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What I Learnt about Reading (and love) from Kriss Akabusi

I love books. I have lots of them. The problem is, I don’t read them. That was until Kriss Akabusi.

Last year I ran a marathon. There are many great things about training for a marathon but also, quite frankly, it can be really dull.

The upshot? I listened to a lot of podcasts.

My favourite during those endless, tedious miles was an episode of “At Home with Colin Murray”. For those of you that don’t know, Colin Murray goes to the homes of famous sports people and basically chats about everything and nothing.

The episode in question, a piece of radio that literally stopped me in my tracks, featured Kriss Akabusi.

It taught/reminded me of a number of things, but three particular highlights are as follows:

1. Don’t judge a book by its cover – most people (myself included) have a perception of Kriss Akabusi founded in the public persona (and laugh) seen on TV shows such as Record Breakers. This podcast dispels almost all those pre-conceived ideas. He is well read, intelligent, self-aware and in this podcast he and Murray cover topics including Nietzsche, Christopher Hitchens, the nature of fatherhood, love, West Ham, race and religion. Sounds more like Alain de Botton and the “School of Life” right?

2. Love is different for everyone – I won’t go into too much detail about this. Listen to the podcast. Murray and Akabusi talk with astonishing openness and courageous vulnerability about love, fatherhood and abandonment (Akabusi was abandoned by his parents at the age of 4 when they returned to Nigeria). It is without doubt one of the most moving pieces of broadcasting I have ever heard.

3. How to read!

Many of us feel we have no time to read long form anymore. We are taught from an early age when reading that you start at the beginning and work your way to the end, almost as if you have to earn each chapter by completing the preceding one. And skipping to the last line or paragraph of a novel is treated like cheating in an exam.

The issue is that this makes reading anything longer than a Mr Man book feel like the kind of time and energy commitment that many of us feel like we can’t give. You know? Kids, work etc

Kris Akabusi asks why? We bought the book. We can read it in any way we see fit.

He will pick up a book, flick through the pages and put his finger on a random sentence. He then interrogates that sentence based on what he does or does not know about the subject. What is happening? Who is it happening to? What could happen next? How did they end up there?

But what I found more interesting was then asking what that sentence meant to me personally as a reader. What memories did it arouse? Have I been in the same situation? How do I relate with that sentence? Listen to Akabusi do this live on the show (@13m30secs).

I tried doing this. It’s brilliant. What I found was not only was it giving me permission to read the book in whatever way I wanted but it was allowing me to create a dialogue between myself and the book/author. Even more so it allows you to find different context within the words that may not have been the authors original intentions but are no less relevant. You find your interest peaked, your curiosity aroused and instead of browsing passively through the pages or endlessly re-reading sentences because you can’t focus, you are actively conversing, debating even, with the author and their subject. It is no longer their story. It is yours.

Go on… take a book of your shelf… blow the dust off… pick a page… pick a sentence… and let your curiosity do the rest.


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