Thursday, January 19, 2017

400 Books

A small sampling of 400 books
The Great Divorce was my 400th book. Although I haven't reached the next tier in the vaunted Thousander hierarchy, I felt reaching 400 books was worthy of a few comments and listing the most worthwhile books I read since reaching 250.

To begin with, let me offer a few thoughts regarding the value and need for reading. People are often surprised at my goal to read 1,000 books in my lifetime and knowing something of my schedule usually ask: "how do you find the time?" In response I explain that it's less about finding time than it is about using time. I have the same amount of time in a day as everyone else; however, there are pockets of time, such as when I arrive to work a few minutes early or waking up 30 minutes earlier than I need to, in which I take advantage of those moments to read a few pages. Those few pages add upone page here, two pages there. Whether you're reading Number the Stars or The Once and Future King, you have to read each one page at a time. Therefore, I wouldn't say that I have found some mysterious well of time unavailable to others; rather, I would say I have learned to use the time I already have in order to read. Furthermore, my main problem is not deciding to use my time to read but rather deciding what to read. As Susan Elderkind said:

"We feel that though more books are being published than ever before, people are in fact selecting from a smaller and smaller pool. Look at the reading lists of most book clubs, and you’ll see all the same books, the ones that have been shouted about in the press. If you actually calculate how many books you read in a year—and how many that means you’re likely to read before you die [which I have done]—you’ll start to realize that you need to be highly selective in order to make the most of your reading time." (Emphasis added)

And what of the value of reading? Why make it such a priority in my life? In brief blog posts here and there I have tried to delineate my feelings on the topic. I do like what Doug Lemov had to say on the topic of reading:

"The farther you go in education . . . whether you're a behavioral economist or you're a scientist or you study ancient religious history, you are required to develop your understanding of your field through the ability to read and learn from the discipline. And so not only is literature, English, its own important discipline, but all the other disciplines rely on it."

It's self-evident to say reading is fundamental; the act of reading (or not reading) informs every belief we have, which subsequently determines the actions we take. And when I say reading is fundamental, I mean that in a progressive sense. It's not necessarily fundamental to live—plenty have done so and continue to do so without reading. I believe reading is fundamental to thrive. Whether it be canonical texts of religious traditions, the examination of lives and events of history found in non-fiction, or the illuminating and enlightening prose of literary fiction, our human experience can be elevated by reading. This is some high-minded stuff, of course, but I would not consider it hyperbolic. I imagine I do not fully appreciate or have fully discovered the power of reading. (I only recently came across bibliotherapy, which idea I find amusing and useful).

Advocates of reading—especially what's called "deep reading"—point to recent studies showing that those who read literary fiction are "better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective" (Annie Murphy Paul). I believe this is true. Furthermore, this says nothing about the value of reading non-fiction. I, for example, alternate between a fiction and non-fiction book so as to broaden my perspectives and knowledge in hopefully the most meaningful way I can. I don’t assert that reading makes people good, altruistic, or more pro-social (perhaps improves our tendencies for those things?), but it can certainly highlight and showcase a path—good or bad. Books are laboratories of volition and ideas. We can investigate the most arcane and the most basic dilemmas through reading and still come out the other side unscathed but educated. I won't belabor the point because in many ways I don't think I should have to.

Reading is important. So get to it.

When I reached 250 books I highlighted those books which left the greatest impression on me. It wasn't a list of the "best" books necessarily but the most influential or memorable. (I sometimes call them "sticky" books). Of the 150 books I have read since I collated my previous list, below are the ones I feel deserve a mention:

All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis
From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman
Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple
Love and Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price
Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys by Kay S. Hymowitz
Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick
People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture by Terryl Givens
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt by Parley P. Pratt
The Candy Bombers by Andrei Cherny
The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant
The Lord's Way by Dallin H. Oaks
The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman
The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg
The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
Temple and Cosmos by Hugh Nibley
Too Big to Know by David Weinberger
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azir Nafisi
Restoring the Lost Constitution by Randy Barnett

A Canticle for Leibowtiz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Mooncalf by Linda L. Zern
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis 
The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
Tinkers by Paul Harding

1 comment:

  1. Gah! You beat me! lol I'm at 373, so I should reach 400 this year. Well said. I completely agree. Reading is vital to being compassionate to other people that you may not always technically agree with. When you are able to constantly put yourself in another's place through reading, it only makes sense that you are able to do so more in the real world as well. Congratulations on hitting such a big milestone!