Reviewing and Reading Deeply

Earlier in the week, I reviewed Dallas Willard’s last book, Living in Christ’s PresenceIn this post I included Willard’s advice for readers:  “Aim at depth, not breadth. If you get depth, you will have breadth thrown in. If you aim at breadth, you will get neither depth nor breadth (p. 149).

I’ve been chewing on what Willard said. As is apparent, I read quite a few books–some for enjoyment and some to go deeper in my understanding of life and the world. Doing a book blog that includes reviews is a bit of a double-edged sword in this effort to “aim at depth.”

One the one hand, the reason I began writing reviews and continue to do so is simply to both remember and engage what I’ve read. This happens in several ways for me. One is, knowing that I will write a review, I pay closer attention to the plot or argument, because usually I will want to summarize it and do so accurately. Also, while I’m reading, I’m thinking about my evaluation of the book, the soundness of the logic and evidence, the plausibility of plot and characters, and how I am reacting to the writing style. Being an introvert, I do this mentally rather than spending a lot of time writing in margins or journalling about the book. I’m like this with presentations I do as well, where I work out in my head my thoughts before I write (yet I’m also surprised by the act of writing and the insights that come as I write, something that has arisen from blogging). All this means I go deeper with a book than I might otherwise. And I remember it better.

But I’m also thinking of the transition from a casual reviewer to something more. Now, I sometimes receive books for review, which I will do if they interest me. The transition has been from simply writing reviews to remember and crystallize in my mind what I’ve read to reading in order to write reviews and have these engage others. To be honest, it tempts me to try to read more and even think, what kinds of books would those who follow the blog like to see reviewed? As I ask this I’m reminded that I’m reading a book on people-pleasing, and it occurs to me that this might be a version of people pleasing.

I think what I’m coming to are a couple questions to keep in mind as I engage in this process. One is, am I still enjoying reading?  If it just becomes work in order to produce reviews, forget this, especially since this isn’t a paying gig! A second question is, am I reading deeply enough, and listening carefully enough to not simply comprehend the book and to be able to review it but to be changed by it if I am convinced by its conclusions or “re-oriented” by what it shows me of reality?

Does that mean I’ll read fewer books? I have to say that I don’t know the answer to that. I think if I can truthfully say “yes” to my two questions, the number of books will take care of themselves.

I’d love to know what other bibliophiles think about reading widely, reading deeply and the number of books you read!

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