On Friday I blogged about my top ten books for 2010, a list that included books I enjoyed for a variety of reasons: some impacted me deeply at a spiritual or theological level, some expanded my horizons, some were beautiful or tragic articulations of universal themes, and some exposed a bit of what’s wrong with the world.
All of us who read certainly have all sorts of reasons for doing so, whether we’re conscious of them or not. When you first begin to use your free time to read, as I did during college, setting a goal for a certain number to read in a given year — 5, 12, 20, 50 — seems a bit overwhelming. But if you’re like me, you quickly discover that reading is a deeply beneficial practice in ways you might not even be able to articulate, and it’s not long before you realize that the more you read, the more you want to read, and perhaps, the longer your “short list” becomes.
When this happens, it’s not a bad idea to give some thought to what you’re going to read and what you’re going to skip. C.S. Lewis once advised that it’s wise, after reading a new book, not to pick up another until you read an old one. This way we keep from simply imbibing the spirit of the age without challenging the blindspots each of us inevitably have. For the same reason, I think it’s wise to read books by authors different from you, ethnically, nationally, religiously, politically, etc. So, in terms of personal application, I try to be conscious of not just reading a bunch of new books by Christian white guys.
I’ve more or less done so in years past, but this year I’m trying to be a bit more intentional with my reading choices. For starters, I plan to read at least one book from every continent in the world (plus Central America and the Middle East) as well as at least one by an adherent of every major world religion. I’m aiming for at least 25% of my books to be written by dead people, and for 40% to be written by women or non-white males.
Like the author of Ecclesiastes, I think there’s a time and a place for everything. There’s a time to read to be entertained, and a time to read to be challenged. A time to read how-tos, and a time to ask the whys. A time to study great men and women, and a time to learn from the mistakes of their terrible counterparts. A time to read spiritually and introspectively, and a time to consider how one’s knowledge might serve others. You get the idea. I suppose this plan is an effort to figure out the balance.
Do you have thoughts on reading well? Have you ever developed a plan to read with intentionality? Which categories am I missing?