, we sometimes see what we want to see, rather than the dump truck barreling towards us, or the pedestrian stepping into our path. The authors achieved their intention in one tiny way: they made me look—twice.

That question about taking action after learning—whether learning by reading or otherwise—has gotten me thinking about several other examples. Take, for instance, the sessions I conduct locally on using DNA for genealogy. I realize that is a challenging topic for some, but it is particularly troubling to me when I get the sinking feeling I'm being listened to more as a voice delivering fascinating stories than a source of step-by-step instructions. Perhaps the book I'm reading this month will provide advice on best training practices to apply to these sessions, to help others learn to convert instruction into action.

I'm convinced we can learn to take action from just about any book, whether it was written for the purpose of instruction, or simply for the purpose of entertainment. A book is an invitation to step inside the author's world, and once inside that universe, there are observations we can glean and conclusions we can reach. For some books, that is more obvious than in others; I certainly would hope anyone reading Diahan Southard's book, Your DNA Guide, would put its "step by step plans" to good use. But even fiction writers worth reading have a theme and write to convey a message or inspire us to have a change of heart. What do these authors hope their work will do in us?

With all the books published lately on genealogical topics, we don't lack for resources to help us with our research progress. But no matter how well written, or how thoroughly the topic is covered, unless we develop the habit of putting the instruction into action and make those actions our own research habit, it is hardly worth the money to obtain the book in the first place.  



  1. This post struck a chord. Your point about the books we read also applies to genealogy education. I am a genealogy seminar, webinar, institute junkie. I love listening to knowledgeable speakers, collecting handouts, and in the in-person days I loved being with people who shared my passion for family history. But I have rarely taken the information imparted and used it to improve my own family history efforts. You have reminded me that without a post-seminar action plan I have wasted time and money. Thanks!!!

    1. That's a great application, Janet. Taking action, especially following a well-thought-out plan, is the best way to cement what we are learning into productive habits, whether through books or other instruction formats.


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