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Law Practice Magazine

The Big Ideas Issue

Book Reading is Fun[damental]

John D Bowers


  • Book reading is proven to benefit focus, stress management and mental sharpness.
  • Leaders should take up corporate book reading to engage their team and build community.
Book Reading is Fun[damental]

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As I’ve embarked on an intellectual walkabout with mental well-being, I’ve been surprised by the universal acceptance of the notion that we can better ourselves by some form and magnitude. For those people who arrived a decade or more ago at the absolute need for people to make sacrifices––oftentimes financial, time away from work and family, pride and privacy––to take care of themselves, I get to play Master of the Obvious. Even the suspicious unbelieving few, however, must place some value in physical exercise.

There is an activity, though no silver bullet, that bridges the gap between mental and physical wellness. It isn’t new: 17th-century British poet and politician Joseph Addison claimed, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Given a couple centuries, there’s actually science that proves he was right, according to the College of Law New Zealand.

We all form habits, good and bad. Most can agree that reading is beneficial, even if they haven’t formed an excellent habit for the practice. At the risk of preaching to the choir, lawyers at least suspect from experience that reading improves comprehension, vocabulary and writing skills. For those still reading this article, this concept is far from transformative. However, should there be a growing body of lawyers who intentionally read for purely nonwork-related reasons?

Improved Focus

In much the same way as working out each day improves so many aspects of your body, reading for pleasure is an excellent exercise for your brain function. Most importantly, reading truly is a focus workout: MRI scans find that the more time you spend concentrating on the book builds focus, literally exercising muscle and connection in parts of your brain. What an antidote to our information-crazed lifestyles that consistently destroy our ability to focus. Could this revelation be shocking when we willingly and daily subject our brains to a near-constant barrage of noise in the form of phone calls, social media, traditional media, email, texts and other messaging?

Some of the benefit must be quiet stillness that most people prefer when reading. Few people I know prefer to read while piping in heavy metal or wedged in a crowded, brightly pulsating place. The stillness is so apparent that it’s easy to scare someone so entrenched in their book. I’ve been a strong visual learner and when books, both fiction and nonfiction, paint a picture the vivid story leaps off the page. The best oral litigators are supreme storytellers, knowing when to illustrate more detail and when they’ve started to lose their live audience. I’d wager that all of them also are exceptional writers.

In an industry erected on problem solving, legal professionals must spend many hours in both the theoretical and concrete. Sure, a winning legal brief may make for an entertaining reread (can you sense the sarcasm?), but reading fiction heightens imagination. To put forth the most creative solutions for clients, could lawyers benefit their minds greatly from reading stiff helpings of fiction?


Reading for pleasure is proven to lower your heart rate, making it a great way to slow down ahead of sleep. In addition, if you’re reading outside of work, you should be replacing screen time, whether the TV or electronic devices. In fact, we’ve all read the articles about how screen time negatively affects sleep; the opposite is true with reading, in terms of both quality of sleep and duration.

Reading on screens, beyond the effects of blue light, can only be described as distracted reading, considering the many notifications you may receive. Whole families no longer talk to each other in restaurants around the table: each member, from the toddlers to the parents, is sunk into their screen, that electronic pacifier, sporting the far-off, dazed look of satiated numbness. Is it any wonder that social media screen time, complete with timed dopamine hits, drive anxiety when the electronic pacifier is removed, and the patient has to manage living in the real world? Thoroughly enjoying an old-fashioned book may offer conversation with another in-person human over your next meal.

Prolonged Mental Acuity

My dad began to be forgetful and five years ago it became really pronounced. Among the many tests for declining mental capacity, patterning tests were particularly fascinating. A former professional musician and writer, as he cognitively declined, a variable practice of reading and hearing excerpts of familiar books, playing instruments and listening to familiar music revealed occasional but still vibrant lucidity through the gathering mists of Alzheimer’s.

Further, Yale researchers discovered that people who read for 30 minutes a day live an average of two years longer than those who don’t read at all. The study further found that the cognitive workout of book reading proved such readers were 23 percent less likely to die when compared to those reading social media, magazines, online articles and newspapers.

Reading for Community

Law firm leaders often search for ways to improve their culture. Why not return to a practice we all used to maintain contact with friends and deepen relationships? It will take a time investment on your part to organize a book club and select a book or two, and you can bet that not everyone will deeply love every book. Even at law practices, however, collective book reading can build community and positively impact your culture.

I run the TB Book Club at my firm––though the idea wasn’t mine. TB Book Club features seasonal lunch meetings that unite the office to discuss excerpts from the current books we are reading, which have recently included:

  • Afraid to Hope by Rick Rigsby, Ph.D.
  • Dr. Carol S. Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
  • The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
  • Will Guidara’s Unreasonable Hospitality

As you might imagine, each of these books spark insightful discussions, some of which are wholly unrelated to work. Most importantly, taking time out for lunch and working through books together, either in-person or over a video meeting, promotes idea exchange and team cohesion.