By the time this column appears, Mark Zuckerberg will have finished reading "The End of Power" by Moisés Naím — that is, if the Facebook founder is achieving his New Year's resolution to read a book every other week.
How are you doing with your resolutions?
If you haven't 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 you've achieved a working grasp of them. Sound like fun? Good. Let's get started.
We'll start easy. Rather than reading one book every other week, if you haven't 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 you're reading now.
So treat yourself to a book by your favorite author. If you don't have a favorite author, read a book your friends are reading. If your friends don't read books (I won't suggest you find new friends, but I'm 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 this paper 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 women's rights and urban (as opposed to plantation) slavery in early 19th-century Charleston, read Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings." If you have convinced yourself you don't have time to read, check out the audiobook version from your library.
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 "government of the people, by the people and for the people.")
And for heaven's sake, don't 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 in "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" shaped their sentences with epistrophe. And so can you.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.