One of my main goals for Project Renaissance is to spend more time reading. I mentioned that I picked up a few books about reading to inspire me. I really like reading about other people’s views on readings – it always helps me remember why I like reading, and I need that inspiration to prioritise it with the limited amount of time I have available.
One of the books I picked up was Steve Leveen’s The Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life. This is a short little book packing a decent punch. It summarises various ways in which reading can play a bigger role in life, including tips for getting more out of reading and suggestions like using audiobooks and reading groups.
My favourite section was near the beginning, where Leveen talks about how to construct a personalised reading list. It can be a tricky business deciding what to read next – there are endless choices. Leveen has several suggestions, primarily focused around constructing a list of ‘candidates’ for reading, based on interests, recommendations, previous books you enjoyed, and other sources.
His suggestion is that by being more systematic about selecting possible books to read, we set ourselves up to always get more satisfaction from our reading choices, rather than leaving them to chance or whatever is sitting on the bookshelf at home. He says:
Having a living list of books to read is a critical part of getting the most from your reading life, and it must be your own list, one you create. This cannot be left to someone else. Not only will your list be far more likely to please you, but much benefit lies in making the list. That is where your adventure begins. (p.12)
This rather goes against the idea of reading lists like the one in Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind, which prescribes a reading list in each of five genres. I can see, though, that a list like the latter is designed for a specific purpose – reading the classics – whereas Leveen’s ideas are broader, encouraging pursuit of reading in any area of interest.
Leveen suggests keeping lists under different headings corresponding to interests you have or develop. This lets you record books you hear about that sound interesting, pursue topics of fascination, and organise books into groups that follow on from each other. One of those lists could be the classics, or Victorian history, or stamp-collecting, or 19th century American fiction – anything, really.
It’s interesting to ponder what headings I could construct, so I had a look around on our bookshelves and a think about what topics currently interest me. I do want to read more of the classics, and I could see myself following a defined scheme, or just working my way through the shelf of classic fiction we have at home. As I mentioned above, my first trip to the library drew me towards books about books – I’m also currently reading The Woman Reader by Belinda Jack. I recently finished Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, and was reminded how much I enjoy popular science books, so that would be a category. My fiancé brought lots of history books when he moved into the house, and I’d like to read some of those – they cover mostly British and Napoleonic history. I’m also interested in books about happiness, and want to follow up some suggestions in The Happiness Project and elsewhere on this topic.
It’s daunting, in a way, to start to plan out reading, but I can see how being more purposeful about it can produce more satisfaction. Having a plan is always good. I enjoyed Leveen’s little book, and will definitely bear in mind some of his ideas as I embark on getting more books into my life.
How do you keep track of the books you want to read?