Copyright 2004 by William G. Covington, Jr. PhD

The reason reading is so vital is because it determines the focus of your mind. A passive person accepts whatever information is send by default. The environment determines such a mindset and usually that means negative input.
This is an arena where the advantages of taking control over one's thoughts are significant in seeing results. Thoughts determine action. Focused action leads to accomplishment. Feeding the right thoughts to the brain is analogous to planting the type of seeds one hopes to harvest.
Reading is power. It enables one to interact with some of the most inspiring thinkers and achievers in history. I use the word interact intentionally, because reading can be active on the part of the reader. A dialogue can be developed between the author and reader as comments are made in the margin, portions of the book or article are highlighted, and even dates and locations are recorded when new insight was made.

Reading to Gain Knowledge
One motivation to read is to learn something about a topic. Reading of this sort has a cause-and-effect. Exposure to the material has extended a person's knowledge base. An active reader can learn more about a specialization and increase expertise or gain a broader insight into a general topic. George Mcdonald observed, "As you grow ready for it, somewhere or other, you will find what is needful for you in a book."

Reading to Inspire
A second reason for reading is to stimulate action. Reading of the accomplishments of other people is a way to get the juices flowing. Goethe noted, "Every reader, if he has a strong mind, reads himself into the book, and amalgamates his thoughts with those of the author." Reading is not escapism, it is a means of expanding one's capacity.

Reading as a Means of Cultivating Taste
Reading exposes one to new ideas. New cultures, perspectives, and insights come from time spent with a well-written work. Eighteenth century British dramatist William Congreve advised, "Read and refine your appetite; learn to live upon instruction; feast your mind and mortify your flesh; read and take your nourishment in at your eyes; shut up your mouth, and chew the cud of understanding."

Reading to Enhance Communication Abilities
Reading causes your thoughts to grow by giving you material you had not previously considered. Similarly, reading helps you to think in more precise terms. Reading with a dictionary nearby is a good way to expand your personal vocabulary. Once words become part of your repertory, you're able to use them in getting your meaning across more clearly to other people.

What to Read
Now that the argument has been made for reading, let's move on to content. How can one make the most of one's reading time? In the information age there is no limit to available material. Books, magazines, online articles, and newspapers are ubiquitous. Like a diet, each person has to determine what is best individually, but some suggestions can be made that apply across the board.
Inspirational material is one of my favorite genres. The Holy Bible is the primary source of inspiration for me. I like to read books that add to my understanding of the Bible. Teachers who know the original Hebrew and Greek provide insight into the context of the Scriptures. I also find personal stories such as biographies to be a source of motivation.
Goal-setting books are closely related to biographies in getting my motivation going. While the latter provide examples, the former give the "how to" of reaching goals. Even if I'm well acquainted with the concepts, I like to have them reinforced. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is one of my all time favorite authors, along with Dr. Robert H. Schuller.
History is another topic I enjoy dipping into occasionally. This fits the category of gaining a better general knowledge base. It helps you to get an overview of long term trends. In conversation, a well read person is known, just by the way they're able to place things into context. Reading in this genre enhances that ability.
Reading in your field of expertise keeps you current on changes in your profession. My field is mass communication. Audience expectations, technology, and programming content are constantly changing. One must be a reader to keep up. That isn't a burden, but a joy when one is in a field matched with interests and desires.
Books about psychology and human nature are fascinating to me. I like to learn about how to connect better with other people for more effective working relations. Not everyone thinks the same as me. Reading helps me to empathize with people who are coming from a different frame of reference.
Reading is a great time management tool. I learned that from reading Louis L'Amour's autobiography, "Education of a Wandering Man." He talked about carrying a book with him continually. Any time he had free, he'd take out the book and read. It was time well managed. I started following his example and as a result have acquired a lot more knowledge now that I would not have otherwise if I had not discovered the joy and advantages to be gained from spending time with a good book.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Covington has published widely on management and goal-setting. He holds seminars on these subjects in various countries and is frequently interviewed by the media.